Letters from the storefront: Coronavirus’ crushing impact on small business in America

Over the past few weeks, coronavirus has taken the lives of thousands of Americans. But it’s also had dire impacts on the U.S. economy — delivering a devastating blow for hundreds of thousands of restaurants, stores and other small businesses across the U.S., which find themselves suddenly cut off from their customers as Americans seek refuge from the lethal pandemic.

The economy lost 701,000 jobs by the middle of last month. The unemployment rate rose to 4.4%. At least 10 million people applied for jobless benefits in the last two weeks of March, overwhelming many states’ unemployment offices. 

Small businesses have been hit especially hard by the crisis, as they often have fewer resources to draw on during a slowdown, and many have been forced closed by public health measures.  

We asked our viewers to share some of their own stories or that we’ve come across of how coronavirus has impacted their financial futures.

Molly Moon, small business owner, Seattle, Washington:

“I own an ice cream company called Molly Moon’s homemade ice cream here in Seattle. I had over 100 employees before coronavirus and did about 7.9 million dollars in ice cream sales last year and I was on track to break the 10 million dollar mark which almost no women-owned business does. I now have 9 employees and I am selling 5,000 dollars worth of ice cream pints to grocery stores a month. Which isn’t even enough to pay for the chefs and delivery drivers left in the company.”

“This recovery is going to take small businesses years if we’re going to recover at all and I’m really afraid that without more stimulus help in another bill, all of our Favorite small businesses in our cities and towns might be lost forever.”

Angie Bowen, small business owner, Owasso, Oklahoma

“My business is a part of the gig economy which means that we work large and small events, basketball games football games or concerts. So as long as people are not allowed to gather together, we have no prospect of making money.”

“And then to make matters worse, I got a call from the state of Oklahoma yesterday that my unemployment claim had been denied because they are currently not set up for independent contractors.”

Laura Ortiz, former Staples Center employee

“My family you know they just text me ‘Mom, what’s going to happen? You know that we depend on your job and then what’s going to happen after this?'”

Weslynne Therasse, nurse practitioner

“I was a nurse practitioner, I was practicing at a private office in downtown Manhattan and I was laid off due to a decrease in patient volume…I’m teacher, mom, nurse, provider, everything. I’m all of it. I mean, it’s a challenge.”

Fiona Carty, designer, California

“I’m feeling really scared, I feel like humanity and society right now is kind of in this – it’s almost like you’re driving through really, really thick fog and you can only see like five feet in front of you…I won’t really know how to cover rent after May, and we’re supposed to be quarantined until May, so that’s going to be interesting…I think that not a lot of people within this period of time of not working are going to be able to make back whenever they’re able to start working, so that’s accumulated debt.”

Sangeeta Lakhani, restaurant owner, Ohio

“I’ve had people working here for 7 years, you know? Like these are my kids. I feel a responsibility towards them like i do toward my own children.” 

“These kids aren’t sitting on savings accounts. these are hourly workers. they’re tipped workers. As a parent to not know how to help your children through something like this, it’s heartbreaking, you know? I don’t know how to help them.”

Jeff Roseman, small business owner, Darien, Connecticut 

“I am a small family business owner contending with the duality of taking care of my family and looking out for the financial well-being of my company’s employees. Referring to my “extended family” as employees fails to acknowledge what they mean to me. Essentially, I work side-by-side with friends who treat my business as if it were their own.”

“Now a Pandemic has taken its pervasive devastation on the economics of our company. Family business owners feel guilt, shame and discouragement if those who depend on us are harmed.  Regardless, if the origin of the hurt is no fault of our own, it is a business owner’s job to protect the ones we love.”

Geoff Tracy, restaurant owner, Washington D.C.

“In our little world, our kitchens at Lias and Chef Geoff’s are busy packing up meals to go. Today is our 17th day as a take-out and delivery only restaurant. The bustling sounds of the kitchen are comforting; but the silence of the dining room, bar, and patio is deafening.”

“I have been in this business since I was 17. The last two weeks have been the hardest … and the most inspiring. Never could I have dreamed up such a devastating blow to our business. Never could I have imagined laying off so many people.”

Shy Pahlevani, Founder & President, HUNGRY catering, New York, NY

“What a difference a month makes. A few weeks ago, HUNGRY was riding a high…Fast forward to mid-March and, suddenly, nobody’s looking for catering. Social distancing and shelter-in-place forced offices – our entire customer base – to close…

But rather than lay off our chefs, delivery drivers and hardworking sales staff to weather the storm, we decided to do what entrepreneurs do best: pivot. In less than two weeks, we launched [email protected] – a contactless, subscription-based meal service that delivers the same high-quality, local chef-prepared food our customers have come to love directly to people’s homes. And for every [email protected] meal sold, we’re donating four to help feed people in need…

Of course, like everyone else, we’re still acclimating to this new normal and adapting day-by-day. And, although this month has been one the hardest times our business has ever seen, it’s also been one of the most rewarding.”

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Mnuchin: Coronavirus 'worse than 9/11' for airlines

New York (CNN Business)Delta Air Lines expects revenue over the next three months to be down 90%, with no end of the industry’s troubles in sight.

“Even as Delta is burning more than $60 million in cash every day, we know we still haven’t seen the bottom,” said CEO Ed Bastian warned employees that Friday. He said April’s schedule will be down “at least 80% smaller than originally planned, with 115,000 flights canceled.”
As an example of the drop in traffic he said that on March 28, Delta carried only 38,000 customers, versus its normal late-March Saturday of traffic of 600,000.

    “I wish I could predict this would end soon, but the reality is we simply don’t know how long it will take before the virus is contained and customers are ready to fly again,” he said.

    Airline fan Buffett dumping shares

    In a separate filing Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA), disclosed that it sold 18% of its stake in Delta (DAL) earlier this week, dumping nearly 13 million shares for $314 million.
    Berkshire also disclosed it had sold 2.3 million shares of Southwest Airlines (LUV) for $74 million. That only represented 4% of Berkshire’s Southwest holdings though.
    Berkshire and its chairman Warren Buffett have been major investors in a number of airlines in recent years. It previously held 11% of Delta’s shares, and 10.3% of Southwest before the recent sales, along with 10% of American (AAL) and 9% of United (UAL).
    Berkshire is among the three largest shareholders of all four airlines. Buffett typically does not sell shares simply due to a decline in price or difficult economic times.

    Other airlines also see tough times ahead

    Delta wasn’t the only airline issuing a grim outlook for business Friday evening. United and JetBlue did as well.
    United said that its average revenue in March was $100 million a day less than a year ago. It also cut April capacity by 80%, and said that it still only expected to fill a small portion of the seats it flies – a percentage between the low teens and single digits. United filled 84% of its seats with paying customers throughout 2019. An airline typically needs to sell at least two-thirds of the available seats on a flight in order for it to be profitable.
    Feds direct airlines to refund passengers for canceled flights
    United said because of the low traffic it expects to make even deeper cuts in the May schedule and it will continue to cut the schedule until it sees signs of a recovery in demand. But it’s not expecting any significant rebound soon. It said revenue for the last three months of this year is still expected to be down 30% from the final quarter of 2019.
    JetBlue said that it expects to fly only 7,000 customers a day in April and possibly in May, compared to the normal 120,000 it would handle. It said it was taking in just $1 million a day in bookings and ancillary fees, down from $22 million during April last year. And it is issuing $11 million per day of travel bank credits for canceled bookings.

    Airlines file for help

    Bastian confirmed that Delta filed Friday for its share of $25 billion in federal grants for the airline industry approved by Congress last week. Most other airlines confirmed that they, too, filed or planned to file for such support. Airlines that did not file by Friday stood the risk that there would not be money available to them when they did.
    There’s another $25 billion in loan support available as part of the package. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told his employees a week ago that American stood to get $12 billion of the $50 billion of help available because of it is the world’s largest airline.

      United, Southwest, JetBlue (JBLU) and Hawaiian airlines disclosed their requests for help in statements or company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Sun County, Spirit Airlines (SAVE), Alaska (ALK) and Allegiant Airlines (ALGT) told CNN on that they had filed.
      The small regional airlines that operate as feeders for the major carriers also all filed for help, according to Faye Malarkey Black, the CEO of the Regional Airline Association. That does not include the two regional airlines that already announced plans to go out of business.
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      Airbus CEO Donates Bonus to Charity Amid Coronavirus Disruption

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      Airbus SE Chief Executive Officer Guillaume Faury will donate his 2019 bonus to charity, targeting aid work that’s already linked to the planemaker as the coronavirus pandemic stresses health systems in many countries.

      The money will go to non-governmental and humanitarian organizations, with a focus on Airbus’s own charitable foundation and organizations it supports, a spokesman for the Toulouse, France-based planemaker said.

      Faury, 52, took over the top spot at the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturer almost a year ago. He is entitled to as much as 200% of his base salary, which stands at 1.35 million euros ($1.46 million), according to company filings. He told employees in a letter Friday that he would give up the payment.

      With coronavirus weighing heavily on the industry, leading to bailout requests, plant closures and furloughed staff, aviation chiefs have been forgoing parts of their compensation. The chairman and CEO of U.S. rival Boeing Co. opted to give up their salary payments for the rest of the year, while airline executives have routinely done the same as they seek state aid.

      Airbus last month increased its liquidity to 30 billion euros by extending credit lines and clamping down on cash outlays. The company is said to be poised to tap French government-backed loans as the outbreak drains cash reserves.

      Airbus has encouraged employees to donate to the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent Societies and Action Against Hunger, the company said.

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      U.A.E. Amps Up Stimulus, Unveils New Aid Package

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      The United Arab Emirates is unlocking new aid and slashing banks’ reserves requirements as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the economy.

      The central bank presented measures that it said would release 61 billion dirhams ($16.6 billion) to support lending to the economy and banks’ liquidity management. Measures include:

      • Allocating 256 billion dirhams for capital and liquidity steps, including 50 billion dirhams in capital-buffer relief, 50 billion dirhams for zero-cost funding support, 95 billion dirhams in liquidity-buffer relief and 61 billion dirhams to halve the cash reserves requirement.
      • Extending the duration of its support plan for retail and corporate customers until the end of 2020
      • Allowing lenders to defer borrowers’ payments on principal and interest until the end of 2020.

      “The additional measures announced today will effectively relieve the pressure on financial institutions, allowing them to continue to carry out their crucial role as the backbone of the economy,” the newly appointed central bank governor, Abdulhamid Saeed, said in a statement.

      Saeed, former head of the U.A.E.’s biggest lender, First Abu Dhabi Bank PJSC, was named governor last week.

      Business conditions in the United Arab Emirates worsened at a record pace in March after emergency steps were taken to stop the spread of the virus, IHS Markit reported earlier. Business and travel across the region are in lockdown to stop the spread of the disease, and on Saturday, Dubai, which is part of the U.A.E., said it will impose further restrictions on the movement of people as it seeks to limit the spread of the virus.

      The U.A.E. has reported 1,505 virus cases, including 10 deaths.

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      India Bans All Exports of Trump’s ‘Game Changer’ Virus Drug

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      India put a total ban on exports of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that U.S. President Donald Trump has touted as a “game changer” in the fight against Covid-19.

      Exports of the drug and its formulations have been prohibited “without any exceptions” and with immediate effect, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade said in an April 4 order on its website. The trade regulator had last month restricted overseas shipments of the drug, allowing only limited exceptions such as on humanitarian grounds and for meeting prior commitments.

      The new ban reflects India’s rising concern over the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus, with incidents of community spread emerging from different parts of the country of 1.3 billion people.

      It comes on a weekend when Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed the global supply chain for drugs and other medical supplies with Trump, who has advocated the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for people with Covid-19. Its efficacy against coronavirus infections remains unproven.

      India has recorded 3,374 positive cases so far and has lost 77 lives, according to the federal health ministry. The country has struggled to keep people indoors during a three-week lockdown that started March 25, raising fears of accelerating spread.

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      As China Reopens, Africa’s Woes Threaten to Starve Its Factories

      On a typical workday, hundreds of thousands of men clad in overalls and carrying safety equipment and head lamps assemble at South Africa’s mine shafts. They crowd into cramped elevators to be lowered miles underground, where they hack at seams of gold or platinum and haul ore in intense heat and humidity. After hours of backbreaking labor, they return to the surface to shower in communal areas, and many share meals and bed down in crowded hostels.

      These aren’t typical days.

      South Africa on March 26 imposed a three-week lockdown to fight the coronavirus, confining millions in their homes and shuttering most businesses—including the mines that are the first link in a global supply chain that passes through smartphone factories in China and auto plants in Detroit, Turin, or Tokyo, and ends in stores and showrooms around the world.

      Even as Asia slowly reopens after its lockdown, factories there risk running short on supplies as the virus spreads to countries that produce vital raw materials. And nowhere is the problem a bigger issue than in Africa, which provides the metals and minerals needed for just about every industrial product, and where countries heavily reliant on trade with China have been suffering from a collapse in commodity prices.

      While the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across Africa remains low compared to other parts of the world—some 7,000 cases on a continent of 1.3 billion people—social distancing is a luxury the region can scarcely afford. Most governments lack the resources to enforce effective containment measures, and health systems risk buckling if the disease reaches Africa’s crowded shantytowns and slums.

      “For Africa, it will be much harder than you imagine,” said Auret van Heerden, chief executive officer of Equiception, a supply-chain consultancy in Geneva. “They’ve survived Ebola, they cope with malaria and tuberculosis, but I don’t think they’ve had anything quite this infectious.”

      The African mines that produce raw materials for factories across the globe are bracing for the arrival of the virus. In South Africa, Kumba Iron Ore Ltd., the continent’s largest iron-ore producer, and Anglo American Platinum Ltd. and Sibanye Stillwater Ltd., the world’s top platinum vendors, have curtailed most of their output. Chrome and manganese mines, which supply ingredients for steel, have been largely shuttered.

      In Luabala, a province of Democratic Republic of Congo that is a major provider of copper and cobalt used in rechargeable batteries, mines remain open but the work force has been limited to essential personnel to minimize the risk of contagion. Tenke Fungurume, a mine owned by China Molybdenum Co., has been put into isolation, with about 2,000 people ordered to stay on site and avoid “contact with the outside world,” according to a memo circulated to staff.

      Even facilities that keep producing risk interruptions in getting their goods to market. In the best of times, Africa’s transport networks are fragmented and inefficient, and its ports and customs services are notoriously slow. Today, most African countries have closed their borders, and several have limited internal travel or imposed lockdowns. While cargo is usually exempted from the restrictions, increased security controls, sanitation measures, and reduced staff at ports and railways threaten severe delays.

      Most copper and cobalt from Congo’s mines, for instance, moves via truck through Zambia and then to ports in South Africa and Tanzania. While cargo carriers can still cross into Zambia, new sanitation measures have led to 25-mile backups at the border.

      In Kenya, a dusk-to-dawn curfew has resulted in a pileup of goods at ports, driving up freight costs by almost a third, according to Dennis Ombok, chief executive of the Kenya Transporters Association, which represents truck-fleet owners. Even though essential goods are officially exempted, drivers are being harassed by police, Ombok said.

      “It’s taking up to three days to clear at the border between Kenya and Uganda,” he said. “The police need to tone down how they’re handling transporters. We’re carrying food and raw materials. These are essential.”

      In South Africa, the port of Durban, the busiest in sub-Saharan Africa and serving landlocked Zambia and Zimbabwe, limited operations to essential cargo, and police stopped all trucks carrying other goods for several days. On Thursday, the order was reversed to help ease massive congestion at the port. Amid the confusion, First Quantum Minerals Ltd., which accounts for more than half of Zambia’s copper production, says it has started making alternative shipping plans.


      At the main crossing between Zambia and Congo, more than 1,000 trucks carrying food, equipment, and supplies for mines had to queue last week after a partial lockdown came into effect. For now, Zambia has managed to convince the Mozambican government to allow trucks carrying fuel from the port of Beira to exit Mozambique, after they were held at the border. 

      “With a crisis of this magnitude,” Zambian President Edgar Lungu warned last week, “we shall find ourselves under forced lockdown if all our neighbors shut their borders.”

      And global trade moves in many directions these days, so mines are facing potential shortages of crucial imports needed to keep operating as suppliers worldwide curtail production;  sulfuric acid, for instance, is critical in copper processing. Both Zambia and Namibia, which ships copper and uranium to China, have raised the alarm over looming shortages of key chemicals for their mines.

      “Most if not all our mining companies get inputs from China,” said Veston Malango, head of Namibia’s Chamber of Mines. “And we have not been able to do that.”

      — With assistance by Kaula Nhongo, Felix Njini, David Herbling, Taonga Clifford Mitimingi, and Stanley James

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      Gilead to Donate Experimental Coronavirus Drug for 140,000 Cases

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      Gilead Sciences Inc. said it’s donating 1.5 million doses of its experimental anti-coronavirus drug remdesivir, which could treat 140,000 patients.

      The drug will be offered for “compassionate use” and will treat patients with severe symptoms, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Daniel O’Day said in an open letter. The company is also boosting its supply of remdesivir to more than 500 treatment courses by October, and to more than 1 million by the end the year. Production time has also been accelerated to six months from one year, he said.

      “While we are working with the utmost sense of urgency on the immediate needs before us, we are also looking forward,” he said. “Over the next weeks and months, we will be able to further increase our supplies of remdesivir as raw materials with long lead times become available for manufacture.”

      32,133 in U.S.Most new cases today

      -26% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

      -1.​138 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

      The drugmaker said last week it’s switching to “expanded access” from a “compassionate use” program under which remdesivir was given to more than 1,000 Covid-19 patients. The move will accelerate its emergency use for multiple severely ill patients.

      A World Health Organization panel said in January that remdesivir was considered to be the most promising therapeutic candidate based on its broad antiviral spectrum, and existing data based on human and animal studies. The medication was developed initially for Ebola and studied in patients in Eastern Congo.

      Multiple clinical trials are investigating the drug’s effects in Covid-19 patients in China and elsewhere.

      Gilead Expands Access to Experimental Coronavirus Drug

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      Singapore Retail Investors Use Cheap Cash to Load Up on Stocks

      Record low interest rates are tempting some retail investors in Singapore to load up on debt to buy shares, just as the coronavirus outbreak creates the most volatile markets since the global financial crisis.

      Earlier this year, 31-year-old insurance agent Heng Kai Sheng got advances on three separate credit cards to the tune of S$150,000 ($105,000). With the money, he opened a share-financing account at a local bank and pledged the lot as collateral. He was granted leverage of around 3.5 times, a S$500,000 kitty Heng’s plowing into the stock market.

      “As Asians, our parents always tell us ‘Don’t borrow money, repay your mortgage as soon as possible’,” said Heng, whose initial S$170,000 share portfolio now totals about S$135,000. “But money is so cheap.”

      According to preliminary data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore, bank financing for stock purchases by retail investors rebounded in February after three consecutive months of declines. Individuals pumped around S$2 billion into equities in March, 50% more than the previous month, Singapore Exchange Ltd. data show.

      32,133 in U.S.Most new cases today

      -26% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

      -1.​138 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

      The increase comes as the nation’s benchmark equity gauge registered its worst quarter since the global financial crisis. The SPDR Straits Times Index ETF, the largest Singapore-listed exchange-traded fund tracking the city-state’s stocks, saw net inflows of about S$247 million in the three months ended March 31, its largest quarterly boost since 2002, Bloomberg-compiled data show.

      “There are probably new and existing investors who aren’t leveraged who would definitely want to take advantage of the sell-off to buy shares,” said Joel Ng, an analyst at KGI Securities (Singapore) Pte.

      There are also some suggestions retail investors may be using their homes as collateral to borrow money.

      David Gerald, founder of investor lobby group Securities Investors Association (Singapore), said he was aware that investors “may want to refinance their housing loans” in the low-rate environment to free up cash for equity investments. However, “investors should be cautious not to over-leverage” in volatile markets because they may face margin calls, he added.

      Not everyone is joining the party. While share financing by banks rose in February, the amount decreased 11% when compared to a year ago. And according to Ng, margin calls “really intensified” in March, particularly for private-bank clients who were sold leveraged products or who took on debt to buy real-estate investment trusts.

      Heng said he has a three- to-five-year horizon for his investments, and maintains he’s doing the math to make sure he can always cover the interest, which ranges from 1.38% to 2.03% on the credit cards.

      Some of the shares he bought include Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp., which slumped 21% last quarter, Singapore Telecommunications Ltd., down 25%, and Mapletree Industrial Trust, which declined 6.5%.

      Heng knows he’s taking a risk but he’s not too worried.

      “For young people like us, even if you fail, you can make up the capital,” he said. “If you have sufficient earning power, you should take a bit more risk.”

      — With assistance by Abhishek Vishnoi, and Chanyaporn Chanjaroen

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      Oil prices rally on talk of supply cut

      London/New York (CNN Business)OPEC and Russia have postponed a meeting set for Monday to discuss supply cuts and ending a brutal price war.

      The meeting is now scheduled for April 9, an OPEC source told CNN on Saturday.
      The meeting, which was called by Saudi Arabia, comes after President Donald Trump suggested that massive production cuts could be on the way and Saudi Arabia called for an “urgent” effort to restore “balance” to the oil market.

        Saudi Arabia and Russia have been locked in an epic price war since early March when the OPEC+ oil alliance cracked, flooding the oil market with cheap crude just as demand craters because of the coronavirus pandemic. Crude has crashed to 18-year lows, crushing American oil companies and energy stocks.
        The meeting will be held via video conference and will include oil producers from outside the OPEC+ alliance that includes Russia and a few other countries, two senior sources at the OPEC secretariat told CNN Business. The final list of invitees has not yet been set, they said.

        The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico could be invited, according to reports
        Trump, who met on Friday at the White House with US oil executives, said he’s optimistic that Saudi Arabia and Russia will reach a deal to end their price war that erupted early last month.
        “I think President Putin and the crown prince want something to happen badly,” Trump said, according to a White House readout of the meeting, referring to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He added that he’s spoken to both the Russian leader and Prince bin Salman.
        Both Saudi Arabia and Russia would like to get the United States, the world’s leading oil producer, to join in emergency cuts aimed at halting the crash in oil prices.
        American Petroleum Institute CEO Mike Sommers, who was in the meeting, told CNN Business that possibility was not discussed.
        The official Saudi Press Agency on Saturday said Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud “is still welcoming to anyone who wants to find solutions to the challenges of the oil market.”

          US oil prices soared 25% — their biggest one-day gain on record — on Thursday after Trump tweeted that he hopes and expects Saudi Arabia and Russia will slash output by between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day.
          Prices continued to advance Friday, recovering some of the massive plunge seen over the past month.
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          Italy Nears Decree on $216 Billion in Guarantees to Companies

          Italy is finalizing new measures aimed at providing liquidity to companies, Treasury Minister Roberto Gualtieri said.

          The government will guarantee loans of up to 800,000 euros at 100%, and will boost guarantees to 90% on another 200 billion euros ($216 billion) in loans, Gualtieri said in a televised comment on Rai TG1. Companies will be able to seek bank loans for as much as 25% of their revenue, and those new benefits could be combined with the other measures the government is studying to help Italian businesses.

          Read More: Why the Fate of Milan Will Be the Fate of Italy (1)

          Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is working on a new decree to further boost liquidity for businesses, while another package later this month will include emergency income for people trapped in the so-called underground economy.

          The government is deploying at least 25 billion euros in new economic aid after an initial stimulus package approved in March for the same amount. The Italian daily La Stampa said earlier Saturday that the liquidity decree will be approved by Monday.

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