The daily business briefing: March 19, 2020

1.

Trading on the New York Stock Exchange was once again halted on Wednesday as stocks plummeted, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average officially erased nearly all of its gains since President Trump was inaugurated. The Dow on Wednesday fell below 19,732 points, the number it closed at the day before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. As the S&P 500 fell 7 percent, trading on the New York Stock Exchange was halted for 15 minutes. This is the fourth time the stock market’s circuit breaker has triggered a suspension in trading this month amid the escalating coronavirus crisis. “Stocks are crashing, commodities are crashing, and oil prices are crashing,” said Chris Brightman of Research Affiliates. “Fear has gripped markets.” U.S. stock futures fell early Thursday. [The Washington Post, CNBC]

2.

President Trump on Wednesday invoked his emergency authority under the Defense Production Act to enable him to compel industries to increase production of essential materials needed in the fight against the COVID-19 coronavirus, including medical supplies and much-needed ventilators. “It’s a war,” Trump said, declaring himself to be a “wartime president.” Trump, who said he wasn’t using the emergency powers just yet, made the announcement as economic damage from the pandemic expanded, with Detroit’s Big Three automakers shutting down their North American factories. The virus now has infected more than 9,400 in the United States, killing 150. Trump also said the Department of Housing and Urban Development would suspend all foreclosures and evictions until the end of April. [The Associated Press]

3.

SpaceX on Wednesday successfully launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit but failed to land the Falcon 9 rocket on a floating platform. The Falcon 9 started its record fifth flight from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, its white exterior marred with soot from its previous trips into the atmosphere. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said the rocket lost one of its nine engines but still managed to deliver its payload into orbit. “There was also an early engine shutdown on ascent, but it didn’t affect orbit insertion,” Musk tweeted. “Shows value of having 9 engines! Thorough investigation needed before next mission.” The mission was delayed by three days after an engine problem forced the launch to be aborted at the last second. [Space.com]

4.

States are reporting huge increases in applications for jobless benefits this week after government officials ordered millions of Americans to stay home from work due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 48,000 people applied for benefits in Ohio this week, up from just 1,825 the week before. About 70,000 people applied for unemployment aid in Pennsylvania in a single day, six times more than applied the previous week. “We’ve been getting flooded with calls,” said John Dodds, director of the nonprofit Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “It’s going to be a big mess, a double mess: illness and unemployment.” The need is stretching what many states have set aside for idled workers. “Our unemployment insurance fund is getting hit pretty hard right now,” said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, whose state saw coronavirus-related jobless claims jump from zero to nearly 18,000 in a week. [The Associated Press]

5.

Home testing company Everlywell plans to start offering a COVID-19 coronavirus test starting March 23. The company sells dozens of lab tests to consumers to allow them to check cholesterol levels, fertility, and infectious diseases, including STDs. Customers will be able to order the kits from the company’s website. Buyers will have to answer a series of questions about their health, symptoms, and risk factors. A prescription is required, so a telemedicine doctor from PWNHealth will review customers’ answers to determine whether they qualify for testing. The availability of home tests could help identify more cases after an initial shortage of tests as the outbreak spread in the United States. [Time]

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