Day: April 7, 2020

CityWatch: New York governor looks to antibody testing as a potential means to get people back to work

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New York has developed an antibody test, the key to getting life back to normal, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Tuesday, offering some hope despite the state’s largest single-day death toll from the coronavirus.

“How do you get people back to work as quickly as possible? It’s gonna come down to testing,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing. “You’re going to have to know who had the virus, who resolved the virus, who never had it. And that’s going to be testing.”

The number of deaths in New York state from Covid-19 totaled 731 on Monday, significantly higher than the peak of 630 recorded last week. It brings the total number of coronavirus deaths in the state to 5,489. 

There are, nonetheless, very early signs that the crisis in New York has begun to plateau (particularly decreased daily hospitalizations and new victims being intubated). And Cuomo, more every day, is taking time at his briefings to discuss restarting the economy, in which antibody testing could play a critical role, experts said.

Wadsworth Center, a state-run lab in Albany, New York’s capital, developed the new antibody-testing regimen and, once approved by the Federal Drug Administration, could be scaled out for wide use, Cuomo announced on Tuesday. 

“This tests the blood to determine whether or not you have the antibodies, which means you had the virus and resolved the virus,” Cuomo said. “You can get to work, you can go back to school, you can do whatever you want.” 

Also see: These 19 companies are working on coronavirus treatments or vaccines — here’s where things stand

Antibodies are the protective proteins the immune system produces in response to viral infection, and their presence in the blood indicates that a person has, or has had, the disease. The FDA has approved some antibody tests, including one last week by private company Cellex, and such tests are already in use in other countries, such as China and Singapore. 

But testing accuracy is a chief concern, especially since some antibody tests don’t distinguish whether someone’s infection is active or resolved. New York’s test only measures an antibody known as immunoglobulin G, which indicates that a person had the disease but is no longer contagious, the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said Tuesday.

“It’s important to make sure that the tests we are measuring show that individuals had the infection, that they don’t still have the infection,” Zucker said. 

The next step is to scale testing to a point where it’s useful to researchers, and possibly to people who can then go back to work. The state will be working with the FDA over the next week to get more labs approved to run its antibody test, the officials said. 

“You have 19 million people in the state of New York. Just think about how many people you would have to test and test quickly,” said Cuomo, who’s working with the governors of neighboring Connecticut and New Jersey on a plan to restart their interlinked economies.

Also on MarketWatch: Coronavirus is hitting black Americans hardest, White House says

Epidemiologists and pathologists have touted an antibody test as critical to learning more about the disease, including the true mortality rate. There could be thousands of New Yorkers with the antibody who never knew they caught the virus, as medical experts have estimated that around 25% to 50% of cases are asymptomatic. 

“It’s crucial,” said Dr. Joshua M. Epstein, professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public Health. “The antibody test is the key to restarting the economy without restarting the epidemic.”

New research by Epstein and his colleagues indicates that several million Americans who’ve already had the disease could return to work if such testing were widely available. 

Another factor that remains unclear is how long people’s immunity lasts. There have been some unsubstantiated reports from China of people getting sick a second time. Some, like Epstein, point to related coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, which confer long-term immunity. 

Others, like virologist Dr. Robert Gallo, are not yet convinced, especially since we don’t build lasting immunity to common colds, which are also caused by types of coronaviruses. In the 1980s, Gallo co-discovered HIV, a virus that provides no immunity. 

The antibodies “might not be protective at all,” said Gallo, co-founder and director of the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and co-founder of the Global Virus Network. 

But a highly accurate antibody test is no less critical, he added. For one, it would identify those who could donate plasma to help vulnerable people sick with Covid-19. Nobody knows if that treatment is effective, he said, “but it’s worth a little try until you have something easier to give people.”

Widespread testing would also help trace the epidemic, better clarify how deadly it is and provide insight into the length of immunity, Gallo said—even if it doesn’t provide an immediate jump-start to the economy. 

“I think it’s vital,” he said. 

Cuomo on Tuesday reiterated that the return to normalcy is still a ways away. 

“This is not a light switch that we can just flick on and everything goes back to normal,” he said.

CityWatch: ‘I thought I would never see that many body bags in my life’ — NYC funeral directors on dealing with coronavirus deaths

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In New York City, the coronavirus epicenter of the country, the infrastructure for funerals and burials has been stretched to its breaking point, bringing more trauma to families already in grief. 

Friends and family members of the deceased sometimes wait days for burial and go to funeral services during which they cannot embrace each other, if a ceremony is held at all. 

Many funeral directors and cemetery workers in New York City told MarketWatch they are dealing with at least double their normal workload, and worry about contracting the virus from the bodies they handle.  

Arsenio Lopez is the director of the Borinquen Memorial Funeral Home in Bushwick,  Brooklyn, and a Vietnam veteran, who likens coronavirus in New York City to wartime.

“I thought I would never see that many body bags in my life, and I’m seeing them now,” Lopez told MarketWatch.

A long wait

As of Monday, 2,738 people have died of the disease in the five boroughs, according to the New York City Health Department.  The state had its highest death toll yet on Monday, as 731 people succumbed to the virus. 

The situation is so dire that New York City Councilman Mark Levine, a Democrat who represents parts of upper Manhattan, caused an uproar when he tweeted that the city would start using parks for “temporary interment.” He later retracted his statement, and Mayor Bill de Blasio said there would be no mass interments in public parks.

The mayor added that if it became necessary, Hart Island, off the coast of the Bronx, is a place that the city has historically used for mass burials. They are “exploring” using it for temporary burials, his office said. 

To date, to help deal with the overflow of coronavirus fatalities, makeshift morgues, many built out of refrigerated trucks, have been sent to hospitals around the city. As they fill up, so do funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries.

Funeral directors lament long wait times for the medical examiner to release bodies into their care. Some said that before coronavirus, it took an hour or two to get permission, now they said, it can take up to 24 hours.

The majority of funeral homes have no refrigeration, and many funeral directors are choosing not to embalm bodies because of possible exposure to coronavirus.

With longer wait times for burial and cremation, there is a fear of potentially leaving the bodies to linger at funeral homes.

With only a handful of crematoriums in New York City, restrictions have been loosened to allow them to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, The Wall Street Journal reported. Even then, the wait time for a body to be cremated is currently more than two weeks, according to funeral and crematorium directors. 

“At a particular point in time, it’s going to be a health concern,” said Joe Manno, a funeral contractor in Brooklyn who works with different funeral homes, referring to bodies that need to be cremated or buried.

Staying safe

Like hospital workers, many in the New York City funeral industry fear they will fall ill with coronavirus, particularly because they handle bodies that could still be carrying the virus, and are struggling to get personal protective equipment, or PPE. 

Alexander Kurbatsky, director of Big Apple Funeral Services, based in Gravesend, Brooklyn,  said he wears a mask nearly all day, leaves his clothes in the garage when he gets home, and immediately showers and disinfects.

“I have to stay somewhat healthy or try to stay, you know, COVID-free, to help the next family, because if I’m not out, if I’m in isolation or God forbid if I’m in the hospital under the ventilator, I’m not going to be able to help anyone,” he said.

Among funeral directors, there is a reticence to embalm people who have died from coronavirus, as it is currently unknown how long the virus lingers in a body after death. Some will still embalm, but wear extra protective equipment. 

The World Health Organization does not recommend embalming people who have died of COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not explicitly say this, but urges the use of PPE  and standard precautions “to prevent direct contact with infectious” bodies.

There are also fears among funeral workers that coronavirus deaths are being underreported.

Funeral director Andrew Anastasio, of the B Anastasio & Son Funeral Home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said he had a case where a doctor signed the death certificate, but didn’t mention the deceased had coronavirus. He was only told so by a nursing supervisor. 

“When people die at home, and they never got the test done, they’re not considered COVID,” said one funeral director who asked not to be named. “But when you talk to the families, they say ‘Oh yeah, my father had a fever for three days and then he couldn’t breathe and then he passed away.’ But it’s not a confirmed case because he didn’t do the test.”  

In a news conference Tuesday morning, when asked about the possibility that at-home deaths from coronavirus were being undercounted, Mayor de Blasio said that he assumed most were coronavirus related. 

“The first thing we are focused on is saving the next life,” de Blasio said. “So we do want to know the truth of what happened in every death that happened at home, but I think we can say at this point, it’s right to assume that the vast majority are coronavirus related.”

A new normal

Different funeral homes have different procedures during coronavirus—some are holding small wakes of under 10 people, while others are holding none and only dealing with direct burials and cremations. Many funeral homes are so overloaded that they have had to turn families away. 

Some cemeteries in the city have set up their own protocols as well, limiting the number of people who can attend funerals, or the number of funerals held each day, in an effort to maintain social distancing.

The rituals associated with funerals have also been sharply curtailed, as many churches, temples and other religious sites are closed. 

Related: How do you plan a funeral in the middle of the coronavirus crisis?

Julie Bose, president of The Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn said that they are arranging twice the number of funerals they normally would, capping the number of daily funerals at eight, and attendance at 10 people or fewer. If family members want to see a casket lowered into the ground, they can do so from the road next to their vehicles. The cemetery employs 16 full-time gravediggers who all wear masks and gloves.

“My staff comes into work every day and they’re amazing,” Bose said. “At personal risk to themselves and their own safety and their own families.”

Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn usually holds four to five funerals a day. Now they’re doing six to eight, though some days there have been as many as 10, according to cemetery President Richard Moylan. However, the real escalation has been cremations. Where before they did around 10 cremations a day, they’re now doing 20 and more. On April 6, the next available cremation date was April 22. 

“I’m just hoping our staff stays healthy. And I’m hoping we can continue to make all of the in-ground burials on a timely basis,” Moylan said. “We want to do anything to make this as easy as possible for families.” 

Also read: Nurse at Brooklyn hospital on coronavirus protective clothing: ‘It’s a garbage bag. It’s like something out of the Twilight Zone’

Staff in the crematorium wear hazmat suits when they handle bodies. Wooden caskets are slowing down the time it takes to complete a cremation, as they take more time to burn than cloth or pressed wood caskets. Green-Wood is running its crematorium 16 hours a day, with staff working double shifts, but its wait time is still longer than two weeks. 

Most funeral attendees, according to Moylan, are self-policing, standing at a distance from each other, if they are able to come to the funeral at all.  

At the same time, many families are waiting until a later date to hold religious and full funeral services, when social distancing is no longer required. 

A dark future

Many funeral directors say the strain on the funeral infrastructure as a whole during coronavirus is more severe than other disasters the city has experienced, like 9/11 or the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

The next few weeks could be even worse than the last, as the death toll continues to rise. 

“We’re in uncharted waters,” Anastasio said. “I’ve been doing this 40 years. Never was a period like this.” 

Outside the Box: How much should you take out of your portfolio when you retire?

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Here’s a question: In these times of stock-market shock — when the market can be up or down in one day as much as it might be up or down in a year — who has the patience to think rationally about long-term retirement planning?

Here’s the answer: If you haven’t retired yet, you should find a way to do exactly that sort of thinking. Perhaps more than ever, this is a good time to get the help of a good financial adviser for this task.

While we hold our breath for the latest good or (more likely) not-so-good news, let’s wade into this topic a bit.

Most people look forward eagerly to retirement, but it’s a change that requires many important choices, some of which can have pretty big consequences.

Today I want to focus on one of those forks in the road: How much money you expect your life savings to provide every year for your living expenses.

The big trade-off:

On the one hand, if you take out more money, you run a greater risk of running out of money. On the other hand, if you take out less money, you forego the retirement lifestyle you have looked forward to.

How you navigate this puzzling landscape is a bit of a challenge. But I’ll give you a “map” to make it easier.

Let’s start with a set of numbers I have developed over the years to show what would have happened to somebody who retired at the start of 1970.

There’s nothing magic about that year except that we have reliable data for the subsequent years, a period that included lots of favorable and unfavorable economic trends, world crises, some years of substantial inflation, and serious unexpected ups and downs in the stock market.

The years since 1970 give us a window into the wide range of market returns that might happen in the future. To follow the numbers, imagine (even though you’re probably much too young) that you retired in 1970 with a portfolio worth $1 million.

I’ll assume you chose a first-year withdrawal of $30,000 or $40,000 or $50,000 or $60,000, and that you wanted subsequent annual withdrawals to go up reflecting actual inflation.

To limit the variables, I’ll further assume that your $1 million was invested equally (50/50, in other words) in the S&P 500 Index SPX, -0.16% and a combination of short-term and intermediate-term U.S. government bonds.

That’s a pretty reasonable stock/bond allocation for retirees, and it reflects the overall risk level of my own investments.

So your choice in this exercise is whether you start by taking out $30,000, $40,000, $50,000, or $60,000.

Here’s where that fundamental trade-off translates into numbers: If you chose $30,000, you would have a lot less to spend but also much less risk of running out of money. If you chose $60,000, you would have much more to spend, but a considerably higher risk of running out of money.

Here’s a table to give you a snapshot of how you would have fared in the first 10 years of your retirement, depending on your rate of withdrawal.

Table 1: The first 10 years

Withdrawal rate 3% 4% 5% 6%
Withdrawal 1970 $30,000 $40,000 $50,000 $60,000
First 5 years withdrawals $164,961 $219,947 $274,933 $329,920
Balance 12/31/1974 $945,630 $940,276 $887,734 $834,192
Withdrawal 1975 $41,300 $55,066 $68,833 $82,599
First 10 years withdrawals $400,027 $533,369 $666,710 $800,052
Balance 12/31/1979 $1.33 million $1.15 million $959,623 $771,937
Withdrawal 1980 $61,034 $81,379 $101,724 $122,069

If your retirement lasted only 10 years, you of course would be fine taking out the 6%. But after that, you’d be in trouble.

At the start of 1980, according to this plan, you would take out $122,069 from a portfolio worth $771,937. That is a withdrawal rate of nearly 16%, obviously too much to last much longer.

If on the other hand you were following the 3% route, in 1980 your portfolio would be worth more than it started with, but you’d be taking out much, much less for living it up in retirement.

Most people expect their retirement to last more than 10 years. So let’s look at the second 10 years of these four scenarios.

Table 2: The second 10 years

Withdrawal rate 3% 4% 5% 6%
Withdrawal 1980 $61,034 $81,379 $101,724 $122,069
First 15 years withdrawals $762,812 $1.02 million $1.27 million $1.53 million
Balance 12/31/1984 $2.0 million $1.5 million $951,709 $414,886
Withdrawal 1985 $83,792 $111,724 $139,655 $167,800
First 20 years withdrawals $1.21 million $1.61 million $2.02 million $2.03 million
Balance 12/31/1989 $3.57 million $2.2 million $849,493 No $$ left
Withdrawal 1990 $100,345 $133,793 $167,241 No $$ left

As table 2 shows, the 6% withdrawal rate meant this portfolio could not keep up with inflation for 20 years. As soon as you took money out at the start of 1987 (and you could not take out the full amount), that portfolio was flat broke.

Note also that the 5% withdrawal plan was in obvious trouble by the end of 20 years. The 1990 withdrawal of $167,241 amounted to 20% of the portfolio value; in fact, that portfolio ran out of money in 1994 — less than 25 years after you retired.

The table does not show this, but by the end of 1999, representing a full 30 years of retirement, the 4% portfolio was holding up just fine, worth $4 million. The 3% portfolio was worth a whopping $9.3 million.

If you started out withdrawing 3%, at some point in the 1980s you could easily afford to take out more money every year.

But there’s a trade-off in that choice, too. In your early years of retirement, when you were presumably more healthy and able to travel and otherwise be active, the 3% withdrawal rate left you with less money. By the time you loosened the purse strings, so to speak, you had more money but perhaps less ability to take full advantage of it.

If you’re interested in how all this played out year-by-year for these four withdrawal rates, check out these four tables of returns. (If you scroll down farther on that page, you’ll find similar tables showing inflation-adjusted distributions for portfolios based on my recommendations for Worldwide and All-Value equity combinations.)

The bad news is that there’s no way to avoid the trade-off between spending now or spending later. And in most cases, you cannot know in advance how long you will live.

Fortunately, there are very worthwhile options for dealing with this trade-off.

The best option, assuming you have saved enough money, is to abandon the idea that your withdrawals have to go up with inflation regardless of how well or how poorly your investments are doing.

The financial world is unpredictable, at least in the short term, as we’ve seen very dramatically this year.

If you can maintain some flexibility in your spending needs, and if you have an adequate emergency fund, you can consider calculating your annual withdrawals as a constant percentage of what your portfolio is worth.

That way, when things are going well, you take out more money. When things are going not so well, you tighten your belt.

This is called a variable distribution plan, and it can give you the option to safely bump up your allocation to stocks.

A portfolio with a 60/40 percentage mix of stocks and bonds and a 6% variable distribution plan required some serious belt-tightening in the early years. But it held up nicely for 50 years…well beyond the typical span of anybody’s retirement.

I’ll dig into variable distributions in an upcoming article.

To be sure, retirement can be tricky. But if you start with ample savings and make sound distribution choices, you can live it up without outliving your money.

For more, check out my recent podcast: “All About Fixed Distributions.”

Richard Buck contributed to this article.

Ethereum (ETH) Gains Momentum Ahead of ‘ETH 2.0’ Upgrade

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Ethereum

The crypto space has been quite volatile over the past weeks, but holders of Ethereum (ETH) are, no doubt, quite pleased with the latest turn of events. Ether, the actual cryptocurrency of the network, has recorded its biggest jump in 20 days, and it seems likely that there is going to be a lot of excitement about the token in the coming hours. Experts believe that confidence over the Ethereum platform is growing steadily, and that could well be one of the reasons for the gains recorded by ETH over the past 24 hours.

All Eyes on ETH 2.0 Upgrade

Over the past 24-hour period, ETH has recorded gains of 17%, which makes up its highest gains in a single day since March 13. Crypto experts have stated that the growing confidence in the Ethereum network could be due to the upgrade that is going to take place in the system at some point in July this year. The system is going to be upgraded to ETH 2.0, which could be the major reason behind the latest rally in the token.

There are certain concrete reasons why there is more confidence about the Ethereum network owing to the ETH 2.0 upgrade. The upgrade is going to facilitate a higher number of transactions, and in addition to that, a new security protocol is going to be put in place. The security protocol is known as proof of stake or PoS. It is interesting to note that this particular upgrade to the network has been in the works since as far back as 2015.

>> Coinbase Invests Over $1 Million into DeFi Sites

Initially, Ethereum didn’t follow through with a proof of stake protocol, as it requires a high degree of technical skill and expertise. Ethereum’s progression into ETH 2.0 marks a major development for the network, but it remains to be seen how the price of the ETH token reacts in the coming days.

Featured image: DepositPhotos © yuliang11

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401(k) investors may be tougher than you think

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March was a roller coaster for the stock market, but it turns out many 401(k) participants can stomach the twists and turns.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.70% and S&P 500 SPX, +1.50%, among other benchmarks, saw major drops in the last month, as much as 30% from their Feb. 19 peaks. The volatility was in response to oil price wars and the fear of what coronavirus will do to global economies. In the last week, the market has rallied, as there are signs that social distancing is slowing the spread of the disease.

Still, seeing any sort of drop — even when the cause is understood — is scary, especially when it affects life savings. Many Americans rely on the market to fund their futures, with much of their portfolio performance tied to equities. So how did investors handle the sudden dips?

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

Many investors did trade, but they didn’t make drastic changes, according to Alight Solutions 401(k) Index.

The month saw 18 “above-normal” days of trading activity, which is the most in one month period the index has seen in the last 20 years, Alight found. Most of the trading migrated to stable value funds, money-market funds and bond funds, and out of target-date funds, large U.S. equity funds and international equity funds. Slightly fewer people made new contributions to equities, from 68.2% in February to 67.3% in March.

There was an uptick in contributions for Fidelity investors, however — 7% in the first quarter of 2020, versus 6% in 2019 — but there was also 5% who decreased contributions, compared with 3% the year before. Another 2% stopped contributing, about the same as the year before. Slightly more customers requested hardship withdrawals in the first quarter — 1.4% between January and March, compared with 0.9% during the same time in 2019.

About 7% of 401(k) savers made an exchange, such as a change to their allocation, in the first quarter of 2020, compared with 5% in the first quarter of 2019, according to the firm. A majority of the savers who made a change did so in March, but only 3% of these investors switched to 0% equities.

Betterment, an online investment platform, had less than a 2% increase in portfolio withdrawals, and 26% more total customers making ad hoc deposits than withdrawals. Millennials in particular were more likely to deposit money into their accounts than pull money out.

Client engagement peaked during the beginning of the volatility at Charles Schwab, SCHW, -0.99% said Nathan Voris, managing director of business strategy at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. There were more calls and online communication with customer service, and 60% more people requested an appointment with an advice consultant than before, he said. “The biggest question we get is what should I do?” he said. “People tend to stay the course. They call in, get a gut check, have someone tell them it’s going to be OK and continue to think long-term.”

Vanguard clients also traded, but were disciplined, according to the firm’s research. Nine out of 10 investors continued as normal and only half of the households that did trade made just one transaction between Feb. 19 and March 20. Much of the trading involved moving to equities, which is traditionally riskier. Older, wealthier investors did move money to fixed income. Those who have only a defined-contribution plan, such as a 401(k), with Vanguard had the lowest levels of trading.

Near-retirees have to be more cautious in the midst of market volatility. They’re expecting to need their money sooner, so the main goal is to preserve their assets. But younger investors can be a bit more relaxed about market ups and downs, because they have decades between today and retirement to recover losses and grow their portfolios.

Also see: Entering retirement in the middle of a health and financial crisis?

Defined contribution investors may just be used to the ride of investing. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when the markets dropped nearly 50%, many investors “stayed the course,” according to J.P. Morgan Asset Management. Almost 97% of participants continued to make contributions and for the most part, withdrawals did not increase. More than 85% of investors did not make a change to their investments.

Riding out market volatility is imperative to keeping a portfolio intact and seeing returns. An account balance may be lower during volatility than it was before, but investors have only lost that money officially when they withdraw it from the market. Contributing to a plan during volatility can help an account recover more quickly, while exiting in the middle of the turmoil can be detrimental, said Katherine Roy, chief retirement strategist at J.P. Morgan. “You miss some of the best days.”

During the financial crisis, the total value of assets in participant accounts recovered in about two years. In 2007, there was $3 trillion in 401(k) plans exclusively, and that figure dropped to $2.2 trillion in 2008. By 2010, investors had a total of $3.1 trillion in their accounts. In 2018, 401(k) plans had $5.2 trillion, according to J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Of course, not all 401(k) participants are familiar with market volatility. Newer entrants, such as those within the last decade, have generally only seen stocks climb during the nearly 11-year bull market. For them, and all investors, keeping perspective will be key to making it through the volatility, Roy said.

“This time around, it’s more difficult because we are out of control for so many other things in our daily lives,” she said. “Focus instead on what you can control. How you save versus spend.”

Dispatches from a Pandemic: ‘Housekeeping services are nonexistent. My quarantine in a 4-star hotel in Singapore: I’m not permitted to leave my 220-square-foot hotel room for 14 days’

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SINGAPORE — An expenses-paid fortnight’s stay in a four- or five-star hotel in downtown Singapore sounds like an extravagance in the midst of a global-health emergency. But that was the situation I found myself in last week after returning to Singapore, the country where I grew up.

The Southeast Asian city-state, long a paragon of globalization, had started restricting entry to citizens and a select group of foreign residents. By late March, it was also ordering people with a recent history of travel to the U.K. and the U.S., which have significant Singaporean diaspora, into 14-day stays at designated hotels.

The Southeast Asian city-state, long a paragon of globalization, had started restricting entry to citizens and a select group of foreign residents.

The country’s government reportedly booked out about 7,500 rooms, many of which typically go for upwards of $150 a night. Local newspapers were interviewing new residents of hotels like Swissotel the Stamford, where rooms have views of the Marina Bay Sands, a Sheldon Adelson-controlled casino-resort that served as part of the backdrop to the 2018 Hollywood hit “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Hotel isolation “is not an indulgence,” Lawrence Wong, a senior politician leading Singapore’s COVID-19 response, said during a recent press conference. “It is an important and extremely critical public-health measure,” he added. (Tourism contributes about 4% to the country’s gross domestic product, government data show, and hotel-occupancy rates have plummeted in recent months.)

I hadn’t planned on making a trip to Singapore until later in the year. But then flights between Singapore and London, where I worked as an editor, were quickly getting canceled. Senior British policy makers — most prominently Boris Johnson — went into self-isolation after displaying symptoms of the coronavirus. (Johnson was later hospitalized; as of Tuesday, he was in intensive care.) A leading health-care administrator warned of London hospitals being overwhelmed and the Singapore high commission, as the embassy is termed, started advising some citizens to return.

After I disembarked from a quarter-full, 13-hour flight from Heathrow, two face mask-wearing guides sped me through immigration and customs.

After I disembarked from a quarter-full, 13-hour flight from Heathrow, two face mask-wearing guides sped me through immigration and customs. One chartered a bus ride through largely empty streets, and I eventually found myself at a loft-style hotel in the city’s nightlife district.

It quickly became clear that this wasn’t a vacation. A receptionist clad in personal protective equipment told me that I couldn’t leave my roughly 220-square-foot hotel room for the duration of my stay, and that the key card to my room would be disabled after one use. Housekeeping services would be nonexistent, though meals and fresh linens would be regularly dropped off at the door.

One big plus is the roughly 20-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows, though they don’t open. Singapore is famous for its oppressive humidity but my lack of exposure to the tropical heat, save for a quick dash into the hotel, makes this stay even more surreal.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Singapore has surged in the past two weeks, as many Asian countries grapple with a second wave of the disease.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

My existence in this huis clos is a placid one interspersed with taking Zoom ZM, -7.77% barre classes, FaceTiming AAPL, -0.08% with a date, writing and watching nightly streams of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s therapeutic press conferences. I reconnected with a high-school classmate I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade when I found out she was also in hotel isolation. So far, the only interruptions to my quasi-quarantine have been an afternoon-long internet outage and a visit by Singapore border-control agents to ensure I was staying in.

The only interruptions to my quasi-quarantine have been an afternoon-long internet outage and a visit by Singapore border-control agents to ensure I was staying in.

But even in isolation, I can’t escape from a world that is rapidly changing. Just weeks ago, Singapore’s anti-coronavirus efforts were heralded as a model for the world. Despite tight trade and flight links with China, it had managed the spread of the virus in the first quarter of the year through efficient contact-tracing and selective use of quarantine orders. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, even suggested that the city had borrowed its public-health guidelines from President Trump.

Infection and death rates here remain mercifully low — there were 1,481 cases, 4 deaths and 377 recovered as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. But the number of COVID-19 patients has surged in the past two weeks as many Asian countries grapple with a second wave of the disease.

A bar at the top of the Marina Bay Sands emerged as an infection cluster. The famously frugal government decided to tap its reserves and embark on an unprecedented $42 billion spending spree as it announced a month-long “circuit breaker” that will see many schools and offices shut.

“You saw what has happened in Singapore, they moved very rapidly to bring down the coronavirus [growth rate] down to zero and then they began to open up,” former U.S. vice president Joe Biden, the front-runner fdor the Democratic presidential nomination, said on ABC’s “This Week” last Sunday. “They had very, very tight restrictions in terms of social distancing.” He added, “Now it’s coming back.”

Working-class service workers still have to run takeout and delivery services while the affluent stay home. There were reports of an expatriate-frequented bar becoming a cluster for the virus.

The disease has also given fuel to some underlying socio-political tensions. Working-class service workers still have to run takeout and delivery services while the affluent stay home. News of an expatriate-frequented bar becoming a cluster, and cases spreading in dormitories for foreign laborers elicit some grumbles, though Singapore has remained remarkably open at a time of populism.

The realities of the virus cut closer to home. My fitness instructor canceled a week of online classes after developing moderate COVID-19 symptoms, and a colleague sent photos of her socially distant walk in Manhattan’s financial district, coupled with a description of the refrigerated body trucks she spotted. It is infuriating to be unable to help in any way, beyond staying in this slightly corseted but comfortable hotel room.

Like everyone else cooped up indoors, I grasp for silver linings: News that a Singapore-listed company has gotten European Union approval to sell a rapid testing kit becomes a minor cause for celebration. I become extremely familiar with the leveling-out of France’s infection rate, the fall of coronavirus-linked deaths in Spain and news that Austria is countenancing the slow reopening of its economy.

Take it day by day, a friend counseled me just before I boarded the plane at Heathrow. In these times, the simple has never sounded more sagacious.

Deep Dive: Bank earnings preview: As industry profits get cut in half, the winners will emerge next year

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The first quarter of 2020 was the worst on record for two broad bank-stock indexes. Investors quickly fled the group for fear of loan losses springing from the quick spike in unemployment caused by the coronavirus crisis.

That’s why, as earnings season begins, investors and the financial media ought to stop focusing on quarterly results and consider a difficult economic cycle through 2021.

Whether a bank “beats” or “misses” first-quarter earnings estimates will be meaningless, because the results will be lowered by a tremendous increase in provisions for loan loss reserves.

Most analysts have cut their full-year earnings estimates for the largest U.S. banks. However, the consensus estimates are dulled by “stragglers.”

For example, four analysts polled by FactSet who cover Bank of America BAC, +4.71% haven’t updated their estimates since before Feb. 19, when the S&P 500 hit its last closing record. In other words, those analysts (as of 10 a.m. April 7) haven’t yet incorporated the economic crisis into their estimates.

So at this time it may be more useful to look at individual projections, which factor in the expected coronavirus-led recession.

KBW

Analysts at Keefe Bruyette & Woods, led by Brian Kleinhanzl, lowered their median earnings estimates on March 31 for “universal banks” by 58% for 2020 and 50% for 2021, to reflect rising unemployment and loan losses, along with very low interest rates. Loan losses during recessions tend to maximize about six months after unemployment peaks, but the 2020 estimates were cut more because the banks will set aside reserves before most of the loans are actually charged-off.

Here are KBW’s updated and previous earnings-per-share estimates for the six largest U.S. banks for 2020 and 2021. KBW also introduced estimates for 2022, “since we believe at that point the impacts of elevated provisioning will be reduced and investors can evaluate bank stocks on post-recession returns,” Kleinhanzl wrote in the March 31 report.

Bank Ticker 2020 EPS estimate – March 31 2020 EPS estimate – previous 2021 EPS estimate – March 31 2021 EPS estimate – previous 2022 EPS estimate
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. JPM, +3.02% $4.34 $11.00 $5.42 $11.80 $7.70
Bank of America Corp. BAC, +4.71% $1.36 $3.05 $1.59 $3.30 $2.43
Citigroup Inc. C, +3.73% $1.86 $8.70 $2.84 $9.70 $6.51
Wells Fargo & Co. WFC, +2.55% $0.90 $4.10 $1.90 $4.65 $3.29
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS, +4.27% $10.65 $24.00 $17.77 $27.05 $22.66
Morgan Stanley MS, +1.89% $2.12 $5.45 $3.13 $6.05 $7.70
Source: KBW

You will need to scroll the table to see all the data.

Those estimate cuts are so severe, it’s no wonder that during the first quarter, the KBW Bank Index BKX, +4.04% fell 43%. The index includes most of the nation’s largest commercial banks. Meanwhile, the KBW Regional Bank Index KRX, +4.18% fell 41%. Those were far worse than the first-quarter declines investors experienced in the broad market — the S&P 500 SPX, +1.50% was 20%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, +1.69% declined 23%.

Investors who went through the financial crisis of 2008 and its long aftermath understandably shy away from holding bank stocks through a recession — especially one with an unemployment rate approaching 10% and possibly heading much higher.

Still, KBW has “outperform” ratings for J.P. Morgan Chase JPM, +3.02% and Goldman Sachs GS, +4.27%.

“For JPM, we believe this is an opportunity to upgrade to quality, and we believe that JPM is well-positioned to withstand a recessionary environment and come out of the recession in a better position than most banks, as the company can use the balance sheet to gain market share,” Kleinhanzl wrote.

For Goldman Sachs, the KBW team sees “compelling” valuation for the shares, based on their earnings projections.

Oppenheimer

Chris Kotowski and the team of analysts at Oppenheimer used the Federal Reserve’s “severely adverse” economic scenario from last year’s industry stress tests to estimate banks’ earnings performance through a coronavirus recession. That scenario includes a peak unemployment of 10%, which may turn out to be rather low for 2020.

The analysts expect unemployment to peak between July and September, leading to maximum loan losses during the first quarter of 2021. “Thus, we see core economic earnings (i.e. pre-provision earnings less net charge-offs) declining throughout 2020, bottoming in 1Q21, and returning to more or less normal by 4Q21,” Kotowski wrote in a note to clients on March 31.

The large banks have stopped buying back shares in an effort to build up capital. Kotowski doesn’t believe the banks will need to raise capital by issuing new shares.

Some analysts have said that industry dividends appear to be safe, but Kotowski is more cautious. He expects the large banks to earn enough to cover their dividends on a full-year basis for 2020 and 2021, even though there will be some quarters during which they don’t.

“We suspect that whatever happens on the dividend-reduction front will be similar to when the Financial Services Forum announced that all the large U.S. banks would suspend share buybacks in unison.”

That announcement was made in mid-March. If the big banks go on to suspend dividends, Kotowski expects a similar industry-group announcement, since individual decisions “would stigmatize the first bank to announce such a move as ‘weak.’ ”

Here are Oppenheimer’s updated and previous estimates for the same group of large banks for 2020 and 2021:

Bank Ticker 2020 EPS estimate – March 31 2020 EPS estimate – previous 2021 EPS estimate – March 31 2021 EPS estimate – previous
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. JPM $7.72 $10.89 $7.55 $11.85
Bank of America Corp. BAC $1.93 $2.93 $1.85 $3.20
Citigroup Inc. C $4.09 $8.77 $3.71 $9.75
Wells Fargo & Co. WFC $2.50 $3.92 $2.79 $4.32
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS $9.52 $25.08 $18.55 $27.62
Morgan Stanley MS $3.72 $5.30 $4.49 $5.70
Source: Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer has “outperform” ratings on Bank of America, Citigroup, C, +3.73%, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley MS, +1.89%, with neutral “perform” ratings on J.P. Morgan and Wells Fargo WFC, +2.55%.

Here are Oppenheimer’s updated price targets for the four buy-rated banks:

Bank holding company Ticker Price target – March 31 Previous price target Closing price – April 6 Implied 12- to 18-month upside potential based on new price target
Bank of America Corp. BAC, +4.71% $30.00 $45.00 $21.39 40%
Citigroup Inc. C, +3.73% $93.00 $122.00 $41.12 126%
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS, +4.27% $278.00 $367.00 $158.23 76%
Morgan Stanley MS, +1.89% $46.00 $76.00 $37.01 24%
Source: FactSet

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Associated Press: How divorced couples are dealing with custody arrangements during the coronavirus crisis

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As the country hunkered down to fend off the coronavirus, Carolina McAuley expected her middle school-age kids would continue to shuffle between her house and her ex-husband’s — until she got sick.

Suddenly, her long-standing custody arrangement unraveled as she came down with a fever and chills and lost her senses of taste and smell — all presumed symptoms of the coronavirus.

Her 12- and 13-year-olds couldn’t go to their father’s house, lest they spread the illness further. So the parents agreed the kids would have the run of her house while she holed up in a room, and he would drop off deliveries and talk to them over FaceTime.

See also: ‘I’d probably tell my grandkids the story of how we met’: This couple got coronavirus on a first date — and they’ve been quarantining together ever since

“Of course he wants to see his children, but he understands the point of this is not to be spreading this stuff back and forth,” said McAuley, of New Jersey’s Bergen County.

The coronavirus is upending divorced families’ custody arrangements as parents get sick or exposed to the illness. In other cases, it is driving already feuding exes to battle over how seriously the other is heeding stay-at-home orders.

Some divorcees are unilaterally altering custody arrangements as many courts are closed except for emergency matters. Once the crisis settles, family lawyers — who said they’ve been inundated by calls and emails from distraught clients — said they expect to see pandemic clauses in future divorce and custody agreements.

“It’s creating tremendous havoc on everybody,” said Marilyn Chinitz, a matrimonial lawyer at Blank Rome in New York. “These are times where parents have to be thoughtful, they have to think of the best interest of the children and not their own selfishness.”

Squabbles over mundane tasks such as shopping for groceries have become common. One parent may never be leaving home, having all items delivered, while their former spouse is working as usual or less worried about the virus. Another issue is schooling now that parents are on the hook for guiding their children’s at-home learning, said David Steerman, chair of the family law group at Klehr, Harrison, Harvey, Branzburg LLP in Philadelphia.

And as millions of people lose their jobs, some divorced parents are starting to ask to modify their child support arrangements, and those who rely on those checks are worrying about how they’ll get by, he said.

Adding to the problem is that many courts are closed for all but emergency matters.

T.J. Sjostrum, a 36-year-old researcher in Virginia, said he was getting ready to pick up his 10-year-old son when his ex-wife said she wanted the boy to stay with her for the duration of the stay-at-home order. He said he had already been waiting for a court hearing to revisit their custody plan and now doesn’t know when he’ll get one.

“She basically used this to indefinitely halt my custody with my son,” Sjostrum said, adding the order allows for child custody transfers. “I really don’t have any recourse. What is my recourse if I am not granted an emergency hearing?”

Sjostrum’s ex-wife declined to be interviewed.

Once the courts reopen, judges probably won’t look kindly on divorcees who unilaterally altered custody plans without a legitimate safety concern such as a child with a weakened immune system, said Marcia Zug, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who teaches courses on family law.

“For you not to return the child, you need to have a really good reason,” she said.

Many split families are working things out. Chinitz said one former couple decided to rent a home outside of virus-ravaged New York City for their child and they each take turns staying there and in a smaller home nearby.

In another case, a mom who is a doctor agreed for her daughter to remain with her ex-husband, who is working from home, to reduce her chance of exposure and further spreading the illness, she said.

That’s what McAuley was thinking when she decided to keep her kids in place. Her ex-husband has since remarried and his wife’s children from a prior marriage toggle back and forth between their home and their dad’s.

“It becomes a giant chain reaction” she said.

Melissa Biddle, a 35-year-old from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, said she’s caring full-time for her 20-month-old son because her ex-husband has been working to repair heating and air systems in grocery stores, and they both agreed this carried too much risk.

Her current partner has a 12-year-old son who splits his time with them and his mom, who has a partner who has adult children. Biddle said she sometimes wonders if everyone is following public health orders.

“We’re sort of like a blended family,” she said, “Revolving doors on both ends.”

Lisa Herrick, a psychologist and divorce coach in Washington D.C. and northern Virginia, said keeping a routine is important for children, especially during a turbulent time. That usually means preserving existing custody arrangements. When concerns arise, parents should seek guidance from a neutral party, ideally the child’s pediatrician, she said.

While the outbreak is causing stress for many households, divided families can help children cope in some ways others can’t. With some kids relishing the extra time with their parents and pets and their siblings stressed out and yearning for school, split couples can work together — if they choose — to help them cope, she said.

“They’re able to say: ‘Look, send me the 13-year-old and I will deal, and you keep our 8-year-old, and you will deal, and we’ll overlap them,’” Herrick said. “They actually have a little bit of opportunity.”

Key Words: Nurse at Brooklyn hospital on coronavirus protective clothing: ‘It’s a garbage bag. It’s like something out of the Twlight Zone’

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‘What do I have on? What is this? It’s a garbage bag.’

— Kay, a nurse at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, describing her protective clothing

A calm has befallen New York City’s empty streets. Inside the city’s hospitals, however, there are scenes of organized chaos.

“A lot of our patients are presenting with severe respiratory distress,” Joshua Rosenberg, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, told a CBS crew, describing health-care workers’ attempts to deal with the influx of patients suffering from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. “They were fine and they had some cough, and then they weren’t fine.”

He said one patient who had no underlying health conditions experienced respiratory failure and kidney damage. “He’s relatively young. This gentleman, I believe, is in his early 50s. He’s requiring 100% oxygen and a lot of air to keep his lungs inflated.” Most of the patients were black men and on ventilators, he added. Another doctor said, “We’re seeing a lot of younger, healthier patients.”

Dispatches from a pandemic: Growing up in Ireland during the Troubles, sporting a balaclava with an Irish accent would have been a risky proposition: A guide to food shopping in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic

Kay, a nurse at the hospital who did not want to give her last name for fear of reprisals from relatives of patients who are not allowed to visit their loved ones, told CBS reporter David Begnaud, who was covered in a hazmat decontamination suit and large face shield. “It’s like something out of the Twilight Zone. I don’t think any of us going through it will ever be the same.”

“I’d like a mask like yours,” she said. “We should all have masks like yours, and that white suit you have on? What do I have on? What is this?” Begnaud said it looked like she was wearing a garbage bag over her scrubs. Kay replied, “It is a garbage bag.” Another nurse said that she had many of the symptoms of coronavirus, and came back to work after recovering.

Joshua Rosenberg wore ski goggles and changed into a replaceable gown to switch a patient’s breathing tube. “This is serious,” he said. “People are dying from this. Old people. Young people. It is lethal.” At least 27 COVID-19 patients had died at that hospital as of last Friday, Begnaud said. After the broadcast, he said his team disinfected his mask and sent it to Kay.

Joshua Rosenberg, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, told CBS News, ‘A lot of our patients are presenting with severe respiratory distress. They were fine and they had some cough, and then they weren’t fine.’

CBS News

The Joint Commission, a nonprofit organization that accredits over 22,000 U.S. health-care services and programs, said in a statement that it “supports allowing staff to bring their own standard face masks or respirators to wear at work when their health-care organizations cannot routinely provide access to protective equipment that is commensurate with the risk to which they are exposed.”

“Hospitals must conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) when these items are in short supply to protect staff who perform high-risk procedures,” it added. “The degree to which privately-owned masks and respirators will increase the protection of health-care workers is uncertain, but the balance of evidence suggests that it is positive.”

‘We’re seeing a lot of younger, healthier patients.’

— Another doctor at The Brooklyn Hospital on the situation at the intensive-care unit

As of Tuesday morning, 3,485 of the 10,923 U.S. fatalities were in New York City, surpassing the number of people who died here on 9/11, but the rise in deaths related to COVID-19 is showing early signs of leveling off. Some 130,689 of the 368,449 confirmed cases in the U.S. were in New York State, according to John Hopkins University. There were 1,362,936 confirmed cases worldwide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday it’s changing its policy on masks. It now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings such as pharmacies or supermarkets. It said asymptomatic transmission was “new evidence.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that the state could be reaching the apex, as the rise in deaths appear to be leveling off.

“Have we saved everyone? No,” Cuomo said at a press briefing on Monday. “But have we lost anyone because we didn’t have a bed or we didn’t have a ventilator, or we didn’t have health-care staff? No.” He also said that New York City did not need additional ventilators. Medical-grade N95 surgical mask masks are in short supply at hospitals across the city, health professionals say.

In the early days of the coronavirus in the U.S., the CDC, the Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Surgeon General all asked the public not to wear face masks unless they were unwell or caring for someone who was sick. But all three have since reversed that position. New York City remains the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.

“It’s a garbage bag,’ Kay, a nurse at The Brooklyn Hospital, said.

CBS News

These are the U.S. housing markets that are most vulnerable to a coronavirus downturn

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The U.S. housing market has shown early signs of trouble as a result of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But at the local level, some markets are expected to fare worse than others, according to a new report.

Real-estate date firm Attom Data Solutions released a new report Tuesday examining which counties across the country are most vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic’s impact. Attom judged markets’ risk based on several factors, including the share of homes that had a foreclosure notice, the percentage of properties where the owner owed more on their mortgage that the home was worth and what share of local wages was needed to pay for housing expenses.

Overall, New Jersey had 14 of the 50 most vulnerable counties in the country, while Florida had 10 counties that had a high risk of a downturn fueled by the coronavirus pandemic. The counties in New Jersey were largely located in or near the New York City metropolitan area, which is the epicenter for the pandemic in the United States.

Here are the 25 counties that Attom assessed as most vulnerable to the coronavirus outbreak from a housing perspective:

Overall Ranking County Percentage of income needed to buy a home Percentage of underwater properties Percentage of properties foreclosure filings
1 Sussex County, N.J. 39.9% 25.4% 0.31%
2 Warren County, N.J. 38.1% 28.1% 0.31%
3 Charles County, Md. 42.8% 23.1% 0.19%
4 McHenry County, Ill. 39.0% 23.6% 0.23%
5 Rockland County, N.Y. 66.2% 15.4% 0.16%
6 Atlantic County, N.J. 34.2% 34.8% 0.23%
7 Passaic County, N.J. 50.2% 19.3% 0.13%
8 Ocean County, N.J. 44.5% 16.8% 0.20%
9 Gloucester County, N.J. 33.5% 27.3% 0.31%
10 Flagler County, Fla. 46.5% 14.8% 0.17%
11 Monroe County, Pa. 31.2% 32.2% 0.21%
12 Orange  County, N.Y. 45.9% 14.0% 0.20%
13 Essex County, N.J. 43.0% 16.2% 0.17%
14 Sussex County, Del. 44.8% 18.4% 0.12%
15 Spotsylvania County, Va. 48.5% 17.9% 0.12%
16 Onslow County, N.C. 32.1% 24.2% 0.27%
17 Burlington County, N.J. 32.9% 22.4% 0.23%
18 Kane County, Ill. 38.0% 20.9% 0.15%
19 Camden County, N.J. 28.6% 25.7% 0.28%
20 Union County, N.J. 44.5% 14.2% 0.15%
21 Beaufort County, S.C. 54.1% 18.0% 0.09%
22 Stafford County, Va. 48.1% 16.3% 0.11%
23 Hunterdon County, N.J. 43.2% 15.0% 0.14%
24 Kent County, Del. 30.5% 21.3% 0.22%
25 Prince George’s County, Md. 34.5% 17.5% 0.22%

Read more:These mortgage borrowers will be ‘the first canary in the coal mine’ for a coronavirus-fueled foreclosure crisis, regulator says

Also in the Top 50 were four counties in New York and three in Connecticut. While many of the housing markets most likely to be affected by the coronavirus were located in the Northeast and South, few were located in other parts of the country.

Shasta County was the only housing market in California that Attom assessed to be among the 50 most vulnerable. No other counties in California or the rest of the Western United States, including Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Alaska, were in that list.

That’s in spite of the fact that cities like Seattle and Los Angeles have seen some of the largest numbers of COVID-19 cases in the country. Notably none of the counties that make up New York City were ranked among the most vulnerable to a housing downturn.

Additionally, cities like Denver and Houston were among the 50 least vulnerable markets, based on Attom’s research.

“It’s too early to tell how much effect the coronavirus fallout will have on different housing markets around the country,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with Attom Data Solutions. “It looks like the Northeast is more at risk than other areas. As we head into the spring home buying season, the next few months will reveal how severe the impact will be.”

Also see:‘Landlords are just trying to pay bills like everyone else.’ The coronavirus could hit mom-and-pop landlords hard as tenants miss rent payments

Getty Images/iStockphotoOcean County, N.J., is one of the housing markets most at risk of seeing a negative impact because of the coronavirus outbreak.DMAMBMCMDMEMGPREVIEWZBZBRZDZDRZFZGZQZRZSZTZU

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