Day: March 19, 2020

Don’t worry, you’ll still get your Social Security, even with the coronavirus crisis

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The Social Security Administration’s commissioner wants you to know you’ll still get paid, but the agency is changing a few other policies in the midst of the coronavirus crisis — and wants recipients to be aware of potential threats to their financial security too.

“The first thing you should know is that we continue to pay benefits,” said Andrew Saul, commissioner of the Social Security Administration, in a statement on Thursday.

This is true whether Americans are receiving their Social Security benefits or Supplemental Security Income payments via direct deposit or mail, though they should check in with the U.S. Postal Service for any updates as well. Right now, the USPS is “closely monitoring” the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The Surgeon General, World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have all said there’s currently no evidence the disease can spread through mail.

Americans need to be vigilant about digital threats, Saul said in his statement. “Be aware that scammers may try to trick you into thinking the pandemic is stopping your Social Security payments but that is not true,” he said. “Don’t be fooled.”

See: Can I still afford to retire? The coronavirus has upended jobs, spurred a market downturn — what now?

One way Americans can ensure they have not become a victim of fraud is to check mySSA, where individuals set up accounts so they can see their personal information and work history.

People should be wary if they’ve been contacted by the Social Security Administration. The agency does reach out to Americans over the phone in some situations, but one way to be sure is to ask the callers if you can call them back at their extension. Then call the SSA customer service phone line and dial the extension.

The Social Security Administration is also closing its locations to visitors, in an attempt to stop the spreading of the coronavirus, a disease that has infected more than 236,000 people and killed another 9,800 people around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The administration said all face-to-face services in its field and hearings offices will be suspended until further notice. “This decision protects the population we serve — older Americans and people with underlying medical conditions — and our employees during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic,” the agency said on its website.

Also see: Want to vote but trying to keep your ‘social distance’? Here’s how you can do it from home

Americans can still get help from the SSA, though. The agency suggests looking for resources on its website, or calling local offices’ General Inquiry lines or its national number. Individuals can apply for retirement, disability and Medicare benefits online, as well as request a replacement Social Security card in most areas and change an address.

SSA agents are focusing on a few critical areas during the pandemic, according to the agency’s site. It will accept requests for dire need benefit payments, including for those who did not receive their monthly payments, are currently homeless or at risk of becoming homeless or if benefits were suspended and can now be reinstated. They are prioritizing critical claims for disability applications in the most severe of circumstances, as well as Medicare and Medicaid applications.

SSA has suspended processing and collection of overpayments, third-party requests for information (except from appointed representatives and representative payees) and Freedom of Information Act requests. It will also not start or complete any current medical continuing disability reviews, it said. “We will follow up with you for any medical evidence once the COVID-19 public health emergency subsides,” it said.

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Is Bitcoin (BTC) a Buy After the Recent Market Sell-Off?

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bitcoin

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in massive turmoil in stock markets across the world, and almost all asset classes have suffered due to the deep selloff over the past few days. The same has been the case with Bitcoin, the world’s biggest cryptocurrency by market cap, and over the past weeks, its price has declined quite dramatically.

The cryptocurrency started off 2020 on a positive note, surging at a promising rate. However, over the past few weeks, it has tanked by 50%.


Hedge Against Recession?

One of the most important things to keep in mind at this point in time is that Bitcoin generally performs well when the stock market is in turmoil. Currently, the stock markets are in complete meltdown owing to the coronavirus pandemic, and so far, that has not actually seen a rise in Bitcoin price.

This has come as a surprise to many, considering the fact that BTC is often seen as a hedge against market turmoil. The reason why traders and investors are not yet sold on Bitcoin, despite the current panic, could be due to the possibility of further stimulus.

That being said, the massive government-backed stimulus could also lead to devaluation of the dollar, and that might bring Bitcoin into the picture as a “store of value.” After all, that is what Bitcoin was created for and, slowly but surely, the conditions could be created that might lead to a rally in the cryptocurrency.

>> Bitcoin Drops Below $5K Despite US Fed Slashing Interest Rates

Last but not least, the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a major reset in which digital and contactless payment systems become the norm all over the world. In such a situation, Bitcoin could prove to be a winner as well. However, investors could be waiting for some time before the cryptocurrency can fulfill its primary use cases—if it ever does.

Featured image: DepositPhotos © makidotvn

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Personal Finance Daily: How to keep your sanity while working from home and homeowners and renters will get a financial break during the coronavirus pandemic

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Hope you’re taking care of yourselves, MarketWatchers. Don’t miss these top stories:

Personal Finance
How to get help paying your credit card bills and mortgage if you’ve been laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak

Consumers can get relief from payments and fees during the public-health crisis — but that help doesn’t necessarily come automatically.

As the British government struggles with its coronavirus response, local communities get battle-ready

Thousands of citizen-led groups have sprung across the country as neighbors come together to offer support to people during the coronavirus outbreak

‘Housing is health care’: Some homeowners and renters will get a financial break during the coronavirus pandemic

The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have suspended evictions to curb the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Democrats say IRS should let taxpayers postpone filing until July 15 because of ‘economic turmoil’ of coronavirus

The IRS recently changed the payment deadline to July 15, but taxpayers are still supposed to file their 1040s by April 15.

Should you turn on your video during a Zoom call or take Slack breaks? How to keep your sanity while working from home

‘We’re going to miss out on important things, the chain of command is going to be disrupted, and we have to be OK with it.’

Take your mind off of the coronavirus for a few minutes with these videos, memes and threads

Such viral content has become an important part of self care, mental health experts say.

‘The sunbathers all seemed to be talking about coronavirus’: Australians brace for the end of summer — and the start of flu season

‘Aussies are a relaxed bunch, but this will test us all.’

This Denver delivery man was tipped $25 (twice) and doubled his earnings the day restaurants closed due to coronavirus

Some places that shouldn’t make it will, just because of their determination,’ says Ron Walter, a food delivery man.

‘I’m so grateful to be alive’: Reflections on being immunosuppressed in the age of coronavirus

‘It is the invisibility of the threat that sparks the urge to identify with the folly of individual invincibility.’

‘Police cars patrol the streets, even in the pedestrianized areas.’ Italians find solidarity, resilience during the coronavirus lockdown

Two people stop to greet each other while walking their dogs. A voice from a window shouts: ‘Andate a casa!’ (‘Go home!’)

Elsewhere on MarketWatch
Here’s how Washington wants to strengthen America’s health-care system as the coronavirus spreads

Here are some of Washington’s proposals for new health-care spending, along with what already has been signed into law.

Echoes of the Great Depression? U.S. economy could post biggest contraction ever

The deepening coronavirus crisis is increasingly likely to hit the U.S. economy harder than at any time since the early stages of the Great Depression some 90 year ago.

Show us the money: Cash is the coronavirus vaccine we need now

Government support for Americans to blunt recession’s impact can be a model for the future, writes Aisha Nyandoro.

Don’t fall into these three traps in the stock market

Stocks may rebound in the short term and then fall again.

The U.S. government and American families have been swimming in debt — and will soon be drowning

After stocks crashed, bonds followed suit, as the Fed and the Trump administration are ramping up stimulus.

How to get help paying your credit card bills and mortgage if you’ve been laid off because of the coronavirus outbreak

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As the coronavirus pandemic grips the United States, the situation is looking bleak for Americans’ wallets.

Jobless claims in the U.S. have surged to a 2.5-year high as businesses have had to shutter during the outbreak and lay off workers. And based on people’s Google GOOGL, +1.88%  searches, the worst could be yet to come.

Some Americans now have access to paid leave thanks to a deal brokered by politicians, but millions of people are still facing the possibility of going without pay even if they haven’t lost their job as a result of the coronavirus.

Banks have so-called hardship programs that kick in when disaster strikes in order to provide some short-term relief for victims.

Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards

For these Americans, debt obligations, including credit-card bills and mortgage payments, are becomingly increasingly burdensome. Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives have reportedly proposed suspending all debt payments during the coronavirus emergency, alongside other consumer relief, though it’s unclear whether this plan would receive the backing from Republicans in the Senate.

Nevertheless, banks and other lenders have options available to borrowers to ease their financial burden during this time.

“Banks have so-called hardship programs that kick in when disaster strikes in order to provide some short-term relief for victims,” Matt Schulz, chief industry analyst at CompareCards TREE, +0.64%  , said. “These programs help folks after things like hurricanes, wildfires and terror attacks, and the coronavirus outbreak is another example.”

Also see: The Fed dropped interest rates to 0% — what that means for your credit cards and bank accounts

Here is what relief consumers have available to them and how to get it:

Credit cards

Credit-card holders have a wide range of options, depending on their card issuer, experts told MarketWatch. These can include higher credit limits, lower annual percentage rates (APRs), reduced minimum payments, waived fees and extended payment deadlines.

Some issuers’ policies are going beyond those options. For instance, the Apple Card from AAPL, -0.77%  and Goldman Sachs GS, +6.76%  is allowing people to skip their next payment without interest.

U.S. Bank USB, +0.64%  is “reactively waiving credit card fees and…working to enhance our skip-a-pay and payment deferral programs,” a company spokesman told MarketWatch. Truist TFC, +5.83%  has extended 5% cash back to BB&T and SunTrust card holders for qualifying purchases at grocery stores and pharmacies.

Discover DFS, +4.93%  has said it won’t report late payments to the major credit bureaus — Experian EXPN, -3.27%  , Equifax EFX, -7.01%  and TransUnion TRU, -0.49%   — for two months. “I’d bet many will follow suit soon, and they should because it’s the right thing to do for consumers,” Schulz said.

The biggest thing that consumers need to know here is that relief is available, but they need to ask for it.

Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com

The help card issuers provide doesn’t necessarily come automatically — in many cases, it’s the opposite.

“The biggest thing that consumers need to know here is that relief is available, but they need to ask for it,” said Ted Rossman, industry analyst for CreditCards.com. “Lenders are willing to work with you if you’re having trouble making payments. It’s way better to be honest and proactive than to fall behind and then try to fix things.”

With so many people attempting to get relief from their lenders, phone lines have been jammed. Rossman advised people also consider reaching out by online chat, text message and social media where possible.

Requesting a modification to one’s credit card won’t necessarily hurt a person’s credit score directly. “Skipping a payment with permission, in and of itself, won’t be reported as late or affect your score,” Rossman said.

But Rossman warned if consumers make more charges to their card and fewer payments on their balances, their credit utilization ratio will increase. That in turn could cause a person’s credit score to drop.

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

Mortgages

To start, most homeowners do not need to worry about facing eviction or foreclosure as the coronavirus crisis plays out. This week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency unveiled separate moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures during the emergency for people who have mortgages backed by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alone accounted for upward of 46% of all mortgages originated as of 2018, according to a report from the Urban Institute, while the Federal Housing Administration- and Veterans Affairs-backed loans accounted for almost 23% of all new mortgages. Therefore, a majority of homeowners with a mortgage will be safe from foreclosure or eviction.

Those who need relief from monthly payments at this time can contact their loan servicer for assistance, and they are not generally required to provide documentation to verify their hardship. Fannie Mae FNMA, -1.87%  , Freddie Mac FMCC, -0.60%  and the FHA have instructed servicers to offer borrowers facing financial hardship with options.

Primarily, mortgage borrowers can request a forbearance plan, which would reduce or suspend their mortgage payments for up to 12 months, according to the agencies’ guidelines. The exact structure of a forbearance plan will depend on the borrower and servicer in question.

Depending on the structure of the forbearance plan though, borrowers may owe all their suspended payments at the end in a lump sum.

Homeowners with a forbearance plan in place won’t be charged late fees and won’t see past-due payments reported to credit bureaus during the national emergency, the agencies said.

When the forbearance plan is completed, a borrower can then work with their servicer to get a permanent plan in place to maintain or reduce their monthly payments or modify their loan. Depending on the structure of the forbearance plan though, borrowers may owe all their suspended payments at the end in a lump sum, Experian noted.

To be eligible for these options, borrowers must have been current or less than 31 days delinquent for Freddie Mac-backed loans.

TaxWatch: Senate Democrats say IRS should let taxpayers postone filing until July 15 because of ‘economic turmoil’ of coronavirus

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Taxpayers who owe federal income taxes have until July 15 to pay up after the Treasury Department pushed the usual April 15 deadline back in a bid to help Americans hold onto their cash to withstand the coronavirus’ financial fallout.

But some Senate Democrats want the Treasury Department to go further and also push back the tax return filing deadline to at least July 15, in addition to the payment deadline. (Under the Treasury Department’s recent deadline change, taxpayers will still have to file their 1040s by April 15, but won’t have to pay until July 15.)

“The ongoing public health threat from the COVID-19 pandemic has created widespread economic turmoil for American taxpayers, who are potentially facing a prolonged period without income or revenue,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and more than 20 other Democrats in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin on Thursday.

“Extending the tax filing deadline will allow taxpayers time to accurately file and prepare for payments in the face of increasing economic uncertainty,” the letter said, adding that an extension would be especially helpful for senior citizens and low-income taxpayers.

April 15 is typically the deadline to pay owed income taxes and submit a tax return. Taxpayers can get an extension to submit the return through Oct. 15, as long as they submit an extension request by April 15.

When Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin announced the July 15 tax payment deferrals earlier this week, he said that didn’t change the rules on extension requests. He encouraged people to file by April 15 if they could, because many would have a refund waiting.

Until July 15, individuals, married couples and small business owners can defer paying up to $1 million in taxes without penalties and interest.

“People in my state have been really confused by Mnuchin’s announcement earlier this week,” Murphy told MarketWatch. “It just seems that not much is accomplished by simply extending the payment deadline, and it doesn’t reflect the real-world difficulties most taxpayers are facing right now.”

The Trump administration also wants to send $1,000 checks to most adults and $500 for each child in a bid to quickly infuse households with money during the pandemic.

Apart from clearing up any potential confusion on tax deadlines, Murphy and his colleagues said a deferred return filing date would help senior citizens and low-income taxpayers. That’s because the IRS offers free in-person tax preparation help through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program — but many sites are now shut down.

“A deferral of tax payments may not help these individuals, and with free tax-preparation sites shut down, these Americans will not get the help they need to timely and accurately file,” the letter said.

Taxpayers making up to $54,000 are eligible to participate in VITA. The IRS also has a free filing program online.

Low-income taxpayers might also be eligible for tax credits including the Earned Income Tax Credit that can currently pay up to $6,557. Too many eligible taxpayers don’t claim the credit to begin with, experts and the IRS have previously said. Part of the problem might come from a lack of awareness or help during tax preparation.

Some states have followed the federal government’s lead and are pushing back tax payment deadlines, and some are pushing back filing deadlines too.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The IRS had received 67.9 million returns as of early March, which is a 0.4% increase from a year earlier at the same time, agency figures show. The average refund for all taxpayers is $3,012 so far, according tax filing statistics.

This Denver delivery man was tipped $25 (twice) and doubled his earnings the day restaurants closed due to coronavirus

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Ron Walter doesn’t deliver food on Tuesdays, because that’s usually a slow day.

The Denver, Colo. man broke his own rule of thumb this Tuesday, the first night under the city’s new rules saying restaurants could only offer take-out and delivery instead of seating customers.

Denver, like New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and other major American cities, is taking the step to keep people apart and hopefully slow the coronavirus’ infection rate. California’s Bay Area is imposing an even tougher “shelter in place” order.

He made $318 during a 10-hour day, dropping off 27 meals on Tuesday. He made $92 in 4.5 hours of work Monday.

So would-be Denver diners stayed in and Walter stepped out. He made $318 during a 10-hour day, dropping off 27 meals on Tuesday. To put that in context: He only made $92 in 4.5 hours of work Monday.

Walter, 56, says he could get by without the delivery work he does via the delivery platforms GrubHub GRUB, +3.38%, Postmates, DoorDash and UberEats UBER, +38.36%. He makes $3,500 to $3,800 a month, before taxes and expenses, but that was before the restaurants in this city closed.

He doesn’t plan on stopping now. He’s curious to experience delivery life these days, but there’s something else too, he says.

“There’s a little more sense today, even more than couple weeks ago,” Walter told MarketWatch. Restaurants need dependable delivery staff to get meals out and customers need a friendly face — even if he’s standing a little farther from the door, he said.

“This is something I can do to try to help them along,” Walter said of restaurants. “These guys are fighting for their business now.”

Restaurants need dependable delivery staff to get meals out and customers need a friendly face — even if he’s standing a little farther from the door.

And with deliveries, “there’s this point of contact with people. Sometimes, I think people need that. Seeing that face just for a few seconds even. In this new normal, that can become something important for people.”

In recent days, Walter’s heard several versions of “thank you so much for bringing food to us” from customers. He also received two separate $25 tips on Tuesday.

Walter is working in a restaurant industry that’s cratering as customers stay home to avoid public places and possible contraction of the coronavirus. The 15.6-million worker industry could shed 5 to 7 million jobs and take a $225 billion loss over the next three months, the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, said Wednesday.

The Restaurant Workers of America, an employee advocacy group, posted YouTube GOOG, +4.31%  clips with stories from suddenly laid-off workers. “We just don’t know what we’re going to do,” a Seattle-area worker says, holding her cooing baby.

Don’t miss: Huge spike in Google searches for ‘unemployment benefits’ give a stark picture of economic carnage to come

Walter’s seen the damage.

At an American-style bar and grill, an Italian place and a Vietnamese restaurant, the mood Monday felt the same: “a funeral,” according to Walter.

When he picked up a delivery at the restaurant, there was a six- to eight-person kitchen and wait staff. He returned for a delivery the next day and the owner halved the staff.

“I’m guessing some places are not going to make it. But I’m also believing some places that shouldn’t make it will, just because of their determination.”

‘Some places are not going to make it’

“You could just tell with him that it broke his heart. He seemed more concerned about his people than his business,” Walter said.

But Walter’s also seen resolve from restaurants. On Tuesday, as the new rules sunk in on delivery and take-out orders, owners at a sandwich shop and an American food restaurant told him they’d find a way to get by.

Walter started doing deliveries in February 2018, after ending his job a business manager for a non-profit that provided city kids with bicycles. Before that, Walter spent 20 years in his hometown, Lincoln, Neb., working in a family business that sold phone and internet service.

Once moving to Colorado, Walter pursued his master’s degree, first at Denver Seminary. He then shifted to gerontology.

America’s aging population is in search of spiritual guidance, as well as food deliveries, Ron Walter says, and he wants to find a way to meet the need.

America’s aging population is in search of spiritual guidance, Walter says, and he wants to find a way to meet the need — which is actually how he got into food delivery.

Walter ended his non-profit job so he could focus on a way that churches can bolster ministry to senior citizens. And while he was doing that, Walter started delivering food to make some more cash.

“This is something I do, so I can do other things,” said Walter.

Walter created a website, Entrecourier.com, where he emphasizes food deliverers making money through online food delivery sites are their own boss. He has pointers on topics like taxes and saving money. Walter says his website is a test run for building some online platform devoted to senior-citizen ministry in the future.

Walter is different from many other gig workers right now. He doesn’t feel compelled to go outside for the money, though others say they can’t afford to stop working.

Taking on-the-job precautions for coronavirus

Walter’s figured out his approach. When he enters a restaurant now, he washes his hands first thing. He opens his catering bag and lets the restaurant worker drop the food in. Walter wipes down his catering bag several times a day with Clorox CLX, -0.15% wipes he bought on Amazon AMZN, +5.81%.

He brings the food to the customer, opens the bag and lets them take it out. Sometimes, though, he’ll have to help them take it out.

Four of his 27 deliveries Tuesday were “no contact.” That means putting the food on a customer’s porch or doorstep, taking a picture and letting them know it’s there. Other deliverers have developed that method, like one South Korean retail chain.

Four of his 27 deliveries Tuesday were ‘no contact’ — putting the food on a customer’s porch or doorstep, taking a picture and letting them know it’s there.

Walter says he might start texting customers ahead of delivery to let them know his precautions.

Food delivery sites told MarketWatch they are focused on driver safety and reducing customer costs.

Uber Eats US:UBER  said it “working to provide drivers with disinfectants” but supplies are “very limited.” The company is waiving food-delivery fees, but a spokeswoman told MarketWatch that won’t impact pay to drivers.

Postmates launched its “no contact” delivery option and is creating a fund to defray medical and leave costs for drivers impacted by COVID-19. “Community health and safety is paramount at Postmates, and we continue to issue in-app, precautionary CDC guidance for those carrying out deliveries,” a spokeswoman said.

DoorDash said, among other things, it is defaulting to “no contact” delivery option. “We are in the process of shipping more than 1 million sets of free hand sanitizer and gloves,” Tony Xu, co-founder and CEO said in a blog post.

Walter’s not scared to go out, “but you start to see some things through different glasses.”

On Monday, he drove by a man in a coughing fit and he rolled up his window. The same day, a customer’s golden retriever bounded up to him. Walter, a dog lover, couldn’t resist a quick pet. “All of the sudden, I think, ‘Oh man! Did I do the wrong thing? Is the owner scared?’

“That kind of stuff,” he said, “sits in the back your mind.”

More from MarketWatch

Commodities Corner: Physical demand for silver spikes as price drops to an 11-year low

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Silver prices have dropped to their lowest level since 2009, boosting demand for the physical metal at a rate not seen in a decade.

Supplies of physical silver, as well as gold, “remain well below extremely strong demand,” said Dana Samuelson, president of precious-metals dealer American Gold Exchange, Inc. “The fall in the underlying gold and silver prices, coupled with the potential recession due to the sharp economic downturn the coronavirus is causing has spurred the public to buy physical precious metals at the fastest pace in 10 years.”

On March 12, the United States Mint said it temporarily sold out of American Silver Eagle bullion coins. “Our rate of sale in just the first part of March exceeds 300% of what was sold last month,” the Mint said.

Sales of the one-ounce American Silver Eagle coins were at 3.1 million so far this month, as of Wednesday, compared with total sales of 650,000 in the month of February, according to data from the Mint.

“With both the U.S. Mint and the Royal Canadian Mint on back order for the most popular one-ounce gold and silver coins in the North American market, dealers have scrambled to buy anything that remains available to buy, driving bids substantially higher for all physical gold, silver…coins and bars that are immediately available,” said Samuelson.

On Comex, silver futures prices saw their most-active contract SIK20, +3.21% drop to $11.772 an ounce on Wednesday, the lowest since Jan. 22, 2009, according to Dow Jones Market Data. Prices moved up a bit to settle at $12.134 Thursday.

‘The poor man’s gold is on sale today and the fire sale will not last unless there is an all-out deflationary crash which brings its own appeal in holding silver as a hedge.’

Peter Spina, SilverSeek.com

“The poor man’s gold is on sale today and the fire sale will not last unless there is an all-out deflationary crash which brings its own appeal in holding silver as a hedge,” said Peter Spina, president of silver news and analysis provider SilverSeek.com.

He disclosed that he recently made a large purchase of silver as its price ratio to GCJ20, -0.35%  limbed to historic levels at roughly 130 ounces of silver to buy one ounce of gold.

Read: Gold is setting records dating back over 5,000 years—against silver

Also see: Why gold’s plunge proves it’s a safe haven asset

Silver prices have seen sharp declines as “institutions have dumped silver for cash to pay for margin calls and other obligation, as well as hoarding cash,” said Edmund Moy, who was director of the U.S. Mint from 2006 to 2011.

He told MarketWatch that the rise in silver bullion demand is “just the beginning,” and is “primarily driven by individual investors who see silver as an affordable safen have and because of the lower prices, a buying opportunity.”

“Affordability is a major factor…silver appeals broadly to a less wealthy investors but a small change in prices is a larger percentage change for silver—and that upside attracts additional investors,” said Moy.

“Eventually, low silver prices will catch up to limited physical supply and increased physical demand,” he said. “And once the global economy begins to recover from this pandemic, silver demand from industry will recover too.”

But it’s silver’s industrial aspect that makes some analysts a bit more cautious.

Right now, silver futures look “ready to at least bounce in a significant way,” said Spina. However, “if there is another global market selloff, silver futures could get one more historic dump to [the] $10 area.”

“Much of the industrial demand news is not going to be good or great for silver for the coming weeks or months, so we need to get through this biggest contribution factor to silver,” he said. “Until then, investment demand is returning and if it keeps like this for several months and industrial [demand catches up]…it could really squeeze the price right back up and quickly!”

The Margin: Take your mind off of the coronavirus for few minutes with these feel-good videos, memes and threads

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Newsfeeds, news broadcasts and newspapers have had round-the-clock coronavirus coverage for the past few weeks, and with good reason. There are now more than 220,000 COVID-19 cases and 9,000 deaths world-wide, including confirmed cases in all 50 U.S. states.

As a result, President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force have called for limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, and many states have closed schools, restaurants, museums, theaters and gyms, which has seen many Americans lose their jobs and start to socially isolate themselves in their homes.

But several other stories have also gone viral:

Quarantined Italians singing to each other from their balconies, and dolphins and fish seen swimming in Venice’s otherwise empty canals.

-Penguins leaving their enclosures to waddle freely through a deserted Chicago aquarium.

-Seth Rogen livetweeting his experience watching the movie “Cats” while under the influence of marijuana. (Hilarity ensues.)

-Countless clips and memes of people adapting to #quarantinelife, as Americans under social isolation finding creative ways to exercise or commiserating over being stuck inside.

Read more: What is social distancing? This practice is key to slowing the coronavirus, public health experts say

And while these anecdotes may seem frivolous on the surface, such heartwarming stories, funny videos and snarky memes play a vital role in coping with a global health and economic crisis that is rapidly changing the way we live and communicate.

“Social media is actually doing what it was meant to do: connecting more of us to each other,” Dr. Amanda Spray, a clinical psychologist at NYU Langone Health in Manhattan, told MarketWatch. “It really reminds us all that we’re in this together.”

“This is a pandemic. This is of epic proportions. This is very scary, and it’s understandable that people would be scared and should be concerned,” Dr. Spray added. “This takes us out of the intensity of the situation, which can be very helpful.”

Hence why hashtags like #panicshopping trended on Twitter TWTR, +11.36%  as people stockpiled toilet paper, paper towels and hand sanitizer once the fear of the spreading coronavirus really began taking root in American a couple of weeks ago. Among the memes being passed around were plenty of jokes about the scarcity of toilet paper — or the few foods being left behind on supermarket shelves even as stores like Trader Joe’s, Amazon-owned Whole Foods AMZN, +5.81%, Costco COST, +0.16%, Target TGT, +1.34%  and Walmart WMT, -2.39%  were otherwise cleaned out.

“Often times the most popular memes, the jokes, they’re rooted in some degree of reality, and so it can feel very comforting: ‘I’m not the only one feeling like this,’” explained Dr. Spray.

Of course, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, many people were using social media in excess — leading to all sorts of hand-wringing over how much screen time was too much, as well as how the “fear of missing out” was messing with everyone’s heads.

“Before this COVID-19 pandemic was hitting, social media was actually leading to a lot of social distancing, itself,” mused Dr. Spray. “It was removing the personal connection, it was removing the actual going out for coffee, actually getting together with your friends, and leading a lot of people to feel quite disconnected.”  

But now no one is missing out on anything, really, if everything is canceled or closed, and everyone is staying home to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of the coronavirus. Suddenly, group Google Hangouts GOOG, +4.23%  and Facetiming on an Apple AAPL, +1.12%   iPhone or iPad, or sharing memes and gifs over text or on Facebook, Instagram FB, +7.18%  and Twitter, has to stand in for getting together in person.

‘Social media is actually doing what it was meant to do: connecting more of us to each other.’

“Social media is turning social distancing into just physical distancing,” Judy Holland, a journalist who has researched loneliness and anxiety for her new book, “HappiNest: Finding Fulfillment When Your Kids Leave Home,” told MarketWatch. “And social media can be a fantastic refuge.”

Research has shown that taking breaks is an important part of productivity. The University in Israel found that doing nothing for a few moments during the day and taking time to unplug without thinking is ideal to replenish motivation and regain focus. Dr. Spray also noted that while staying informed about coronavirus is important, following the coverage becomes unhealthy if it makes you feel very anxious, or interferes with your ability to sleep, to get your work done, or to engage with others. “Distractions can be a useful tool for coping with very stressful situations,” she said — as long as those distractions, in turn, also don’t interfere with getting things done or engaging with others.

“The humor bring us together because we find our common humanity in the humor. We all feel the sense of warmth,” adds Holland. “It gives us a break, so we seek it out.”

Besides, what’s more human than laughing in the dark?

So of course, “This Is The End” star Rogen tweeting his stream-of-consciousness reactions to “Cats” while “pretty stoned,” in his words, went viral this week. The Twitter thread has drawn more than 300,000 likes and counting, as well as thousands of comments from readers — many of whom are self-isolating or social-distancing at home — thanking him for the much-needed distraction.

“This feed made my night,” tweeted former “20/20” news anchor Elizabeth Vargas in response.

Other amusing celebrity responses to the current crisis include Oscar winner Dame Judi Dench telling viewers to “just keep laughing” while wearing a ridiculous dog hat with flapping ears in a clip viewed 4.7 million times and counting.

Or “Jurassic Park” star Sam Neill using his self-isolation as an opportunity to catch up on chores around the house, such as laundering all of his sneakers. “Boy do they smell good,” he says in a clip viewed more than 470,000 times.

And there was also “Wonder Woman” Gal Gadot’s attempt to recreate a “We Are the World” moment with celebrity friends and co-stars like Kristin Wiig, Will Ferrell and Maya Rudolph. Love it or hate it, it has provided plenty of fodder for conversation.

Read more: Gal Gadot leads a cringeworthy star-studded ‘Imagine’ singalong from quarantine

But some of the most delightful distractions have come from the animal kingdom. Soothing zoo live streams, and clips of pets overjoyed to have their owners spending more time at home — see the #quarantinecats and #quarantinedogs hashtags — have also transcended being mere guilty pleasures as people have gotten sick or seen loved ones get sick, or have lost their livelihoods and their social safety nets

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium has started sharing videos on its official Twitter account of three penguins wandering the empty exhibits and meeting the other animals since it had to temporarily close amid the outbreak. They include Wellington, who appears fascinated by the tropical fish in the Amazon habitat, as well as Edward and Annie, who went on a date before they begin building their nests next week.

Viewers went wild over the clips. “The content we need,” wrote one. “Thank you!”

Speaking of penguins, a video from Two Oceans Aquarium in South Africa that shows several penguins hopping down a flight of stairs has also filled viewers with delight.

Animal lovers can also take a virtual escape by watching live streams from several zoos and aquariums while we practice distancing, many of which are posted on YouTube. They include the Cincinnati Zoo’s live stream starring Fiona the hippo; the Smithsonian National Zoo’s Panda Cam; the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Cam, as well as the San Diego Zoo’s live cams following its elephants, tigers, koalas, baboons and more.

“Animals are magical. They’re simpler. They take us outside of ourselves,” Holland said. “We’re transported right out of, ‘Oh my God, what about my 85-year-old parent?’ to, ‘Oh my God, look at that ridiculous animal.’ They’re great escapes.”

The internet has also obsessed over a two-minute clip of “Marble1” racing posted to Twitter and Facebook earlier this week, even as major sports leagues such as the NBA, the NCAA and the MLB have canceled sporting events. “Day 4 with no sports,” the poster wrote, while the video showed several marbles rolling down a dirt course. In fact, there’s an entire YouTube channel for marble racing, if you become hooked.

Or folks have taken the opportunity to get creative about staying at home, which has led to amusing clips of resourceful home workouts and games.

“Everything we’re faced with now is very serious,” said Dr. Spray, “and reminding yourself what good there is in the world can be very helpful.” 

Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘The sunbathers all seemed to be talking about coronavirus’: Australians brace for the end of summer — and the start of flu season

This post was originally published on this site

Just last week my daughter was reading dystopian texts for high-school English. One short story, “The Pedestrian,” begins with a robotic police car pulling up to the only man in a city of millions walking alone along an empty street.

I wonder whether our port city of Fremantle, Western Australia, will be like that soon.

Australia can learn from countries further along the curve about what slowed the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus SARS-CoV-2. There have been 681 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and six deaths; 26 people have recovered. Worldwide, 236,384 people have been confirmed with the disease, and 9,790 have died, with Italy and China reporting the highest number of deaths and cases.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, leader of the Liberal Party, told Australians not to travel abroad and introduced a ban on all indoor gatherings of 100 people or more. An earlier ban on all outdoor events or meetings with 500 people or more remains in place.

As people have of delayed action in other countries, what may seem like an overreaction before the pandemic will seem like an underreaction afterward.

The Department of Health introduced guidelines, telling people that they should practice social distancing, regularly wash and sanitize their hands, use “tap and pay” to avoid handling cash and credit cards between sales clerks and customers, and commute at off-peak hours when possible.

While governments are doing something now, many people — including medical experts — are clearly becoming frustrated with the timidity of the response. As people have said based on the delayed action in other countries, what may seem like an overreaction before the pandemic-really bites will seem like an underreaction afterward.

Much of Australia is still reeling from the recent devastating bush fires. We’ll soon enter the southern hemisphere’s flu season. Aussies are a relaxed bunch, but this will test us all. Australia may still be in a position to “flatten the curve” so the health system can cope with fewer cases at a time.

Also see: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson reportedly released from hospital

The ban on large outdoor and some indoor events — and free testing centers in states — and even a drive-thru testing clinic — is a good start, but we believe the moment has arrived to consider measures like proactively closing schools rather than waiting until it’s too late.

With school holidays a few weeks away for much of Australia, many people think the government should have declared that schools were on holiday last week, or at least this week. After all, schools are an everyday mass event of hundreds of people in each other’s faces for six hours a day, five days a week, and schools have unkindly been described as a Petri dish of nasties.

The government should have declared that schools were on holiday last week. After all, schools are an everyday mass event of hundreds of people.

Some of us with family overseas may have a keener sense for how bad it’s going to get. It just didn’t seem like others were in the same frame of mind. Except for the toilet paper. Ads for toilet paper now appear on Gumtree (Australia’s Craigslist). It was the first thing that flew off the shelves here when people heard about the coronavirus.

A couple of weeks ago, we bought enough groceries to last two weeks in case we were suddenly quarantined. I remember the date because I ordered some hand sanitizer online when there was still plenty.

A few days later a friend forwarded a message from a doctor who was working when Australian patients from the Diamond Princess — the cruise ship with 3,700 people aboard quarantined for two weeks off the coast of Japan — arrived at the hospital to get treated. Seven people who were on that ship died.

Despite that, he was not alarmist but — based on what he’d witnessed — he said it would be sensible to gather essential items for an extended stay at home. I now knew we weren’t crazy for buying some canned soup and fruit.

Since then, with only a small number of cases in Western Australia, most of whom contracted the disease while traveling overseas, more workplaces have been talking more seriously about the need to require staff to work from home.

My husband’s lingering cough kept us from attending a play based on a book written by a friend. A crowded theater is no place for even an ordinary cough.

Now, a few weeks after our first quarantine grocery-shopping trip, there is no doubt in our mind that we will need to stay home for the next week or two.

Morrison also said he would still be going to a rugby match, which was due to take place last Saturday. “The fact that I would still be going on Saturday speaks not just to my passion for my beloved Sharks; it might be the last game I get to go to for a long time,” he told reporters.

He has since changed his mind, most likely because the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, just announced that he’d tested positive for the virus. As of Thursday morning local time, 565 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in the country. It’s starting to get very real.

On Saturday, the nonprofit organization I work for postponed a national conference scheduled for next week. Today, the environmental campaign my husband runs also postponed a major part of the effort that he and his team have been preparing for weeks.

My husband’s lingering cough kept us from attending a play based on a book written by a dear friend. A crowded theater is no place for even an ordinary cough these days. I paused my gym membership and took our son out of his martial-arts class.

The implications of coronavirus are starting to hit home. After a day of work and social decisions — which will undoubtedly seem trivial soon — and sobering conversations with family overseas, we went to Cottesloe, Perth’s famed beach, where locals and tourists gathered as another hot, fiery-skied day ended.

From where we sat, it did appear that many were maintaining a 6-foot buffer zone. The mood was light, but the sunbathers all seemed to be talking about coronavirus.

Can I still afford to retire? The coronavirus has upended jobs, spurred a market downturn — what now?

This post was originally published on this site

With stock indexes tumbling, jobs in jeopardy and a looming recession, is it really the time to retire?

Some Americans may have been patiently waiting to retire this spring, or even sometime this year, but the world isn’t the same as it was just a few months ago. The nearly 11-year bull market ended last week, and corporations around the country are closing shops, restaurants and other facilities in an attempt to stop the spreading of the coronavirus, an infectious disease that has infected more than 227,000 people and killed more than 9,000 others world-wide.

“We are living through unprecedented times,” said Jay Spector, a partner and wealth adviser at Barton Spector Wealth Strategies. “Many investors haven’t experienced market situations like this.”

For those who have the opportunity to decide if now’s the right time to retire, they should check that their finances are in order — and that they have a plan in place for the foreseeable future, advisers said.

Of course, as is the case with nearly every financial planning decision, whether one can retire now depends on a few factors, including how much that person or household has saved for their futures, how their portfolios are invested and what sort of income they can expect within the next few months and years. “Can people retire? Absolutely. Should people retire? That’s a different story,” said Chris Hardy, founder of Paramount Investment Advisors. “This is where having realistic expectations about returns (and volatility) are crucial and that cash flow is king.”

See: The new math of saving for retirement may boil down to this, absurdly simple rule

But if retirement is on the horizon, here are a few factors to consider:

Asset allocation

Financial advisers typically suggest reducing exposure to stocks as an investor nears their retirement date, and that’s no different in this scenario. Savers who are still heavily invested in stocks may want to delay their retirement, said Michael McKevitt, director of financial planning at Guillaume & Freckman. “The reason is that they don’t know how quickly markets will recover and the risk is that they don’t recover for quite a long time.” If that happens, people may need or want to go back to work — and it’s hard to re-enter the workforce for numerous reasons.

People still planning to exit from the workforce may want to buy safer assets, such as U.S. Treasury bills, notes or bonds, said William Parrott, president and chief executive officer of Parrott Wealth Management. He recommends his clients buy three years’ worth of expenses in those investments, so if someone’s annual expenses are $100,000, he’d purchase $300,000 in bonds. This way, “they don’t have to worry about the stock market volatility,” he said.

There are various strategies for asset allocation, and an investor may want to consult with a financial professional before retiring.

Retirement income

Someone with guaranteed income, such as from a pension or annuity, is better positioned than someone who plans to spend down their 401(k) savings, said David McPherson, founder of Four Ponds Financial Planning. “As a general rule, I would try delaying retirement decisions until we get past the current public health crisis and have a better idea of how we will emerge from it.”

Think of all of the possible streams of income and how they’d be tapped in retirement. Potential sources include Social Security, pensions, 401(k) or individual retirement account assets, real estate and any other income family members may be bringing in and sharing. Then consider how much the household spends, and on what, including mortgage payments, insurance, utilities, health care and general living expenses, said Charles Failla, principal of Sovereign Financial Group. “Once someone can quantify their resources and goals, then they can better begin to answer the question ‘can I retire?’” he said. Really, the question is, “do I have enough resources to sustain my spending needs and goals without earning income?” he added.

Investors should also consider if and how much debt they have when entering retirement. “Not having any debt payments allows more control over monthly cash flow and can weather a storm like we are currently in,” Hardy said.

Financial plans are crucial during times like these, advisers said. “If clients have been doing the proper planning to achieve retirement, then they should still consider their retirement plans,” Spector said. “If clients, however, can’t control how they behave during difficult times like this and stick with the plan that was developed, they will not realize the rewards of their plan — either with income from their portfolio, growth of their portfolio or both.”

Also see: How can I protect my 401(k) from a coronavirus-driven market downturn?

Overall stress at this time

People who have a proper asset allocation could still retire now, but they may also want to wait if they’re anxious about market activity. “Working six months to a year longer would eliminate that stress,” McKevitt said. Along with the amount of money saved and future retirement plans, people may want to reassess their risk tolerance during market volatility.

There are a few questions near-retirees should ask themselves before they leave the workforce, said Michael Hennessy, founder of Harbor Crest Wealth Advisors.

Ask questions, such as: How will you support your living expenses? What will you do about health care, and are you eligible for Medicare or factored in out-of-pocket health expenses until you can enroll in Medicare? Will you need to start drawing down your investment portfolios to make up your retirement income? Do you need to claim Social Security benefits early, which can limit how much you receive in benefits overall? And what will you do in retirement if you chose to exit from the workforce now? Why do you want to retire now — is it just because of market volatility?

“There’s typically only one shot to retire correctly,” Hennessy said. “Don’t jump into the decision rashly.”

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