Asian Stocks Falter After Wall Street’s Big Day: Live Updates

Financial markets on Wednesday appeared unconvinced of a pledge from the United States to blunt the impact of the coronavirus, as the number of cases continued to rise in the world’s biggest economy.

Investors in the Asia-Pacific region kept stocks around neutral territory, with major markets trading cautiously just above or below the zero mark. Seoul, Sydney and Tokyo were exceptions, and all three traded well below 1 percent midday.

More worrying were early indications of sentiment on Wall Street, where futures trading forecast a drop of as much as 2 percent when the market opens later in the day. Europe looked set to fare better.

President Trump has signaled he would consider ways to stimulate the economy. But so far, the White House has yet to announce any specific measures.

Government bonds prices rose once again, indicating that investors were looking for a safe harbor. Yields on U.S. government debt fell, edging closer to new lows reached earlier this week. Gold futures were largely flat.

Oil prices, which have taken a beating in recent days, found some relief in futures trading. Futures for Brent crude rose by more than 3 percent, to $38.46.

Shares on Wall Street surged on Tuesday, bouncing back from their sharpest drop in more than a decade, as investors seemed to take comfort from efforts in Washington to protect the economy from damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Though the rebound was at times wobbly, and shares dipped back into negative territory earlier in the day Tuesday, the S&P 500 ended nearly 5 percent higher — recouping more than half of the previous day’s losses — in its biggest one-day gain since December 2018.

But analysts stressed that any recovery in the markets will likely be tenuous. The White House has not announced any specific measures yet, and increased testing for the coronavirus is expected to generate rising numbers of new infections in the coming weeks, which could be a new challenge for investors’ nerves.

“Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” will now tape without a studio audience for the foreseeable future, according to two people familiar with the plans. The average audience for those shows skews older and tends to travel to Los Angeles from locations all over the country, prompting the temporary ban, those people said.

Alex Trebek, the “Jeopardy” host, has pancreatic cancer, putting him potentially at even greater risk to the virus, one of the people said.

The Norman Lear comedy “One Day At A Time” — which like “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” is produced by Sony — also taped an episode on Tuesday without a studio audience present, according to one of the people.

Warner Bros., which produces shows like “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Conan,” is not yet canceling studio audiences for its programs. But the studio said on Tuesday that it would begin screening prospective audience members and ask them to confirm that they or a member of their household have not traveled to countries with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention level three designation in the last three weeks. That includes China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.

“These new and temporary precautionary measures have been put in place out of an abundance of caution and out of concern for the health and safety of our guests and staff,” said the studio, which shoots many of its talk shows in Burbank, Calif.

CBS and NBC — which also produces a number of talk shows, including “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” — declined to comment.

The coronavirus has public health officials talking about things like social distancing and self-quarantine to reduce the spread of the virus. And now it has corporate lawyers closely examining commercial contracts.

Big law firms have been churning out client notes advising business executives to start paying attention to force majeure clauses in contracts with vendors, subcontractors and insurers. Such clauses are common in contracts to protect parties in the event of a so-called act of God — earthquakes, hurricanes or floods — that prevent one side from completing its end of a deal, or disrupts a company’s business for an extended period.

But these clauses often do not include provisions for things like epidemics or pandemics. So will a force majeure clause provide legal protection to a company that cannot perform a contractual task because it had to effectively shut down because of the coronavirus?

Well, lawyers said, it often depends on the specific facts of each situation. Judges have tended to enforce such provisions narrowly and want to see evidence that a company did everything possible to keep up its end of the bargain. Courts are reluctant to interpret a force majeure clause as a “get out of jail free” card for a company that simply fails to perform.

Companies might want to protect themselves by coming up with contingency plans to demonstrate they did everything possible to complete a contractual obligation, Paul Weiss, the big New York law firm, said in a client note. “Ideally, business will be able to plan accordingly to avoid any disruption in their operations if the virus continues to spread,” the firm said.

Reporting was contributed by Alexandra Stevenson, Matthew Goldstein and John Koblin.

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