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Newlyweds stuck aboard quarantined ship on Valentine’s Day: ‘This is our honeymoon’

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A newly married couple from Texas is stuck aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, but they are not letting it get in the way of their Valentine’s Day celebration.

Tyler and Rachel Torres, who tied the knot in September, say they are trying to stay optimistic after their honeymoon turned into an extended stay on the ship.

“We have a bottle of wine. We saved it the whole trip,” Tyler Torres, sitting alongside his wife Rachel of five months, said in a video aired on the network’s special “Outbreak” report that day. “Now we’re like: ‘It’s Valentine’s Day. We’re drinking it.'”

The luxury days on the ship are no more as passengers were instructed to stay in their cabins after a voyage through East Asia. While being holed up in their room for nine days after the cruise has ended, Rachel Torres joked that it feels as if they’d been married for 15 years.

“We’re also going to dress up for dinner tonight,” she said, while Tyler Torres showed off a Kit Kat bar they would share. “This is our honeymoon.”

Rachel Torres said the trip was fun, until the quarantine came. She is counting the days to be able to disembark the cruise ship on Wednesday, but her experience has since declined into a “roller coaster” as the optimism waned.

“Yesterday, hearing the news from the chief medical officer that [February] 19th may or may not be the date we get out and [it] kind of scared me a little bit,” she said.

The Diamond Princess, a cruise ship under Carnival Corp’s Princess Cruise Line, is on day nine of a mandatory 14-day quarantine after a number of passengers were diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19. The couple were two of 3,700 passengers and crew members that were held on the trip after a number of passengers were diagnosed with the virus.

Guest diagnosed with the disease have been removed from the ship and isolated in a Tokyo hospital. Passengers were told on Wednesday that they would be able to unboard the ship voluntarily and complete the quarantine period at a facility on land. Older guests and the most medically vulnerable people will be given priority.

China’s National Health Commission said that as of Friday that there have been almost 66,500 cases and more than 1,500 deaths in the country from the coronavirus. The virus originated in the Hubei province city of Wuhan in December. There are almost 67,000 cases worldwide.

Still, Tyler and Rachel Torres plan on cashing in on a free trip that the company is offering affected guests. The couple plan to make it a honeymoon part two.

“They gave us a free cruise after this and we’re going to take it,” Tyler Torres said.

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Trump pushes back against congressional oversight for $500 billion bailout fund

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and President Donald Trump attend briefing about the coronavirus outbreak in the press briefing room at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. The Trump administration is considering an $850 billion stimulus package to counter the economic fallout as the coronavirus spreads.

Drew Angerer | Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Friday wrote in a signing statement accompanying the $2 trillion stimulus bill that he believes the inspector general overseeing a $500 billion relief fund for businesses will not have as much regulatory power as Democrats had sought.

The bill includes a $500 billion fund that companies, such as the struggling airlines, can tap to support their business. The fund is overseen by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In original drafts of the Republican Senate bill, Mnuchin had wide discretion in overseeing that money. After criticisms from Democrats, Republicans agreed to add on a congressional oversight committee and Inspector General as added control measures.

The language gives the Inspector General power to report back to Congress information including the nature of the loan and its recipients. It has the power to make informational requests from other agencies “to extent practicable and not in contravention of any existing law.” It is required to let Congress know if those requests are blocked.

Trump, though, said Friday he believes the Inspector General needs his permission in order to make such reports to Congress.

“I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [the Inspector General] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision,” he wrote in a signing statement. A signing statement indicates how the president intends to interpret a law.  Trump has a record of seeking to withhold information from Congress, most notably during the recent House Intelligence Committee’s probe of his dealings with Ukraine. He likewise fought efforts by House committees to subpoena his financial records

Oversight of that $500 billion fund was one of the last major sticking points in Senate negotiations, CNBC previously reported. Senate Democrats cheered the ultimately agreed-upon language as a victory. They were wary of repeating the mistakes of the bank bailout after the financial crisis, in which Democrats were criticized for allowing bank executives to reward themselves with bonuses after receiving federal money. 

“The president’s statement is indicative of the difference between Democrats and Republicans when it came to this bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Friday about the language.

“It’s not a surprise to anyone,” she said of Trump’s signing language. “But Congress will exercise its oversight — and we will have our panel appointed by the House to, in real-time, make sure we know where those funds are being expended.”

A Senate Democratic aide said, “We fully anticipated Trump shenanigans, so that’s why there are multiple layers of strict oversight in this bill, including a council of existing inspectors general and GAO review, in addition to the Special IG, reporting requirements and a Congressional Oversight Commission.”

The $500 billion question

Trump’s Friday declaration is one of many statements from the administration in recent days that highlight the lingering questions about the $500 billion fund. Emergency loans could equate to more than $4 trillion in lending power through the leverage of the Federal Reserve, administration officials have said. 

After the Senate added language to the stimulus bill that effectively excluded the ailing cruise lines from aid, Trump told reporters earlier this week he may seek ways to get them money. 

“We’re going to work very hard on the cruise line business and we’re going to figure something out,” the president said. Trump has previously indicated his support of the industry and Carnival chairman Micky Arison.

It remains unclear the exact structure of the financing options. Of the $500 billion the fund offers, it gives $50 billion in aid to passenger carriers, half in direct payments, half in loans and guarantees. It gives $8 billion to cargo carriers, half in direct payments and loans. It also gives $1 billion to $3 billion for the health costs of airline contract caterers.

Because airlines are the only businesses to get direct payments, as a result of their dire financial situation, those payments come with conditions including warrant provisions. 

Trump indicated on Friday the government may take advantage of those warrants or other means of obtaining equity stakes.

“Will we end up owning large chunks, depending on what these geniuses decide along with executives of different companies — its possible. And they’ll make a better deal on the loan,” Trump said. 

What that means for Boeing, the only domestic airline manufacturer, is unclear. The bill allocates $17 billion in loans and guarantees for companies important to national security − a provision that sources say Boeing is eligible at least in part for. Boeing has said it will not accept any money that requires giving up an equity stake, but the administration keeps implying that may be its only option.

“Right now Boeing’s saying they don’t need it,” Mnuchin told Fox News on Friday. 

But Trump has repeatedly offered his intent to support the company.

“Boeing will probably need a hand, and we’re going to bring Boeing back to health,” Trump said at a Friday briefing of the coronavirus task force.

Meanwhile, Trump told reporters Friday the administration has been talking to “the most brilliant financial minds in the world” about helping with the bailouts, including Blackrock’s Larry Fink.

The New York Federal Reserve recently disclosed it has retained BlackRock as an advisor and asset manager in three financing programs. A person familiar with BlackRock said Fink doesn’t comment on discussions with public officials. A spokesperson for Blackrock declined to comment. 

United Airlines warned on Friday that despite government aid, it expects layoffs or furloughs down the line, as demand for travel stays weakened.  As a condition of financial relief, United and all airlines accepting aid agreed to withhold from furloughing or cutting the pay of their workers through Sept. 30. United executives committed to that on Friday.

CNBC’s Christina Wilkie and Leslie Josephs contributed to this report

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Father of Wall Street’s ‘fear gauge’ sees wild volatility continuing until coronavirus cases peak

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The Cboe Volatility Index (VIX), has become one of the most widely watched indicators of market sentiment in the world. 

In theory, it works on a simple principle: It is a measure of the stock market’s expectation of volatility over the following 30 days based on near-term S&P 500 index options, both puts and calls.  The higher the number, the greater the expectation that market volatility will be higher over the next 30 days. 

This week, despite a massive rally that saw the S&P rise nearly 20% from its Monday low to its Thursday high, the VIX remained stubbornly high, in the 60s, all week. These are levels that have been rarely since its inception in 1993.

Robert Whaley is often referred to as “the father of the fear index.” He is the director of the Financial Markets Research Center at Vanderbilt University.  He spoke to me by phone from his home in Nashville.

 What is the VIX telling us now?

“The VIX measures expectations of volatility 30 days out.  Right now, with the VIX near 70, the index is saying that the intraday swings on the S&P 500 will be 4% to 5% on a daily basis, which is an awful lot of volatility.”

What would it take to bring it down, let’s say to the 30s?

“We need to reduce the uncertainty level.  The S&P has been swinging in daily prices swings of 4%, 5%, 6% or more for several weeks.  The VIX is just an estimate of future volatility, so traders look at the actual volatility that is through the roof and they are naturally assuming some of this volatility will continue.”

 If the intraday swings went down to something lower, say 2% or 3%, would that calm down the VIX?

“Possibly, but the most important thing is to resolve the uncertainty, which may be determining a peak in coronavirus cases.  If you get any good news on that front, the VIX will drop very quickly.”

VIX futures are in backwardation — the near term prices, particularly the cash price, are far higher than contracts farther out.  What is this telling us?

“It tells me the volatility will be lower several months out.  For example, the April contract expects the VIX to be below 55, in May it is 45, and in June it is below 40.  A week ago, the price of that insurance on the June contract was 50.  It’s dropped 10 points.  It’s come down very quickly. The VIX is saying it will be in the 30s by August.”

Robert Whaley, Vanderbilt professor, “father of the VIX”

Source: Vanderbilt University

 So this is not going to continue indefinitely?

“No, it gets like this when you get crisis, like 1987 or 2008.  You said last week that people are not going to pay this high a price for insurance indefinitely, and you are right.  The VIX contracts are predicting the prices will drop.”

 Is it accurate to call the VIX a “fear index?”

“Yes, that’s all it is. The S&P 500 option market is driven by the purchase of put options, which institutions are using as portfolio insurance.”

 But the VIX is also moved by call options as well?

“Yes, but my research indicates that it is primarily driven by put options.  The volume of put option open interest is greater than call option open interest, and the formula that the VIX is derived from weights puts more than calls.”

 What was your role in the creation of the VIX?

“I created the original VIX in 1992.  The CBOE hired me to create a volatility index.  They wanted a product to differentiate them from an ordinary index like the S&P 500, and they wanted to create a new asset category that might be a long-term investment.” 

 It certainly seems like they succeeded.

“They sure did.”

 

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Plane explosion in Philippines kills eight, including two foreigners

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A medical evacuation plane caught fire before taking off from runway 24 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, killing eight passengers in Manila, Philippines on Sunday night March 29, 2020.

Photo by Dante Diosina JR/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A medical evacuation plane exploded during take-off in the Philippine capital on Sunday, killing all eight passengers and crew, including an American and a Canadian, officials said.

The plane, owned by a Philippines-registered charter service Lionair, had been bound for Haneda, Japan, but burst into flames at the end of the runway around 8 p.m. (1200 GMT), Manila’s main airport said.

Indonesian carrier Lion Air issued a statement making clear that it is unrelated to Manila-based Lionair.

Video footage showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the night sky as fire crews doused the fuselage with foam.

The twin-jet West Wind 24 plane was carrying three medical personnel, three flight crew, a patient and a companion, Richard Gordon, a senator and head of the Philippine Red Cross, said on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, no passenger survived the accident,” the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA) said in a statement.

An investigation by the Civil Aeronautics Authority of the Philippines was under way, MIAA said.

The runway has been closed temporarily, affecting an arriving Korean Air flight that was diverted to Clark airport in northern Philippines, said MIAA General Manager Eddie Monreal.

The aim is to reopen the runway about two hours after midnight, he said in a press briefing.

Monreal confirmed that an American national and a Canadian citizen were among those killed, but could not provide further detail. The six others were all Filipinos, he said.

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