U.S. auto sales in states with coronavirus lockdown orders to drop 80%: analysts

(Reuters) – Vehicle sales in U.S. states that implemented lockdown orders to curb the spread of coronavirus will drop 80% or more, analysts said on Wednesday.

Auto retail sales through the week of March 22 declined 22% nationwide on a yearly basis and as much as 40% in some cities on the U.S. West Coast, according to an analysis by research firm J.D. Power based on data from dealership stores around the country.

Last week’s data did not yet fully account for various U.S. states passing so-called shelter-in-place orders at the end of last week.

“We expect to see a much broader and wider impact from these restrictions next week with sales declining 80% or more,” said Tyson Jominy, the firm’s vice president of data and analytics.

Tyson said New York in particular, a market that has so far proven rather resilient, is expected to change dramatically over the coming week.

New York on March 20 ordered the state’s roughly 19 million residents to stay at home.

But Thomas King, J.D. Power’s president of data and analytics, said car buyers will likely bounce back after an extended shutdown, which will help the auto industry recover.

The crisis is also likely to accelerate the move to online sales by auto dealerships, a business practice car retailers have been slow to embrace.

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U.S. Senate bill to grant airlines bailout to weather coronavirus

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate will vote on Wednesday to give the U.S. aviation industry $58 billion in aid, half in the form of grants to cover some 750,000 employees’ paychecks, in a badly needed lifeline for an industry facing the worst travel downturn in history.

A draft text for a $2 trillion economic rescue deal seen by Reuters would offer passenger airlines $25 billion in grants and $25 billion in loans, cargo carriers another $8 billion in loans and grants, and contractors like caterers up to $3 billion in grants.

Republicans had fought what they called a give away to airlines, while unions said the cash was crucial to keep workers on the job.

“This is not a corporate bailout; it’s a rescue package for workers,” said Association of Flight Attendants Sara Nelson, who spearheaded the idea of direct payroll grants for employees ranging from janitorial staff and gate agents to mechanics and pilots.

Reuters reported Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, a person briefed on call on Tuesday that lawmakers were nearing agreement on a deal for cash grants for payroll and other employee costs, after airlines made a last-minute effort to convince lawmakers they needed the cash to prevent furloughing tens of thousands of workers.

U.S. airline shares extended a Tuesday rally on hopes for cash relief and airlines could get cash assistance in as little as two weeks from passage.

Republican Senator Pat Toomey, whose party had proposed $58 billion in loans, said on Wednesday the grants were a key sticking point. He said Democrats insisted “we give away money to airlines and never get it back.”

In a win for labor, companies receiving funds cannot lay off employees before Sept. 30 or change collective bargaining agreements.

The draft bill has restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation, and allows the government to take equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package.

Airlines would also receive tax relief on fuel purchases and, in a move that will bring down passenger fares, a temporary suspension on ticket taxes.

As the coronavirus has spread around the world, travel demand has plummeted, with airlines drastically reducing flights and warning of more cuts to come.

Airlines keep canceling flights and slashing costs as demand falls. United Airlines (UAL.O) said Wednesday would now cut 52% of U.S. flights and overall capacity by 68%. On Tuesday, 279,018 people were screened at all U.S. airport checkpoints, down 87% over last year.

Airlines accepting loans may have to ensure certain air services in order to maintain health care and pharmaceutical supply chains, including to remote communities.

However, other consumer and environmental protections sought by many Democrats did not make it into the draft bill.

Airlines and unions won crucial support for the grants from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who worked the phones late into the night, telling lawmakers and others in the administration she was concerned about the impact of job losses and a decline in the U.S. aviation sector on competition, people briefed on the matter said.

“Without grants, airlines may be forced to choose bankruptcy over federal loans, if loan conditions are too inflexible,” Chao warned in a memo seen by Reuters.

Airlines have argued that they are key to restarting the economy once the coronavirus outbreak subsides.

U.S. airports, whose concourses have been nearly empty, are set to receive $10 billion in grants in the draft text.

The government will also provide $25 billion in grants for U.S. transit systems and $1 billion for U.S. passenger railroad Amtrak, that have seen ridership fall dramatically as states ordered tens of millions of Americans to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.

Boeing Co (BA.N) could receive government loans under a $17 billion fund set aside for direct national security-related loans, Toomey said, adding that many companies could qualify. Boeing could also qualify under the broader $454 billion loan program.

“It is not meant to be exclusively for Boeing… You should not think of it as a Boeing allocation,” Toomey said.

Boeing had sought at least $60 billion in government loan guarantees for itself and the entire aerospace manufacturing sector. Boeing did not immediately comment on Wednesday.

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Senate bill set to give aviation sector up to $33 billion bailout: sources

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – A compromise $2 trillion economic rescue package that will be voted on by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday is set to give passenger airlines about $25 billion in grants, and up to another $8 billion for cargo carriers and airport contractors like caterers, three people briefed on the negotiations said.

Reuters reported Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, a person briefed on call on Tuesday that lawmakers were nearing agreement on a deal for cash grants for payroll and other airline employee costs, after airlines made a last-minute effort to convince lawmakers they needed the cash to prevent the layoff of tens of thousands of workers.

The aid package is expected to include a further $29 billion in loans for airlines, and the government could receive equity, warrants or other compensation as part of the rescue package. U.S. airports are set to receive $10 billion in grants under the agreement.

The final text is still being drafted but will include restrictions on stock buybacks, dividends and executive compensation.

Senate Republicans on Sunday rejected any grants for airlines and instead proposed $58 billion in loans for airlines. Major airlines sounded the alarm and emphasized in recent days that without grants, they had short-term plans to quickly furlough tens of thousands of workers as travel demand collapses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the carriers promised not to lay off workers through Aug. 31 if they won grants.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants said on Twitter it was a “HUGE fight but we WON on this – We got the deal structured around maintaining payroll, no (involuntary) furloughs.”

Airlines and airline unions won crucial support from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who spoke to lawmakers and others in the administration about the crisis.

In a memo Chao had drafted that was seen by Reuters, she noted that airlines employ 750,000 U.S. workers. She was worried about a dramatic decline in the U.S. aviation sector that could reduce competition, and the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, people briefed on the matter said.

“Without grant assistance, U.S. airlines have warned that they may be forced to furlough employees or declare bankruptcy,” Chao’s memo warned. “Without grants, airlines may be forced to choose bankruptcy over federal loans, if loan conditions are too inflexible.”

Chao worked the phones late into the night talking to air carriers about what they needed to ensure they could maintain payrolls, said a person briefed on call.

The government will also provide significant funding to Amtrak and U.S. transit systems that have both seen ridership fall dramatically as states order tens of millions of Americans to stay home and avoid non-essential travel.

Boeing Co (BA.N) could also receive government loans or loan guarantees under the bill, but it was not clear if they would tap $17 billion in loan funding set aside for national security-related loans that were part of the Republican bill released on Sunday. Boeing had sought at least $60 billion in government loan guarantees for itself and the entire aerospace manufacturing sector.

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Futures rise as Washington reaches deal on $2 trillion aid package

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures rose on Wednesday, putting Wall Street on course to extend its massive bounce from the previous session, as Washington reached a deal on a $2 trillion stimulus package to help ease some economic pain from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate will vote on the bill later on Wednesday and the House of Representatives is expected to follow soon after.

At 05:24 a.m. EDT, Dow e-minis 1YMcv1 were up 741 points, or 3.6%, S&P 500 e-minis EScv1 were up 54 points, or 2.21% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQcv1 were up 187 points, or 2.48%.

SPDR S&P 500 ETFs (SPY.P) were up 2.61%.

The S&P 500 index .SPX closed up 9.38% at 2,447.33​ on Tuesday.

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Bombardier halts most operations in Canada due to coronavirus

(Reuters) – Bombardier pulled its 2020 outlook on Tuesday and said it would stop work at most of its Canadian operations until April 26 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The suspension includes aircraft and rail production in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, the Canadian company said.

The Ontario plant does final assembly for the Global 5500, 6500 and 7500 business jets. Ontario’s premier announced a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses starting Tuesday, while Quebec’s order will last until April 13.

Bombardier confirmed it was placing 12,400 of its employees on furlough, which makes up 70% of the company’s Canadian workforce. The company’s chief executive and senior leadership team will forgo pay for the furloughed period.

“We expect the company’s current cash position should help it face this crisis although we acknowledge that the operations shutdown will have an impact on cash flows in the short term,” Desjardins analyst Benoit Poirier said in a client note.

The planemaker also said it was cutting all discretionary spending and was pursuing additional measures to enhance liquidity. It added that production would be temporarily halted at all of its Northern Ireland sites until April 20.

Reuters had reported on Monday that Bombardier would suspend Canadian production of its corporate jets to comply with restrictions imposed by provincial governments.

The deadly coronavirus outbreak has spread to almost all countries of the world, prompting large-scale lockdowns and virtually wiping out demand for air travel.

Some of the workers at Bombardier’s plant in Toronto were sent home after a contractor tested positive for the novel coronavirus called COVID-19, the union’s acting plant chair Bill Bell said in an interview on Monday.

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Fed's 'bazooka' soothes dollar funding squeeze

LONDON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve’s efforts to shield the economy from the effects of the coronavirus have — for now – slowed a scramble for dollars that threatened to clog funding markets.

The dollar had gained almost 9% in 11 days in the rush for cash, but it fell on Tuesday, at one point to its weakest since March 19 =USD. Measures of demand for dollars signaled that many businesses and banks felt they had enough for now.

The Fed announced on Monday it would buy bonds in unlimited numbers and backstop direct loans to companies, the latest in a series of policy steps taken over the past 10 days to calm markets and support the economy.

It actions have included 150 basis points of interest rate cuts, targeted schemes for short-term money markets and extended dollar swap lines. Those actions marked intervention by the central bank beyond financial markets, where it has so far concentrated its firepower, into the real economy.

The three-month euro-dollar swap spread EURCBS3M=ICAP, a measure of the premium European borrowers are willing to pay for access to dollars, fell to 8 basis points, down from 14.5 bps on Monday, before the Fed’s announcement.

The spread had risen as high as 86 bps last week, but a series of measures, including unprecedented joint action to ensure a plentiful supply of dollars for central banks, eased the rush for the U.S. currency.

Swap spreads in other currencies, such as sterling GBPCBS3M=ICAP, tightened, although the dollar-yen spread JPYCBS3M=ICAP remained relatively wide, with Japanese investors still prepared to pay a sizeable premium for access to dollars.

“(The yen swap spread) still suggests some stress in funding foreign assets by Japanese investors,” JPMorgan analysts told clients.

They also noted a relatively elevated 40 bps spread on the one-year FRA-OIS — a gauge of the risks banks attach to lending to each other — though this too is below last week’s levels of more than 50 bps USDF-O0X12=R.

The dollar, measured against a basket of currencies, fell 0.5% =USD. The euro EUR=EBS gained 0.8% to $1.0812, up from three-year lows of $1.0636 at the start of the week.

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Wall Street jumps on hopes of $2 trillion stimulus

(Reuters) – Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday as signs that Washington was nearing a deal on a $2 trillion economic rescue package gave a shot of optimism to markets reeling under the biggest selloff since the global financial crisis.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 1,130.26 points, or 6.08%, at the open to 19,722.19. The S&P 500 .SPX opened higher by 107.04 points, or 4.78%, at 2,344.44. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC gained 335.47 points, or 4.89%, to 7,196.15 at the opening bell.

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Boundless Fed bond-buying fuels stocks rebound, dollar recoils

LONDON (Reuters) – Financial markets rebounded on Tuesday, with stocks and oil jumping about 4% in Europe, while the safe-haven dollar recoiled as unprecedented global stimulus efforts gained traction.

Although the U.S. Federal Reserve’s offer of unlimited bond-buying was not expected to mitigate the devastating impact of the coronavirus alone, investors hoped it would help avert a global depression with the help of other state rescue packages.

The Fed’s action had not cheered Wall Street for long on Monday, with losses of 2%-3% on major indexes, but the mood improved on Tuesday, as other governments and central banks stepped in.

Wall Street S&P 500, Dow Jones and Nasdaq indexes were expected to bounce 4%, the main European bourses were up similar amounts and oil, gold and copper had all swung 3%-5% higher.

“Today there is a strong recovery connected to the move that the Fed has introduced this massive weapon,” said Francois Savary, CIO of wealth manager Prime Partners, adding the Fed needed to prioritize fixing the seize-ups in funding markets.

“The key issue at the end of the day is that we need to deal with a credit markets that is completely closed. First they needed to stop this increase in bond yields… second, they needed to make sure that there is a return of liquidity in the credit then it will be equities – in that sequence.”

Alongside buying unlimited amounts of assets, the Fed will also expand its mandate to corporate and municipal bonds and backstop a series of other measures that analysts estimate will deliver $4 trillion-plus in loans to non-financial firms.

There were also signs of progress in Congress on a $2 trillion U.S. stimulus deal, which Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin hoped was “very close”.

Other countries are unveiling their own measures. South Korea’s ravaged market climbed 8.6% after the government doubled a planned economic rescue package to 100 trillion won ($80 billion).

In China, mainland stocks posted their biggest gain in three weeks with a rise of almost 3%, while Japan’s Nikkei soared 7%, its biggest daily rise since February 2016.

But investors were still wary, as global coronavirus infections have topped 350,000 and China posted a rise in new infections brought in from abroad.

Japan said it was postponing the Olympics, General Motors became the latest to abandon its outlook for the year, while Ford had been the latest corporate giant to have its credit rating cut to the brink of ‘junk’ on Monday.

“Markets are continuing to bounce up on the latest policy announcements and then sliding back down as the economic reality of the situation re-emerges,” Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid said.

Euro zone business activity data collapsed to a record low on Tuesday and suffered by far its biggest one-month fall since the survey began in 1998.

But government and central bank financial support helped calm nerves in bond markets, where yields on two-year U.S. Treasuries hit their lowest since 2013. Ten-year yields were at 0.8339%, from last week’s peak of 1.28%.

Germany’s 10-year yield was up 2 basis points on the day at -0.36%, compared with a 4 bps rise before the purchasing managers index (PMI) releases, all small moves when compared to record lows hit at -0.90% earlier in March.

“I think we have reached some kind of equilibrium trading range in safe havens,” said DZ Bank strategist Rene Albrecht.

“Given the prospect for the economic downturn and much more (debt) issuance going forward, I think the level where yields are settling down is the place for them to be.”

(Graphic: Global financial markets since coronavirus escalated, here)


The impact of the virus on the global economy is evident in a series of growth forecast downgrades and advance readings of PMIs across the world’s biggest economies.

German activity plunged to the lowest since the 2009 crisis, driven by a record services contraction, while French activity hit all-time lows. Japan posted its biggest-ever services fall.

“Economies around the world are going offline and that is devastating for economic activity, it’s creating the most robust dislocation in financial markets in living memory,” said George Boubouras, head of research at K2 Asset Management in Melbourne.

However, the prospect of massive Fed funding pushed the greenback 0.8% lower against rivals, off three-year peaks, falling against the yen and sliding 1% versus the euro.

Commodity and emerging market currencies benefited, with the Australian dollar up as much 2% to $0.59315 and well off 17-year lows.

There was less market volatility too. A gauge of expected euro-dollar swings eased below 12%, from above 14% on Monday, and a measure of U.S. equity volatility slipped to one-week lows around 55 points.

(Graphic: Volatility is back on Wall Street png, here)

(Graphic: China’s coronavirus cases JPG, here)

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Latin America's oil producers sweat to cover costs as price war takes toll

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – A price war between the world’s oil powerhouses is leaving many producers in Latin American struggling to cover production costs, boosting the chances of output cuts and investment delays in the coming months.

Global oil price benchmarks are suffering their steepest declines in decades in a perfect storm of falling demand in the face of the coronavirus epidemic, and surging supplies after Russia and Saudi Arabia failed to strike an agreement to cut output.

WTI crude Clc1 last week tumbled 29%, its biggest fall since the 1991 Gulf War. In the last two weeks, the U.S. benchmark lost around half its value, while Brent crude LCOc1 dropped about 40%.

Latin America’s heavy crudes, mostly indexed to these benchmarks and to Mexico’s Maya crude, accumulated a 42% fall in the same period, leaving some grades priced in the single digits, according to independent calculations.

Experts and analysts are expecting a global demand contraction of at least 10% this year.

“There will not be a fast recovery from these low prices,” said one trader of Latin American oil, who asked not to be identified. “We are now seeing demand destruction, and we all know what comes after that: layoffs, production cuts and investment postponed.”

Latin America’s average cost for lifting an oil barrel is close to $13 since 2019 excluding indirect costs and taxes, according to a Reuters calculation based on data provided by state-controlled Ecopetrol (ECO.CN) from Colombia, Petroecuador from Ecuador, Pemex from Mexico and Petrobras (PETR4.SA) from Brazil, as well as experts watching Venezuela’s PDVSA.

Until last month, those essential costs were covered by sale prices.

But the price war is drying up spot sales of Latin American heavy grades, knocking down regional benchmarks like Mexico’s Maya while dragging down Venezuela’s flagship crude Merey to as little as $8 per barrel last week.

With fuel demand in the United States – the main market for Latin American crude – declining as the nation enters shutdown, appetite for heavy oil from U.S. Gulf refiners has tumbled.

On March 18, Mexico’s Maya declined to its lowest level in 18 years, with sales to the U.S. Gulf Coast closing at below $13 per barrel according to S&P Global Platts, creating panic among neighbors.

Sending Latin America’s crudes to more distant markets such as Asia had provided some outlet for oil, but if freight tariffs increase amid a growing demand for floating storage, that avenue could also close in the coming months, traders said.


With few options on the table, the most expensive production operations could be forced to cut back output or shut.

Those typically include offshore ventures like some deep and shallow water fields in Brazil, where production costs last year were between two and five times higher than the $5.6 per barrel registered for pre-salt, according to Petrobras’ data.

Also at risk are extra heavy crude that needs upgrading such as Venezuela’s output from its Orinoco Belt joint ventures and shale projects like many in Argentina.

The price slump could also have a heavy impact on countries struggling due to output inefficiencies and heavy government takes such as Mexico and Ecuador, as well as firms facing high transportation costs like those operating in Colombia.

“Petrobras should have a slower development in its investment case, while Ecopetrol and (Argentina’s state-run) YPF would struggle as they have a breakeven of $30 per barrel and $40 per barrel, respectively,” said investment firm UBS in a note to clients.

Ecuador’s Energy Minister Rene Ortiz told Reuters that Petroecuador’s production costs are between $15 and $19 per barrel. “Our production continues uninterruptedly. Exports of Oriente and Napo crudes are normal, according to schedule made before the sanitary crisis,” he said in an email.

PDVSA, Pemex and YPF did not immediately reply to requests for comment. Petrobras declined to comment.

While production cost typically refers to the cost of lifting an oil barrel to the surface, breakeven price is the sale price needed to cover all the operational and financial costs of that barrel, including lifting, workforce and taxes.

An Ecopetrol spokesman said output costs were not yet above sale prices, so no fields have been shut. The Colombian firm has a target of producing at least 745,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day in 2020.

Colombia-focused oil producer Frontera Energy (FEC.TO) on Monday announced a 60% reduction in capital expenditures for 2020 and said it would prioritize essential well workovers and critical maintenance until market conditions improve.

In Venezuela, oil sale prices and export volumes have been the most punished by the market due to the additional weight of U.S. sanctions.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro this month confirmed that PDVSA, whose lifting costs are around $11 per barrel, is selling its oil below production costs. However, he did not outline any plans to curb production.


Even though it is partially protected by a hedging program and has credit lines available, Mexico’s Pemex seems the most vulnerable among its peers in Latin America to low crude prices.

The company’s financial debt surpassed $100 billion in 2019, even after receiving capital injections from the government.

“At the current Mexican crude basket price of below $20 per barrel, Pemex upstream business (exploration and production) does not generate enough cash flow to cover operational and financial costs,” Fitch Ratings said last week.

Pemex revised its Maya price formulas down last Friday, which could bring even lower prices. So far this year, Pemex exploration and production costs – which do not include financial costs or taxes – average about $16 per barrel, according to company data.

But the firm, which is on the verge of losing its coveted investment grade rating, has full-cycle costs of more than $80 per barrel after taxes, according to Fitch.

Under pressure by legislators, Mexico’s Energy minister Rocio Nahle on Sunday said the country, which has offered to mediate between Russia and Saudi Arabia, is in talks with other producers while Pemex is applying a tax easing program.

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U.S. industries scramble for exemptions as state shutdown orders grow

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As several more U.S. states moved to impose stay-at-home orders to limit the spread of the coronavirus, industries from steelmakers to auto dealerships were scrambling for exemptions that would allow them to remain open.

A patchwork of state and local authorities are imposing business closures. While many manufacturing firms were declared “essential” and were being allowed to stay open, some suppliers were not.

The stay-at-home orders are designed to stop the spread of the highly contagious virus, which has infected over 40,000 Americans in recent weeks and killed over 500.

The manufacturing-heavy states of Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Michigan imposed stay-at-home orders on Monday, joining states such as New York, California, Illinois, Delaware and Maryland.

“What we do now will slow this invader,” Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said Sunday. “It will slow this invader so our healthcare system … will have time to treat casualties.”

The National Association of Manufacturers has urged states to declare all manufacturing facilities and supply chains as part of the “essential infrastructure” and “essential businesses,” allowing them to stay open under guidance here provided by the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), part of the Department of Homeland Security.

As the virus halts physical commerce, keeping operations open provides companies a better chance of staying in business than waiting for a government handout, said Gary Hufbauer, a non-resident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

“Cash flow and survival are the key words here,” said Hufbauer. “As the shutdown continues, more and more firms will seek to be designated ‘essential.’”

Several letters to state and local officials from industry groups did not address how worker safety would be maintained for firms granted exemptions.

According to the CISA guidance, working remotely is encouraged, but when that is not possible, the agency recommends following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for social distancing, and off-setting shift hours to separate staff.

“These steps can preserve the workforce and allow operations to continue,” the agency said.

Industry may get an opening as President Donald Trump voiced a desire on Monday to avoid a complete shutdown of the U.S. economy, Hufbauer said.

Trump said he was considering ways to restart the economy in the coming weeks and wanted to avoid the pandemic becoming “a long-lasting financial problem”

Pennsylvania imposed a stay-at-home order in seven counties, mainly in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas on Monday evening. Steel mills are allowed to operate, but not some critical suppliers such as metal fabricators and producers of limestone used in blast furnaces.

“Without the continued operation of these businesses, steel mills will not be able to continue their physical operations in Pennsylvania and elsewhere,” Tom Gibson, president of the American Iron And Steel Institute, wrote in a letter to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.

As of late Monday afternoon, those metal fabricators were not on a list here of the types of businesses that could stay open from Wolf’s office.

“We are issuing these orders because Pennsylvanians’ health and safety remains our highest priority,” Wolf said in a statement.

Pennlive.com reported here that 10,000 businesses in Pennsylvania were seeking exemptions from the order.

The Aluminum Association called on local state and federal agencies to ensure that industry operations and employees are designated as “essential” and exempted from any “shelter in place” orders.

Groups representing the ports, chemical industry and hazardous waste transport also urged officials to keep them open as essential businesses

Auto dealerships, which repair vehicles and perform warranty and recall work, also should stay open, to “ensure that our nation’s motor vehicle fleet remains as safe and operational as possible” two automotive trade groups said in a letter here to Trump.

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