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China unveils rate reform to steer funding costs lower for firms

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China’s central bank unveiled a key interest rate reform on Saturday to help steer borrowing costs lower for companies and support a slowing economy that has been hurt by a trade war with the United States.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said it will improve the mechanism used to establish the loan prime rate (LPR) from this month, in a move to further lower real interest rates for companies as part of broader market reforms.

Analysts say the move, which came after data that showed weaker than expected growth in July and followed a cabinet announcement on Friday, underscores the government’s attempts to use reforms to support a slowing economy.

“By reforming and improving the formation mechanism of LPR, we will be able to use market-based reform methods to help lower  real lending rates,” the PBOC said in a statement published on its website.

The central bank will “deepen market-based interest rate reform, improve the efficiency of interest rate transmission, and lower financing costs of the real economy,” it said.

Chinese banks’ new LPR quotations will be based on rates of open market operations, and the national interbank funding center will be authorised to publish the rate from Aug. 20, the PBOC said. It added the rate will be published every month on the 20th, effective this month.

Banks must set rates on new loans by mainly referring to the LPR and use LPR as the benchmark for setting floating lending rates, the PBOC said, adding that banks will be barred from setting any implicit floor on lending rates in acoordinated way.

The central bank said five-year and longer tenors will be added to the existing one-year LPR, which will help banks set rates on long-term loans such as mortgages.

China will add eight small banks, including two foreign-funded banks, to the existing 10 nation-wide banks that will be allowed to submit LPR quotations, the central bank said.

The move followed pledges from China’s State Council on Friday that the country will rely on market-based reform measures to help lower real interest rates for companies.

The central bank said that it will strengthen its supervision on banks’  rate quotations and punish banks for irregularities that disrupt the market order.

The central bank will incorporate LPR application into its macro-prudential assessment (MPA) to urge banks to use LPR pricing.

Sharper Slowdown

This week’s data broadly showed China’s economy stumbled more sharply than expected at the start of the third quarter, as the intensifying trade war with the United States took a heavier toll on businesses and consumers.

Second-quarter economic growth slowed to a near 30-year low. Tang Jianwei, an economist at Bank of Communications in Shanghai, said the reform could be seen as a guided rate cut as PBOC can guide rates of its open market operations, which will be closely followed by the LPR.

“The tool (LPR quotation reform) equals to a guided rate cut, and is only pushed out by the PBOC at crucial moments,” said Dai Zhifeng, analyst with Zhongtai Securities Co.

The central bank has pledged to gradually unify two interest rate “tracks” – its market-based rates developed in recent years and its benchmark bank deposit and lending rates.

Analysts say the new LPR rate will be lower than the current level, but they are divided over the scope of reductions on borrowing costs for firms.

To free up funds for lending and to accommodate local government project financing, most analysts still expect the central bank will cut banks’ reserve requirement ratios (RRR) further in coming months, on top of six reductions since early 2018.

Sources have told Reuters that more aggressive action such as interest rate cuts are a last resort, as it could fuel a sharper build-up in debt.

In July, central bank head Yi Gang said China would keep its benchmark deposit rate for a relatively long time, but would phase out its benchmark lending rate in the push to unify the benchmark lending rate and market-based rates.

China’s banks currently price their loans based on the benchmark lending rate that has been kept unchanged since October 2015, hampering the central bank’s efforts to lower borrowing costs.

The PBOC launched the LPR in 2013 to reflect rates that banks charge their best clients. But the LPR has been reacting little to market demand and supply, with the one-year rate currently at 4.31%, versus benchmark one-year lending rate of 4.35%.

China’s short-term money market rates have been falling more quickly in recent months due to the central bank’s cash injections.

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Oil set to ‘crater’ Monday as OPEC meeting delayed, tensions flare between Saudi Arabia and Russia

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Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud and Russia’s Energy Minister Alexander Novak are seen at the beginning of an OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria December 6, 2019.

Leonhard Foeger | Reuters

The virtual meeting between OPEC and its allies scheduled for Monday has been postponed, sources familiar with the matter told CNBC, amid mounting tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The meeting will now “likely” be held on Thursday, sources said.

The Monday meeting was set after President Donald Trump said to CNBC on Thursday that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to announce a deal to cut production by up to 15 million barrels, and that he had spoken to both countries’ leaders.

The delay is likely to hit oil prices next week following a record-setting comeback week for crude. U.S. oil surged 25% on Thursday for its best day on record, and gained another 12% on Friday. It finished the week with a 32% surge, breaking a 5-week losing streak and posting its best weekly performance ever, back to the contract’s inception in 1983.

“It’s probably going to crater,” Again Capital’s John Kilduff said. “There was a lot of optimism priced into oil Thursday and Friday. With this new Saudi, Russia spat, it doesn’t look like it’s going to come together.”

Despite last week’s surge, West Texas Intermediate crude is still down nearly 40% in the last month on the heels of demand destruction from the coronavirus outbreak, and the price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Friday’s jump was fueled by a Reuters report that OPEC+ was contemplating a production cut equivalent to about 10% of world supply, and that Putin said a cut of 10 million barrels a day appeared possible.

Both Saudi Arabia and Russia have sought U.S. cooperation in balancing the world oil supply. American drillers are still pumping near record levels as the world is coming to the edge of its ability to store oil.

U.S. oil executives met with the president Friday at the White House, and there was speculation he would ask them to cooperate in cuts. No agreement came of the meeting, but Trump did seem to reflect an industry view that market forces should determine prices. 

“These are great companies and they’ll figure it out,” he said at a White House briefing following his meeting with the energy CEOs. “It’s a free market, they’ll figure it out.”

At its March meeting, OPEC proposed cutting production by 1.5 million barrels per day in an effort to combat the demand slowdown, but OPEC-ally Russia rejected the additional cuts. The meeting ended with no agreement, and in retaliation Saudi Arabia slashed its oil prices in an effort to gain market share, and subsequently increased its production to a record high of more than 12 million barrels per day.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia have escalated since. In comments Friday, Putin blamed the collapse in oil prices on Saudi Arabia pulling out of the more than 3-year-old OPEC plus deal, along with its increase in production and agreements for discounts, all of which exacerbated the blow from the coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia lashed back. In a statement Saturday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan reportedly said Putin’s comments were “devoid of truth.”

Saudi Arabia energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman also issued a statement Saturday saying comments from Russia’s energy minister Alexander Novak “were categorically false and contrary to fact.” The statement said the Saudi minister “expressed his surprise at the attempts to bring Saudi Arabia into hostilities against the shale oil industry.” The minister noted that Saudi Arabia was a major investor in the U.S. oil sector.

“Now we have two issues,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodities research at RBC. “After President Trump’s statement it seems rather unlikely any production commitment is forthcoming. And it looks like we might have a new diplomatic rift between Russia and the Saudis…The Saudi minister is pushing back furiously on the Russian minister’s assertion that the Saudis are targeting shale.”

The U.S. oil industry is divided on whether it could or should contribute to production cuts in an effort to stabilize prices.

The American Petroleum Industry opposes cuts, saying such a move would harm the U.S. industry. In Texas, however, Ryan Sitton, one of the three members of the Texas Railroad Commission, has said that the state would consider participating in such a deal.

OPEC has invited the Texas commission to participate in its June meeting, and Sitton said on Thursday that he spoke to Russian energy minister Alexander Novak about production cuts.

Oil producing states, like Texas, have the authority to manage production, though the federal government cannot manage production and a consortium of companies cooperating would be seen as an anti-trust violation. The Texas commission last restricted output in 1970. It has set a meeting set for April 14.

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US cases continue to rise faster than other countries

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This is CNBC’s live blog covering all the latest news on the coronavirus outbreak. All times below are in Eastern time. This blog will be updated throughout the day as the news breaks. 

  • Global cases: At least 1,139,207
  • Global deaths: At least 60,874
  • US cases: At least 278,458
  • US deaths: At least 7,159

The data above was compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

12:30 pm: Canada’s Trudeau won’t retaliate over US blocking mask imports

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was not planning to retaliate over U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to block 3M Co‘s exports of N95 respirator masks for use by doctors and nurses.

Trudeau said during his daily address that he expected to speak with Trump in the coming days and that Canadian officials were having “very constructive” discussions with the U.S. administration. —Reuters

11:55 am: How to protect yourself while grocery shopping

11:45 am: China donates 1,000 ventilators to help New York

The Chinese government has facilitated the donation of 1,000 ventilators to New York set to arrive at JFK Airport today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday. 

“This is a big deal and it’s going to make a significant difference for us,” Cuomo said during a press briefing. The state of Oregon is also sending 140 ventilators to New York, which has become an epicenter of the coronavirus. —Emma Newburger

11:40 am: The lights are dark in Las Vegas

Most of the exterior building lights at Paris Las Vegas, including on its 50-story replica Eiffel Tower, are turned off except for the marquee as parts of the Las Vegas Strip go dark as a result of the statewide shutdown on March 19, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

Las Vegas has been one of the hardest hit cities after Nevada ordered all hotels, casinos, bars and restaurants closed and canceled all conventions, conferences and sporting events in an effort stop the spread of the virus. 

The coronavirus doused most of the lights along the Vegas Strip, leaving thousands of workers across these industries unemployed or furloughed. Check out a slide show of the impact that coronavirus is having on Sin City as it grapples with the economic fallout from this pandemic. —Adam Jeffery

11:00 ET: CDC director says coronavirus won’t be a one-time foe

The coronavirus represents a “potential global catastrophe” on its way to the Southern Hemisphere, according to Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In an interview with Stat News, he discusses whether the virus will prove to be seasonal and what that could mean for the global response.

He also touches on why the CDC has been largely absent from public briefings over the past month and warns that COVID-19 will be around longer than the next few weeks. “But I would say [if] we’re lucky enough to have that we need to get very prepared because next late fall and early winter, like most respiratory viruses, coronavirus 19 will be an enemy that we’re going to have to face again,” he said. —Will Feuer

10:35 am: NYC mayor pleads for more doctors and nurses: ‘The worst is actually ahead’

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Saturday continued his calls for a national enlistment program for doctors and nurses to handle a surge in coronavirus cases in strained healthcare systems in New York and across the country.

New York City confirmed 305 new deaths on Friday, marking the biggest one-day jump so far and bringing the city’s death toll to at least 1,867. The city has at least 57,159 cases, comprising nearly a quarter of confirmed cases in the U.S.

“We still don’t have the support we need, particularly from the federal government,” de Blasio said on MSNBC. “The worst is actually ahead.”

The FDNY released data earlier in the week showing that approximately one in four of its EMS workers is out sick. The city on Friday evening sent out a wireless emergency alert asking for medical workers to volunteer to support health facilities fighting the virus.

De Blasio emphasized that states need to pressure the Trump administration into enlisting more medical personnel to work in overwhelmed hospitals. He urged states in the meantime to create their own enlistment structures to move medical workers into emergency rooms as quickly as possible. —Emma Newburger

9:50 am: Clocking in for a shift? The boss wants to know your temperature

9:35 am: JPMorgan reportedly pressured traders to come to work; 20 have tested positive

Since early March, when New York began to close nonessential business and encourage social distancing, JPMorgan has pressured traders at its New York City headquarters to report for duty as the coronavirus spreads throughout the ranks, The Wall Street Journal reported. Traders and salespeople told the Journal they feel pressure to come in and managers have reminded them that their compensation is tied to performance.

In the past three weeks, about 20 employees on the trading floor have tested positive, and another 65 are in quarantine, according to the Journal. The Journal reported that a JPMorgan spokesperson said more than 80% of the firm’s traders are working remotely and those in the office are spaced six feet apart.

“We recognize how stressful this is for those employees on the front lines who are supporting global markets,” a spokesman said, according to the Journal. JPMorgan declined to comment on the report. —Will Feuer

9:03 am: US cases continue to rise faster than other countries

8:58 am: These ‘disease hunters’ developed a novel technique for tracking pandemics after 9/11, but lost funding right before COVID-19

When Dr. Farzad Mostashari was the assistant commissioner for the New York City Department of Health in the early 2000s, he did something unprecedented.

To keep tabs on the spread of disease in the region, Mostashari asked New York hospitals for access to a feed of their data, including the symptoms reported by some of the sickest patients. His team put together a website that collected anonymized information from emergency rooms across the state, and made it open for anyone to query.

Nearly two decades later, on March 11, 2020, his work suddenly gained new relevance. The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic, and predicted that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could kill more than a million people worldwide.

In early March, Mostashari started looking for incidents of patients complaining of flu-like symptoms that were outside the normal range for early spring. On March 4, he saw a spike in the data from New York that concerned him. For the next three days, he checked and rechecked the website to make sure it wasn’t a blip. By the fourth day, he knew something was wrong.

“Holy s—,” he recalled thinking. “Flu was going down, but patients were starting to come into the emergency department with a ferocity I hadn’t seen in 15 or 20 years.”  —Christina Farr

6:16 am: Spain’s daily coronavirus death toll falls for second day in row

Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus rose to 11,744 Saturday from 10,935 the previous day, the Health Ministry said on Saturday.

It is the second day in a row that the number of new deaths has fallen. A total of 809 people died from the disease over the past 24 hours, down from 932 the previous day, the figures showed.  

Spain now has 124,736 confirmed cases, up from 117,710 on Friday (that’s a n increase of 7,026). — Holly Ellyatt

6:10 am: Iran’s coronavirus death toll rises to 3,452, health ministry says

Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak climbed to 3,452 on Saturday, with 158 more deaths recorded over the past 24 hours, Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpur said, Reuters reported.

The total number of cases diagnosed with the disease reached 55,743, of whom 4,103 are in critical condition, he said on state TV. Iran is the country worst affected by the pandemic in the Middle East. — Reuters

5:12 am: France overtakes China as number of confirmed cases rises above 83,000

France now has more cases of the coronavirus than China, as the number of confirmed cases reached 83,029, according to data from Johns Hopkins University on Saturday.

China, where the outbreak was first identified in December, has 82,526 confirmed cases, although the actual figure could be far higher. — Holly Ellyatt

3:57 am: UK unlikely to relax lockdown measures till end May, top epidemiologist says

The United Kingdom won’t be able to lift its stringent social-distancing rules until the end of May, according to a British epidemiologist, Neil Ferguson, who is also a leading government advisor, Reuters reported Saturday.

“We want to move to a situation where at least by the end of May that we’re able to substitute some less intensive measures, more based on technology and testing, for the complete lockdown we have now,” Ferguson reportedly told BBC Radio. Ferguson is a professor at the faculty of medicine in the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.

“There is a great deal of work underway to look at how we can substitute some of the very intense social distancing currently in place with a regime more based on intensive testing, very rapid access to testing, contact tracing of contracts,” he said, according to Reuters. “But in order to substitute that regime for what we’re doing now, we need to get case numbers down.”

The United Kingdom currently has 38,690 reported cases of COVID-19, and the death toll has surpassed 3,600, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. The government has put the country under virtual lockdown since March 23. All nonessential public buildings and places are closed, and all social events including weddings and baptisms have been stopped.—Joanna Tan

2:32 am: Xi leads national day of mourning as China honors those killed during pandemic

Chinese President Xi Jinping led his country and its leaders in mourning on Saturday, as the nation observed three minutes of silence in honor of those killed during the pandemic, according to state news agency Xinhua. 

Xi stood with leaders of the country, including Premier Li Keqiang and members of the Communist Party of China, at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing at 10 a.m. local time, Xinhua reported.

State-owned Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, posted footage of Xi and the leaders standing together with their heads bowed in silence. Each wore a white flower pinned to their chest pockets and were facing the Chinese flag that flew at half-mast. Across the nation, people could be seen standing in public squares, while air defense sirens blared and horns on cars, trains and ships were sounded.

Read CNBC’s coverage from CNBC’s Asia-Pacific and Europe teams overnight here: France has more cases than China now, but Spain’s daily death toll has fallen.

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Tesla dismissing contractors from Fremont, Nevada factories: sources

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Tesla Chief Executive Office Elon Musk speaks at his company’s factory in Fremont, California.

Noah Berger | Reuters

Tesla is letting go of contractors from its U.S. car and battery plants, according to three workers and correspondence shared with CNBC.

The company is cutting contractors from its workforce, both in its vehicle factory in Fremont, California, and at the Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada, where Tesla makes the signature battery packs that power its electric vehicles and energy storage products. The cuts affect hundreds, according to estimates from the people familiar with the move, who asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to press about internal matters.

Temps — many of whom worked at Tesla for years, some hoping to jump into full-time roles — were notified by their staffing agencies about the cuts late this week. 

A memo from Balance Staffing to dismissed workers said: “It is with my deepest regret that I must inform you that the Tesla factory shutdown has been extended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result, Tesla has requested to end all contract assignments effective immediately.”

The staffing agency told workers that they would remain Balance Staffing employees, and could find other work via their business. Balance Staffing also promised it would work hard to bring the contractors back to Tesla in the future if at all possible, and reassured the workers that the dismissals from Tesla were not a reflection of the quality of their work, but rather difficult business conditions. 

Contractors hired through other temp agencies were getting similar notices on Thursday and Friday, according to the workers who spoke to CNBC.

Tesla and Balance did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Friday, Tesla shares rose more than 5% on a down day for markets after the company reported first-quarter vehicle deliveries that pleased investors  — Elon Musk’s electric car venture delivered approximately 88,400 vehicles, and produced 103,000 in Q1 2020. 

On the way to achieving those numbers, Tesla fought local health orders in Alameda County, where its car assembly plant is based, which would have required it to wind down to minimum basic operations as early as March 17th. Instead, it kept the Fremont plant fully operational until the end of the day on March 23rd, about a week longer than other businesses in the area, while wrangling with local authorities over whether or not Tesla was deemed an “essential business” and therefore exempt from the orders.

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