The daily business briefing: March 24, 2020

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Harold Maass
Federal Reserve Board Chair Jerome Powell.
ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

1.

Fed vows to buy as much debt as necessary to support economy

The Federal Reserve on Monday announced it would buy as much government-backed debt as necessary to support the economy through the COVID-19 crisis. For the first time in history, the U.S. central bank also said it would buy corporate debt to make sure struggling companies have access to the money they need to stay afloat. The Fed's efforts to keep credit flowing through fallout from the pandemic now exceeds what it did to help the economy recover from the 2008 financial crisis. "The coronavirus pandemic is causing tremendous hardship across the United States and around the world," the Fed said in a statement. "Aggressive efforts must be taken across the public and private sectors to limit the losses to jobs and incomes and to promote a swift recovery once the disruptions abate." [The Associated Press]

2.

Trump signs executive order against hoarding, price gouging

President Trump on Monday signed an executive order against hoarding and hiking prices during the coronavirus crisis. "We will not let those hoarding vital supplies and price gougers harm the health of America in this hour of need," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted. Attorney General William Barr said the government wouldn't crack down on families for buying too much toilet paper, but "if you have a warehouse of surgical masks, you'll hear a knock on the door." Barr said government officials were already investigating cases of apparent hoarding. Since COVID-19 reached the U.S., many stores have run out of hand sanitizer, toilet paper, cleaning products, and other essentials. [Bloomberg]

3.

PG&E pleads guilty to manslaughter charges from 2018 fire

Pacific Gas & Electric on Monday agreed to plead guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter stemming from a massive 2018 wildfire started by equipment in the utility's aging electrical grid. The fire devastated three towns in Northern California and drove PG&E to seek bankruptcy protection. The plea agreement resolves charges under a previously sealed indictment in the second case this decade in which the company's neglectful actions have been deemed criminal. The company is already serving a five-year criminal probation over six felony counts of falsifying records and other safety violations linked to a natural gas explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno, California. [The Associated Press]

4.

Stock futures rise as negotiations continue on Senate coronavirus rescue

U.S. stock index futures surged early Tuesday following Monday losses fueled by the Senate's failure to advance its massive coronavirus rescue package. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which fell by 3 percent on Monday, were up by 5 percent at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite were trading about 5 percent higher too as Democrats continued to negotiate with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to break the Senate impasse. Stocks in Europe gained as the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus appeared to slow in Italy, the region's hardest hit country. Markets also rallied in Asia, where Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose by 7.1 percent and South Korea's Kospi Composite surged by nearly 9 percent. [CNBC, MarketWatch]

5.

China to allow movie theaters to reopen as it eases coronavirus restrictions

Most movie theaters remain closed throughout the United States due to the new coronavirus crisis, but in China, some are beginning to open their doors again. More than 500 movie theaters have reopened in China after the novel coronavirus brought the theatrical business to a halt. That's less than 5 percent of the movie theaters in the country, but it comes as China has reported a drop in its number of COVID-19 cases. Still, audiences haven't exactly headed back to these theaters in droves; there were less than $2,000 in tickets sold on Friday and theaters in Fujian and Guangdong sold no tickets at all. Prognosticators expect ticket sales to tick back up slightly in April with re-releases of major blockbusters. [Variety, Deadline]