Trump arrives in Michigan to visit Ford plant amid political tensions

YPSILANTI, Mich. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump traveled on Thursday to the crucial U.S. election battleground state of Michigan to visit a Ford Motor Co (F.N) plant amid hostility with its Democratic governor over how quickly to reopen its economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump, a Republican seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has urged states to loosen coronavirus-related restrictions so the battered U.S. economy can recover even as public health experts warn that premature relaxation of restrictions could lead to a second wave of infections.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, seen as a potential vice presidential running mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, is facing a backlash from some critics against her stay-at-home orders in a state hit hard by the last recession. Trump has encouraged anti-lockdown protests against Whitmer held in Michigan’s capital.

Trump arrived in the city of Ypsilanti to tour a Ford plant that has been recast to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment and to discuss vulnerable populations hit by the virus in a meeting with African-American leaders.

It is not clear if Trump, who has said he is taking a drug not proven for the coronavirus after two White House staffers tested positive in recent weeks, will wear a protective face mask. He has declined to wear one on previous factory tours despite guidelines for employees to do so.

When asked by reporters before leaving the White House if he planned to don a face covering, Trump said, “I don’t know. We’re going to look at it. A lot of people have asked me that question.”

On Tuesday, Ford reiterated its policy that all visitors must wear masks but did not say if it would require Trump to comply.

Trump on Wednesday threatened to withhold federal funding from Michigan over its plan for expanded mail-in voting, saying without offering evidence that the practice could lead to voter fraud – though he later appeared to back off the threat.

Whitmer told a news conference she spoke with Trump on Wednesday and he pledged federal support for flood recovery, as rising floodwaters have caused more trouble in Michigan, displacing thousands of residents near the city of Midland.

“I made the case that, you know, we all have to be on the same page here. We’ve got to stop demonizing one another and really focus on the fact that the common enemy is the virus. And now it’s a natural disaster,” Whitmer told CBS News, describing her conversation with Trump.

Regarding Trump’s funding threat, Whitmer said, “Threatening to take money away from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and I think something that is unacceptable.”

Biden also criticized Trump, saying in a statement, “In the wake of disaster, Donald Trump once again showed us who he is – threatening to pull federal funding and encouraging division.”

Whitmer on Thursday moved to further reopen Michigan’s economy through a series of executive orders.

Trump and Ford have been at odds over its decision last year to back a deal with California for stricter vehicle fuel economy standards than his administration had proposed. Trump first sparred with Ford during the 2016 campaign over the automaker’s investments in Mexico and had vowed to slap hefty tariffs taxes on its vehicles made in Mexico.

Trump won in Michigan in the 2016 election, the first Republican to do since 1988. Trump’s handful of trips out of Washington since the pandemic went into full force have focused on election battleground states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania.

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COVID-19 threatens to worsen Yemen devastation

Health workers warn a major outbreak will have catastrophic consequences following years of war, hunger and other diseases.

The lack of testing facilities in Yemen means it is difficult to assess how badly the coronavirus is affecting one of the world’s poorest countries.

So far, 72 cases have been reported, including 13 deaths.

But health workers are warning a major outbreak will have catastrophic consequences following years of war, hunger and other diseases.

Continued fighting in southern Yemen is complicating efforts for a much-needed ceasefire to help contain the spread.

Al Jazeera’s Priyanka Gupta reports.

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Merck sees $2.1 billion hit to full-year sales from coronavirus pandemic

(Reuters) – Merck & Co Inc (MRK.N) warned of a $2.1 billion hit to its 2020 revenue on Tuesday as social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to hammer sales of medically administered drugs including its blockbuster Keytruda treatment.

Roughly 66% of its revenue comes from such drugs that need a patient to visit a doctor’s office, the company said, adding that the estimate included $400 million in losses at its animal health business.

“The company anticipates reduced demand for its physician-administered products while pandemic-related access measures remain in place,” Merck said in a statement.

Shares of the company fell 2.4% after the company also said it was suspending its share buyback program.

However, Merck beat analysts’ estimates for profit and sales in the first quarter on strong Keytruda sales.

Merck said it saw a slight benefit as customers stocked up on some of its products, including animal health drugs as well as its Gardasil vaccine to prevent cancers associated with the human papillomavirus

Sales of Keytruda jumped 45% in the first quarter to $3.28 billion. Total sales grew 11.5% to $12.06 billion, beating estimates of $11.46 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Net income attributable to shareholders rose to $3.22 billion, or $1.26 per share, in the quarter from $2.92 billion, or $1.12 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, Merck earned $1.50 per share, beating estimates of $1.34 per share.

The company now expects full-year adjusted profit of $5.17 to $5.37 per share, down from its prior estimate of $5.62 to $5.77 per share.

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Defer principal, interest payments on home loans

People who have difficulty paying their mortgage can get help in deferring payment of principal and interest up to Dec 31 this year.

The scheme covers purchase loans and mortgage equity withdrawal loans, including debt reduction plans, for owner-occupied property as well as investment residential properties.

Borrowers with mortgage repayments that are no more than 90 days past due as of April 6 can opt in for the scheme without needing to show any financial impact from the coronavirus crisis.

If they choose to defer both principal and interest payments, interest will accrue only on the deferred principal amount. No interest-on-interest will be charged during this deferment period.

They can also choose to extend the loan tenure by up to the corresponding deferment period.

But the Monetary Authority of Singapore warned: “You should keep in mind that deferring payments and extending your tenure mean that you will be paying more interest in total. Therefore, it is better not to defer repayments if you do not need to.”

The deferment will not cause the loan to be reflected as a restructured loan in the borrower’s credit bureau report.

If borrowers are still unable to resume regular repayments after the deferment period, they should speak with lenders early to discuss suitable repayment plans or debt restructuring before the end of the deferment period.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

Q Why is the interest on my principal amount not waived during the deferment period?

A Interest will accrue as the banks and finance companies continue to bear the risks of lending. However, if you choose to defer the full monthly instalment, interest-on-interest will be waived during the deferment period.

Q Will my mortgage automatically get a repayment deferment?

A Repayment deferments are not automatic as they will incur higher total interest costs and not everyone needs them. Apply to your bank if you need a mortgage repayment deferment.

Q What are the costs of taking up a repayment deferment?

A The total interest cost of the mortgage will be higher if you take up the repayment deferment. Your bank will provide you with an illustration of the instalments during and after the deferment period, and the estimated increase in total interest cost.

Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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Coronavirus upends global food supply chains in latest economic shock

SATARA, INDIA/SINGAPORE/LONDON (REUTERS) – In the fertile Satara district in western India, farmers are putting their cattle on an unorthodox diet: Some feed iceberg lettuce to buffalo. Others feed strawberries to cows.

It’s not a treat. They can either feed their crops to animals or let them spoil. And other farmers are doing just that – dumping truck loads of fresh grapes to rot on compost heaps.

The farmers cannot get their produce to consumers because of lockdowns that aim to stop the spread of coronavirus. In India, as in many parts of the world, restrictions on population movement are wreaking havoc on farming and food supply chains and raising concern of more widespread shortages and price spikes to come.

Across the globe, millions of labourers cannot get to the fields for harvesting and planting. There are too few truckers to keep goods moving. Air freight capacity for fresh produce has plummeted as planes are grounded. And there is a shortage of food containers for shipping because of a drop in voyages from China.

In Florida, a lack of Mexican migrant laborers means watermelon and blueberry growers face the prospect of rotting crops. Similar shortages of workers in Europe mean vegetable farms are missing the window to plant.

Such sprawling food production and distribution shocks illustrate the pandemic’s seemingly boundless capacity to suffocate economies worldwide and upend even the most essential business and consumer markets. There has been limited disruption so far to supplies of staple grains such as rice and wheat, although problems with planting and logistics are mounting.

Indian farmer Anil Salunkhe is feeding his strawberries to cows because the local tourists that usually eat them are gone, as are the fruit vendors that once worked the streets of the nearby metropolis of Mumbai.

“Nobody was willing to buy strawberries due to the lockdown,” Salunkhe told Reuters as he fed strawberries to a cow in Darewadi village, in Satara district.

He can’t even give his strawberries away: With stay-home orders in place, few villagers ventured out from their homes when he offered them the berries for free, he said.

In nearby Bhuinj village, Prabhakar Bhosale feeds lettuce to buffalo and lets villagers take more for their own cattle. The hotels and restaurants that normally buy lettuce are closed.

STRANDED MIGRANT LABOURERS

The potential impact of planting and harvest disruptions is most acute in poorer countries with big populations, said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

India – the world’s second-most populous country, where a majority of the population is involved in agriculture – is among the most vulnerable nations to the disruptions.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a 21-day lockdown with just a few hours notice on March 25, leaving many of its 120 million migrant labourers struggling to get home and with no money for rent, food or transport.

The country’s northern grain bowl relies on labour from eastern parts of the country, but workers have left the farms because of the lockdown.

“Who is going to fill the grain bags and bring the produce to market, and transport it to mills?” asked Jadish Lal, a merchant in Punjab’s Khanna grain market, the country’s largest.

Supply problems in one place are quickly felt on the other side of the world. In Canada, imports of speciality Indian vegetables such as onions, okra, and eggplant have dropped by as much as 80 per cent in the past two weeks as air cargo space dwindled, said Clay Castelino, president of Ontario-based Orbit Brokers, which helps shipments clear customs.

Castelino figured the sharp decline meant the food had simply gone to waste: “With perishable food, once it’s gone, it’s gone,” he said.

EUROPE’S MISSING WORKERS

Spain has a shortage of migrant workers from countries such as Morocco who cannot travel.

“In around 15 days time, the blueberry season will peak until mid-May,” said manager Francisco Sanchez, a manager at Spanish growers association Onubafruit. “We need a big concentration of labour then.”

In Italy, about 200,000 seasonal workers will be needed in the next two months. The government may have to ask people receiving state benefits to pick the fruit and vegetables, said Ivano Vacondio, head of Italy’s Food Association Federalimentare.

In France, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has issued a rallying cry to what he called France’s “shadow army” of newly laid off workers to replace the usual crews of migrant workers on the farms.

“If the call is not heard, the production will remain in the fields, and the entire sector will be damaged,” said Christiane Lambert, head of France’s largest farm union, FNSEA.

In Brazil – the world’s top exporter of soybeans, coffee, and sugar – farm lobby CNA said the industry faces a range of problems, including challenges hiring truck drivers to haul crops and a shortage of spare parts for farm equipment.

In Argentina, the world’s top exporter of soymeal, exports have been delayed as the government ramps up inspections of incoming cargo ships.

LAND, SEA & AIR

In addition to the trucking problems, a sharp decline in air traffic has cut deeply into capacity to move fresh produce long distances.

Andres Ocampo, chief executive of HLB Specialties, a fruit importer based in Miami, Florida, relied on commercial flights to shift papayas and other produce from Brazil. Now he is buying more from Mexico and Guatemala, where goods can still be shipped by trucks.

Ocampo says volumes of the company’s imports from Brazil have dropped by 80 per cent.

“In Europe, it’s even worse, because they don’t have a Mexico-like source for papayas,” he said.

US and Canadian exporters are grappling with a shortage of refrigerated containers to supply goods, as voyages of container ships from China to the West Coast are down by a quarter due to reduced demand because of lockdowns.

“The containers are tough to get right now,” said Michael Dykes, president of the International Dairy Foods Association, a US-based trade group. “If a company needs five containers, they’ll find they can get one.”

Port congestion is slowing shipments of pork and beef to destinations such as China because workers have been told to stay at home. That is exacerbating the shortage of protein supplies in China, where an outbreak of African swine fever has taken a quarter of the world’s pigs off the market in the past year and a half.

A DIFFERENT KIND OF CRISIS

The emerging supply-chain disruptions are much different than the food crises of 2007-2008 and 2010-2012, when droughts in grain-producing nations caused shortages that led to higher prices, unrest and riots in several countries. Those price spikes were driven in part by state hoarding of rice and other staples.

Now, staple grain supplies are relatively plentiful and global prices have been low for years as farmers in the United States, Brazil and in the Black Sea region have planted more and improved yields.

Although there are signs that big importers such as Iraq and Egypt are boosting grains purchases amid rising food security concerns, other countries are boosting exports. Second-largest rice exporter Thailand, for instance, is taking advantage of higher rice prices by increasing exports from stockpiles.

Top rice exporter India, however, has stopped rice exports due to labour shortages and logistics problems. Third-largest exporter Vietnam has also curbed exports.

African nations – where many people spend more than half of their income on food – are among the most vulnerable to disruptions in staple food supplies.

The continent is the fastest-growing consumer of rice, accounting for 35 per cent of global imports and 30 per cent of wheat imports. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is the third-largest rice consuming region, yet holds the smallest grain inventories – relative to demand – of all regions, because of tight government budgets and limited storage.

While the earlier food crises involved supply shocks, today the problem is getting plentiful supplies to the people who need it – many of whom have suddenly lost their income.

“It is a whole different animal,” the FAO’s Abbassian said. “You don’t have labour, you don’t have trucks to move the food, you don’t have money to buy the food.”

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Europe weighs a half-trillion euro plan to stem coronavirus recession

BRUSSELS (BLOOMBERG) – It’s crunch time for the European Union (EU) as it strives to stem a virus-led downturn that could eclipse the severity of the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

The EU’s finance ministers on Tuesday (April 7) will seek to endorse a list of measures worth more than half a trillion euros to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on the region’s economies. If enough headway is made, the bloc’s leaders could debate and sign-off on the measures later in the week.

With the euro area facing an economic slump of unprecedented scale, countries have instituted fiscal measures worth 3 per cent of EU gross domestic product (GDP) as well as liquidity guarantees worth 18 per cent of the bloc’s output. The European Central Bank (ECB) has also launched massive bond purchases in what could end up becoming the biggest economic rescue package the continent has seen in peacetime.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday said that the pandemic was the EU’s biggest challenge since its founding and that “the answer can only be: more Europe, a stronger Europe and a well-functioning Europe”.

BAILOUT FUND

One measure that’s gained broad support is to have the euro-area bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), offer credit lines worth up to around 2 per cent of output to all the bloc’s members. These loans could be granted to countries with few strings attached that focus mainly on the money going to virus-related spending. Still, some debate is expected on whether the funds should also be conditional on the countries’ fiscal health in the longer run, a longstanding demand of hawkish northern governments including the Netherlands and Austria.

The existence of such facilities should bring down borrowing costs for euro-area countries, and if the loans were needed, they would be available very quickly. Crucially, tapping into the ESM’s 410 billion euro (S$634.7 billion) war chest could also pave the way for the ECB to buy vast amounts of sovereign bonds through its Outright Monetary Transactions program.

Another proposal expected to get the green light is the creation of a pan-European Guarantee Fund to be managed by the European Investment Bank that could mobilize more than 200 billion euros in liquidity for the region’s small and medium sized enterprises.

The ministers are also expected to broadly support a program proposed by the European Commission that would give up to 100 billion euros in loans to countries facing rising joblessness because of the lockdown. The plan would see the EU raise money on international markets backed by guarantees from member states.

JOINT DEBT

Among the more contentious ideas that will likely be discussed is an emergency fund proposed by the French government. According to the plan, the temporary reserve of 3 per cent of GDP would be around for as long as 10 years and would be funded by the joint issuance of debt instruments to mutualise the cost of the crisis.

That would be more controversial as it closely resembles a proposal backed by several euro-area countries for so-called coronabonds – joint debt instruments that would ease pressure on highly indebted countries like Italy and, to a lesser extent, Spain and France, and would reduce the risk of a backlash from bond investors.

Officials say the French proposal could be considered as part of the EU’s plan for economic recovery once the health crisis is over. But it’s still likely to face pushback by countries like Germany and the Netherlands that have long opposed the idea of mutualising risk. They argue that it wouldn’t solve the issue at hand and are wary that they could end up on the hook for spending in the poorer south.

Still, in order to bring Italy and some of the other hard-hit countries on board with the rest of the toolkit, officials expect that some reference to such a notion could be included in the ministers’ agreement, leaving more concrete decisions on such instruments in the hands of their leaders.

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Kelowna fire crews rush to morning blaze on Enterprise Way

Firefighters rushed to a blaze at a multi-unit commercial building in Kelowna on Thursday morning after a report of smoke.

Four engines, rescue and safety units, a command vehicle and 18 personnel responded to the fire on the 2700 block of Enterprise Way just after 7 a.m.

The fire department said the first arriving officer reported smoke coming from the bay door of one of the units.

Crews entered the unit and quickly extinguished a fire that was located on the second-floor mezzanine area, according to a news release.

The fire department said the blaze caused some smoke and minor structural damage but was contained to the affected unit.

However, smoke did migrate to other units in the building, according to firefighters.

The fire is believed to be electrical in nature.

RCMP are investigating.

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