Intelligence

Black Thursday

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We poked the bear: The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX Composite Index lost 12.34 per cent, its worst day since 1940. U.S. stocks had their worst day since 1987 as European exchanges posted their worst-ever single-day performance. Markets were halted for 15 minutes for a second time this week after the S&P 500 shed more than seven per cent shortly after the opening bell, plunging the index deeper into bear market territory. Even Bitcoin has lost over 30 per cent of its value over the last five days. 

Why Axis: The markets are underwhelmed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech last night, in which he banned all travel from 26 European countries to the U.S. for 30 days, effective Friday, forcing people to scramble for flights home for as much as US$20,000.

Let’s get fiscal: Though the federal government announced a $1-billion emergency response package yesterday, Scotiabank wants Canada to deploy “a timely and targeted” stimulus package equivalent to one per cent of the country’s GDP, or just over $20 billion, by April to avoid a recession. Scotiabank and BMO have both asked the Bank of Canada to cut its policy rate to a new low to support the stimulus. This afternoon the bank announced the expansion of its bond buyback program to add market liquidity in response to the ongoing turmoil. Meanwhile, Canada’s finance officials are reworking their own forecasts for the March 30 budget. 

A global response: Canada would join other countries around the world already turning on the taps. Australia is delivering a A$17.6-billion stimulus package, which includes up to $750 each in cash payments to those on government benefits; the European Central Bank announced a modest monetary stimulus that includes cheap loans to banks; and the U.S. Federal Reserve is injecting over US$1.5 trillion into Wall Street.

The prime minister won’t see you now: Justin Trudeau is self-isolating after his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau showed flu-like symptoms and got tested for COVID-19; it won’t stop him from seeking answers on the impact of Trump’s travel ban, though. Canada has over 100 cases, with 17 new cases in Ontario on Thursday, including a baby boy. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he will not call a provincial election this spring. The Superintendent of Financial Institutions is the first federal office to shut down as one of its 360 employees gets tested for the disease. The Métis Nation has suspended all meetings. Tomorrow’s first ministers’ meeting is postponed. And NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is “feeling unwell.” 

School’s out: Ontario is shutting down all schools from March 23 to April 6. That follows closures affecting three B.C. schools, Ohio, several states in India and France. Quebec is considering closing all public schools in the province, as the premier asks for the cancellation of all events with over 250 attendees. 

Canada reacts: As demand for online education rises—yesterday, Laurentian University became the first Canadian university to close its campus—Toronto-based edtech company Top Hat has made its platform free for professors “who have current, active classes, and need support transitioning their classes online in order to complete the semester.” Meanwhile, RBC and telecommunications giant Ciena both reported that one of their employees had contracted the disease. And Shopify is offering $1,000 each to its employees to set up their home offices. Here’s our running tally of how Canada’s innovation economy is responding to the coronavirus.

News from the working-from-home front: JPMorgan Chase has asked all its New York staff to work remotely. Twitter has mandated working from home for its entire global workforce, offering to help employees, including hourly and contract workers, set up home offices and cover additional day-care expenses. “We understand this is an unprecedented step, but these are unprecedented times,” it said. Italy’s service sector—which makes up nearly 70 per cent of its labour force—is sitting at home. So is the staff of The Logic.

China to the rescue: China has offered Italy aid in the form of 100,000 high-tech masks, 20,000 protective suits and 50,000 swabs. A Chinese food-delivery company is bringing customers free 20-inch wide paper “shields” as protection. Iran, meanwhile, started digging graves near where the first cases of COVID-19 emerged. Denmark and Ireland have locked down everything, while Norway has shut its border to places worst hit by the virus. 

Game over: In the short term, there’s no more basketball, hockey, baseball, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, world figure skating, Junos or St. Patrick’s Day parades. Broadway is cancelled and Live Nation tours—including Billie Eilish, Cher and Post Malone—have been postponed. Tinder has cancelled Swipe Night, an in-app interactive choose-your-own-adventure video series. We need to find a cure ASAP, for Tom Hanks’s sake. If we don’t, hungry, neglected monkeys will come for us. Thankfully, dogs are safe from the disease, the BBC has had a bunker ready since 1939 and, according to a Chinese respiratory expert, this could all be over by June. 🙏 🙏 🙏