The Week in Business: This Is Getting Awkward

Welcome to the weirdest Thanksgiving week ever. Whether you’re staying home — an excellent choice — or taking your chances by traveling, be safe, and keep your gathering small. (Remember, that means more pie for you.) — Charlotte Cowles

What’s Up? (Nov. 15-21)

Recovery on the Rocks

Despite more promising vaccine news, the economy’s recovery is looking shakier by the day. New claims for unemployment rose last week for the first time in over a month, and coronavirus outbreaks continue to shatter records and prompt new lockdowns. Despite these alarming developments, the Trump administration is actually ending some current pandemic relief programs. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked the Federal Reserve to return unused funds earmarked for virus-related emergency loans by the end of the year. (The Fed said that it “would prefer” that the funding stay in place to support “our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”) In reclaiming the money, Mr. Mnuchin makes it harder for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming administration to restart the Fed’s aid efforts next year.

Speaking of 2021 …

In his first major policy speech since he won the election, Mr. Biden called on Congress to pass a large stimulus package immediately, even as lawmakers remain hopelessly deadlocked. He also met with business and union leaders, including the chief executives of General Motors, Microsoft, Target and Gap, to hear their concerns about safely reopening workplaces. But no matter what he does now, Mr. Biden will face an uphill battle once he takes office, especially if Mr. Trump continues to hobble the transition process. The president-elect will be contending with a dangerous phase of the virus, a floundering economy and a population that’s tired of being stuck at home. He may also be hamstrung by a divided Congress, depending on the outcome of two runoff elections in Georgia in January.

A Bruised Apple

Have you ever suspected that your iPhone was getting slower? You aren’t the only one: Apple paid $113 million to end an investigation into whether it purposely (and secretly) “throttled” the speed of its older phones to prolong their battery lives. Customers also accused the company of slowing down older iPhones after new models came out, ostensibly to encourage people to upgrade. As part of the settlement, Apple said it would be more transparent about how it manages battery life on its devices but did not admit any wrongdoing. The company previously agreed to pay up to $500 million to customers who “experienced diminished performance” on their iPhones in a separate class-action suit.

What’s Next? (Nov. 22-28)

Boeing’s Long Layover

It’s been more than 20 months since two deadly plane crashes led the Federal Aviation Administration to ground Boeing’s 737 Max jet and conduct a huge investigation into the plane maker’s safety practices. Now the F.A.A. has approved Boeing’s next steps to get the planes flying again. But don’t expect to see the 737 Max in the sky anytime soon. In addition to retraining pilots to use its upgraded software, Boeing has to regain the trust of the airlines that bought its aircraft and the passengers who fly on them (which aren’t many these days, given the pandemic’s blow to the travel industry). The 737 Max disaster has cost the company billions and tarnished its reputation as a leader in American manufacturing.

Airbnb Checks In

Airbnb long planned to go public in 2020, but the pandemic threw a wrench in its timeline. Now it’s rushing to finish the process next month, despite taking steep losses in revenue earlier this year. Why the hurry? Airbnb compensated many of its early workers with stock options, and a large chunk of that equity is set to expire next spring. To avoid making those long-term employees angry (and much poorer than they planned to be), Airbnb must stick to its deadline. The paperwork for its initial public offering, filed this past Monday, showed that the company turned a profit last quarter after making harsh cuts. It plans to raise as much as $3 billion in its I.P.O.

Early Christmas for Elon Musk

Tesla will become the largest-ever company added to the S&P 500 when it joins on Dec. 21. To qualify for the index, a company must be profitable for four straight quarters — which Tesla hadn’t accomplished until this year. It’s unusual for a company to be as valuable as Tesla when it earns S&P status, and its inclusion has already raised its stock price even further. Investors often scramble to buy shares of a company when it’s added to the index, because many investments are intended to reflect the index’s makeup exactly.

What Else?

Amazon delivers drugs now, too: The e-commerce giant rolled out an online pharmacy that will bring your medication or prescription refills straight to your doorstep in a few days. Speaking of speed, the world’s most expensive racing pigeon sold for a record 1.6 million euros, about $1.9 million, after a bidding war between two Chinese buyers at a Belgian auction. And the digital media company BuzzFeed is buying the news website HuffPost from Verizon Media to better compete in an increasingly crowded field.

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Unemployment Claims Rise as Economic Worries Grow

The job market is showing signs of weakening again, as more Americans file for unemployment benefits amid a sharp rise in coronavirus cases and new restrictions on business aimed at curbing the outbreak.

Initial claims for state employment insurance jumped by more than 18,000 to over 743,000 last week, before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the first increase since early October and represented an ominous turn for a labor market that has struggled to recover fully from the huge layoffs that accompanied the pandemic’s arrival in March.

“The latest data points to the fragility of the recovery as the Covid crisis worsens,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “If this trend continues, it’s an indication that the labor market recovery has gone into reverse.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a federal program for gig workers, independent contractors and the self-employed — totaled 320,000, an increase of 24,000 from the week before.

Although the economy rebounded strongly in the third quarter and overall unemployment fell to a seasonally adjusted rate of 6.9 percent in October, that momentum has faded in the absence of new aid from Washington.

The latest wave of the outbreak threatens to further devastate big employers like airlines, restaurant chains and hotels, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging Americans on Thursday to avoid traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Mobility — in terms of walking, driving and use of public transportation — is already showing a decline, as are restaurant bookings, according to Torsten Slok, chief economist at Apollo Global Management.

“If people are staying home, that means they are not shopping or going out, and that means less employment,” he said.

What’s more, two emergency federal programs to aid people thrown out of work by the pandemic are scheduled to expire at the end of next month.

A new study by the progressive Century Foundation found that 7.3 million workers would lose their benefits with the end of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. An additional 4.6 million will be cut off from Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which kicks in when state employment benefits run out.

The programs represent “the last lifelines available to millions of Americans in desperate need,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow with the Century Foundation and co-author of the study with Elizabeth Pancotti. “It will be a crippling end to one of our darkest years.”

A separate study by the California Policy Lab, a research group working with state and local governments, reported that nearly 45 percent of California workers had filed for unemployment benefits since March, with 83 percent of the Black labor force applying during that period. Many of those workers are back on the job, but the end of the two programs will affect 750,000 Californians.

A new aid package from Washington would provide critical support for the economy right now, according to many economists. But stimulus legislation has been held up by differences over its scale.

On Monday, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. called on the two parties to “come together” and enact a stimulus package along the lines of a $3 trillion proposal passed by the Democratic-controlled House. The Senate’s Republican leadership backs a $500 billion outlay.

For all the body blows of the last year, consumer demand remains relatively healthy, according Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “We are still seeing incredible strength in housing, and auto sales remain strong,” she said. “Consumers are still spending on bigger-ticket items.”

Sales of existing homes rose last month at the highest rate in 14 years, the National Association of Realtors reported Thursday, fueled by rock-bottom interest rates that have encouraged house hunters to borrow and buy.

The Dickensian elements of the Covid-19 economy — unemployed workers facing a cutoff in benefits even as other Americans buy houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or more — underscore the unevenness of the recovery.

Lower-paid service workers have been hit especially hard, and the rise in virus cases threatens new pain. White-collar workers have fared better, with the unemployment rate for college graduates standing at just 4.2 percent.

Even for workers who have found jobs, the economy presents forbidding challenges. Some, like Christopher Crystal, have had to settle for paychecks that are a fraction of what they used to earn.

Mr. Crystal, 45, was furloughed in March from his job as a logistics manager at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, where he worked for 11 years and oversaw a staff of 500.

His furlough turned into a permanent layoff in September, and the $400 he was receiving each week in state unemployment benefits was not nearly enough to cover his family’s monthly bills, including $1,500 in rent for their apartment in Long Island, a $250 car payment and $250 for car insurance.

As his credit card bills grew, Mr. Crystal started looking for a job that would pay him more than his unemployment benefits.

In early October, he found a job as a delivery driver for Amazon. But he is earning $40,000 annually instead of his old $70,000 salary — and the job requires him to work 10-to-12-hour shifts lifting heavy boxes.

“I’ve been taking all the overtime they can give me just to try to catch up,” he said.

Mr. Crystal is glad to have a job, which has provided extra cash to buy clothes for his 5-year-old son. But he still feels mired in debt from the bills that stacked up while he was out of work.

“Now our savings are depleted, and my credit score has dropped like crazy,” he said. “It will take us a long time to dig ourselves out of this hole.”

Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.

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The Week in Business: The Election Made Markets Happy

The days ahead may bring more turmoil, but the worst uncertainty is behind us. (And at least you’re not a Danish mink.) Here’s how Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory affects business and tech, and what to know for the coming week.

What’s Up? (Nov. 1-7)

The Future of the Economy

Another thing to be less stressed about this week: Your stock portfolio. Markets made up for their losses in late October as President-elect Biden cemented his lead in the presidential election results and signs pointed to Republicans keeping their majority in the Senate. If Congress remains divided, Wall Street can expect few changes in tax or regulatory policies in the coming years. And if Democrats do wind up taking the Senate (which will be determined by two runoff elections in Georgia in January), a surge of government spending aimed at shoring up the economy could also bolster markets. But some analysts worry it’s too soon to celebrate, warning that postelection unrest could shake the country for weeks to come.

A Victory for Uber and Lyft

Ride-hailing companies have spent the past year battling a new California law that requires companies to give gig workers protections like minimum wage, overtime pay and other benefits. The rule would make operations more expensive for Uber, Lyft and delivery services like DoorDash, whose business models depend on their independent fleets of drivers. The issue wound up on the ballot again this month, and this time the companies won (notably, they also spent a record amount of money to court voters). The new measure, Proposition 22, says that app-based drivers will be classified as independent contractors, not employees, although it does include concessions like a wage floor. Labor groups say that it leaves thousands of gig workers without basic rights, and they worry that it will set a precedent for how other states shape labor laws in the future.

Just Say Yes

Americans seem to agree on at least one thing right now: Drugs are not so bad. On Tuesday, residents of New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Voters in Mississippi and South Dakota did the same for medical marijuana. And other states passed measures to loosen legal restrictions on psilocybin, the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms. That’s good news for the increasingly lucrative (and job-creating) cannabis industry, as well as those state governments that are struggling under pandemic-induced budget shortfalls and need the tax dollars that drug sales can bring in.

What’s Next? (Nov. 8-14)

Some Relief, Please

Oh yeah, and the pandemic is still raging. The United States broke its previous record for new infections several days in a row this past week. The resurgence of the virus also continued to hamper the economy’s recovery, with new unemployment claims remaining steady. But the election has renewed hope for a new stimulus bill before Christmas. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said that reaching a deal on aid legislation would be “Job 1” when lawmakers return for the lame-duck session, although the bill would probably be less comprehensive than what Democrats have been holding out for.

Social Media vs. Truth

As baseless claims about election fraud continue to spread online (in some cases propagated by the sitting president), social media platforms are taking unprecedented steps to crack down on misinformation. Facebook is rolling out emergency measures to slow the transmission of live video and content that its algorithms flag as potentially false. This week, the platform took down the account of a day-old, rapidly growing group called “Stop the Steal” for trying to incite violence at vote-count protests around the country. (The group’s organizers have accused Facebook of silencing conservatives.) At Twitter, the company has labeled more than a third (and counting) of President Trump’s posts since Tuesday with warnings that they contained misleading claims about the electoral process.

Let the Tariffs Begin

And now, news from someplace else: The European Union’s target date for imposing tariffs on up to $4 billion of American goods, including frozen fish, chemicals and ketchup, is this Tuesday. The tariffs are a retaliation against the U.S. government for giving subsidies to Boeing, the American aircraft maker, in violation of international trade rules. But some E.U. countries, including Germany, have been hesitant to raise tariffs so close to the U.S. election. (Others, like France, are jonesing to increase them as soon as possible.) The outcome of the election may persuade the E.U. to hold off and try instead to settle the dispute through trade talks.

What Else?

Denmark, one of the world’s top mink exporters, announced it would slaughter millions of the creatures after they contracted a mutation of the coronavirus that could interfere with the effectiveness of a vaccine for humans. On Wednesday, the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba will hold its annual Singles’ Day sale, the world’s largest shopping event, which has broken sales records since it began 11 years ago. And Ant Group, the Chinese financial technology company that challenged Beijing’s state-dominated banking system, was expected to set a record as the biggest initial public offering in history — until China’s government blocked its I.P.O. at the last minute.

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A Letter to the President, About the Next 4 Years

An economist offers advice on the most urgent tasks that need to be done for the economy in the next presidential term.

By Justin Wolfers

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In Building Economic Team, Biden Faces Tug From Left and Center

The Democratic nominee is seeking to balance experience and diversity in preparing a team for a potential administration if he wins in November.

By Jim Tankersley and Jeanna Smialek

WASHINGTON — If he wins the presidency, Joseph R. Biden Jr. will inherit an economy struggling to recover from its steepest plunge in decades. His economic team will need to help workers and businesses survive a pandemic winter, while developing policies to address the racial and income inequalities the crisis has exacerbated in the labor market.

Assembling that team would force Mr. Biden to balance competing impulses. He wants to surround himself with aides who have experience battling past downturns — a talent pool that is overwhelmingly white, male and centrist. But he also wants to stock his administration with advisers who represent the racial, gender and ideological diversity of the nation and his party better than previous administrations.

Allies inside and outside Mr. Biden’s sprawling network of informal economic advisers say there are signs that, even as Mr. Biden looks to familiar names from his White House years with President Barack Obama, his potential administration is on track to include far more economists of color, women and progressive economic thinkers than Mr. Obama’s initial team, which was stocked with establishment white male economists.

“You’d like a team that has kind of been to war,” said Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University who served on a task force when Mr. Biden became the nominee but is not currently an adviser to the campaign.

But Ms. Kelton, an increasingly important voice on the progressive side of the party, said it’s important to find people who realize that mistakes were made after the 2008 recession, because “it took seven years to claw back the jobs that were lost. We can’t afford that again.”

Robert E. Rubin, a former Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, who remains a leading voice among centrist Democrats, said Mr. Biden would be facing “the most daunting set of challenges that any president has faced since F.D.R. He needs people who are experienced, who are well equipped to deal with that.”

The nation is mired in a so-called K-shaped recovery in which some people and businesses have thrived as companies shifted to remote work and consumer demand skewed toward goods over services. Other workers have fallen into prolonged unemployment and a wave of small businesses have shuttered or are close to doing so. Mr. Biden’s allies have stressed that he will need to address that damage should he win the presidency.

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US economy rebounds by record 33.1% in Q3 after Covid-19 plunge

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The US economy bounced back with a record yet temporary surge of growth in the third quarter as businesses reopened and stimulus cash powered consumer spending, reversing much of the collapse stemming from coronavirus-enforced lockdowns.

US gross domestic product (GDP) for the July to September expanded at a 33.1 per cent annualized pace, after a 31.4 per cent plunge in the second quarter, the Commerce Department’s initial estimate showed on Thursday (Oct 29). This beat economists’ estimates for a 32 per cent increase.

Personal spending fueled the surge in growth, climbing an annualized 40.7 per cent, also a record, while business investment and housing also posted strong increases.

While the report makes clear that the economy has found a solid footing for now, analysts caution that growth will be much more modest and choppy in months to come, especially as the spread of the virus gathers pace again and lawmakers remain in an extended deadlock over a new stimulus package.

Moreover, there are still nearly 11 million fewer workers on payrolls than there were before the pandemic hit, and analysts say a full recovery in GDP is at least several quarters away.

Even with the outsize gain, GDP is 3.5 per cent below its pre-pandemic peak, and the virus will keep business and jobs depressed in sectors like travel and restaurants.

With just five days until Election Day, President Donald Trump will likely point to the latest figures as evidence of his ability to guide the American economy through the Covid-19 crisis. It’s unclear, though, how much of an impact the upbeat figures may have on the election, especially given more than 76 million Americans have already cast their vote.

Futures on the S&P 500 rose slightly after economic data on Thursday morning. A separate report showed applications for US state unemployment benefits fell more than forecast last week.

Initial jobless claims totaled 751,000 in the week ended Oct 24, down 40,000 from the prior week, Labor Department data showed. Economists called for 770,000 initial claims and 7.78 million continuing claims, according to the median estimates in Bloomberg surveys.

The figures, the last snapshot of the US labour market ahead of Tuesday’s election, underscore a further, yet gradual, recovery in the job market. Nonetheless, a renewed surge in coronavirus infections across the country and a deadlock over new fiscal stimulus threaten to limit further progress.

US stocks had plunged on Wednesday amid concerns over the latest increase in virus cases and its potential impact on the global economy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 943.24 points, or 3.4 per cent, posting its fourth straight negative session. 

Asian stock markets fell on Thursday (Oct 29) but not as sharply as Wall Street’s overnight rout on the sense that the region had Covid-19 more under control,

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost 0.6 per cent, while Japan’s Nikkei fell just 0.3 per cent and China’s blue chips rose 0.5 per cent. Singapore’s Straits Times Index dropped 1.3 per cent.

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Stocks Post Worst Day in 4 Months as Infections Rise Around the Globe

Coronavirus flare-ups across the United States and new lockdown measures in major European economies sent stocks sliding to their worst performance in months on Wednesday.

The S&P 500 ended the day 3.5 percent lower, notching the market’s third straight decline and the worst drop for Wall Street since June 11.

The decline wiped out the S&P’s gains for the month as investors dumped shares. All 11 sectors fell as traders jettisoned stocks in economically sensitive sectors like energy. Even tech was squeezed — the tech giants were once thought to be almost immune to the economic effects of the virus. Treasury yields fell as investors sought the safety of government bonds, and economic nervousness pushed oil prices down: Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude oil fell 5.5 percent to $37.39 a barrel.

As recently as Oct. 12, the S&P 500 was up more than 9 percent for the year, as investors seemed to grow more confident that Congress and the White House would be able to produce a new dose of federal stimulus before the election.

But those talks have stalled. And with Covid-19 cases now reaching a new peak in the United States, the economy is staring down a worsening pandemic without the reassuring flow of new federal dollars to help prop up small businesses and consumer spending. By Wednesday’s close, the year’s gains for the S&P 500 had shriveled to 1.3 percent.

“You’ve had everybody pricing in best-case scenarios,” said William Delwiche, an investment strategist at Baird, a financial firm in Milwaukee. “And all of the sudden those aren’t being realized.”

Even before trading opened in New York, European markets were enduring an ugly session. Major markets slid 4.2 percent in Germany and 3.4 percent in France. The pan-European Stoxx 600 index declined nearly 3 percent. As the U.S. trading day unfolded, Germany announced a new one-month partial lockdown aimed at stemming a surge of infections. France followed, announcing a full nationwide lockdown for the second time in 2020.

“The continued spread of the virus and enactment of new measures risk slowing or reversing the bounce-back in European growth over recent months,” Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, said in a note to clients on Wednesday.

The United States, too, is suffering a renewed wave of coronavirus infections: The number of Covid-19 hospitalizations is up an estimated 46 percent over the last month. And New Jersey’s largest city, Newark, imposed a curfew and reinstated some limits on gatherings to control an outbreak there.

Even with continuing signs of a strong economic recovery — on Thursday, the government is expected to report that G.D.P. grew about 7 percent in the third quarter — the jump in infections is beginning to undermine confidence in how long the recovery can last.

“Seeing restrictions going back into effect in Europe is giving some investors an unwelcome déjà vu feeling, and their automatic response is to hit the ‘sell’ button,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.

The investor unease was clear: The VIX — the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, widely considered the stock market’s “fear gauge” — jumped roughly 20 percent to its highest level since June.

Investors have been largely willing to overlook deep economic problems for much of this year. Between late March and early September, stocks soared 60 percent as investors rode a wave of monetary and fiscal stimulus from the federal government that resuscitated risk-taking after stock prices crumbled with the start of lockdowns in the United States.

Expectations that more federal money would flow into the economy kept the momentum going: Just a few weeks ago, analysts across Wall Street thought it was all but certain that another stimulus bill would be signed into law before the election.

But since early September, when it began to be clear that further federal largess would not be immediately forthcoming, the romp has essentially petered out.

Now, with third-quarter earnings season underway, investors appear to be showing a renewed interest in how the economic downturn is hitting the fundamentals of corporate America.

Travel remains a major source of investor disappointment.

On Wednesday, Mastercard reported disappointing profit and sales data, with virus-related travel disruptions hurting its higher-fee business for cross-border payments. Shares tumbled more than 8 percent.

Boeing reported its fourth consecutive quarterly loss as it continues to struggle with the grounding of its 737 Max passenger plane and warned of further layoffs to come. Its shares fell 4.6 percent.

Cruise lines continued to tumble, with Carnival down 11 percent and Norwegian dropping 9 percent. Major airlines dropped, with Delta down 3.5 percent and United off 4.6 percent.

And earlier this week, the giant German business software company SAP suffered a more than 20 percent dive after its earnings disappointed, largely because of underperformance in Concur, its unit focused on business travel expense management.

The fallout from the virus is not the only question about the future that’s weighing on investors’ minds.

While many on Wall Street have warmed to the idea of a Biden presidency, the looming election continues to create uncertainty for investors. Control of not just the White House but also the Senate hangs in the balance, and investors have plenty of reason to stay on the sidelines and see whether Nov. 3 will generate a serious swing in policy.

“It’s certainly not giving people a reason to step in and buy,” Mr. Delwiche said.

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Traders trickle back to Wall Street after pandemic confinement

New York (AFP) – The life of a Wall Street trader was once one of business trips and work dinners, but now it is anything but.

The culprit, as with so many of the economic and financial disruptions the United States has faced over the past months, is the coronavirus pandemic, which has rendered life for the brokers, bankers and businesspeople fuelling the world’s largest economy much more lonely.

People working on high-priced transactions like IPOs, bond deals or mergers and acquisitions “used to travel a lot to meet with clients” who would typically only sign agreements in-person, recalls Mr Karl Haeling of LBBW bank.

“Now they would very happily give mandate without seeing you,” said Mr Haeling.

Wall Street sits in the heart of New York City, an early epicentre as the US Covid-19 outbreak turned into the world’s worst, with more than 218,000 deaths and eight millions cases nationwide as of this week.

The pandemic’s intensification in March temporarily cleared the market makers from the New York Stock Exchange’s boisterous floor and forced traders across Wall Street to retreat indoors, relying on their phones, e-mail and instant messaging systems to talk with clients.

“People are doing brainstorming on these various video platforms and they are coming up with product ideas remotely,” said Mr Daniel Alpert, founding managing partner at investment bank Westwood Capital.

But that has not held indices back: the Nasdaq and S&P 500 have both recovered from their massive plunges in March, while the Dow has also regained most of its strength, though millions remain jobless and unemployment is at a high 7.9 percent.

Trickling back

Aided by a secure internet connection, Mr Haeling holds 30-minute meetings twice per day to keep up with colleagues about the markets, politics and the omnipresent coronavirus threat, a work-from-home routine he says suits him fine.

“I went back (to the office) for three days in the summer because of a storm which cut the power out at home, and I realised how inefficient it is because I spent three hours on the train,” he said.

But even with the virus still a threat across the US, traders are slowly trickling back to Wall Street.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation estimates there are 460,000 people employed by the financial sector in the city, and their work is considered an essential service under state law.

The New York Stock Exchange reopened in May with traders donning masks and separated by plexiglass, while Mr Alpert started working from his office again at the end of June.

But rather than the 15 or so people who usually show up to his office, it’s just Mr Alpert and occasionally another partner.

Earlier this month, he attended his first in-person business lunch since the coronavirus’ arrival, “outside, of course,” and closed a recent deal with around eight people in the same room.

“There are just some times when you really do need the high speed interaction,” he said.

BNP Paribas, which had a few cases of employees testing positive for the virus or suspecting they had it, has let about 10 to 15 per cent of their staff return.

BNP Paribas has let about 10 to 15 percent of their staff return. PHOTO: AFP

Visitors are banned in the office, but in a tour given to an AFP journalist over live video, traders could be seen scattered over a long line of desks and separated by plexiglass, with floor markings encouraging people to socially distance.

“Anything is on the table to give our employees flexibility,” said Mr Kevin Abraszek, the bank’s head of human resources change and transformation.

Forever changed?

Staff at other banks have returned as well.

JPMorgan Chase asked all its head of brokerage and sales divisions who were still teleworking to return to the office by the middle of September, with exceptions for medical conditions or childcare needs.

But only about 20 percent of its employees show up, and who reports to the office often differs by the day.

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At investment bank Goldman Sachs, about 30 percent of staff are in the office.

Outside of Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers, there is no doubt the neighbourhoods are not back to their former selves.

Traders in their uniforms of sleeveless fleece vests no longer flock Wall Street each morning, and industry officials acknowledge it may take a while longer before normalcy returns.

“We are trying to instill a longer-term new… working culture in which working from home will remain part of what we do,” Mr Abraszek said.

“It is just a question of how much that will be.”

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