J.C. Penney Will Cut Jobs and Close Stores in Restructuring: Live Updates

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Officials from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia said Wednesday that cuts in oil output that had helped shore up the energy market in recent months would be eased modestly in August, as detailed under an agreement reached in April.

Oil ministers from Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers met Wednesday by video conference to review market conditions. The group said in a statement after the meeting that “there were encouraging signs of improvement as economies around the world open up.”

The lockdowns, intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus, slammed demand for oil by reducing driving, air travel and other activities that use the fuel. But demand has slowly risen in recent months.

Beginning in August, the cuts in output will be reduced from 9.7 million barrels a day — or about 10 percent of global production in normal times — to around 8.1 million barrels a day, according to Saudi Arabia’s oil minister, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, who ran the meeting.

The production increases will come at a time when the coronavirus pandemic is surging in some countries, including the United States and Brazil, potentially jeopardizing recovery of demand for oil.

However, the Saudi oil minister said that with countries having gained experience in dealing with the virus in recent months, he thought any outbreaks were likely to be contained.

On Wednesday, the price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up about 2 percent to more than $43 a barrel. West Texas Intermediate, the American standard, also rose, to about $41 a barrel.

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J.C. Penney, the 118-year-old retailer that filed for bankruptcy in May, said on Wednesday that it would cut 1,000 corporate, field management and international jobs, as the company shrinks and closes 152 stores.

The layoffs are separate from job cuts tied to the retailer’s first round of store closures, where most liquidation sales have started. A spokeswoman for J.C. Penney has said that the retailer plans to close up to 250 locations over all, which would leave it with roughly 600 stores.

J.C. Penney, which is based in Plano, Texas, said in bankruptcy filings that it had nearly 85,000 associates, but did not specify how many were full or part time.

The cuts at the corporate level add to the broader pain in the retail industry, which has been left reeling from the pandemic. The disruption has forced a spate of bankruptcies since May and spurred layoffs at surviving retailers. Macy’s said last month that it would cut about 3,900 corporate and management jobs, or 25 percent of that staff.

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Walmart will begin requiring that all of its customers wear masks in its stores, starting on Monday.

The new rule from the nation’s largest retailer, which has more than 5,000 stores nationwide, is a strong statement about wearing masks in public space at a time when the issue has become politicized.

In a statement, Walmart said that 65 percent of its stores, which include Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs, are in areas where there is already some form of government mandate to wear masks.

At Sam’s Clubs, the company said that it would provide complimentary masks to customers who did not already have one. (Sam’s Club customers have to pay a membership fee to shop there.)

But in Walmart stores — which are far more numerous — the details for this new policy are still being ironed out.

The company said it was creating a new job called a “health ambassador.” That person will be stationed next to the front door and will remind customers of the new rule.

“Ambassadors will receive special training to help make the process as smooth as possible for customers,’’ Walmart said, and “will work with those who show up at a store without a face covering to find a solution that works for everyone.”

The retailer did not immediately identify what those possible solutions might be or say that it would provide masks to customers who didn’t have one.

Walmart joins a growing list of companies that are requiring customers to wear masks, including Starbucks and Best Buy.

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Buoyed by heightened activity in the markets, Goldman Sachs reported its highest bond-trading revenue in nine years, helping it to deliver a solidly profitable quarter despite increased costs and a slowdown in other areas of its business.

Revenue spiked in Goldman’s trading area, more than doubling the unit’s performance from a year ago, and rose dramatically in its investment-banking business. Overall, the firm’s revenue for the second quarter was $13.3 billion, a 41 percent upswing from the same period last year. Its earnings were $2.4 billion, essentially the same as a year ago.

During the quarter, compensation costs rose substantially, as did other expenses that were not specified, perhaps reflecting an increasing set-aside for future legal costs. That theme has been borne out by other large banks this week, whose quarterly profits plunged as they stowed away money to protect them from future losses.

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BBC News is cutting 520 jobs as part of a sprawling cost-cutting plan, 70 more jobs than previously announced because the pandemic has put more strain on the British broadcaster’s budget.

In January, 450 job losses were announced but then postponed in March to meet the demands of covering coronavirus and its impact. The reactivated plan, detailed on Wednesday, will be even more sweeping. “The Andrew Neil Show,” hosted by the longtime political interviewer, will be cut, business news coverage will be scaled down, and there will be reductions in World Service programming, among other changes.

“The increased financial pressure on the BBC as a result of Covid-19 means the number of job losses in BBC News will rise to around 520,” the organization, which has been financed by an annual license fee paid by listeners and viewers for nearly 100 years, said on Wednesday. “This will include senior management posts.”

In 2016, the BBC announced it needed to save 800 million pounds ($1 billion), with about a tenth of that coming from the 6,000-person news department. In addition to the 520 job losses in BBC News, the BBC said in recent weeks it would cut 600 jobs from regional services in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The BBC has also renewed its plan to end free TV licenses for people over 75, a move that has caused clashes with the government.

Earlier on Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper said it planned to cut 12 percent of its work force, about 180 jobs.

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Stocks rose on Wednesday, lifted by a drugmaker’s report of progress with a promising, but early-stage, candidate for a coronavirus vaccine, and data on industrial production added to evidence of the economy’s recovery.

The S&P 500 jumped about 1 percent.. Markets in Frankfurt, Paris and London ended more than 1 percent higher.

Oil prices were also higher, on a day when major producers decided to ease restrictions on output. The production curbs were approved in April when the industry was facing a calamitous fall in oil demand, and any relaxing of the rules would signal stronger energy markets.

The gains were largely spurred by news from the biotech company Moderna, based in Cambridge, Mass., which said an experimental drug provoked a positive immune response and appeared safe among the first 45 people who received it. It is the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in humans, and Moderna’s shares were sharply higher.

Policymakers and economists have long predicted that a complete recovery in growth depends on the development of a vaccine, and investors have been quick to respond to even the slightest signs of progress toward one.

On Wednesday, the rally was led by companies that have the most to gain from a return to pre-pandemic levels of travel and consumption. American Airlines, Gap, MGM Resorts — which have become a proxy for the market’s enthusiasm about a rebound — were all among the best performing stocks in the S&P 500.

Investors also learned that industrial production in the United States jumped by more than expected in June, recovering from earlier declines as factories were reopened. The report is just the latest in several — from data on housing sales to hiring — that highlight the economy’s bounce back from the depths of a recession earlier in the year.

That recovery, however, is threatened by a rise in new coronavirus cases around the world. And, as governments reimpose restrictions on activity and government assistance programs come to an end, some economists have warned that the recovery is likely to take longer than investors currently anticipate.

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Randal Quarles, the Federal Reserve’s top bank regulator and chair of the global Financial Stability Board, warned that markets could gyrate again and that it was possible investors were setting the stage for a sharp drop in asset prices.

“Volatility in markets has decreased but may well return,” he warned in a letter to global finance ministers and central bankers released by the Financial Stability Board, which monitors banking system risks and makes recommendations to its members. “We may be seeing significant pricing disconnects between the market and economic fundamentals, which could result in sudden and sharp repricing.”

Mr. Quarles, who was nominated for his Fed job by President Trump and tends to favor light-touch regulations, also highlighted that the far-reaching market bailouts undertaken by the Fed and its counterparts abroad amid market ruptures in March should not be the default.

“While extraordinary central bank interventions calmed capital markets, which remained open and enabled firms to raise new and longer-term financing, such measures should not be required.”

The board is looking into what happened in markets in March, when investment vehicles from money market mutual funds to Treasury securities went haywire, and signaled that a more detailed analysis would be forthcoming.

Separately, the manager of the Fed’s trading book, said continued bond-buying by the central bank will help to mitigate risks of renewed turbulence.

Over the longer run, the Fed will examine what happened to disrupt trading in March, especially in the Treasury and mortgage-backed security markets that form a backbone to the economy’s broader functioning, said Lorie Logan, executive vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

“What factors made these markets vulnerable to the abrupt deterioration in functioning that we saw in March?” she said during a speech prepared for a SIFMA webinar.

“Could changes in regulations, data availability, or market infrastructure make market functioning more robust to future shocks? What role do funding markets play?”

For the past 25 years, Bank of America has surveyed fund managers about how they are positioning their portfolios. When a consensus emerges, the bank’s pollsters say, investors generally profit by betting against it, according to today’s DealBook newsletter.

In its latest survey, which polled investors managing around $600 billion in assets, nearly three-quarters of fund managers agreed that holding big U.S. tech stocks was the “most crowded” trade in the market. It was the survey’s strongest ever consensus, leading the bank to dub buying tech stocks the “longest ‘long’ of all-time.” For contrarians, that’s a sign that it’s time to sell.

Tech giants’ dominance is a risk to long-term returns, Goldman Sachs analysts wrote in a new research note. The five largest stocks in the S&P 500 index — Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft — now account for 23 percent of its market cap. “We believe further equity upside would require participation from a broader subset” of the index, the analysts said.

And for what it’s worth, the Goldman analysts concluded that the S&P 500 will generate a 6 percent annual return over the next decade, versus nearly 14 percent over the past decade and 10 percent since 1960.

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The United States economy is headed for a tumultuous autumn, with the threat of closed schools, renewed government lockdowns, empty stadiums and an uncertain amount of federal support for businesses and unemployed workers all clouding hopes for a rapid rebound from recession.

For months, the prevailing wisdom among investors, Trump administration officials and many economic forecasters was that after plunging into recession this spring, the country’s recovery would accelerate in late summer and take off in the fall as the virus receded, restrictions on commerce loosened, and consumers reverted to more normal spending patterns. Job gains in May and June fueled those rosy predictions.

But failure to suppress a resurgence of confirmed infections is threatening to choke the recovery and push the country back into a recessionary spiral — one that could inflict long-term damage on workers and businesses large and small, unless Congress reconsiders the scale of federal aid that may be required in the months to come.

The looming economic pain was evident on Tuesday as big companies forecast gloomy months ahead. Delta Air Lines said it was cutting back plans to add flights in August and beyond, citing flagging consumer demand. The nation’s biggest banks warned that they were setting aside billions of dollars to cover anticipated losses as customers fail to pay their mortgages and other loans in the months to come.

“The earlier-than-anticipated resumption in activity has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the virus spread in many areas,” Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor, said on Tuesday. “Even if the virus spread flattens, the recovery is likely to face headwinds from diminished activity and costly adjustments in some sectors, along with impaired incomes among many consumers and businesses.”

  • The Paper Store filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday citing the financial strain caused by closing all of its stores for weeks at a time because of coronavirus lockdowns. The chain, which has sold specialty gifts for 55 years, operates a warehouse and 86 stores throughout the Northeast and employs roughly 2,000 people. The company hopes to sell by late August in order to get the cash needed to buy millions of dollars worth of inventory for Christmas, its busiest season.

  • The Trump administration, which mistakenly sent $1.4 billion of stimulus money to dead people, has begun canceling checks that were delivered to the deceased. The Internal Revenue Service said in an update on its website that such checks should still be returned to the federal government but that it was taking action to ensure they cannot be cashed. A Government Accountability Office report released last month found that about $1.4 billion of the $270 billion of direct stimulus payments went to the deceased.

  • Three of the nation’s biggest banks revealed that they had set aside billions of dollars to cover potential losses on loans, signaling that they do not expect consumers and corporations to be able to pay their debts in the coming months as the pandemic continues to gut employment and commerce. Collectively, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo have put aside $25 billion during the second quarter, they said. As a result, their quarterly profits plunged. It was Wells Fargo’s first quarterly loss since 2008.

  • Lael Brainard, a Federal Reserve governor, warned that a second wave of coronavirus cases could imperil the economy and markets once again, even though financial conditions have calmed since the wild days of March and the labor market has begun to mend. “A broad second wave could reignite financial market volatility and market disruptions at a time of greater vulnerability,” Ms. Brainard said, speaking to the National Association for Business Economics. And in any case, “the strength of the recovery will depend importantly on the timing, magnitude and distribution of additional fiscal support.”

  • Best Buy, the electronics retailer with about 1,000 locations in the United States, said on Tuesday that it planned to require customers to wear face coverings in its stores starting Wednesday. The company said that it would provide masks to customers who did not have one, and would make exceptions for small children and people who could not wear masks for health reasons, according to a blog post.

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