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Airlines slash flight schedules as virus undercuts travel; sales of new homes fell in Feb.

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Many flights nearly empty as virus slams travel

DALLAS — Airlines are canceling thousands of flights, and even those that remain are mostly empty. Airlines are also drafting contingency plans in case there aren’t enough air traffic controllers or airport security officers to keep flying.

Still, airline stocks soared Tuesday on reports that Congress and the Trump administration are close to a deal on economic stimulus, including help for the carriers.

Airlines officials say their situation is dire, and they are lobbying for at least $50 billion in help from the federal government. But lawmakers disagree on whether that should include cash grants or just help in getting loans to the airlines, which were highly profitable before the coronavirus outbreak. 

New home sales drop 4.4% in Feb.

WASHINGTON — U.S. new home sales fell 4.4 percent in February with bigger declines expected in coming months as the coronavirus puts a major crimp on home sales.

The Commerce Department said Tuesday that February sales dropped to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 765,000 homes, down from a rate of 800,000 homes in January.

The January figure was revised up from an initial estimate of 764,000 but economists are warning that home sales, along with many other parts of the economy, are expected to take a big hit in coming months due to the shutdowns that have occurred to try to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The report showed that the median price for a home sold in February was $345,900, up 6.3 percent from January.

Economists are forecasting big declines for the overall economy with a wave of layoffs already starting due to the big hit the economy has taken in the wake of the virus.

Larry Kudlow, head of the president's National Economic Council, told reporters at the White House Tuesday that overall economic growth was "going to be rough" in coming months but he said that the support that the economic stimulus package that Congress is working on means "we'll be setting the stage for a good rebound in the second half of the year."

Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG in New York, said, "New home sales will likely plummet in the next few months not because of a recession per se, but the reality is the public has been told to stay in their homes."

By region of the country, home sales in February surged 38.9 percent in the Northeast, a huge gain that was attributed to warmer than usual weather. Sales were up 1% in the South and fell by 17.2 percent in the West and were down 7.3 percent in the Midwest.

Virus shuts Amazon warehouse in Ky.

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Amazon has temporarily closed a Kentucky warehouse after an unspecified number of workers tested positive for the coronavirus.

The online retailer said Tuesday that the warehouse at Shepherdsville was undergoing "additional sanitization."

"We are supporting the individuals who are now in quarantine and recovering," the company said in a statement. "We are following all guidelines from local officials and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site."

The company did not specify how many employees have been infected with the virus.

News outlets reported that three COVID-19 cases were confirmed at the Amazon warehouse.

"Out of an abundance of caution, and in addition to our enhanced daily deep cleaning, we are temporarily closing the Shepherdsville, Ky., site for additional sanitization," the company said.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

Key medical glove makers short on help

NEW YORK —Malaysian medical glove factories are responsible for most of the worldwide supply. And right now, they're operating at half capacity to comply with new national rules aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The Malaysian government ordered factories to halt all manufacturing starting March 18. Then, one by one, those that make products deemed essential, including medical gloves, have been required to seek exemptions to reopen, but only with half of their workforce to reduce the risk of transmitting the new virus, according to industry reports and insider sources. The government says companies must meet domestic demand before exporting anything. The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association this week is asking for an exception.

Shortages already reported in some parts of the U.S. are expected to worsen even as global demand grows. Malaysia is by far the world’s largest medical glove supplier. It produces as many as three out of four gloves on the market. Other countries making gloves including Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Turkey and especially China are also seeing their manufacturing disrupted due to the virus.

Libya says its oil losses exceed $3.5B

CAIRO — Libya's oil company says economic fallout from a protracted blockade of its vital oil facilities has resulted in losses surpassing $3.5 billion at a time when the war-torn country struggles to prevent the new coronavirus.

The National Oil Corp., which dominates Libya's critical oil industry, reported late Monday that production had been reduced to 95,837 barrels a day as of Sunday.

Powerful tribes loyal to Libya's eastern-based forces seized large export terminals and choked off major pipelines in January, aiming to starve the Tripoli-based government of crucial revenues.

The national oil company said the over $3.5 billion losses date back to Jan. 17, with daily losses at more than $1.1 million. It warned of a looming fuel shortage, given the government's inability to pay for imports. Oil is the lifeline of Libya's economy.

Wire reports

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