Day: March 16, 2020

The Fed cut interest rates to zero, but don’t expect to see 0% mortgages anytime soon

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The Federal Reserve’s decision to cut interest rates may indirectly push mortgage rates lower — but Americans aren’t likely to see 0% mortgages in the near future.

The Fed announced late Sunday that it was cutting its benchmark federal funds rate by 1% to a range of 0% to 0.25%, alongside other measures meant to stimulate the nation’s economy as it takes a major hit from the coronavirus pandemic. While economists cheered the move, it caused apprehension among investors, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -10.10%  , the S&P 500 index SPX, -9.60%  and the Nasdaq COMP, -9.73%  all dropping upwards of 8% in trading Monday.

Read more: Here’s the Fed’s statement on cutting interest rates to near zero

In and of itself, the Fed’s rate cut won’t cause mortgage rates to fall. Because mortgages are long-term loans, their interests rates tend to track long-term bond yields rather than short-term interest rates such as the federal funds rate. The yields on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y, -26.57%  and the 30-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD30Y, -15.07%   both fell in reaction to the stock market declines as investors fled for these government bonds, which are see as safe havens.

‘With the Fed cutting rates to 0% and re-starting quantitative easing, including purchasing mortgage backed securities, mortgage rates are poised to drop back down and may even hit new record lows.’

Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com

The ongoing turmoil caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, which had sickened nearly 175,000 people and caused 6,705 deaths as of Monday, has sent mortgage rates lower, to be sure. Nearly two weeks ago, mortgage rates hit a record low on average, according to Freddie Mac.

In the week after that though, interest rates on home loans rebounded slightly as lenders moved rates up to deal with a major influx of refinance applications and to hedge for the potential that bond yields could rise were the coronavirus situation to improve.

But the latest move on the Fed’s part should reverse that trend, real-estate experts said. “With the Fed cutting rates to 0% and re-starting quantitative easing, including purchasing mortgage backed securities, mortgage rates are poised to drop back down and may even hit new record lows,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com.

(Realtor.com is operated by News Corp NWSA, -3.15%   subsidiary Move Inc., and MarketWatch is a unit of Dow Jones, which is also a subsidiary of News Corp.)

Last summer, Denmark’s Jyske Bank began offering a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage at negative 0.5%.

That doesn’t mean rates are going to drop to zero. Over the past year, other countries have seen the emergence of ultra-low and even negative mortgage rates.

Last summer, Denmark’s Jyske Bank began offering a 10-year fixed-rate mortgage at negative 0.5%. Around that same time, Finland-based Nordea Bank started originating a 20-year fixed-rate mortgage in Denmark that charges no interest.

Also see: U.S. cities are temporarily banning evictions as coronavirus outbreak worsens

Low and negative mortgage rates in Denmark only came about after the country’s central bank had kept interest rates near zero for many years. “It would take a lot of big changes for the U.S. to have negative interest rates,” Kate Warne, investment strategist and principal at Edward Jones, told MarketWatch in August.

Indeed, this is not the first time the Fed has dropped its benchmark rate to zero. Rates were held at that level between December 2008 and December 2015 to help the U.S. economy weather the Great Recession. Even through all of that, the median mortgage rate was 4.2% during that time period, Hale noted.

And even if Treasury yields were to fall to the same level as the federal funds rate, mortgage rates likely wouldn’t follow.

“Because mortgage bonds are considered riskier than government bonds, they tend to be slightly higher than 10-year rates,” Hale said. “Even if the market spread were to return to normal, given where 10-year rates have been in the last week or so, we’re looking at mortgage rates around 2.5%.”

‘Social distancing is an affront to how Ireland celebrates life and death.’ Pubs close due to coronavirus, government issues new strict rules for funerals

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Dublin, IRELAND — The traditional wake is one of this island’s most sacred rituals.

The Irish wake is the quintessential, final act of intimacy, and social distancing is an affront to how Ireland celebrates life and death.

The gathering of hordes at the home of the deceased for up to three days is the hallmark, in many ways, of our respect for the dead, and of our famed hospitality.

‘It was a shock nonetheless to see, in recent days, a sorrowful sign on a rural Irish farmyard gate.’

It involves innumerable hugs, tears, laughter and the firm holding of hands as we try, at close quarters — and enveloped by rivers of tea — to hold our grief.

It involves overnight vigils at the coffin of the deceased, whose hands are touched endlessly. And it can involve discrete road-traffic management by volunteers or the gardaí (Irish police) if your loved one’s passing attracts a significant gathering.

It’s hard to describe how much this ritual of the Irish wake matters.

It is a tradition that can be traced back to the era of the Great Famine.

It is hard-wired into our DNA.

We knew that sweeping restrictions were inevitable once the coronavirus made its dark presence felt in Europe, including Ireland. Nonetheless, it was a shock to see, in recent days, a sorrowful sign on a rural Irish farmyard gate. The sign, on the gate of a wake house, directed mourners, other than immediate family, to stay away because of new restrictions on mass gatherings including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

Another sign said, “Please refrain from handshaking,” a hitherto unthinkable thing in the Irish mourners’ psyche.

When the Irish Association of Funeral Directors published guidelines stating that all funeral services for coronavirus victims should be postponed, and the deceased brought straight to the crematorium or cemetery for committal, Ireland emitted a collective sigh of distress.

Families will be able to say goodbye to their loved ones in the coffin, but will not be allowed to kiss the deceased.

The association also recommended banning family members from funeral homes, prompting the Health Services Executive (HSE) to rapidly produce more permissive guidelines which state that close family members of people who die from coronavirus will be allowed attend their funerals, but only under strictly controlled conditions.

For now, families will be able to say goodbye to their loved ones in the coffin, but will not be allowed to kiss the deceased.

After a video of revellers in a tourist hot spot in Dublin’s Temple Bar was widely circulated, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar threatened to seek enforcement powers to sanction bars and clubs in breach of the rules of gatherings of more than 100 people.

All pubs in Ireland were closed on the eve of St Patrick’s Day, following a request by the government. The mass closures were accompanied by a plea from the country’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, for the public not to host or attend “COVID parties” in their home.

Some, but not all, have complied.

As of Sunday evening, there were 175,275 confirmed cases globally and 6,513 deaths, according to data the latest rally from the database of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering; the database also reported 77,257 recoveries.

In Ireland, there were 169 confirmed cases and 2 deaths. In the British province of Northern Ireland, however, where schools remain open, 11 deaths from COVID-19 deaths have been recorded.

Like our fellow citizens around the globe, we are not immune to the alarm generated by COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2.

Less than an hour after Varadkar announced well-flagged restrictions including the closure of schools, universities and cultural institutions — as well as the cancellation of mass gatherings — my local supermarket in Dublin resembled a low-budget B-Movie version of an end-of-days panic buying scene.

The scene was surreal. The fear, if misplaced, is sadly all too real.

No amount of reassurance by the government and business leaders that supply chains are not at risk could assuage worried shoppers hoofing acres of toilet roll, pasta and bread into their trollies like extreme preppers from some obscure U.S. cable channel show.

And the wider contagion that followed was brutal and swift, with restaurateurs and child-care operators laying off staff because of a collapse in bookings.

“The Late Late Show,” presented by broadcaster Ryan Tubridy on RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, is the world’s second-longest running late-night chat show after “The Tonight Show” on NBC.

Ireland’s longest-running television chat show played to a ghost studio, flanked — meters apart as per official guidelines.

It is famous for its theme tune and the goodies and giveaways for those lucky to get tickets to the studio — “one for everyone in the audience” is one of the show’s famous catch phrases.

But last Friday night Tubridy played to a ghost studio, flanked — meters apart as per official guidelines — by a group of experts deployed to calm Ireland Inc.

The solemnity and calm maturity of the broadcast was a welcome antidote to the deluge of hysteria perpetrated by all manner of keyboard warriors berating politicians for making tough decisions based on the best available medical and epidemiological advice at hand.

For more than a week earlier, a debate had raged over whether the traditional St Patrick’s Day festivities, celebrated in some manner for more than 1,000 years, and expected to generate €73 million for the economy in 2020, should proceed.

Although now one of the fastest-growing economy in Europe, the wounds of the 2008 global financial crisis, which brought the International Monetary Fund-led troika to these shores, run deep in the Republic of Ireland, which is reeling from a housing and homelessness crisis that led to a breakthrough election for Sinn Fein, a nationalist left-wing party committed to reunifying the island of Ireland, led by Mary Lou McDonald.

Cancelling our national feast day is no mean feat.

The government eventually relented to public pressure to cancel the parades, banning large events until March 29 at the earliest, only for the body public to vent its outrage and dismay at a decision by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to allow the Cheltenham Festival to proceed.

Over 250,000 people, with thousands of Irish devotees, attend the famous horse racing festival over a four-day period.

“Cheltenham’s horsey set unmoved by some poxy little global pandemic,” screamed a headline from the Irish Times whose sublime sportswriter Keith Duggan captured how the outside world could only look on aghast as the festival continued amid coronavirus crisis.

It’s not just Cheltenham.

The differing stances taken by the British and Irish governments towards the coronavirus has baffled this tiny island

The differing stances taken by the British and Irish governments towards the coronavirus has baffled this tiny island of just over 4.8 million people which, for more than three years, has been beleaguered by the prospect of a hard border returning in the wake of Brexit.

My godson, 7, was one of the many small children who couldn’t believe that they, at the time of writing, are still at school in my hometown of Newry (Northern Ireland), when their cousins and friends in Dundalk (13 kilometers across the border in the Republic of Ireland), have been sent home from school.

It doesn’t take a seven-year-old to tell you that pandemics know no borders, nor do global-health emergencies respect age-old political and political rivalries.

Yet the differing stances taken by the British and Irish governments, the former opting to keep schools open for now, the latter moving to close schools last week, sparked a war of words between the Democratic Unionist Party, led by First Minister Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, her deputy who is also the vice-president of Sinn Fein.

The lack of an all-island response has also rattled communities on both sides of the Irish border puzzled by which experts’ advise — the U.K.’s or Europe’s — they should heed.

As of Sunday, a second death has been confirmed in the Republic of Ireland, which has recorded 129 cases.

The British province of Northern Ireland has now 34 cases. There are no deaths yet, but all figures are expected to rise in line with other countries.

As we wait with bated breath, spirits are being raised by welcome, ingenious outbreaks of viral kindness and offers to help those on the frontline of this battle as well as those who are self-isolating.

It remains to be seen whether the island of Ireland becomes a Singapore or an Italy.

And, at times, it feels as if we are in a limbo state, a form, you might say, of purgatory.

No one knows the final destination. But it’s a journey we on the island of Ireland are taking together. More physically apart, yes, but still coming together with our joys and our griefs, in this ancient, timeless art of the gathering.

Dearbhail McDonald is a journalist, author and broadcaster who presents ‘Sunday With Dearbhail’ on BBC Radio Ulster. You can tweet Dearbhail @dearbhaildibs

Outside the Box: Warren Buffett’s latest advice could help you retire much richer

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Warren Buffett, the iconic billionaire investor and chairman of Berkshire Hathaway BRK.A, -3.56% BRK.B, -5.68%, recently released his latest letter to shareholders.

You probably didn’t hear a lot about it, not least of all because the stock market has been generating plenty of news on its own lately thanks to reaction to the coronavirus.

Sign up for Need To Know, critical information for the U.S. trading day

It’s still very much worth your time to read and absorb Buffett’s undeniable wisdom. For instance, he spends a fair amount of his space in this year’s letter talking about company directors and how to hire them. Now, this is not something investors think much about. But Buffett’s point is worth a deeper look — as is applying that wisdom to your overall investment thinking.

The problem, Buffett explains, is that company directors primarily are motivated by the money they make to sit on boards. Meanwhile, CEOs are motivated to find directors who will not challenge their decisions, especially about their own compensation.

“When seeking directors, CEOs don’t look for pit bulls. It’s the cocker spaniel that gets taken home,” Buffett writes.

That’s a built-in conflict of interest, one that serves the board and the management but not shareholders. Buffett argues that Berkshire and its many units work hard to avoid this conflict trap.

Read the latest coronavirus update

Dancing with the stars

He then goes on to make a key point about expertise and titles. In short, just because you have a given job doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

“I’d like you to know that almost all of the directors I have met over the years have been decent, likable and intelligent. They dressed well, made good neighbors and were fine citizens. I’ve enjoyed their company. Among the group are some men and women that I would not have met except for our mutual board service and who have become close friends,” Buffett wrote.

“Nevertheless, many of these good souls are people whom I would never have chosen to handle money or business matters. It simply was not their game.”

In Buffett’s typically disarming style, he immediately turns the example into self-deprecation.

“They, in turn, would never have asked me for help in removing a tooth, decorating their home or improving their golf swing. Moreover, if I were ever scheduled to appear on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ I would immediately seek refuge in the Witness Protection Program,” he wrote.

“We are all duds at one thing or another. For most of us, the list is long. The important point to recognize is that if you are Bobby Fischer, you must play only chess for money.”

That final line is a huge and important point about money management, which is my business. Yes, there are people in the world who should be trading stocks for a living.

Buffett is one of them, or at least he was for a long time. In recent years he’s taken to recommending that most investors own the market via index funds rather than pick stocks, and he has advised his own attorneys to do the same with money he leaves behind for his family.

Those very few extraordinary investors should be trying to beat the market. Like chess prodigy Bobby Fischer, they should be only playing chess for money.

Broken clocks

The trouble is that the vast majority of ordinary investors are not the Bobby Fischers of the investment world. They really aren’t. Nor are the celebrated pundits you see on CNBC talking about their latest ideas.

The TV pundits, with extremely few exceptions, get airtime because their particular strategy — arguably their particular bias — is working at that moment. Soon enough, they will be losing money by the boatload and no longer be asked to appear on TV, at least until their approach returns to favor.

Popular investment strategies come and go not because their proponents are right but because those strategies do work on occasion. Like the proverbial broken clock, these pundit-investors are right at least once a day.

Can you afford to hire a superstar manager who’s nearly always right, someone in the stratosphere of investment thinking? If you have $50 million to invest — maybe.

The rest of us mere mortals are far, far better off keeping things simple and letting diversification and risk management keep our money on track. The gains you make using index funds and allowing your cash to compound at a low cost are absolutely enough to help you retire with more.

As Buffett rightly notes, we’ll all duds at something. As far as investing goes that’s nearly all of us — even the 90% of well-paid “pros” who run expensive investment funds and yet fail to beat the indexes year after year.

Be Bobby Fischer, hire Bobby Fischer (if you can), or step back and let the markets drive for you. It’s a simple idea, and as usual simple, repeatable ideas work best.

Key Words: Tennessee man donates his almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer after furious backlash

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The Tennessee man who bought hand sanitizer, face masks and cleaning wipes with the intent to resell them at a profit as the coronavirus spread is cleaning up his act.

Matt Colvin, who became a national pariah over a New York Times interview over the weekend where he admitted he was sitting on 17,700 bottles of hand sanitizer, donated two-thirds of his stockpile to a local church on Sunday, the Times reported in a follow up. These will be distributed to people in need across Tennessee.

And officials from the Tennessee attorney general’s office also swung by his home outside of Chattanooga on Sunday to pick up the other third, which they will give to their counterparts across Kentucky. Colvin and his brother Noah had snapped up cleaning supplies and face masks in both states after the first coronavirus death was reported on March 1. They admitted cleaning out small shops and dollar stores, as well as Walmart WMT, -3.09%, Staples and Home Depot HD, -9.93%  before listing their items on Amazon AMZN, -2.18%  and eBay EBAY, -3.93%  at a “substantial” markup.

Related: 6 ways to donate, volunteer and help others during the coronavirus outbreak — ‘Everyone is a responder in this crisis’

But as Amazon and eBay began cracking down on price gouging by pulling listings such as the Colvins’, the brothers were left with a pile of hand sanitizers, cleaning products and antibacterial wipes — and no place to sell them.

Meanwhile, millions of their fellow Americans have been frustrated in their attempts to get their hands on such items, while hospitals have resorted to rationing face masks as supplies have dwindled, even as retailers such as Apple AAPL, -7.06%  and Nike NKE, -4.56%  are closing stores, while Walmart has cut its operating hours. And Amazon said it is running out of household staples as people stock up on paper goods and pantry items while they are self-isolating at home.

Opinion: Don’t mock people for buying extra toilet paper — they’re doing the best they can with inconsistent and sometimes wrong advice

Although Colvin has been an Amazon and eBay reseller for the past decade, his profiteering via stockpiling and price gouging amid the COVID-19 pandemic that has now sickened 3,773 Americans and killed at least 69 and counting in the U.S. — and spread to at least 169,387 cases and 6,513 deaths worldwide — led to hate mail, ugly voice mail messages and even death threats against him and his family, he said. The backlash was so furious on Twitter TWTR, -8.04%   over the weekend that his first and last name were trending.

“I’ve been buying and selling things for 10 years now. There’s been hot product after hot product. But the thing is, there’s always another one on the shelf,” he told the Times, which reported that he cried and expressed remorse during the follow-up interview. “I had no idea that these stores wouldn’t be able to get replenished.”

“It was never my intention to keep necessary medical supplies out of the hands of people who needed them.”

That’s a much different tone from what he struck in the initial interview, when he told the Times about the “crazy money” he made reselling hand sanitizer on Amazon for $8 and $70 apiece, as well as 50-packs of face masks on eBay for $40 to $50. He defended his actions as a “public service,” claiming that he was solving “inefficiencies in the marketplace,” in that hawking these products for profit online potentially sends them to areas of the country where it’s harder to get them.

Read more: Tennessee man sitting on almost 18,000 bottles of hand sanitizer says he’s doing ‘a public service’

Now he’s facing consequences, the Times noted. Amazon and eBay have suspended him as a seller, which has been his livelihood for years now. The company where he rents his storage unit has also booted him, and the Tennessee attorney general’s office has opened an investigation against him. “We will not tolerate price gouging in this time of exceptional need, and we will take aggressive action to stop it,” Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III of Tennessee said in a statement.

The Times noted that Tennessee’s price-gouging law bans charging “grossly excessive” prices for items such as food, gas and medical supplies after the governor declares a state of emergency. The state can fine people up to $1,000 a violation.

The Colvins are not the only ones who have turned the pandemic into a business opportunity. The Times also interviewed a truck driver who made $35,000 to $40,000 reselling face masks on Amazon, while a couple in Vancouver told the Toronto Star that they’ve made more than $100,000 reselling Lysol wipes.

The attorney general’s offices in California, Washington and New York are cracking down on price gouging, and New York has tapped inmates to make hand sanitizer that will be distributed for free to the most impacted and high-risk communities in the Empire State, which has seen a serious outbreak in Westchester County. “To Purell and Mr. Amazon and Mr. eBay, if you continue the price gouging, we will introduce our product, which is superior to your product,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Stay up-to-date on MarketWatch’s coverage of COVID-19 and its influence on the market, business and personal finance here.

: These company executives have been buying stocks that have been hammered by coronavirus fears

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In his investing book “The Vital Few vs. the Trivial Many: Invest With the Insiders, Not the Masses,” George Muzea argues that the best time to purchase stocks is when “those in the know” are buying, and “those not in the know” are selling.

People in the know are corporate insiders like directors and top managers who get daily reports on sales trends and projections, and who can read the body language and other signals inside companies.

They’re buying like crazy in the coronavirus-led bear market.

I’ve tracked insider buying on a daily basis for over 10 years, because it’s a big part of how I select names for my stock newsletter, “Brush Up on Stocks,” launched in 2010. The current wave of insider buying is as big as any I’ve seen during the great panics of the bull market — all of which were followed by rebounds.

Importantly, insiders are going straight to all the sectors that will supposedly get hit hardest by the virus: air travel, amusement parks, restaurants and economically sensitive areas like basic materials, energy and industrials. They are doing so with repeated, large purchases. There’s virtually no insider buying in classic defensive areas like consumer staples.

Those not in the know, in Muzea’s view, are investors and the media. Given that studies routinely show the vast majority of mutual funds and hedge funds lag behind the markets, it’s easy enough to see why he might think investors aren’t in the know. They’ve certainly been big sellers lately, taking the S&P 500 SPX, -5.79%, Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -6.52%  and Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -6.09%  down into bear territory.

I’ll have to claim conflict of interest on whether the media are “not in the know.” You can decide on your own if the wall-to-wall nonstop coverage of the coronavirus looks like the kind of groupthink that can cloud judgement.

One clue might be that it’s virtually all negative and often based on careless use of data. On his show “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Carlson this week claimed the mortality rate for the virus is 2% to 3.4%. This is wrong because it’s based on a too low a case count. People who actually know about viruses, like virologist Michael Mina at Harvard University, believe the actual infection rate might be 10 times the commonly cited number, because of widespread under-reporting of mild cases.

That suggests the real mortality rate is 10 times less than what Carlson repeated, drawing from media reports that also constantly repeat the false mortality rate. But when you need ratings to support your show’s ad sales, damn the facts and scare the heck out of people, right? Sure, why not.

If you want to use Muzea’s advice — and follow insiders into names getting crushed by investors and negative media sentiment — consider the following companies. In the viral spiral, they’ve seen insider purchases of $1 million or more. This is rare in insider analysis, and it suggests potential outperformance.

Six Flags Entertainment

As the self-proclaimed largest regional theme park operator in the world and the largest water-park operator in North America, Six Flags Entertainment’s SIX, -7.92% sales and profits are destined to get ravaged since people will shun amusement parks to avoid the coronavirus. So goes the conventional wisdom.

Insiders beg to differ, and they aren’t messing around. Director Arik Ruchim has booked over $63 million in stock purchases during the coronavirus meltdown of the markets and Six Flags shares. To be fair, that’s not actually his money. Rather, it represents buying by his investment shop H Partners. I discount a lot of supposed insider buys by “beneficial owners.” These are investors who have to report because they have big positions. But not when the purchase size is really huge and there’s a director involved. As the fourth-largest holder of Six Flags at the end of last year with a $180 million position, H Partners presumably knows this business well. So does Ruchim, as a director.

He’s not the only insider buyer. CEO Mike Spanos and director Selim Bassoul have purchased $500,000 each during the corona meltdown. Bassoul is the former CEO of Middleby MIDD, -6.88%, which sells appliances and equipment used in industry, so he’s got good experience assessing economic trends.

Insider buy range: $21.20 to $31.37.

Kinder Morgan

The coronavirus is going to cause such a long-lasting economic slowdown, it will crush energy demand — and kill energy stocks, too. That’s what the bears say. A long-time energy sector veteran, Richard Kinder, obviously disagrees.

During the current spiral in the market, the Kinder Morgan founder has purchased $25.4 million worth of stock. I weight founder purchases higher, since founders presumably know more about their sectors.

CEO Steven Kean has also made a rare purchase of $93,000 worth. This is relatively small, but he hasn’t bought stock in five years. So it stands out as a signal. Kinder Morgan has a large 6.2% dividend yield, and the insiders are telling us there’s a good chance for capital appreciation, too.

Insider buy range: $15.51 to $20.72.

Newell Brands

This is the closest insiders come to buying “defensive” names. Newell Brands has defensive characteristics since it sells consumer staples such as cleaning products and food-storage containers. Those are things people need so they keep buying them in recessions.

But Newell Brands NWL, -2.45%  also sells discretionary items like Oster, Sunbeam and Mr. Coffee appliances, which consumers cut back on during hard times. So it’s an economically sensitive company too. Intriguingly, this company sells Rubbermaid gloves, which are popular as cleaning efforts step up due to the virus.

Activist investor Carl Icahn recently bought a huge amount, or $34.6 million worth. And director Brett Icahn recently bought $5.1 million worth. Those are also outside investor purchases, which some insider analysts dismiss out of hand. I think this is too blunt a tool in insider analysis.

After all, ignoring all outside owners means you block purchases by Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B, -5.45%. Do you really want to dismiss Warren Buffett? Anyone who ignores Carl Icahn is missing out — he’s a savvy investor. Icahn is an activist investor here, lobbying for reforms he thinks will make the stock go up.

There’s also a $37,000 purchase by Robert Schmidt. That’s small, but as chief accounting officer he’s a line manager. Their buys often count more than those of directors, who are often more removed from the day-to-day business. Newell features a 6.7% dividend yield.

Insider buy range: $13.15 to $16.39.

TripAdvisor

In the age of coronavirus, no one wants to travel anymore. Bad news for TripAdvisor TRIP, +9.48%  , which helps travelers book cruises, flights, hotels and restaurants online. So dump the stock, right? CEO Stephen Kaufer clearly disagrees. He just took down $966,000 worth of shares. It’s pretty unusual to see insider purchases this big. CEO buys count for more, among insiders. Plus, this is a rare buy for Kaufer. He hasn’t purchased in six years. There’s no yield here.

Insider buy price: $21.73.

Hexcel

Since the economy will tank because of coronavirus, companies that sell basic materials and parts used in industry will run into serious problems. Especially if — like Hexcel HXL, -16.10% — they sell to commercial aircraft makers, the auto industry, and companies that sell discretionary recreational products like boats, skis, snowboards, surfboards, bikes and hockey sticks. Sell this name now!

The CEO doesn’t think so. Nick Stanage is betting big that the bears are wrong. He just bought $2 million worth of stock, another mega purchase. Stanage has a good record as a buyer and a seller. He was a heavy seller in early September at $86 and now he is buying back much lower. Hexcel pays a 1.1% yield.

Insider buy price: $45.15 to $56.

Freeport-McMoRan

Unlike gold or silver, lowly copper is used a lot more in industry than jewelry. So in a coronavirus slowdown, copper demand will plummet. And so will the stocks of companies that produce it. So goes the bear case for Freeport-McMoRan FCX, -10.96%. Insiders here think this view is a joke. CEO Richard Adkerson just bought $2.5 million worth of stock and CFO Kathleen Quirk purchased $863,000 worth. Director John Stephens also just bought around $500,000 worth. There’s a 2.2% dividend yield.

Insider buy range: $10.02 to $11.19.

At the time of publication, Michael Brush had no positions in any stocks mentioned in this column. Brush has suggested SIX, KMI and FCX in his stock newsletter Brush Up on Stocks. Brush is a Manhattan-based financial writer who has covered business for the New York Times and The Economist Group, and he attended Columbia Business School.

Brett Arends's ROI: Don’t look at your 401(k)

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This is a terrifying, white-knuckle moment for anyone saving for their retirement. The COVID-19 crisis has sent portfolios crashing through the floor with a dizzying speed that parallels the worst moments of the 2008 crisis, the 1987 plunge and even the crash of 1929.

The carnage has been across almost most investments, from large U.S. company stocks, to small-caps, to international and emerging market stocks to high-yielding bonds.

President Trump has touted Friday’s huge rally, but it has only taken a small chunk out of the losses. The rally came as the president declared a national emergency and promised stepped up efforts to combat it, as well as promising national oil purchases that might stabilize plummeting prices.

It came before the weekend’s news that Apple AAPL, -7.63%  will close all its stores outside China until March 27, a move that may be followed by other retailers.

Apple stock, one of the most popular individual stocks in investment accounts had fallen 15% in a month before the news.

It also came before the Federal Reserve’s emergency weekend interest rate cut, which followed a threat by president Trump to fire or demote Fed chairman Jerome Powell.

U.S. large-cap stocks, as measured by S&P 500 SPX, -5.97%  index, are down about 20% in a month. Small-company stocks, following the Russell 2000 RUT, -9.79%   index, have fare even worse, falling 27% on average. Emerging market stocks are down about 20%, and developed international markets nearly 30%, based on the MSCI indexes. Even inflation-protected Treasury bond funds have fallen.

What should you do?

Investment strategist Joachim Klement, a trustee of the CFA Institute’s Research Foundation and formerly head of strategy research at UBS Wealth Management, says for most ordinary investors the answer is very simple.

“Don’t look at your portfolio,” he says.

‘Nothing that happens today, tomorrow or over the rest of this year will matter 10 years from now.’

Joachim Klement

That “is the most important rule in bear markets,” he tells followers in his daily commentary. “The best way to invest for most investors is to become a buy and hold investor, buy a well-diversified portfolio that meets your needs and then stick to it for a very long time through the ups and downs of the market.” But to do that you have to avoid getting distracted by short-term market moves.

It’s easier said than done, especially in the days when most investors have online access to their accounts and can check them, and trade, from their desk or home.

Klement practices what he preaches. He reports that he checks his own retirement portfolio only once a year, when doing his taxes. “I have no idea what this portfolio did in the last month or the last few days and I don’t care,” he says.

The only sensible alternative, he says, is to use a mathematical system for getting out of the market and getting back in. The best respected, he adds, is the trading rule popularized by Cambria Investments’ Mebane Faber, who advises selling stocks as soon as they fall below their 200-day moving average, and not buying them again until they rise back above that level.

But if you want to follow that rule, adds Klement, you’re too late. The S&P 500 fell decisively below the 200-day average 10 days ago. “If you sell now, you are locking in a steep loss in equities and other risky assets,” he advises. “Nobody can say if markets will go up or down from here, but you will definitely realize past losses, and not be in the market for a while. And this will inevitably mean that you miss the bottom of the market and will get back into the market at a stage when a lot of the recovery has already passed you.”

So, he concludes, congratulations: If you’re in this situation your sensible options are reduced to one—not looking.

The good news: Faber’s system has been shown to reduce the overall volatility of your portfolio, by steering you clear of the worst meltdowns, but it doesn’t produce better overall long-term returns than just buying and holding.

Investors are likely to need nerves of steel during this crisis. The short-term effects of the COVID-19 crisis on the economy can’t yet be measured but are likely to be severe, note economists. (The Chinese economy reeled after the disease broke out there, with car sales plunging 80%).

In the U.S. and elsewhere, conferences and sporting events have been canceled, cruises are being docked, travel plans put off, and growing numbers are staying in to avoid spreading the disease. This is in addition to the growing number of official steps being taken to contain the virus. President Trump announced last week a temporary travel ban covering all of Europe. Hoboken, N.J., has just announced a nightly curfew to help contain the spread of the disease.

Dr. Tony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said on Sunday he is not ruling out a 14-day national lockdown.

Similar conditions are already in place in hard-hit parts of Europe such as Spain and Italy, where deaths just hit their highest level yet. In Ireland, pubs are being closed even for St Patrick’s Day. The Vatican has said next week’s Holy Week services won’t be open to the public.

The New York Federal Reserve has just halved its U.S.rowth forecast for the second quarter, which begins in April, from 2.3pc to 1.08pc.

Moody’s Analytics warns that the pandemic could plunge most of the world into recession this year.

But Klement adds that, when it comes to your retirement portfolio, “Nothing that happens today, tomorrow or over the rest of this year will matter 10 years from now.”

Metals Stocks: Gold gives up gains as limit-down slide for stocks takes toll even on havens

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Another round of apparent forced selling took a toll on gold Monday, with the yellow metal falling despite its usual safe-haven role, as U.S. stock-index futures fall their daily limit as investors failed to find reassurance in the Federal Reserve’s emergency policy easing.

Gold for April delivery GCJ20, -3.01%  on Comex fell $43.70, or 3%, to $1,470 an ounce, while silver tumbled $2.48, or 17%, to $12.02 an ounce.

Gold rallied late Sunday after the Fed, in a surprise Sunday night decision, slashed its benchmark interest rate nearly to zero and implemented a bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing, of at least $700 billion. But gains soon gave way to losses as equities failed to find support in the wake of the move, slumping their daily 5% limit and pointing to deep losses for equity markets when trading begins Monday morning.

See: Stock-market futures sink after emergency Fed rate cut — ‘if this doesn’t work, what will?’

While looser monetary policy and pressure on assets perceived as risky, like stocks, would both normally be seen as a positive for gold, the metal has seen weakness in recent sessions on apparent forced liquidation that has seen leveraged investors dump positions en masse.

“Despite the huge liquidity that the Federal Reserve is splashing into markets, bullion seems to be unable to recover, at least for the time being, after last week’s sell off. We are in a scenario where investors are selling whatever they can and this has also affected gold, probably more than it should be,” said Carlo Alberto De Casa, chief analyst at ActivTrades, in a note.

Outside the Box: 5 things to do while you wait out the coronavirus — besides washing your hands

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I don’t know when the coronavirus will stop spreading, when we’ll have a vaccine and how much the economy will slow. I also don’t know at what level the stock market SPX, +9.29%  and interest rates will hit bottom—or whether we’ve already seen the worst. And nobody else does, either. But that doesn’t mean we should all just sit on our (frequently washed) hands.

Read our latest coronavirus update

While we don’t know how bad things will get, we’ve seen this movie before. Do you remember the panic after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with folks buying gas masks, duct tape to seal windows, bottled water and canned goods, and families planning where they’d rendezvous if they couldn’t return to their homes? Do you remember how people hoarded cash in late 2008, because they weren’t sure the banks would reopen, and how many thought we’d see a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s?

The coronavirus may be highly contagious. But so, too, is fear.

But should we be so fearful? This time around, we can be reasonably confident that the economic impact will be temporary. Medical researchers are saying we could have a vaccine by next year and they may discover that existing drugs, currently used for other diseases, are effective against the coronavirus. Meanwhile, think about all the cruise ships, airplanes, factories, sports stadiums and office buildings that may sit empty in the months ahead. Guess what? When the coronavirus comes under control and consumer spending revives, all those assets will still be there, ready to be used. The damage to the economy will not be permanent.

If stocks keep falling, I’ll keep buying, because I fully expect the market to recover.

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What should we do in the meantime? Amid all the uncertainty, here are five steps that could bolster your finances:

1. Don’t wait for good news. If you’re in a mood to buy stocks—which I am—and you want to invest at low prices, you’ll have to buy amid grim headlines. The stock market looks ahead, so this market will bottom long before economic activity revives or a vaccine for the coronavirus is discovered.

And don’t even bother tracking the unemployment rate. That’s a lagging indicator. If we enter a recession, unemployment will rise, and it won’t start coming down until months after both the stock market starts to rebound and economic activity picks up.

Through this decline, buying stocks has felt like tossing dollar bills into a bonfire. But that’s also how it felt 11 years ago, during the 2008-09 stock market collapse. With the exception of the money I invested after Thursday’s 10% plunge, every dollar I’ve invested in stocks this year is underwater. But if stocks keep falling, I’ll keep buying, because I fully expect the market to recover.

How can I be so confident? Ultimately, the stock market is a reflection of the economy. Yes, we will see a pause in economic activity. But soon enough, the world will be back to business. What’s required of investors now is courage, along with diversification, optimism and patience. Embrace those qualities and—in the years ahead—you’ll be handsomely rewarded.

2. Play your final card. It’s the financial advantage none of us is happy about: One day, we will all shuffle off this mortal coil. That could be the key to generating income in today’s virtually no-yield bond world. Yes, I’m once again pitching one of the financial world’s least popular products: immediate-fixed annuities that pay lifetime income.

Over the past three months, the 10-year Treasury note’s yield has dropped from 1.8% to below 1%. But bond yields are only one component in the pricing of immediate annuities. The other key component is life expectancies—and those have barely budged. Result? While the income you’ll earn by buying bonds has been almost halved, the income from an immediate annuity has hardly dropped.

Imagine a couple, both age 70, who stash $100,000 in an immediate annuity that’ll pay income every month until they’re both deceased. Today, that annuity might pay some $460 a month, versus $500 three months ago, according to HumbleDollar contributor Dennis Ho, who runs the website SaturdayInsurance.com. If you need income to supplement whatever you receive from Social Security—and bonds will no longer do the trick—seriously consider an immediate fixed annuity.

Why is the payment on an income annuity so generous? First, each month, the insurance company is effectively returning part of your initial investment to you. Second, the insurer knows that some annuity buyers will die early on, having received little money back from their big annuity investment. These unfortunate folks subsidize the handsome monthly payments that continue flowing to those enjoying a longer life.

Please note that I’m talking here about plain-vanilla immediate fixed annuities. I’m not advocating variable annuities or equity-indexed annuities, which are far less appealing and which insurance salespeople love to peddle, because these products can earn them a hefty sales commission.

3. Prepare for unemployment. The coronavirus will crimp global economic growth, though we don’t yet know how much. Will U.S. employers start making massive layoffs? As a precaution, those in the workforce should ponder how they’d cope with a long period of unemployment.

I tackled this possibility in an article 15 months ago—and my advice today remains the same. What’s the best way to prepare? Your priority should be making sure you have easy access to cash, and lots of it.

A digression: Many view an inverted yield curve as an almost infallible predictor of recessions. Sure enough, the yield curve inverted in 2019 and it now seems we may get a recession. But this time around, I think we’ll need an asterisk in the record books. An inverted yield curve may predict a recession, but can it really predict a pandemic?

4. Hide that wallet. The surest way to make your portfolio grow—or slow its shrinking—is to save more if you’re still in the workforce and spend less if you’re retired. Indeed, for retirees, varying your spending is one of the most powerful levers at your disposal: You can’t stop the financial markets from falling, but you can limit the other big subtraction, which is the amount you pull from savings each year.

Of course, if we all cut back our spending, it won’t be good for economic growth. But let the policy makers worry about that. You should focus on shoring up your own family’s finances. And, frankly, spending less may prove surprisingly easy in the months ahead. As the coronavirus dissuades all of us from going to restaurants, sporting events and concerts, and from booking trips on airplanes and cruise ships, it should be a breeze to rein in the family budget.

5. Don’t tax yourself. In the category of “things you can control,” don’t forget taxes. In recent weeks, there’s been much talk about harvesting tax losses. The idea is to sell underwater stock positions in your taxable account, so you realize the capital loss for tax purposes, and then immediately reinvest the money in other stock investments, so you maintain your market exposure while sidestepping the wash-sale rule.

But even as you look to save on taxes, also avoid compounding your market losses by realizing big capital gains. Let’s say you have a $100,000 stock fund position that you bought years ago for $40,000. If you sell, you’ll likely have to pay a 15% capital-gains rate on your $60,000 gain, handing you a $9,000 tax bill. Add that to your market losses and you’ll likely find you’re down far more than the broad market averages.

This column originally appeared on Humble Dollar. It was republished with permission.

‘They’ve likened it to a war where the number of casualties just keep on coming.’ Italians find solidarity, resilience and music during the coronavirus lockdown

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COMO, Italy — It’s Sunday morning in Como.

It’s usually so busy on Sundays that I often think twice about going downtown, but today the streets are deserted. All the bars, cafés and shops have signs on their doors saying, “Closed until further notice.” Even the cathedral in the main square is closed. There is an area accessible for prayer but, if the faithful want mass, they have to get it online. The newsstands are selling papers and a small supermarket is open, staggering arrivals, two to five at a time.

Two people stop to greet each other while walking their dogs, keeping the recommended distance of a meter. A voice from a window shouts: “Andate a casa!” (“Go home!”). There’s an eerie feel to the town, like you’re entering a kind of pre- or post-war zone. Police cars patrol the streets, even in the pedestrianized areas. They are in a race against time to contain the novel coronavirus, the disease caused by coronavirus SARS-CoV-2,

They average age of those who have died from COVID-19 in Italy is 80.3 years old, and only 25.8% are women.

If you get stopped, you must prove where you’re going by having it self-declared on a designated module from the government website. Whatever you declare is subject to checks and, if it’s found to be false, you could end up with a jail term of three months. Anyone out in a group will be fined on the spot

We’ve been mobilized into taking collective responsibility to stop the vicious cycle of contagion. While Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte hasn’t actually said how long this lockdown is going to last, the set date for a review is April 3. What might seem to some onlookers like a long and imposed siesta that Italians generally love is, in fact, respite from the battle against the pre-lockdown denial. Social distancing is key to reducing infections and taking the pressure off hospitals and medical staff.

The governor of Genoa is now planning to turn ferry boats into temporary medical facilities. This is partly because of the expected repercussions from the crowding on beaches last weekend, and also to free up hospital beds from those who are convalescing. There has even been talk of additional ferries being converted so as to provide a place for people who have contracted the virus to go into quarantine, especially if they have elderly or vulnerable people at home. The first of these structures should be ready in five working days.

Some pictures have been recently released from the local hospital here in Como. Although hospital staff are working flat-out to free up other areas of the hospital to accommodate COVID-19 patients, the numbers who are being admitted are on a dramatic increase. Beds have been set up in what appears to be the ambulance entrance area. It’s heated. They call it the “hot room,” and its where patients who are suspected to have contracted the virus are stopped, and where they wait. It’s also strategic, as it’s right next to the emergency room.

Nurses and doctors who are treating these patients have to wear suffocating face masks and heavy lab-coat protection for hours on end. Some have posted photos on social media to show their bruised faces from wearing the masks for so long. They’re under immense pressure, both physical and psychological, and continue their plea to the public to play their part. They’ve likened it to a war where the number of casualties just keep on coming.

Dispatches from the front lines of a pandemic: ‘Retired doctors have been asked to go back to work.’ Italy’s lockdown hasn’t had much impact — yet

Alison Fottrell, a resident of Como, Italy, writes: ‘In Lombardy, we were already in lockdown mode.’

In fact, nationwide the number of confirmed contagions is going up by the thousands. As of Sunday evening, there are 24,747 confirmed cases in Italy, 1,809 deaths and 2,335 people who have recovered. There has been 250 deaths in a single day.

It’s a little over three weeks since the initial outbreak and so we have more data on those who have died. The average age of those who died from COVID-19 is 80.3 years old, Silvio Brusaferro, legal representative at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità, said during a recent press conference. Only 25.8% are women. Disease specialists have also estimated that the actual number of people who have the virus is much higher than official figures, which isn’t surprising considering the virus has been circulating freely for weeks.

Research shows that, although people are more likely to spread the virus if symptomatic, they could still be contagious with light to no symptoms. And not everyone with symptoms is swabbed. When someone in the family gets the virus, the others with symptoms, however light, are all kept in isolation. When people are in isolation with a high fever, getting face-to-face medical attention is difficult to impossible.

Milan is now giving only five days instead of 30 for surviving relatives to organize a private burial.

When they are critical and a patient then dies, other family members who have been quarantined, especially those who are symptomatic, are unlikely to see them again. There is an ”absolute ban” on leaving the house for the rest of the family in quarantine.

Churches in some parts of Lombardy have been turned into morgues, while Milan is now giving only five days instead of 30 for surviving relatives to organize a private burial. Otherwise, it’s cremation by default. That’s not how people would have expected to say goodbye to their loved ones. Funerals, like all social gatherings are forbidden. Those who pull through, the elderly in particular, are concerned that this is a threat which is going to continue.

So it feels like we’ve all been catapulted into a New Normal. Many things after this lockdown will change. But until things at least stabilize, there is an element of the surreal. Although Conte has assured us that “non è necessario fare nessuna corsa per acquistare cibo” — “there’s no rush to buy food”, supermarket shopping has become more of an impresa (undertaking). But once you finally get into the shop with your basket, everything you need is there on the shelves.

Coming into this past weekend of expected peaks in infections, the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, launched the hashtag #AffaciamociAlle18 — #Let’sShowOurselvesAt18. The meetup was scheduled for Friday the 13th, at 6 p.m. Basically, everyone was invited to go to their windows or out on their balconies, to say hello to their neighbors and sing together or play music. This was also to bring home the message of the other hashtag that has taken life #TuttoAndràBene — #EverythingWillBeFine.

These types of initiatives are particularly important for people who are living out this lockdown alone and no doubt feeling more isolated than most. They are also meant as a boost to those who are fighting in the hospitals to save lives. So, on Friday 13th, from Milan to Sicily, people were singing in chorus from their balconies. There was a song for every region, from the national anthem to Pino Daniele’s “Napul’è” and the famous anti-fascist resistance song “Bella Ciao.”

But not only were people singing. In other regions, countless musicians joined in the initiative with improvised concerts from balconies in Rome to Siena to Florence and beyond, right up to my balcony in Como. Even the principal violinist of La Scala in Milan took up his instrument and played against the backdrop of a banner that read: “Non molliamo, ce la faremo.”

That translates as: “We won’t give up, we will survive.”

Alison Fottrell is a teacher and writer living in Como, Italy.

Playdates are out, schedules are in — what experts say kids should and shouldn’t do as the coronavirus outbreak closes schools

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On Monday morning, schoolchildren across the country will wake up with one question: What are we doing today?

From preschoolers to high school seniors, students are suddenly without a daily routine as the coronavirus outbreak closes their schools.

In an effort to slow the virus’ spread, almost 20 states temporarily shuttered statewide kindergarten through 12th grade schools as of Sunday. They are shifting to online instruction, just like many colleges that are ending in-person classes. Many other cities and towns are taking the same approach in states that haven’t yet announced closures.

New York City — the country’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students — will close this week and could stay that way through the end of the school year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Sunday.

U.S. students are among approximately 420 million students worldwide impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, according to the United Nations. Globally, there were 162,687 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, with 3,244 in America, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. More than 76,000 people had recovered worldwide as of Sunday.

As officials have announced school closures, parents have been weighing questions about what to do with their kids for the foreseeable future.

Are playdates still OK?

No, according to Asaf Bitton, executive director of the Boston-based Ariadne Labs, a joint center run by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

‘This sounds extreme because it is.’

Asaf Bitton, executive director of Ariadne Labs

“This sounds extreme because it is,” said Bitton. Skipping playdates is one way to practice the “social distancing” that will slow spread of COVID-19, he explained.

The goal with all the closures, whether it’s school closures, sporting events or theme parks, is to cut down on crowds and possibilities for new coronavirus cases.

The same thinking applies to playdates, Bitton explained. “Even if you choose only one friend to have over, you are creating new links and possibilities for the type of transmission that all of our school/work/public event closures are trying to prevent,” Bitton wrote.

At least one town in New Jersey is trying to make residents follow that advice. “Social distancing means NO visitors, playdates, or hangouts and remaining out of public spaces,” Maplewood Village Mayor Frank McGehee said in a Sunday announcement.

Children, as a demographic, haven’t been hit as hard by the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, experts have noted.

Older adults and those with pre-existing chronic conditions are at higher risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But children can be “spreaders,” who can transmit the virus to people who are at greater risk, Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University professor of preventive Medicine and health policy, told CNN.

Don’t miss: What is ‘flattening the curve,’ and how does it relate to the coronavirus pandemic?

Other public health experts have said small playdates can be okay — but kids and parents need to be vigilant about hand-washing and cleaning children’s toys with disinfectant. Dr. Eli Perencevich, a University of Iowa epidemiologist, told the New York Times that complete avoidance of playdates “would be impossible” over several weeks. He recommended meet-ups in large, outdoor spaces, like a hike away from a populated playground.

So what can my kids do all day if they can’t play with friends?

As more schools closed their doors, daily schedules for children starting surfacing on Twitter TWTR, +9.37%  and Facebook FB, +10.23%, slicing the day into smaller increments devoted to academics, free time, chores and time to explore.

One Massachusetts charter school founder has a plan for “daddy school.”

And financial journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin said he was going to type this schedule to his refrigerator for his kids.

The Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents, a Massachusetts-based pediatric neuropsychology practice, referred to the same schedule in a Facebook US:FB   post and offered further tips on its website.

‘Our children thrive on routine.’

Dr. Sophie Bellenis, an occupational therapist at Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents

“Our children thrive on routine,” wrote Dr. Sophie Bellenis, an occupational therapist at the practice. It’s important to keep up as much consistency as possible, Bellenis added. “Keeping these small things consistent can help our kids to feel regulated, calm and make a potentially scary situation feel much more predictable,” she wrote.

Don’t miss: How does coronavirus affect children? How to talk to your kids about COVID-19 — and help them protect themselves

Let’s face it. There’s destined to be a lot of screen time in the next couple weeks. Some of it will be the online learning arranged by schools, but there will be recreational screen time too. (An estimated 83% of kids between ages 6 and 12 were already watching YouTube GOOG, +9.40%   in 2017.) It’s not a coincidence that Disney DIS, +11.67%   released “Frozen 2” three months early on its Disney Plus video streaming service.

Common Sense, a nonprofit organization rating online content for children, has a list of recommended apps and sites for students. Meanwhile, Scholastic is releasing free online learning courses for pre-kindergartners on up.

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood said parents should keep a close eye on how their children are handling the extra screen time and be in touch with school officials if that’s not suited to their learning style. “Regardless, take extra care to build in screen-free activities like coloring, reading together, or playing games throughout the day and after school work is done,” the organization said.

When it comes to academics, parents should focus on reading, writing and arithmetic during the unplanned time away from school, said Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair of the Washington Homeschool Organization, a support organization for home-schooling families.

But make sure it’s following the child’s interest, she said. So if they’re fascinated by dinosaurs, for example, read books about dinosaurs and do writing lessons based on dinosaurs.

‘It’s amazing how much more a resistant reader will read if it’s a subject they are interested in.’

Jen Garrison Stuber, advocacy chair of the Washington Homeschool Organization

“It’s amazing how much more a resistant reader will read if it’s a subject they are interested in,” she said.

Stuber typically gets two to five parent emails a day asking for guidance on how to educate kids at home. It’s been about 40 daily emails from parents in the last several days, she told MarketWatch. On Friday, Washington State closed all of its school until at least April 24.

It’s a good idea for parents to sketch out a rough idea of a daily schedule, but be prepared not to closely follow it, especially if kids are doing something that interests them, Stuber added.

“I think it’s a rather small portion of the population for whom that will work perfectly,” she said.

Working parents will also have to figure out boundaries, Stuber added. In some home-schooling arrangements where a parent works from home, one rule Stuber has heard is “if this office door is closed, you do not enter unless house is on fire.”

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