By Geoffrey Smith
Investing.com -- Brace for another huge increase in U.S. jobless claims at 8:30 AM ET. Goldman Sachs says the number could be as high as 6 million, nearly double last week's record. The Covid-19 death toll in the U.S. is now over 5,000, while the number of confirmed cases soared over 200,000 on Wednesday. AMC Entertainment's creditors are circling and Softbank has refused to cash out WeWork founder Adam Neumann, as signs of stress in the corporate world spread. On the bright side, oil prices are surging on hopes of a quick end to the price war launched by Russia and Saudi Arabia last month, and China trailed a cash-for-clunkers scheme to prop up the world's biggest auto market.
1. Jobless claims set for another huge increase
Brace, brace. The U.S. is due to report last week’s initial jobless claims at 8:30 AM ET (1230 GMT), the latest sign of how badly the Covid-19 pandemic is hitting the U.S. labor market.
Those who had hoped for some clarity from payrolls processor ADP (NASDAQ:ADP) on Wednesday were disappointed as the company took March 12 as its cut-off date, excluding last week’s record 3.28 million surge in claims.
Inevitably, there’s a huge range of forecasts for this week’s number, from 1.5 million to as much as 6 million, the latter being Goldman Sachs’s revised estimate.
There are also data on the U.S. trade balance in February, which may show a sharp drop in imports from China, and the ISM’s Business Conditions index at 9:45 AM ET. February’s durable goods orders, at 10 AM, are of historical interest only.
2. U.S. Covid-19 death toll hits 5,000 as Florida locks down
The death toll from the Covid-19 coronavirus in the U.S. topped 5,000, while the number of confirmed cases rose over 14% to 216,724, according to Johns Hopkins data.
That’s over twice as many as China has reported, although the U.S. government said on Wednesday that intelligence reports suggest China dramatically under-reported the impact of the disease. Crematoria in Hubei province, where the pandemic started, have reportedly returned the remains of far more people than were confirmed as dying in recent days as the state has relaxed its lockdown measures.
Evidence of strains on the corporate world continue to mount. Carnival (NYSE:CCL) had to scale down the equity part of its capital raising after failing to find enough buyers, while Boeing (NYSE:BA) is reportedly offering buyouts across its whole workforce.
Elsewhere, Softbank said it wouldn’t cash out WeWork founder Adam Neumann and other early shareholders as it had previously agreed, while The Wall Street Journal reported that the creditors of movie theater chain AMC Entertainment have appointed lawyers to advise it on a debt restructuring.
3. Oil prices surge on hopes of peace deal
Crude oil prices surged some 10% after President Donald Trump said he thought an end to the price war launched by Saudi Arabia and Russia could come within days.
By 6:15 AM ET, U.S. crude futures were up 10.2% at $22.38 a barrel, while the global benchmark Brent was up 11.1% at $27.50.
The news comes after the third-biggest combined rise in stocks of U.S. crude and gasoline in history, numbers that underlined the collapse in demand in the world’s largest consumer. Trump is due to meet with U.S. oil industry bosses on Friday.
Oil and gas stocks in Europe also rebounded sharply, amid hopes that their prized dividends will stay intact (in contrast to most of the rest of the stock market). Royal Dutch Shell (LON:RDSa) stock rose 8.2% by mid-morning in London, while BP (LON:BP) stock rose 7.5% and Total (PA:TOTF) rose 3.6%.
4. Stocks set to open higher, dollar gives ground
U.S. stocks are set to open higher after a negative start to the new quarter that saw major indices slip by around 4%.
By 6:15 AM ET, the Dow Jones 30 futures contract was up 361 points or 1.7% at 21,101, while the S&P 500 futures contract was up 1.6% and the Nasdaq 100 futures contract was up 1.2%.
Overnight, China’s CSI 300 had risen 2.3% while Europe’s Stoxx 600 was up 0.3%.
The dollar, meanwhile, was easing across the world after three days of increasingly ominous gains. The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of developed world currencies, fell 0.1% to 96.655.
5. China prepares stimulus for auto market
China said it would step up measures to support its auto market, the world’s largest, after an unprecedented drop in sales of nearly 80% in the first two months of the year.
The commerce ministry will relax or remove restrictions on car purchases in some regions to help sales of new vehicles, while accelerating plans to boost the scrapping of old ones, Reuters reported, citing comments from Wang Bin, the deputy head of the ministry's consumption promotion division.
The news lifted the shares of European auto groups by between 1.4% and 3.6%, while also supporting suppliers’ share prices.