U.S. House will have panel overseeing coronavirus aid law expenditures: Pelosi

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday the House will set up a panel to oversee expenditures under the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief law.

Pelosi made the comment in an MSNBC interview when asked about a statement by President Donald Trump rejecting aspects of a provision in the law setting up an inspector general to audit some loans and investments.

“Congress will exercise its oversight and we will have our panel … appointed by the House, in real time to make sure we know where those funds are being expended,” Pelosi said.

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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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With eye on election, Trump in high-stakes balancing act over coronavirus response

WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump offered a preview of his re-election campaign playbook last year when he visited the building site of a multi-billion-dollar cracking unit in western Pennsylvania, hailed as one of the largest construction projects in the country.

To Trump, it was a pitch-perfect example of a booming economy.

Except today, the site sits largely empty, after the coronavirus outbreak forced oil company Royal Dutch Shell to halt construction. The project’s thousands of workers are now unemployed, adding to the nearly 3.6 million Americans who filed for jobless benefits in the last two weeks.

The tension between wanting to keep workers safe from infection and trying to get back to business as soon as possible illustrates the fine line Trump must walk as he floats the idea of reopening the U.S. economy in defiance of the advice of public health experts.

Seven months before he faces re-election, Trump must find a balance between trying to stop the economy from spiraling into a severe recession while appearing to act decisively to contain a still-expanding health catastrophe.

Trump has been under increasing pressure to ease back economic restrictions from his Republican base, who consistently have been less alarmed than Democrats about the virus, which has infected more than 85,000 Americans and killed more than 1,200.

A March 18-24 Reuters/Ipsos poll shows 76% of Democrats agreed that the coronavirus is a “serious threat to me and my family” compared with 63% of Republicans.

Many workers at the Shell site in Potter Township, 40 miles (65 km) east of Pittsburgh, live paycheck-to-paycheck and are eager to work. But some are concerned about Trump’s suggestions that the U.S. economy could be re-opened by Easter on April 12.

“If they called me and said come back to work Monday, I would not go. Not until I feel it’s safe for me and the other workers,” said Jonathan Sailers, a 34-year-old union insulator who wraps pipes at the site.

For a graphic on calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates, please click tmsnrt.rs/37bDD2f

BOTTOM LINE

Prior to the outbreak, a soaring stock market and strong employment stood at the heart of Trump’s message that he should be re-elected in November, with the president even suggesting that even if voters didn’t like him, he helped their bottom line.

For the moment, that argument has evaporated.

Trump’s campaign says he is focused both on safeguarding the health and safety of Americans and getting the economy humming again.

“The president is correct that our nation was not built to be completely turned off for long periods of time and that such dormancy would cause a great many long-lasting problems,” said Trump spokesman Tim Murtaugh.

Chris Wilson, a Republican pollster, said the coronavirus crisis is actually an opportunity for Trump but he must handle it correctly.

“If we wind up coming through this relatively intact, I think Trump will get a huge amount of credit from voters,” Wilson said.

Trump has already seen a bump in his approval ratings, by 4% to 44% since the health crisis, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll. But the rise is modest for a president confronting a national crisis: Former President George W. Bush’s approval rating shot up by 39 points to 90% in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to Gallup polling service.

The numbers have also climbed as Trump took the outbreak increasingly seriously, appearing on television and warning people to stay home, after at first playing down the threat.

If he flips that message, strategists and experts say, he runs the risk of losing supporters, particularly if the death toll continues to grow.

“There’s normally a rallying effect around the president in the early days of the crisis, and Trump’s clearly benefiting from that,” said Alex Conant, a former top aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a 2016 presidential candidate.

Delegate tracker and results tmsnrt.rs/2wfM3Yz

“As days turn into weeks and months, the president’s polling position could weaken if people think the country is losing the fight.”

Shell says it has no timeline for restarting construction at the Potter Township site.

In the meantime, workers are struggling to pay their bills, said Ken Broadbent, business manager for a Pittsburgh-based steamfitters union that supplied the project with hundreds of workers.

“It’s still way too early,” he said. “We just don’t know how long this will last. The longer it lasts, the more it’s going to hurt.”

For a graphic on where the candidates stand on key issues, please click tmsnrt.rs/2ughVeT

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U.S. consumer spending increases moderately in February

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer spending rose moderately in February and momentum is set to fade rapidly in the coming months, with the coronavirus pandemic upending life for Americans.

The Commerce Department said on Friday that consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, increased 0.2% last month as households spent more on electricity and gas, offsetting decreases in outlays on motor vehicles and parts as well as recreational goods.

Last month’s increase matched the gain in January and was in line with economists’ expectations.

The United States now has the most coronavirus cases in the world, with more than 82,000. Governors in more than half of the nation’s 50 states have ordered residents to stay mostly indoors, affecting more than 100 million people.

Restaurants and bars have been shuttered and airline travel severely curtailed, which economists say will greatly offset any boost to consumer spending from grocery purchases following a wave of panic buying as Americans prepared to hunker down.

When adjusted for inflation, consumer spending edged up 0.1% in February, matching January’s rise.

With “social distancing” measures to contain the virus throwing millions out of work and severely curtailing discretionary spending, economists are predicting a moderate decline in consumer spending in the first quarter, which would give way to a sharper contraction in the second quarter.

Consumer spending grew at an annualized rate of 1.8% in the fourth quarter, slowing from the brisk 3.2% pace logged in the July-September period.

Labor market strength, which was driving a steady pace of wage growth, was the economy’s main pillar of support. In February, personal income increased 0.6% after rising by the same margin in January.

Income was boosted by higher wages and government payments to farmers caught in the U.S.-China trade war.

Inflation remained muted in February. Consumer prices as measured by the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index edged up 0.1% after rising by the same margin in January. In the 12 months through February, the PCE price index rose 1.8%, matching the year-on-year gain in January.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the PCE price index gained 0.2% in February after nudging up 0.2% in January. That lifted the annual increase in the so-called core PCE price index to 1.8% in February from 1.7% January.

The core PCE index is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure. It missed the central bank’s 2% target in 2019.

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U.S. weekly jobless claims soar to record 3.28 million

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to a record of more than 3 million last week as strict measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic brought the country to a sudden halt, unleashing a wave of layoffs that likely ended the longest employment boom in U.S. history.

The weekly jobless claims report from the Labor Department on Thursday offered the clearest evidence yet of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy, which has forced the Federal Reserve to take extraordinary steps and the U.S. Congress to assemble a record $2 trillion stimulus package.

Economists say the economy is already in recession. Weekly claims are the most timely labor market indicator. With nearly half the country’s population under some form of a lockdown and reports of state employment websites overwhelmed, economists are bracing for further increases in jobless claims.

“With partial lockdowns across the country leading to a sudden stop in economic activity, the U.S. economy will experience the largest economic contraction on record with the most severe surge in unemployment ever,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York.

“We expect jobless claims will continue to climb as more economic activity shuts down.”

Initial claims for unemployment benefits rose 3.00 million to a seasonally adjusted 3.28 million in the week ending March 21, eclipsing the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982, the Labor Department said. That also dwarfed the peak of 665,000 in applications during the 2007-2009 recession, during which 8.7 million jobs were lost.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 1 million, though estimates were as high as 4 million.

The Labor Department attributed the surge to COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. A running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University showed that at least 1,046 people in the country have died from COVID-19.

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“This large increase in unemployment claims was not unexpected, and results from the recognition by Americans across the country that we have had to temporarily halt certain activities in order to defeat the coronavirus,” U.S. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia said in a statement.

Layoffs were concentrated in the accommodation and food service, health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries.

Mounting job cuts and a sinking economy have prompted President Donald Trump, who is running for re-election in November, to push for businesses to reopen by Easter, which is April 12. With infections and the death toll rising, many health experts, economists and politicians have argued against such a move.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Thursday in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that the economy “may well be in recession” but progress in controlling the spread of the coronavirus will dictate when the economy can fully reopen.

Recessions in the United States are called by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The NBER does not define a recession as two consecutive quarters of decline in real gross domestic product, as is the rule of thumb in many countries. Instead, it looks for a drop in economic activity, spread across the economy and lasting more than a few months.

The economy grew at a 2.1% annualized rate in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department confirmed in another report on Thursday. The department also reported a 9.1% plunge in the goods trade deficit to $59.9 billion in February, as well as declines in wholesale and retail inventories, as the coronavirus helped to depressed imports.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher, with expectations rising that the record jump in unemployment benefits would spur additional fiscal relief. The dollar .DXY fell against a basket of currencies, while prices of U.S. Treasuries rose.

(Graphic: Unemployment benefits claims hit all-time high, here)

PAYROLLS SEEN DECLINING

The pandemic has prompted governors in at least 18 states to order residents to stay mostly indoors. “Non-essential” businesses have also been ordered closed. According to economists, a fifth of the workforce is on some form of lockdown.

The historic fiscal stimulus package, which is now before the U.S. House of Representatives, would increase payments for the unemployed by up to $600 per week per worker, and laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Unadjusted claims for California and Washington state, Ohio, New Jersey, Illinois, Texas and Massachusetts increased by more than 100,000 last week. Pennsylvania reported unadjusted claims increased more than 300,000.

Last week’s claims data likely will have no impact on March’s employment report as it falls outside the period during which the government surveyed employers for nonfarm payrolls, which was the week ended March 14.

Still, the unprecedented surge in jobless claims likely signals a record streak of 113 months of U.S. employment growth, dating to October 2010, came to an end this month.

“Jobs will decline in March,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “There are numerous reports of laid-off workers unable to file for unemployment insurance because so many people are trying to file at the same time. Millions of job losses are likely in coming weeks.”

(Graphic: End of a historic jobs boom, here)

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid increased 101,000 to 1.80 million for the week ended March 14, the highest since April 2018.

The so-called continuing claims data covered the period during which the government surveyed households for March’s unemployment rate. Continuing claims increased 110,000 between the February and March survey week, suggesting the unemployment rate will probably rise this month from the current 3.5%.

“We would be amazed if it didn’t exceed 10% by May, if not April,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto. “The unemployment rate could remain elevated for years.”

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Factbox: What's in the $2.2 trillion U.S. coronavirus rescue package

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved an unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus package to alleviate the economic devastation of the coronavirus pandemic and sent it to President Donald Trump to sign into law.

Here are major elements of the plan. Cost estimates are provided by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

DIRECT PAYMENTS TO AMERICANS

Direct payments of up to $1,200 each to millions of Americans, with additional payments of $500 per child. Payments would be phased out for those earning more than $75,000 a year. Those earning more than $99,000 would not be eligible.

Estimated cost: $290 billion

ENHANCED UNEMPLOYMENT AID

Payments for jobless workers would increase by $600 per week. Laid-off workers would get those payments for up to four months. Regular benefits, which typically run out after six months in most states, would be extended for an additional 13 weeks.

Self-employed workers, independent contractors and those who typically don’t qualify for unemployment benefits would be eligible. The government would also partially make up wages for workers whose hours are scaled back, in an effort to encourage employers to avoid layoffs.

Estimated cost: $260 billion

SMALL BUSINESS LOANS AND GRANTS

Loans for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees could be partially forgiven if they are used for employee salaries, rent, mortgage interest and utility costs. The bill also includes emergency grants for small business.

Estimated cost: $377 billion.

AID TO AIRLINES, LARGE BUSINESSES

The bill sets up a fund to support a new Federal Reserve program that offers up to $4.5 trillion in loans to businesses, states and cities that can’t get financing through other means.

Companies tapping the fund would not be able to engage in stock buybacks and would have to retain at least 90% of their employees through the end of September. They would not be able to boost executive pay by more than $425,000 annually, and those earning more than $3 million a year could see their salaries reduced.

The fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional oversight board. The Treasury secretary would have to disclose transactions.

Businesses owned by President Donald Trump, other administration officials or Congress members, or their family members, would not be eligible for assistance.

Loans are set aside for airlines, air cargo carriers, airline contractors and “businesses important to maintaining national security,” widely understood to be Boeing Co (BA.N).

Total cost: $504 billion

GRANTS FOR AIRLINES

Airlines, air cargo carries and airline contractors also could get grants to cover payroll costs. They would have to maintain service and staffing levels, and would not be able to buy back stock or pay dividends. The U.S. government could get stock or other equity in return. Executive pay above $425,000 a year would be frozen for two years, and those who earn more than $3 million annually would see their salaries reduced.

Total cost: $32 billion

MONEY FOR STATES, HOSPITALS, EDUCATION

– $150 billion for state, local and Native American tribal governments

– $100 billion for hospitals and other elements of the healthcare system

– $16 billion for ventilators, masks and other medical supplies

– $11 billion for vaccines and other medical preparedness

– $4.3 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

– $45 billion in disaster relief

– $30 billion for education

– $25 billion for mass-transit systems

– $10 billion in borrowing authority for the U.S. Postal Service

– $1 billion for the Amtrak passenger rail service and $10 billion for airports, which are experiencing a drop in passengers

TAX CUTS

– A refundable 50 percent payroll tax credit for businesses affected by the coronavirus, to encourage employee retention. Employers would also be able to defer payment of those taxes if necessary. Cost: $67 billion

– Loosened tax deductions for interest and operating losses. Cost: $210 billion

– Suspension of penalties for people who tap their retirement funds early. Cost: $5 billion

– Tax write-offs to encourage charitable deductions and encourage employers to help pay off student loans. Cost: $3 billion

– Waiving of federal tax on distilled spirits used to make hand sanitizer

INCREASED SAFETY NET SPENDING

– $42 billion in additional spending for food stamps and child nutrition

– $12 billion for housing programs

– $45 billion for child and family services

OTHER ELEMENTS

– A ban on foreclosing on federally backed mortgages through mid-May, and a four-month ban on evictions by landlords who rely on federal housing programs.

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Tempers rise in U.S. Senate as vote nears on $2 trillion coronavirus bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators were set to vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, although critics from the right and left threatened to hold up the bill.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of talks.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

Several Republican senators said the bill needed to be changed to ensure that laid-off workers would not be paid more than they earned on the job.

“This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, told a news conference.

In response, Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he was prepared to block the bill if Republicans do not drop their objections.

That came after leaders of both parties predicted a Wednesday vote.

“Today the Senate will act to help the people of this country weather this storm,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the chamber convened at noon (1600 GMT).

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  • Factbox: What's in the $2 trillion U.S. Senate coronavirus rescue package

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said his party was willing to pass the bill as quickly as possible.

“Help is on the way. Big help. Quick help,” he said on the Senate floor.

Trump is ready to sign the measure into law, the White House said, but it was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to his desk. McConnell did not say what time the Senate would hold its vote, and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

The package will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

‘DROP IN THE BUCKET’

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the $3.8 billion allocated to his state would not cover the tax revenue it stands to lose from reduced economic activity. His state accounts for roughly half of all U.S. coronavirus cases.

“That is a drop in the bucket,” he said at a news conference.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed 812 people in the United States and infected more than 59,200.

The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX rallied for a second straight day, closing up 1.15%. [nL1N2BI1YH]

Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval, which could lead to further delays.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, told lawmakers that they would be notified 24 hours before any action.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring their return, through a “voice vote” that would require only a few lawmakers to be present.

The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, said he would prefer that approach and called for its passage on Friday.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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U.S. SEC extends conditional relief for public companies hit by coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said on Wednesday it would extend its prior conditional regulatory relief from disclosure requirements for public companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The extension will apply to filings that would have been due on or by July 1, the SEC said in a statement. The agency said earlier this month it would provide 45-day extensions for filings that would have otherwise been due between March 1 and April 30.

The extension announced on Wednesday supersedes the initial disclosure relief, the agency said. It requires U.S.-listed companies seeking an additional delay to specifically explain why the relief is needed, the agency said. It would also consider providing additional extensions for any legally required disclosures for future periods.

SEC staff said companies should avoid “selective disclosures” related to material impacts of the coronavirus outbreak, but rather broadly disseminate such material information.

Companies should consider whether they may need to revisit, refresh, or update previous disclosures to the extent that the information becomes materially inaccurate, the agency added.

And while companies may have more time to make disclosures, directors and officers should refrain from buying and selling stock until investors have been appropriately informed about any relevant risks, the agency said.

“These actions provide temporary, targeted relief to issuers,” SEC Chairman Jay Clayton said in a statement.

“At the same time, we encourage public companies to provide current and forward-looking information to their investors.”

Also on Wednesday, the agency said it would grant certain investment funds and investment advisers additional time extensions to hold in-person board meetings and submitting other filing requirements, including annual and semi-annual reports.

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Unprecedented $2 trillion U.S. coronavirus stimulus bill poised for Senate vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. senators will vote on Wednesday on a $2 trillion bipartisan package of legislation to alleviate the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, hoping it will become law quickly.

Top aides to Republican President Donald Trump and senior Senate Republicans and Democrats said they had agreed on the unprecedented stimulus bill in the early hours of Wednesday after five days of marathon talks.

“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early on Wednesday.

It was unclear how quickly Congress could get the package to Trump to sign into law.

The Senate was due to convene at 12 p.m. EDT (1600 GMT), with a vote expected sometime in the afternoon. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives is not expected to act before Thursday.

Trump supports the measure, the White House said.

“We’re really looking forward to this vote today so that he can sign it into law,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said on Fox News.

The massive bill includes a $500 billion fund to help hard-hit industries and a comparable amount for direct payments of up to $3,000 apiece to millions of U.S. families.

It will also include $350 billion for small-business loans, $250 billion for expanded unemployment aid and at least $100 billion for hospitals and related health systems.

It would be the largest rescue package ever approved by Congress and the third such effort to be passed this month. The money at stake amounts to nearly half of the $4.7 trillion the U.S. government spends annually.

“We have greatly strengthened the bill and we’re proud of what we’ve done,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on CNN.

The package aims to flood the U.S. economy with cash in a bid to stem the impact of a pandemic that has killed more than 730 people in the United States and infected more than 53,650.

Interactive graphic tracking the spread of the coronavirus: here

The governors of at least 18 states, including hard-hit New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the pathogen’s spread, but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

U.S. stocks were mixed in choppy trading after a strong rebound on Tuesday and a rise in early trading on Wednesday, as optimism about the coronavirus package waned, with investors still concerned about the lasting economic hit from the pandemic.[nL4N2BI46F7]

The bill is expected to pass the Republican-led Senate easily, more so because Republican Senator Rand Paul, the only senator to vote against an earlier round of emergency virus funding, may be unable to vote after testing positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

It also must pass the Democratic-led House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who proposed a more far-reaching rescue package, did not say whether she would support the Senate version.

“We’ll see the bill and see how the Senate votes. So there’s no decision about timing until we see the bill,” she told reporters.

House members left Washington 10 days ago, but the lower chamber could quickly pass the bill without requiring them to return if all members agree to do so.

If just one of the chamber’s 430 current members objects, that could require them to return to Washington to vote in person at a time when several members are self-quarantining. Any changes made by the House would also require Senate approval – leading to further delays.

Trump said on Tuesday he wanted Americans to end “social distancing” restrictions intended to slow the spread of the virus and return to work by Easter, April 12.

That concerned health officials, who fear ending the lockdown too soon could bring more virus-related deaths.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser.)

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Senate bill set to give aviation sector up to $33 billion bailout: sources

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – A compromise $2 trillion economic rescue package that will be voted on by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday is set to give passenger airlines about $25 billion in grants, and up to another $8 billion for cargo carriers and airport contractors like caterers, three people briefed on the negotiations said.

Reuters reported Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, a person briefed on call on Tuesday that lawmakers were nearing agreement on a deal for cash grants for payroll and other airline employee costs, after airlines made a last-minute effort to convince lawmakers they needed the cash to prevent the layoff of tens of thousands of workers.

The aid package is expected to include a further $29 billion in loans for airlines, and the government could receive equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package. U.S. airports are set to receive $10 billion in grants under the agreement.

The final text is still being drafted but will include restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation.

Senate Republicans on Sunday rejected any grants for airlines and instead proposed $58 billion in loans for airlines. Major airlines sounded the alarm and emphasized in recent days that without grants, they had short-term plans to quickly furlough tens of thousands of workers as travel demand collapses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the carriers promised not to lay off workers through Aug. 31 if they won grants.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants said on Twitter it was a “HUGE fight but we WON on this – We got the deal structured around maintaining payroll, no (involuntary) furloughs.”

Airlines and airline unions won crucial support from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who spoke to lawmakers and others in the administration about the crisis.

In a memo Chao had drafted that was seen by Reuters, she noted that airlines employ 750,000 U.S. workers. She was worried about a dramatic decline in the U.S. aviation sector that could reduce competition, and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, people briefed on the matter said.

“Without grant assistance, U.S. airlines have warned that they may be forced to furlough employees or declare bankruptcy,” Chao’s memo warned. “Without grants, airlines may be forced to choose bankruptcy over federal loans, if loan conditions are too inflexible.”

Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, said a person briefed on call.

The government will also provide significant funding to Amtrak and U.S. transit systems that have both seen ridership fall dramatically as states order tens of millions of Americans to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.

Boeing Co (BA.N) could also receive government loans or loan guarantees under the bill, but it was not clear if they would tap $17 billion in loan funding set aside for national security-related loans that were part of the Republican bill released on Sunday. Boeing had sought at least $60 billion in government loan guarantees for itself and the entire aerospace manufacturing sector.

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