Thursday 30 April 2020

Did The Fed Just Switch Sides?

Baltic Dry Index. 643 -12  Brent Crude 24.66
Spot Gold 1712

Coronavirus Cases 30/4/20 World 3,208,871
Deaths 227,883

In central banking as in diplomacy, style, conservative tailoring, and an easy association with the affluent count greatly and results far much less.

John Kenneth Galbraith

On day two of the Federal Reserve virtual meeting in Washington yesterday,  Chairman Powell’s press conference was distinctly underwhelming.

With the US GDP number for the first quarter coming in much worse at minus 4.8 percent than the consensus expected minus 4 percent, Chairman Powell needed to pull a white rabbit out of the top hat yesterday. The second quarter figures are guaranteed to be much worse.

To rescue the stock market and President Trump’s re-election campaign, Chairman Powell needed to be talking up a fast “V” shaped recovery directly ahead, however unlikely. Has he already switched across to the Biden campaign?

At least there was some better news on Gilead’s “miracle” drug remdesivir. Shame about the coming tea shortage though. As soon as Aldi opens I’ll rush out and buy a year’s supply. I wonder if they take back toilette rolls?

Below, yesterday’s news and Wall Street spin. Another dress up month-end coming up.

U.S. economy shrinks by 4.8% in 1st quarter; Fed keeps interest rate near zero

April 29, 2020 / 10:34 AM
April 29 (UPI) -- After a full decade of steady and record growth, the U.S. economy abruptly shrank by almost 5 percent during the first three months of 2020 -- due almost entirely to the coronavirus crisis, the Commerce Department said in its quarterly report Wednesday.

The department said the U.S. gross domestic product contracted by 4.8 percent for the first quarter, the first contraction since 2014 and the largest since the Great Recession.

The figures show the domestic economy grew over the first two and a half months of the year before coronavirus-related closures brought it to a sudden halt in mid-March.

The contraction is the largest since an 8.4 percent drop in the final quarter of 2008. The U.S. economy grew by 2.1 percent in the previous quarter, Q4 of 2019.

"The decrease in real GDP in the first quarter reflected negative contributions ... that were partly offset by positive contributions," the report said.

The department acknowledged that the global health crisis led to rapid declines in demand and affected a wide swath of the economy -- and cautioned that the second quarter, April through June, will probably show greater losses.

On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve announced it would keep the federal interest rate at zero to 0.25 percent while committing to using its "full range of tools" to support the economy amid the pandemic.

"The forceful measures that we as a country are taking to control the spread of the virus have brought much of the economy to an abrupt halt," said Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. "Many businesses have closed, people have been asked to stay home and basic social interactions are greatly curtailed. People are putting their livelihoods on hold, at significant economic and personal cost."

Why the Economy Was Even Worse Than the GDP Report

First-quarter gross domestic product likely fell even more than 4.8%—and the second quarter will be worse

Justin Lahart
The government has reported that in the first quarter the economy experienced its sharpest contraction since 2008. The reality was likely even worse.

On Wednesday the Commerce Department said that gross domestic product fell an annualized 4.8% in the first quarter, marking the largest drop since the fourth quarter of 2008, when the financial crisis hit. This number shows how much the economy would shrink if the first-quarter’s pace of contraction lasted all year, so an annualized drop of 4.8% number translates to an actual decline of 1.2% in the quarter.

The sharp drop is all the more remarkable considering it was only in the final weeks of the quarter that the coronavirus crisis really began to take hold. Consider: Earlier Commerce Department data showed that through February consumer spending was up an annualized 1.1% from its fourth-quarter levels. But the GDP report showed spending declined at a 7.6% rate in the first quarter. That implies that spending fell 6.7% in March alone.

That the hit came late in the quarter is one reason the GDP report may be understating how much the economy shrank in the quarter. When the Commerce Department first compiles the report, it lacks a lot of data on what was happening late in the quarter, and so has to make a lot of assumptions. When recessions hit, these assumptions often turn out to be, with hindsight, optimistic. Goldman Sachs economists point out that in the fourth quarter of 2008 the initial GDP report showed the economy contracted at an annualized 3.8% rate. That was eventually revised to show an 8.4% decline.

That collecting data on the economy has become more onerous when so many businesses are shut down compounds the problem. Last week’s report on March durable goods shipments and orders, which the Commerce Department uses for making GDP estimates, didn’t show the slowdown in underlying activity implied by either factory surveys or weekly jobless claims, UBS economists noted. That may be because the Commerce Department was lacking information from the hardest-hit firms. While the Commerce Department said that its “quality metrics fell within normal ranges for this survey,” it may have underestimated the severity of what occurred.

No matter how bad the first quarter was, the current quarter will be far worse, reflecting the full extent of shutdowns, business closings and job losses. After Wednesday’s report, Morgan Stanley economists said they expect second-quarter GDP will contract at a 38% annual rate. That would be equivalent to the worst quarterly contraction of the 1930s as measured by gross national product.

Millions of Americans likely applied for jobless benefits last week though wave is stabilizing

April 30, 2020 / 5:11 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Millions more Americans likely filed claims for unemployment benefits last week, but the tide appears to be slowing, offering cautious hope of a peak in job losses from business closures and disruptions because of the novel coronavirus.

The Labor Department’s weekly jobless claims report on Thursday will follow news on Wednesday that the economy in the first quarter suffered its sharpest contraction since the Great Recession. This ended the longest expansion in the United States’ history as the economy reels from nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. 

Jobless benefit applications, since hitting a record 6.867 million in the week ended March 28, have been trending lower as overwhelmed state employment offices cleared backlogs.

But the numbers are still at high levels unimaginable just months ago. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits likely totaled a seasonally adjusted 3.50 million for the week ended April 25, according to a Reuters survey of economists. That would be down from 4.427 million in the prior week and mark the fourth straight weekly decrease in applications.

“As these claims are processed, there could even be a sharp drop in initial filings,” said Andrew Hollenhorst, an economist at Citigroup in New York. “Still, job separations will likely remain high for a while, as softer demand spills over into industries not initially directly affected by shutdowns.”
Last week’s filings would lift the number of people who sought unemployment benefits to around 30 million since March 21, roughly 18.4% of the working age population.

With initial claims for jobless benefits starting to stabilize, attention is shifting to the number of people remaining on unemployment rolls to get a better sense of the depth of the labor market downturn.

This so-called continuing claims data is reported with a one-week lag. Thursday’s report is expected to show continuing claims surged to a record 19.238 million in the week ending April 18 from 15.976 million in the prior week. The continuing claims data will cover the period during which the government surveyed households for April’s unemployment rate.

Markets for corn evaporate during coronavirus pandemic

April 29, 2020 / 3:00 AM
EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 29 (UPI) -- The market for corn has evaporated during the coronavirus pandemic, and farmers worry they'll be unable to sell this year's harvest.

More than two-thirds of the corn grown in the United States goes either to feed livestock or make ethanol, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Both those industries are taking severe hits during the pandemic. 

"The first thing that knocked the corn market down was the collapse of ethanol," said Blake Hurst, a corn grower who is the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

"People just aren't driving as much," he said. "Now, we're seeing concerns in the market because we're losing packing plants. Farmers are euthanizing their animals, so livestock herds are shrinking."
Ethanol production has been cut nearly in half since February, according to data released by the Renewable Fuels Association.

Meanwhile, ethanol stocks have hit a record high, climbing to 27.7 million barrels by April 17, up from 24.1 million barrels a month earlier, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

It's unclear to what extent meat packing plant closures will impact demand for livestock feed -- especially after President Donald Trump said Tuesday he would sign an executive order to make meat processing plants stay open amid the pandemic.

More than a dozen slaughterhouses have closed due to workers becoming sick since the start of the pandemic. Livestock producers who are unable to sell their animals already are killing them.

"I know there are farmers who have had to kill their pigs," Howard AV Roth, president of the National Pork Producers Council, who raises and weans pigs in Wisconsin, told UPI on Thursday. "Farmers are aborting sows. It's really awful."

In addition, corn exports have ground nearly to a halt as port workers around the world stay home to avoid contracting the virus.

"It is a struggle to ship anything right now," said Floyd Gaibler, the director of trade policy and biotechnology for the U.S. Grains Council, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization that represents the corn, sorghum and barley industries.

Around 20 percent of America's corn is exported, according to the USDA.

The combined market disruptions are pushing corn prices down rapidly. Corn was trading at close to $3 per bushel Tuesday, down from close to $4 in January, according to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

But despite plummeting price and disappearing markets, farmers this year intend to plant a large corn crop, according to USDA surveys. This is in part because planting decisions are made -- and supplies purchased -- around the start of the year.

Farmers may make some last-minute changes to their planting plans, but probably not a lot, the farm bureau's Hurst said.

Elsewhere, gloomy news still prevailed, just don’t let on to the stock markets, where we have another dress up the month end figures underway.

Auto supplier Bosch sees global car production down 20% in 2020

April 29, 2020 / 9:50 AM
FRANKFURT (Reuters) - German auto supplier and technology company Robert Bosch [ROBG.UL] on Wednesday said it expected automotive production to fall by at least 20% this year, as the coronavirus pandemic slams the brakes on factory production lines and saps demand.

“We are bracing ourselves for a global recession that will also have a considerable impact on our own performance in 2020,” Bosch Chief Financial Officer Stefan Asenkerschbaumer said in a statement.
“Given the many imponderables, we feel unable to make a reasonable forecast for the Bosch Group for the year as a whole. It will take a supreme effort to achieve at least a balanced result.” 

To cut costs, Bosch has pushed out timeframes for making investments, reduced working hours for half of its staff in Germany and imposed salary reductions. Managers and executives are taking a 20% pay cut in April and May.

“Even if production has been ramped up again in China, and European industry is preparing for a ramp-up of its own, we have to steel ourselves for a severe global recession over 2020 as a whole,” the company said.

In January, before the coronacrisis had become a global pandemic, Bosch warned that global car production may have already reached its peak and released preliminary full-year earnings which showed weaker demand in Asia.

Coronavirus brews trouble for tea, disrupts supply as demand spikes

April 29, 2020 / 4:56 AM
MUMBAI/MOSCOW (Reuters) - The coronavirus outbreak is causing a rare stir in the usually staid global tea market, with labour lockdowns stifling supplies just as millions in lockdown drive up demand for the beverage known for its immunity-boosting properties.

Five countries - China, India, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Vietnam - account for 82% of global tea exports, but strict restrictions on movement to contain the coronavirus pandemic have already disrupted the key leaf-picking season, delayed some shipments by about a month and triggered a spike in prices.

Fewer pickers combined with colder-than-normal temperatures last month are expected to trim output in top producer China this year, while production in No.2 grower India and Sri Lanka have also been impacted by labour and weather issues.

India’s output is likely to drop by 120 million kgs or 9% in 2020 as the lockdown initially forced plantations to suspend plucking during the opening harvest - the prized first flush - and then operate with about half the workforce, said Prabhat Bezboruah, chairman of India’s Tea Board.

The International Tea Committee (ITC) estimates India’s 2020 exports will fall 7%.

In March, exports from India slumped 34% and nearly halved from Sri Lanka, India’s Commerce Ministry and tea brokers say.

The bright spot is Kenya, the world’s top exporter, which has seen minimal interruption to harvest since March and, according to ITC, may see domestic output rise by 15% this year.

Vietnam’s output is also expected to be largely unaffected, but it is a relatively smaller player.

Still, importers have already started feeling the pinch amid dwindling supplies from South Asia.
“Shipments from India have been delayed by an average of one month, and we have also experienced delays in the supply of tea from other countries, in particular Sri Lanka,” said Orimi trade, Russia’s leading tea manufacturer.

Planes Are Still Flying, but Covid-19 Recovery Will Be Tough

Air travel is down more than 90 percent from last year, and analysts say the rebound will be slower than following 9/11 or the financial crisis.
04.29.2020 07:00 AM

Finally, belatedly, the SEC has woken up at the wheel.

U.S. SEC investigates Luckin Coffee over accounting scandal - WSJ

April 29, 2020 / 11:29 AM
(Reuters) - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Luckin Coffee Inc (LK.O) for fabricating millions of dollars worth of sales deals last year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday citing people familiar with the matter. 

Earlier this month, Luckin Coffee said an internal investigation revealed that its chief operating officer and other employees were suspended for fabricated sales deals worth about 2.2 billion yuan ($310.77 million).

Shares in Luckin, which aggressively pitched itself as a challenger to Starbucks (SBUX.O) in China, have plunged by more than 90% from their January high following the news.

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation has also launched an inspection into Luckin, joining the country’s securities watchdog.

Luckin and the U.S. SEC were not immediately available for a comment.

There can be few fields of human endeavour in which history counts for so little as in the world of finance. Past experience, to the extent that it is part of memory at all, is dismissed as the primitive refuge of those who do not have the insight to appreciate the incredible wonders of the present.

John Kenneth Galbraith

Covid-19 Corner

Though hopefully, we are passing the peak of new cases, at least of the first SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, this section will continue until it becomes unneeded.

Florida moves to ease coronavirus lockdown as promising treatment emerges

April 29, 2020 / 5:39 PM
MIAMI (Reuters) - The governor of Florida, among the last to lock down his state against the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, announced on Wednesday he would permit a limited economic reopening next week while leaving restraints intact for the dense greater-Miami area.

Florida became the latest, and one of the two largest, of about a dozen states forging ahead to ease crippling restrictions on business activity without vastly expanded virus testing and other safeguards that medical experts recommend should be in place first.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Governor Ron DeSantis said as he unveiled his “phase-one” plan for relaxing mandatory workplace closures and stay-at-home orders imposed four weeks ago.

Earlier in the week his counterpart in Texas, Greg Abbott, another governor closely aligned with fellow Republican President Donald Trump, announced a similar economic reopening strategy due to go into effect on Friday.

As questions lingered over when and how to loosen social-distancing rules employed as the chief weapon against a highly contagious virus with no vaccine, word emerged from Washington on Wednesday of a promising new treatment for the disease.

The U.S. government’s top infectious-disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, from pharmaceutical maker Gilead Sciences Inc (GILD.O), had proven effective in a key clinical trial.

With preliminary results showing patients recovering 31% faster with the drug than with a placebo, remdesivir will become the standard of care for treating COVID-19, the potentially deadly lung disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Fauci told reporters at the White House.

He called the development “highly significant.” The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it was in talks with Gilead about making the drug available to patients as quickly as possible.

Finding The Kink In COVID-19's Armor - Preventing ARDS

Apr. 28, 2020 3:42 AM ET

A treatment is needed for ARDS.
Remdesivir was touted by STAT.
Antiviral efficacy and side effects are under scrutiny.
CytoDyn is closest to a trial readout.

The top pharmaceutical companies are trying every approach they can imagine to find the weakness in COVID-19’s armor. Pharma companies that were arch enemies are working together. Drugs that are approved for other diseases are being tested as treatments. The front runner is Gilead Sciences (GILD) with its lead candidate remdesivir. Gilead expects initial trial results in April. On speculative evidence from a phone call cited by STAT report that remdesivir patients were responding to treatment the stock shot up 9.73%, or $10.5 billion, on hopes of a decent trial report. Soon to join it was Regeneron (REGN) with a rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug called Kevzara. There are other drugs with some promising results like anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and FujiFilm’s (OTCPK:FUJIY) antiviral generic influenza drug called Avagin (favipiravir). The primary issue is that none of these drugs has finished its controlled trials and none of these drugs prevents Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a complication of pneumonia and COVID-19. This is the most critical part of the disease because few recover from it. Data from China indicate that only about 15-20% of patients that go on a respirator recover.

CytoDyn Inc. (OTCQB:CYDY) has a novel way to treat ARDS that could tame the feared COVID-19 infection for serious patients. CYDY trial results are likely to come before heralded GILD presents results, so investors need to be cautious ahead of the announcements. No trials have been completed yet. Many drug companies like Moderna (MRNA) and others are rushing to create a vaccine, but a vaccine is not a cure but a prophylactic, which activates your immune system by producing antibodies for the virus. So, for the first time, we are starting to see hope that something can prevent the COVID-19, but the actual vaccine availability is 12 to 18 months away. Too far away to affect this outbreak and maybe the expected echo surge coming back in the fall. So a therapy for those with serious symptoms is needed as early as possible. There are only a few candidates. CYDY’s drug leronlimab is designed to stop the trafficking of macrophages to the lungs using the same mechanism of action that it uses to stop the trafficking of macrophages in metastatic cancer to the tumor microenvironment (TME). Imbalance in the immune response is ultimately what leads to a cytokine storm in the lungs where a patient's own immune response causes damage to the lung tissue which results in fluid accumulation in the lungs that, when bad enough, results in ARDS.
More, much, much more.

Technology Update.
With events happening fast in the development of solar power and graphene, I’ve added this section. Updates as they get reported. Is converting sunlight to usable cheap AC or DC energy mankind’s future from the 21st century onwards.
No update today, normal service tomorrow.
If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid.

John Maynard Keynes

The Monthly Coppock Indicators finished March

DJIA: 21,917 +45 Down. NASDAQ: 7,700 +149 Down. SP500: 2,585 +38 Down.

The NASDAQ and S&P have joined the DJIA in down. All three monthly slow indexes have collapsed.

Wednesday 29 April 2020

Fed Day One. Some Common Sense. UV Light.

Baltic Dry Index. 655 -06  Brent Crude 21.00
Spot Gold 1711

Coronavirus Cases 29/4/20 World 3,131,728
Deaths 217,661

"We pay the debts of the last generation, by issuing bonds payable by  the next generation."

Dr. Laurence J. Peter, author, The Peter Principal.

It is day one of the two day new style Federal Reserve “meeting.” Well they’re distance virtual meeting via something like Cisco’s Webex meetings. I doubt they’ll be using the very hackable Zoom.

With nothing much expected from the Fed today, everything hangs on the usual press conference after tomorrow’s meeting. What will Chairman Powell say to boost the stock market and President Trump’s re-election campaign? Can he get the DJIA back up to 30,000 by early November? Dow 30,000 or bust!

Below, another day older and deeper in massive debt.

Asia shares extend gains as economies slowly re-open, oil rallies

April 29, 2020 / 1:23 AM
SYDNEY/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Asian shares rose for a third session on the trot on Wednesday as investors took heart from easing coronavirus lockdowns in some parts of the world while oil prices jumped on hopes demand will pick up.

Risk assets including equities have rallied for most of this month thanks to heavy doses of fiscal and monetary policy stimulus around the globe aimed at softening the economic blow from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Positive news around potential treatments for the infection as well as progress in developing a vaccine have also boosted sentiment recently.

Moreover, investors have regained some confidence as parts of the United States, Europe and Australia are gradually easing restrictions while New Zealand this week allowed some businesses to open.

These factors helped lift MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS by 0.9% on Wednesday, having rallied 3.3% already this week.

Japan’s markets were closed for a public holiday.

Australian shares rose 1.2% led by energy and resources firms while South Korea .KS11 added 1.2%.
Chinese markets opened in the black with the blue-chip index .CSI300 up 0.6%.

All the same, analysts were circumspect about the rally.

“The recovery in global share prices from the March lows has not been accompanied by an expansion in market breadth,” said Jefferies analyst Sean Darby.

Darby said the number of stocks above their 260-day moving average was still very low across emerging market and developed market indexes while the number of stocks making new highs versus new lows is about equal.

“Unlike turning points for markets and earnings at the bottom, there is no clear evidence on how the technical picture should evolve. The current rally suggests that conviction levels are low in our view,” Darby added.

The equity gains have come even as analysts predict a sharp contraction in world growth.

Moody’s expects economies of the group of 20 advanced nations (G-20) to shrink 5.8% this year with momentum unlikely to recover to pre-coronavirus levels even in 2021.

Markets were next looking for any guidance from the U.S. Federal Reserve, which is due to issue a policy statement at the close of its two-day meeting on Wednesday. The European Central Bank meets on Thursday.

Analysts said it was unlikely the Fed would make further major policy moves, given the scope and depth of its efforts to counter the economic damage caused by the coronavirus.

On Wall Street overnight, investors dumped tech giants despite an earnings beat from Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), driving all three major U.S. stock indexes into the red.

The Federal Reserve Is Changing What It Means to Be a Central Bank

By lending widely to businesses, states and cities, the Fed is breaking taboos about who gets money to prop up a frozen U.S. economy

By Nick Timiraos and Jon Hilsenrath  April 27, 2020 11:06 am ET

The Federal Reserve is redefining central banking.

By lending widely to businesses, states and cities in its effort to insulate the U.S. economy from the coronavirus pandemic, it is breaking century-old taboos about who gets money from the central bank in a crisis, on what terms, and what risks it will take about getting that money back.

And with large-scale purchases of U.S. Treasury securities, the Federal Reserve is stretching the boundaries for what a central bank will do to finance soaring federal debt—actions that move it deeper into political decisions it usually tries to avoid.

Fed leaders don’t like doing any of this. They believe they have no better alternative.

“None of us has the luxury of choosing our challenges; fate and history provide them for us,” Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said in a speech this month. “Our job is to meet the tests we are presented.”
Economists project the central bank’s portfolio of bonds, loans and new programs will swell to between $8 trillion and $11 trillion from less than $4 trillion last year. In that range, the portfolio would be twice the size reached after the 2007-09 financial crisis and nearly half the value of U.S. annual economic output.

It would make its role in the economy far greater than during the Great Depression or World War II, according to Wall Street Journal calculations. The portfolio had reached $6.57 trillion by April 22.

“The Fed is being sent on a mission to places it has never been before,” says Adam Tooze, a Columbia University history professor who writes about financial crisis and war. Due to the financial and economic shocks caused by the virus, he says, central-bank officials “are being sucked into a series of entanglements that they cannot control and that they normally will not touch with a long pole, but this time felt they had to go in, and go in hard.”

Uncharted Territory

The Fed's portfolio of bonds, loans and new programs will swell to $8 trillion–$11 trillion, economists estimate.

----Among risks the Fed is taking: that some programs won’t work, that officials won’t be able to unwind them, that politicians will grow accustomed to directing the central bank to fix problems its tools aren’t designed to solve, and that public discontent about the central bank’s choices will erode its authority over time.

This last risk is prominent because the Fed’s tools are better suited to helping large firms that borrow in capital markets than small ones that don’t.

“Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Catholicism without hell,” Howard Marks, director of investment fund Oaktree Capital Management LP, said in a letter to shareholders this month, writing that “Markets work best when participants have a healthy fear of loss.” Mr. Marks in a later interview said he didn’t want to imply Mr. Powell’s actions were wrong: “The fact that something can have negative, unintended consequences, doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.”

Mr. Powell defines the government’s task from a different moral perspective. “People are undertaking these sacrifices for the common good,” he said in his speech. “We need to make them whole to the extent we have the ability.”

Finally, did blowing up the economy just blow up America’s future food supply? Well almost, President Trump finally acted to head off that future disaster. Some common sense at last.

Trump orders meat processing plants to stay open

Updated 2153 GMT (0553 HKT) April 28, 2020
Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump signed an executive order under the Defense Production Act to compel meat processing plants to remain open amid the coronavirus pandemic

Trump had highlighted the order during an Oval Office meeting with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that was opened up to reporters.

"We're going to sign an executive order today, I believe, and that'll solve any liability problems," Trump said on Tuesday.

The President signed the order after some companies, such as Tyson Foods, were considering only keeping 20% of their facilities open. The vast majority of processing plants could have shut down -- which would have reduced processing capacity in the country by as much as 80%, an official familiar with the order told CNN.

By signing the order, Trump declared these plants part of critical infrastructure in the US.

The administration is also working with the Department of Labor on issuing guidance about which employees who work at these meat processing facilities should remain home, including workers who are part of populations most vulnerable to the coronavirus.

When Trump announced the executive order, he also told reporters that his administration was working with Tyson Foods.

Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson wouldn't comment on the order because the company had not seen it, but said: "We can tell you our top priority remains the safety (of) our team members and plant communities while we work to continue fulfilling our role of feeding families across the country."

With many Americans staying home during the coronavirus, industry experts say demand for meat has increased. But some of the country's largest processing plants have been forced to cease operations temporarily after thousands of employees across the country have tested positive for the virus.

The situation has gotten so severe, meat processing executives warned, that the US meat supply could be at risk.

Meat, beef and pork production reached record highs in March, according to the US Agriculture Department. But earlier this month, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union said at least 13 processing plants have closed over the past two months, resulting in a 25% reduction in pork slaughter capacity and 10% reduction in beef slaughter capacity.

Farmers fear USDA's $19B in coronavirus aid won't 'scratch the surface'

April 28, 2020 / 3:00 AM
EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 28 (UPI) -- As the federal government prepares to distribute an unprecedented $19 billion in aid to farmers struggling through the coronavirus pandemic, farm industry experts say it won't be enough.

"That $19 billion helps," said Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute at the University of Minnesota. "But if things deteriorate further, that may not even scratch the surface for what people are going to need to get through this."

The issue is especially severe among livestock producers, Westhoff said.

That sector is facing an immediate crisis because the widespread closure of meat packing plants because of outbreaks of the virus makes it impossible for many farmers to sell all their animals.

"It's a mess," said Jim Petrik, a South Dakota rancher who raises cattle and hogs. "Almost all our local plants are out. It's going to be a bloodbath for producers."

Hog producers are losing money every day. The National Pork Producers Council on April 17 released a "conservative" estimate that hog farmers would lose a collective $5 billion in 2020.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has allocated $1.6 billion in aid for the hog industry.

The cattle and chicken industry also are in peril from the slaughterhouse closures. The National Cattlemen's Beef Association has estimated that producers will lose some $13.6 billion, a far cry from the $5.1 billion they've been allocated in direct USDA aid.

With losses quickly outpacing the promised aid, the American Farm Bureau Federation has called the federal aid "an important down payment" to bolster the rapidly deteriorating farm industry.

"More help will be needed," the organization has said.

Other farming sectors also are in crisis, industry leaders say.

Both fresh produce growers and dairy farmers are reeling from the sudden loss of the food service industry market after governors across the country closed restaurants, schools and other institutions in an effort to slow the virus' spread.

Before the virus hit, roughly half of the money Americans spent on food was from food service, according to the USDA.

"You can have your cake and eat it too."

Stan Laurel.

Covid-19 Corner

Though hopefully, we are passing the peak of new cases, at least of the first SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, this section will continue until it becomes unneeded.

Hospitals turning to UV light to disinfect medical gear

April 28, 2020 / 5:05 PM
Supplies of personal protective equipment remain scarce across the United States, especially the N95 respirator masks that health care workers use to protect themselves from the new coronavirus.

To help extend the useful life of available equipment, researchers and hospitals are turning to a long-known, if little-used, means of disinfection -- ultraviolet radiation.

"It's generally well known that UV-C radiation kills microbes," said Bob Karlicek Jr., director of the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems and Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. "What's not known is the specific quantities of UV-C radiation that is required to fully disinfect complex equipment like N95 masks, because you have to get the light to the inside of the mask."

Karlicek led a team that created a UV-C system designed to disinfect N95 masks. It's being tested at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

President Donald Trump was ridiculed last week after publicly speculating that UV light could be used to treat COVID-19 infection inside the human body.

"Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light -- and I think you said that hasn't been checked, but you're going to test it," Trump said at a media briefing. "And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that, too. Sounds interesting."

Experts quickly came forward to note that UV light can be harmful to humans, and that it would be impossible for ultraviolet rays to reach deep within the body to kill coronavirus in the lungs and other organs.

That's also part of the problem with using UV light to disinfect protective gear like masks, gowns and gloves, Karlicek said.

UV light disinfects by breaking down the genetic structure of coronaviruses and other microbes, he said. The virus either dies or is rendered incapable of replicating.

But that means the ultraviolet rays must directly strike the virus -- meaning every square inch of the equipment must be exposed to UV light to be properly disinfected. Any part that falls within a shadow might still carry active coronavirus, Karlicek said.

The UV rays must also be very powerful. Mere sunlight alone will not kill the coronavirus, experts say.

The Rensselaer team's solution is a conveyor system that runs N95 masks through a battery of mercury UV lights.

"That allows us to have a vertical arrangement of UV-C mercury lamps and then suspend the masks carefully on a moving framework that would go in between the lamps, so you could simultaneously irradiate masks from both sides," Karlicek said.

The system stands about 8-feet tall and about 8-feet long. The masks are hung on a series of hooks, and the speed of the conveyor belt determines how much radiation the masks receive.

US govt reveals details of sunlight study on virus

Issued on:
The US Department of Homeland Security revealed to AFP on Tuesday new technical details regarding its highly anticipated study into how ultraviolet radiation destroys the new coronavirus, saying that its experiment had accurately mimicked natural sunlight.

A summary of the research was presented last week at the White House, with some scientists calling for caution until a more comprehensive report was made public.

US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows last week when he used his daily live national press briefing to ask whether light could become a medical treatment.

DHS official William Bryan had briefed the media that the amount of virus on a non-porous surface shrunk by half in just two minutes when sunlight was present, the temperature was 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit (21-24 Celsius) and humidity was 80 percent.

The amount of virus suspended in air shrunk to half its amount in just 1.5 minutes at room temperature and 20 percent humidity, he added.

These eye-catching results surprised experts because most of the UV light contained in natural sunlight belongs to a subtype called UVA, which causes human skin to tan and age but has not generally been proven harmful to viruses, David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Medical Center, told AFP.

On the other hand, a part of the spectrum called UVC is particularly adept at warping the genetic material of animal and virus cells and is widely used in sterilizing lamps, but it is not present in sunlight because it is filtered out by the Earth's atmosphere.

Asked for further details on the type of UV light that was used, Lloyd Hough, a DHS scientist overseeing the test, said: "The spectrum of light that was used was designed to approximate natural sunlight that you would expect to see at noon at sea level at a mid-latitude location (e.g., mid-Atlantic, 40 degrees N) on the first day of summer.

"More specifically, it approximates the wavelengths of light predicted by the National Center for Atmospheric Research's (NCAR) Tropospheric Ultraviolet and Visible (TUV) Radiation Model for noon at 40 degrees N latitude at sea level on June 21st in range of 280 and 400 nanometer wavelengths."

The wavelengths specified pertain only to long- and medium-wave ultraviolet, also known as UVA and UVB -- the UV components of sunlight that penetrate the atmosphere -- and not UVC.
- Paper coming soon -

A DHS spokesman added that the test -- which was conducted at the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center in Maryland -- was carried out on droplets of simulated saliva on a stainless steel surface.

Brenner, who is himself performing research into another area of the UV spectrum called far-UVC, which kills microbes without penetrating human skin, said the DHS findings did not comport with previous research.

"There is a peer-reviewed paper in the literature from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) showing the earlier SARS-CoV virus did not respond to UVA light (though it did respond to UVC light)," he said, adding it is "reasonable to assume that all coronaviruses respond roughly the same way to light."

The results as presented were "straining credulity," he added.

But a DHS spokesman said that study would soon be submitted for peer review and published in scientific journals.

European Nation With Fewest Virus Deaths Proves Speed Is Key

By Radoslav Tomek
April 28, 2020, 4:00 AM GMT+1
As the coronavirus continues to kill thousands of people a day across Europe, one country stands out for keeping its death toll low.

Slovakia, a landlocked country of 5.5 million, closed its schools, shops and borders earlier than any other country after Italy. Meanwhile, politicians and TV anchors embraced face masks even before the government made them mandatory.

The measures bore fruit: Six weeks after the first reported infection, Slovakia has just 18 fatalities and is bottom of the European list of deaths per capita, according to data compiled by John Hopkins University as of April 26.

“Speed is of the essence,” Eva Schernhammer, head of the epidemiology department in Medical University in Vienna, said by phone. “It would be ideal to contain the epidemic at a stage when you can trace back contacts of every single new case. In hindsight, Slovakia did the right thing.”

The head of the Bratislava region, Juraj Droba, closed schools two days after the first case was reported, a week before the rest of the country, because he “could see what was happening in Italy.” The region is home to more than 10% of the country’s population.

Slovak Chief Health Inspector Jan Mikas also ordered police to stop a convoy of skiers returning from Austria and put them into supervised quarantine. About 60 people tested positive.

Virus Likely to Keep Coming Back Each Year, Say Top Chinese Scientists

April 28, 2020, 4:00 AM GMT+1
Chinese scientists say the novel coronavirus will not be eradicated, adding to a growing consensus around the world that the pathogen will likely return in waves like the flu.

It’s unlikely the new virus will disappear the way its close cousin SARS did 17 years ago, as it infects some people without causing obvious symptoms like fever. This group of so-called asymptomatic carriers makes it hard to fully contain transmission as they can spread the virus undetected, a group of Chinese viral and medical researchers told reporters in Beijing at a briefing Monday.

With SARS, those infected became seriously ill. Once they were quarantined from others, the virus stopped spreading. In contrast, China is still finding dozens of asymptomatic cases of the coronavirus every day despite bringing its epidemic under control.

“This is very likely to be an epidemic that co-exists with humans for a long time, becomes seasonal and is sustained within human bodies,” said Jin Qi, director of the Institute of Pathogen Biology at China’s top medial research institute, the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences.

A consensus is forming among top researchers and governments worldwide that the virus is unlikely to be eliminated, despite costly lockdowns that have brought much of the global economy to a halt. Some public health experts are calling for the virus to be allowed to spread in a controlled way through younger populations like India’s, while countries like Sweden have opted out of strict lockdowns.

Technology Update.
With events happening fast in the development of solar power and graphene, I’ve added this section. Updates as they get reported. Is converting sunlight to usable cheap AC or DC energy mankind’s future from the 21st century onwards.

Optimal weather for solar power sees UK hit longest coal-free period since pre-industrial times

A press release sent out this morning by the Solar Trade Association states coal power has been offline since the morning of 10th April
Tuesday 28 April 2020

Record solar output over the last few weeks has helped the UK reach its longest coal-free period since pre-industrial times.

A press release sent out this morning by the Solar Trade Association (STA) states “maximised levels of solar generation” have meant coal power has been offline since the morning of 10th April, with more than a terawatt hour of solar power being generated in that period – this is enough energy to drive around 6.7 billion kilometres in a Nissan Leaf.

Solar energy generated more than 11% of UK electricity demand in the last week and set both a new daily peak generation record of 9.68GW at 12:30 on 20th April, as well as a weekly generation record of 485.41GWh.

The STA notes clear skies and cool temperatures generally provide the optimal conditions for solar efficiency.

CEO Chris Hewett said: “Solar is playing a critical role in delivering a fossil-free grid and cleaner, cheaper power to Britain. As we look towards a net zero future, solar will become an increasingly greater part of the energy mix, tackling high power prices, climate change, and biodiversity loss.

“With the government beginning to consider how best to kick-start the economy following the Covid-19 crisis, it has a golden opportunity to place renewables at the heart of its recovery package. Solar in particular can provide a glut of quality green jobs and growth at short notice, with your average solar park able to be built in less than six months, and home installation in less than a day. The industry is ready to help drive the revival.”
"I never think of the future. It comes soon enough."
Albert Einstein.

The Monthly Coppock Indicators finished March

DJIA: 21,917 +45 Down. NASDAQ: 7,700 +149 Down. SP500: 2,585 +38 Down.

The NASDAQ and S&P have joined the DJIA in down. All three monthly slow indexes have collapsed.