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The Latest: Major banks to face profit hit from low rates

A view a street in downtown Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 15, 2020, as most people remained home following the indications of doctors and the government in order to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)
A view a street in downtown Milan, Italy, Sunday, March 15, 2020, as most people remained home following the indications of doctors and the government in order to slow down the spread of the new coronavirus. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP) (LaPresse)

The Latest on financial markets (all times local):

The nation’s largest banks face a hit to their profits as the Federal Reserve slashes interest rates and bond yields continue sliding amid the coronavirus pandemic, which is putting the brakes on the economy as businesses and travel shut down.

Banks like Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and others rely on interest from mortgages and other kinds of loans to make their profits, so when those rates fall sharply, so do their earnings. Yields on bonds like the 10-year Treasury note are used to set rates on mortgages, and those yields have been dropping, pushing mortage rates to record lows.

Citi analyst Keith Horowitz expects the low rates to put pressure on the bank finances over the next few years. He estimates a 4% contraction in profits for Bank of America in 2020, followed by no growth next year. Other large banks face similar results.

Bank shares have taken a serious hit so far this year. Bank of America has plummeted 40% while JPMorgan plunged 35%.

The industry is also facing risks of defaults by borrowers as companies suddenly shut down operations because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have never witnessed the impact of a sudden and prolonged economic shutdown” that will impact commercial lending and consumers, Horowitz wrote in a note to investors.

Major banks have stopped buying back their own stock so they will have more funds available for lending. Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and are suspending buybacks through the second quarter, according to The Financial Services Forum, which includes major banks as members.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for the world and the global economy and the largest U.S. banks have an unquestioned ability and commitment to supporting our customers, clients and the nation,” The Financial Services Forum said in a statement.

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European stocks closed sharply lower Monday as widening shutdowns and travel restrictions because of the coronavirus outbreak bring businesses to a near-standstill.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index of shares across the continent ended the day down 4.9% at 284.63 points.

The FTSE 100 in Britain dropped 4%, Germany's DAX shed 5.3% and France's CAC 40 dropped 5.8%. The FTSE MIB in Italy, which has been hit hardest by the virus outbreak, fell 6.1%

All of the indexes had been lower earlier in the day as markets remain extremely volatile.

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Low-cost airline Norwegian Air Shuttle said Monday it is cancelling 85% of its fights and temporarily laying off 90% of its staff - 7,300 people.

“What our industry is now facing is unprecedented and critical as we are approaching a scenario where most of our airplanes will be temporarily grounded," Norwegian Air Shuttle chief executive Jacob Schram said in a statement.

“Several governments in Europe have already said that they will do everything they can to ensure that their airlines can continue to fly when society returns to normalcy.”

Shares in the company were down almost 19% on Monday, down 85% from the start of the year.

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The British government is asking manufacturers including Ford and Rolls-Royce to make ventilators for coronavirus patients.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to hold a conference call with industry leaders on Monday about turning over some of their production to essential medical equipment, the prime minister’s office said. The government has also set up a telephone hotline for businesses with expertise in making ventilators to call if they can help out.

“We are facing what is an unprecedented situation and that is going to require an unprecedented response,” said Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News that the U.K. had about 5,000 ventilators but would need “many times more than that.”

“We’re saying that if you produce a ventilator, then we will buy it,” Hancock told Sky News. “No number is too high and we are working with companies, we have been working with them for some time both to buy ventilators that are available but also to switch over production to ventilators.”

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Carmaker group PSA, whose brands include Peugeot and Citroen, has announced it is closing its factories in Europe until March 27 “due to the acceleration observed in recent days of serious cases of COVID-19.”

In addition to observing serious cases close to production sites, PSA also noted in a statement Monday that it has experienced supply disruptions from major suppliers and “the sudden decline in the automobile markets.”

The Executive Board Chairman and PSA’s crisis unit members have decided to stagger the closure beginning Monday in Madrid, and France’s Mulhouse, and following in the coming days with factories across France, Spain, Germany, Britain, Slovakia, Portugal and Poland.

Renault is under pressure from unions to do the same. Shares of both companies sank deeply Monday, even more than the average decline on France's CAC-40.

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U.S. stocks are down 9% after trading resumed on Wall Street Monday following a temporary halt Monday morning.

Markets are down by similar percentages around the world as huge swaths of the economy come closer to shutting down due to the coronavirus outbreak, from airlines to restaurants.

Emergency actions taken by the Federal Reserve late Sunday to prop up the economy and get financial markets running smoothly again may have raised fears even further, some investors said.

The Fed on Sunday cut its key interest rate to near zero. The price of crude oil also dropped about 10%. Bond prices soared as investors sought safety.

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The owners of iconic Las Vegas casinos such as Bellagio and Wynn Las Vegas are shutting down as the coronavirus pandemic prompts authorities to lock down public gathering places.

MGM Resorts’ operations in Las Vegas include the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay. The company said it will suspend operations at casinos and hotels indefinitely by Tuesday. It will not be taking reservations for arrivals prior to May 1.

Wynn Resorts will also close its Las Vegas operations, including its namesake casino and hotel, as of Tuesday. It said the closures are expected to be in effect for two weeks, after which it will evaluate the situation.

Casino operators have been struggling since the virus took crimped travel and tourism to the gambling haven of Macau in January while China went on lockdown. The damage accelerated in March, with MGM already losing 37% of its value halfway through the month and Wynn diving nearly 33%.

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The daughter of billionaire investor Warren Buffett has been exposed to the new coronavirus and has isolated herself at her Omaha home for two weeks.

Susie Buffett told the Omaha World-Herald on Sunday that she feels fine and doesn't think she's contracted COVID-19, which is caused by the virus that originated in China.

She says she's not the least bit worried and says she hopes talking about her exposure brings down the fear in other people. She also says she hasn't been around her 89-year-old father, Warren, since her exposure last week.

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Major airlines are scaling back flights dramatically in response to the coronavirus crisis that has seen Europe and the wider world go into lockdown.

Budget airline EasyJet said it is making big cancellations that will continue on a rolling basis. It said that could result in the grounding of the majority of its fleet.

BA's parent company, IAG, which also owns Spain's Iberia, said that for April and May it plans to reduce capacity by at least 75% from the previous year. It also said it is reducing operating expenses, including through voluntary leave options.

Ryanair, Europe's busiest airline, said it expects to ground the majority of its fleet across Europe over the next 7-10 days.

Travel company Tui is suspending the vast majority of travel operations until further notice, including package travel, cruises and hotel operations.

A day earlier, United Airlines had said it needs to cut flying capacity by 50% in April and May, while American Airlines announced a 75% cut to international flights.

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The Swedish government presented Monday an economic package that will allow all firms in Sweden to defer tax payments for up to a year.

The package is expected to cost more than 300 billion kronor ($21 billion), or some 6% of GDP.

The center-right government, sided by the center-right opposition, is introducing with immediate effect a system where companies can reduce employees' work hours by 60% but retain 90% of their salary.

“Just to be clear, Sweden has a heavy and stressful time ahead,” Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson told a news conference when presenting the package.

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All Disney owned hotels at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, will close at 5 p.m. on March 20, the company said early Monday.

The closure also includes Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

In a tweet, the company said the Friday closure will give guests the ability to make other arrangements.

In addition, the company announced it is closing all Disney stores in North America, beginning Tuesday. This includes the shops in Orlando’s Disney Springs and Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California. Online shopping will still be available.

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Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is suspending production across most of its European plants through March 27 as businesses large and small take a hit from nationwide lockdowns to contain the virus outbreak.

The Italian-American carmaker said Monday it is closing six plants in Italy that make cars under the Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Maserati nameplates as well as a plant in Serbia that makes the Fiat 500L and one in Poland that makes the Fiat 500.

The production suspension was taken beyond measures already undertaken to sanitize work and rest areas, create greater distance between workers and facilitate remote working, which is now available to employees across the globe.

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Global stock markets and U.S. futures have fallen in a rebuke from investors to emergency central bank action to shore up economic growth as anti-virus controls shut down business and travel.

The selloff followed the Federal Reserve's surprise decision to slash interest rates.

Benchmarks in London and Frankfurt were down about 7%. Sydney's benchmark plunged 9.7% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 4%. Japan's benchmark sank 2.5% after the Bank of Japan announced it was expanding its monetary easing and providing 0% loans for companies that are running short of cash due to the virus outbreak.

Brent crude, the international oil standard, fell almost 9% while gold gained. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow industrials fell 5%, triggering a halt in trading.