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Coronavirus Cash Crunch: Countries Scramble To Help People, Businesses, Economies

David Vazquez, a street performer in Mexico City, is one of many to be feeling the pinch of the global economic downturn.
David Vazquez, a street performer in Mexico City, is one of many to be feeling the pinch of the global economic downturn.

With the spread of the coronavirus forcing billions of people around the world to stay at home and so many shops, services, firms, and companies closed or with reduced output, almost everyone is feeling the financial pinch.

And most every government around the world is scrambling to alleviate the devastating effects the pandemic is having on their economy.

Part of the response has been so-called “stimulus” packages -- providing money not only to help people get by, but also to try to bolster entire economies by supporting companies and financial institutions.

Meanwhile, central banks are using the various tools of monetary policy to respond to what could be a prolonged economic downturn and a global recession.

The hope is for locked-down economies to survive what could become an epidemic of business failures and job losses in the coming months. Then, to quickly get back up to speed when the public health threat subsides.

But not all governments are taking the same approach.

American 'Coronavirus Cash'

In the United States, Congress and the White House approved a $2 trillion “stimulus package” in late March to help the economy through what former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen warns will be “a huge, unprecedented, and devasting hit.”

Tens of millions of Americans on lockdown are to receive so-called “coronavirus cash” payments of up to $1,200 each.

The U.S. stimulus package also includes a $500 billion fund to help stricken industries and small businesses get loans to pull through the crisis.

Throughout the world, many shops have been forced to close. The ones allowed to stay open have sometimes reduced hours or shed staff.
Throughout the world, many shops have been forced to close. The ones allowed to stay open have sometimes reduced hours or shed staff.

Meanwhile, after weeks of stock-market declines and troubling signs on the government bond market, the U.S. Federal Reserve announced it is “prepared to use its full range of tools.”

In fact, the Fed already has started pumping enormous amounts of money into the U.S. economy.

It is doing so with tools like repurchase agreements that flood markets with cash, as well as other forms of so-called "quantitative easing."

The Fed also has cut interest rates to zero, set up loan facilities, and waved some minimum capital requirements for banks so that it’s easier for them to provide loans to companies and individuals.

EU Debate: 'Coronabonds' Or Bailout Fund?

The European Central Bank (ECB) has announced a 750 billion-euro ($812 billion) program to buy government and corporate debt across the eurozone to ease the impact of the pandemic.

The European Commission also has relaxed its state aid and budgetary rules.

But the ECB has estimated the EU could need as much as 1.5 trillion euros (about $1.6 trillion), to deal with the economic crisis during 2020.

European Union finance ministers have so far been unable to agree on an economic rescue plan.

Eurogroup President Mario Centeno tweeted early on April 8 that EU ministers had come “close to a deal” on an EU "safety net" worth 500 billion euros ($540 billion).

Centeno said the goal was “to shield workers, firms, and countries” from the impact of the pandemic and to commit to a “sizeable recovery plan.”

Disagreement remains between EU countries on whether to tackle the crisis by pooling together eurozone debt into new joint European debt instruments known as “coronabonds.”

Highly indebted countries like Italy and Spain want all European Union members to share the burden. France also has backed a version of that approach.

But wealthier countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Finland have rejected calls to share sovereign debts. They fear their taxpayers will end up bailing out other countries.

Germany instead wants to activate the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) bailout fund that was created in 2012 during the eurozone debt crisis.

Italy and Spain oppose the ESM bailout program because it comes with stringent budgetary conditions.

Britain’s 'Unprecedented' Intervention

In Britain, Finance Minister Rishi Sunak has said the government is prepared for “unprecedented” intervention to support the economy.

Altogether, Britain’s rescue efforts could cost more than half a trillion dollars -- or about 15 percent of the country’s GDP.

The British Exchequer has pledged to pay 80 percent of workers’ salaries in Britain for several months in an attempt to ward off mass layoffs.

Britain also has deferred tax payments, increased unemployment benefits, and made loan guarantees.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England has lowered its benchmark interest rate to a record low of 0.5 percent.

It also has lowered the minimum amount of funds banks must keep on hand so that it is easier for them to provide loans to companies and individuals.

Other EU Country Stimulus Plans

German politicians have agreed on a fiscal stimulus package worth up to 750 billion euros (more than $800 billion), to prop up Europe’s largest economy.

It includes 100 billion euros ($108 billion) for an economic stability fund that can acquire direct equity in companies. It also includes 400 billion euros ($432 billion) in loan guarantees for large corporations at risk of defaulting on their debts.

France has announced 45 billion euros ($50 billion) of crisis measures to help companies and workers.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says a large part of the figure is the deferral of tax payments and payroll charges, and the cancellation of such payments for firms at risk of collapse.

Governments Mobilize To Soften Economic Shocks From Pandemic
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WATCH: Governments Mobilize To Soften Economic Shocks From Pandemic

The French government also is guaranteeing up to 300 billion euros ($324 billion) of corporate loans from commercial banks.

Italy issued an emergency decree that suspends loan and mortgage repayments for companies and families.

Italy also has increased funding to help firms pay workers who’ve been laid off during the country’s nationwide lockdown.

The cost of Italy’s plan so far is about 25 billion euro (about $27 billion).

In Spain, the government’s stimulus package includes 100 billion euros ($108 billion) in loans and financial aid for vulnerable people, and another 100 billion euros ($108 billion) for state-backed guaranteed loans to help companies survive the downturn.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has announced an unprecedented $1 trillion stimulus package to protect businesses and jobs -- an amount equal to about one-fifth of Japan’s annual GDP.

It includes cash handouts of some $2,750 for many hard-hit households. The government also has announced $4.1 billion in extra spending to support small- and medium-sized businesses.

Abe hopes the plan will help encourage consumer spending through a rigid state of emergency that was announced for Tokyo on April 7 and will seriously derail the economy.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Japan has eased monetary policy with purchases of exchange-traded funds and other risky assets -- including corporate bonds.

Japan’s central bank also has decided to extend one-year, zero percent interest rate loans to financial institutions.

Meager Offerings From Russia, Iran

Petrostate economies like Russia and Iran are finding it more difficult to prop up their economies.

In addition to international sanctions, both countries also have seen their oil revenues cut deeply by the enormous drop in the global energy demand.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rohani have both called for sanctions to be lifted so they can better deal with the economic fallout caused by the pandemic.

Putin has extended a shutdown of the Russian economy, ordering nonessential businesses to remain closed and giving workers a monthlong paid holiday through the end of April.

But Putin has yet to offer any kind of large-scale economic stimulus package or support to businesses.

Russia’s Audit Chamber chief, Aleksei Kudrin, has told Putin that Russia’s economy can be expected to decline by between 3 and 5 percent this year.

Economists warn that could be a disaster for businesses and millions of workers across Russia, especially in the absence of any large-scale stimulus package from the Kremlin.

Cut out of the international financial markets by sanctions, Iran has been looking domestically to raise the funds it needs to bolster its economy.

But those costs are high, increasing pressure on Iran’s budget -- which already suffers from rampant inflation, high unemployment, and a weak national currency.

Scott Livermore, chief economist at Oxford Economics Middle East, says Iran’s pledge of financial support for the economy equals about 0.2 percent of its GDP -- just a fraction of the giant stimulus packages seen in Western countries.

“Even factoring in other measures, it is unlikely the government is offering major support,” Livermore says about Iran.

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