Rush for $350B in coronavirus small-business loans starts Friday, and banks have questions

Keeping coronavirus relief away from startups is unfair: Venture capitalist

Cavu Ventures co-founder and managing partner Rohan Oza discusses what startups can do if they are ineligible for small business loans due to being partially owned by a venture capitalist firm and having more than 500 employees.

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A day before small businesses can apply for forgivable loans from the $2 trillion financial-relief package, banks say they are still struggling to understand how to make these loans eligible for a government guarantee.

Under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, part of the stimulus package signed into law last week in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, lenders would make available as much as $350 billion in government-guaranteed loans to cover eight weeks of payroll and other expenses. Business owners can begin applying on Friday for the loans, which are forgivable if businesses keep their workforce largely intact and use the loans for eligible expenses such as rent and utilities.

Many details of the program remain unclear, which is complicating efforts by lenders to gear up for what is expected to be an onslaught of prospective borrowers at the end of this week. Among what lenders say are the unanswered questions are how much due diligence of borrowers is required and whether they will be able to sell these loans to create liquidity.

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“As a community bank, we want to support all of the small businesses in our communities,” said Jeanne Hulit, chief executive of Maine Community Bank in Biddeford, Maine, which has about $950 million in assets and has received inquiries about the loan program from more than 300 small businesses. “But we need to wait for the lender application forms so we know what we have to provide in terms of documentation and procedures,” she added. “Until we get that guidance from the SBA, we are on hold.”

The Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration, which are both working on the new program, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on whether lenders would be required to collect credit information from borrowers.

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Megan Flynn, co-owner of M Flynn Jewelry in Boston, said she had inquired about the Paycheck Protection Program with two SBA-approved lenders, and was gathering documentation she might need to apply, such as payroll statements.

“We’re prepared to really fight for it,” said Ms. Flynn regarding the loan-application process. She hopes to use the funds to rehire three full-time workers and one part-time employee. “I don’t think anyone is going to make [the process] easy for us,” Ms. Flynn added.

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The new program includes a two-page borrower application that asks businesses to provide their average monthly payroll, number of employees and other basic information.

In addition to the borrower application, the SBA requires lenders to fill out an application when making a traditional SBA-backed loan. As of Wednesday evening, the Trump administration hadn’t issued a final version of the additional lender application form for the new program. On Thursday, an SBA spokeswoman said the agency is revising the form.

A draft copy of the lender application, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, asks for a “credit memo” that will support information about payroll, health-insurance costs, salaries and other key expenses. It also asks lenders to certify that “loan proceeds will be used for an eligible purpose.”

The proposed form “is not as simple as we hoped,” said Tony Wilkinson, chief executive of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders, a trade group for lenders that originate SBA loans.

As lenders get more information about the new program, “most of them are saying, given what they know today, their likelihood of participation is getting smaller and smaller,” Mr. Wilkinson added.

On a conference call with lenders Wednesday morning, officials at the SBA gave conflicting guidance on whether lenders will need to evaluate applicants’ creditworthiness, according to a person on the call.

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How lenders that don’t already make SBA loans get approved to participate in the program is also unclear. A Treasury Department document instructs lenders to submit an application via email but doesn’t provide any application forms or criteria that those companies will have to meet.

Some lenders say they are eager to participate in the program, but are struggling to make the costs of it work. The 0.5% interest rate that all paycheck protection loans must carry is too small to entice money managers to buy the loans that banks make, said Thomas Wells IV, chairman and CEO of First American Bank in Elk Grove Village, Ill.

Banks can hold the loans on their books, but 0.5% is less than what many smaller banks have to pay their depositors and other creditors, making the loans uneconomical for them to keep.

“We’re not talking about making a lot of money on this,” Mr. Wells said. “We’re talking about being able to afford” it.

The SBA in fiscal year 2019 made about $23 billion in loans available to businesses through its flagship 7(a) program. That amount is a fraction of the loan volume the Paycheck Protection Program seeks to issue in a matter of weeks.

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Nitin Mhatre, head of community banking at Webster Bank in Waterbury, Conn., estimated the bank would likely reassign about 50 employees to process program applications.

“What Webster and what I think most banks are doing right now is just preparing their internal processes to get a significant amount of volume,” Mr. Mhatre said.

Some in the banking community have also expressed concern about potential capacity issues with E-Tran, the SBA’s system through which lenders register loans with the agency.

CORONAVIRUS SMALL BUSINESS LOANS: LENDERS PREPARE FOR SURGE OF AFFECTED APPLICANTS

The Trump administration has said it is working to ensure that the SBA’s systems can manage whatever volume the program receives. “We will have a supplementary system as a backup and an add-on,” a senior administration official said on a briefing call with reporters Tuesday.

Karen Gordon Mills, former SBA administrator from 2009 to 2013, said creating a backup system is essential. “I have a lot of worry about how the traditional systems will handle this kind of volume,” she said.

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The World Could Be Running Out of Condoms Because of Pandemic

The world’s biggest maker of condoms warned of a global shortage as supply falls by almost 50% while its stockpile is set to last for just another two months.

Malaysia-based Karex Bhd., which makes one out of every five condoms worldwide, only restarted its factories on Friday after a week-long closure, working with just half its workforce to comply with a lockdown that the country imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The company said condoms are mainly made in China and India, which are both heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Meanwhile, demand is growing at “double digits” as governments around the world issue stay-at-home notices and many people abstain from having children due to the uncertain future, said Goh Miah Kiat, group chief executive officer at Karex.

The company produces for brands like Durex as well as its own line of specialty condoms such as Durian-flavored ones. It churns out more than 5 billion condoms a year and exports them to more than 140 countries. That has become more challenging as governments shut borders and airlines cancel flights.

“I would definitely say this is an unprecedented stage, we have never seen such a disruption,” Goh said in an interview on Friday.

Condoms could also get much more expensive, he warned. “We are still paying all our workers full salaries but workers only come in half the time so generally there will be a cost increase,” he said.

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Small-dollar loans pushed in coronavirus economy for consumer relief

How banks can help small businesses get forgivable loans

Small business expert Gene Marks says the coronavirus stimulus package can be an ‘enormous opportunity’ for banks to help small businesses.

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As the federal government and related agencies come together to generate economic relief measures amid substantial economic harm that has resulted from the coronavirus crisis – banks are now being encouraged to offer specific loans to their retail and small business customers.

In a letter to the banking industry on Thursday, agencies, such as the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, pushed banks to offer what are known as small-dollar loans to customers subject to coronavirus-related financial need.

“The agencies recognize the important role that responsibly offered small-dollar loans can play in helping customers meet their needs for credit due to temporary cash-flow imbalances, unexpected expenses, or income short-falls during periods of economic stress or disaster recoveries,” the letter read.

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Small-dollar loans – typically between $300 and $5,000 – are taken out by consumers to cover expenses during times of financial hardship.

They can be issued in a variety of forms, including open-end lines of credit, closed-end installment lines or appropriately structured single payment loans. They are typically short-term and repaid through a schedule of equal increments.

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Large financial institutions can offer safe, affordable terms for consumers when compared with alternative options like payday lenders. However, they had largely withdrawn from the market after the financial crisis.

In 2018, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued guidance giving regulatory assurance to large financial institutions regarding their ability to offer such loans.

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During an average year, U.S. consumers take out nearly $90 billion in short-term, small-dollar loans, according to the OCC.

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No Olympic Village in 2021? Athletes’ homes are already sold

Olympic medalist Dara Torres on coronavirus: Athletes know ‘health is biggest concern’

12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres discusses how the sports world is reacting to the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics delayed until sometime next year due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are some big questions organizers will be left to answer, including where the athletes will stay.

The site of the Olympic Village, in Tokyo’s Chuo-ku ward, has already been sold to a group of developers for $127 million, according to local brokerage Japan Property Central. Some floors of the buildings were already built and were to be used as housing for athletes during the games. Condo units in those buildings have already been sold to owners who were set to move after the games this year.

TOKYO, JAPAN – JANUARY 29: A exterior view of the Athletes’ Village Plaza as it opens to media on January 29, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

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Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he was unsure whether the site would be able to be used for athletes in 2021, The Irish Times reported.

“I cannot tell you what the situation is,” he said, “I am aware of the circumstances we are living in, but of course I would be delighted if we could have an Olympic Village in the traditional form. Because everyone who has once lived in an Olympic Village knows this is the real Olympic experience … forming this unique Olympic community.”

The developers’ plans call for a total of 23 buildings, including a pair of 50-story residential skyscrapers, according to the brokerage. The development will encompass more than 5,600 units plus retail space.

Coincidentally, the site is the same place that had been picked for an international exposition planned to coincide with the 1940 Olympics, according to the brokerage. Those games were also delayed, and ultimately canceled, because of World War II.

People walk past the Olympic rings near the New National Stadium in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

TOKYO OLYMPICS CANCELLATION WILL COST BILLIONS

That isn’t the only real estate issue facing the delayed Olympics. There are also more than 40 venues which were planned to host Olympic events. The organizing committee budgeted more than $476 million to rent the locations, Nikkei Asian Review reported. Extending those leases to 2021 or renting them again will add more costs, and some may already be reserved for other events.

Altogether, the delay will cost $2.7 billion, Nikkei estimated. And that cost will primarily fall on Japanese taxpayers, according to The Associated Press.

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Bach said in a written statement that figuring out a new schedule for the games will be like a “very difficult jigsaw puzzle.”

“This is really a big challenge,” he said. “Finances have not been discussed, because it's about protecting human lives, and financial considerations cannot take priority.”

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Coronavirus gear in demand in California, state closes beaches

‘Millions of Americans suffering’ due to Democrat coronavirus bill block: Kevin McCarthy

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., says Democrats politicizing the coronavirus spending bill is stopping the government from saving jobs.

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California is scrambling to obtain protective gear for health care workers and first responders, reaching out worldwide and working with locals to ratchet up production as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps through the nation’s most populous state.

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The state is trying to acquire about 1 billion sets of gloves and hundreds of millions of gowns, surgical masks and face shields, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday.

“It’s going to take a heroic effort” to procure the personal protection equipment, or PPE, needed to prepare for an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, Newsom said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the state’s response to the coronavirus in Rancho Cordova, Calif., Monday, March 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool)

Among other things, he said the state would charter flights from China with gear and had heard from companies wanting to use 3-D printers to make surgical masks.

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Newsom’s announcement came as California added hundreds more coronavirus cases to its total. A tally by Johns Hopkins on Tuesday counted more than 2,200 cases and 43 deaths statewide.

The governor also announced he would close parking lots at dozens of beaches and state parks to prevent the spread of coronavirus after large groups flocked to the coast and mountains to get outdoors on the first weekend under the state’s stay-at-home order.

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People walk along Zuma Beach, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Malibu, Calif. while Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state’s 40 million residents to stay at home indefinitely. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Newsom reaffirmed he wants to continue using social pressure, not police enforcement, to get people to maintain safe spacing.

But in Los Angeles County, Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized how local politicians have gotten the word out about stay-at-home orders. Daily news conferences have lacked a coherent message, he said.

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“When I see the same faces and they’re saying a lot but there’s no substance, you eventually become background noise and people just tune you out,” Villanueva said told LA news station KTTV.

Villanueva said he would use his position as the county’s Director of Emergency Operations to take over messaging and deliver the directive to stay indoors “with far greater impact.”

There are many restrictions in place on Los Angeles businesses, but those deemed “essential” remain open. The sheriff said he would like to see gun shops shut down.

Light traffic and a mostly empty parking lot along the Pacific Coast Highway at the Santa Monica Pier, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

“We will be closing them, they are not an essential function,” Villanueva said. Adding guns to households where more people are at home during a crisis increases the risk that someone will be shot, he said.

The sheriff’s authority to close gun shops is unclear since they are considered essential under the county’s “Safer at Home” order, the state Department of Health said in a statement Tuesday.

The sheriff’s department plans to add 1,300 deputies to patrol, doubling the current amount, Villanueva said.

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On Monday, Los Angeles officials announced plans to expand coronavirus testing, promising up to 5,000 tests a day by Friday, significantly ramping up an effort that has lagged nationwide amid the outbreak.

In contrast to President Donald Trump’s projection that the crisis and its impact on the economy would last weeks rather than months, Newsom is planning for a 90-day surge of cases. He said new calculations show California, which has 75,000 hospital beds, could need an additional 50,000 beds.

Signs advising people to keep their distance from each other as a worker removes an umbrella in front of a restaurant on the Malibu Pier, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Malibu, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The Democratic governor touted public-private cooperation to bring in medical supplies and open new hospital beds, including a Navy hospital ship destined for Los Angeles and two Army field hospitals opening in Riverside and Santa Clara counties. Six more are planned and the eight field hospitals will be able to serve 2,000 patients.

To address potential staffing shortages, Newsom said he would consider waiving some graduation requirements for fourth-year medical students and nursing students who were doing clinical rotations when the outbreak arrived to more quickly get them into the field. He also suggested retirees might pitch in.

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Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Sacramento, Janie Har and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, Christopher Weber, Stefanie Dazio and Michael R. Blood in Los Angeles and Julie Watson and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

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Mike Pompeo arrives in Afghanistan to move Taliban peace deal forward

Pompeo criticizes China for delay in coronavirus information

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discuss how much coronavirus information China had and when that information was shared to other countries.

KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Kabul on an urgent visit Monday to try to move forward a U.S. peace deal signed last month with the Taliban, a trip that comes despite the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when world leaders and statesmen are curtailing official travel.

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Since the signing of the deal, the peace process has stalled amid political turmoil in Afghanistan, with the country's leaders squabbling over who was elected president.

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President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival in last September's presidential polls, Abdullah Abdullah, have both declared themselves the country's president in dueling inauguration ceremonies earlier this month.

Pompeo met separately with Ghani and was meeting with Abdullah before going to meet together with both Afghan leaders. His schedule also has Ghani and Abdullah coming together for a one-on-one meeting, presumably to discuss a possible compromise.

The United States pays billions every year toward the Afghan budget, including the country's defense forces. Afghanistan barely raises a quarter of the revenue it needs to run the country, giving Pompeo considerable financial leverage to force the two squabbling leaders to overcome the impasse.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, stands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, March 23, 2020. Pompeo was in Kabul on an urgent visit Monday to try to move forward a U.S. peace deal sig

The political turmoil has put on hold the start of intra-Afghan peace talks that would include the Taliban. Those talks are seen as a critical next step in the peace deal, negotiated to allow the United States to bring home its troops and give Afghans the best chance at peace.

“We are in a crisis," a State Department official told reporters accompanying Pompeo. “The fear is that unless this crisis gets resolved and resolved soon, that could affect the peace process, which was an opportunity for this country that (has) stood in this 40-years-long war. And our agreement with the Talibs could be put at risk."

The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. concerns.

The U.S. and NATO have already begun to withdraw some troops from Afghanistan. The final pullout of U.S. forces is not dependent on the success of intra-Afghan negotiations but rather on promises made by the Taliban to deny space in Afghanistan to other terror groups, such as the insurgents' rival Islamic State group.

But within days of the U.S.- and the Taliban signing the peace deal in Qatar on Feb. 29, Afghanistan sunk into a political crisis with Ghani and Abdullah squaring off over election results and Ghani refusing to fulfill his part of a promise made in the U.S.-Taliban deal to free up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners. The insurgents were for their part, to free 1,000 Afghan officials and soldiers they hold captive. The exchange was meant to be a good-will gesture by both sides to start the negotiations.

The urgency of Pompeo’s surprise visit was highlighted by the fact that the State Department has warned American citizens against all international travel, citing the spread of the new coronavirus. Pompeo has cancelled at least two domestic U.S. trips because of the outbreak, including one to a now-cancelled G7 foreign ministers meeting that was to have taken place in Pittsburgh this week. That meeting will now take place by video conference.

Pompeo’s last overseas trip in late February was to Doha, Qatar, for the signing of the U.S.-Taliban peace deal he is now trying to salvage.

As the virus pandemic has worsened, causing many nations to close their borders and airports and cancel international flights, Pompeo and the State Department have come under increasing criticism for not doing enough to help Americans stranded overseas get home.

On Saturday, just hours before he departed on his unannounced trip to Afghanistan, Pompeo was roundly attacked on social media for a photo he posted to his personal Twitter account of him and his wife, Susan, at home working on a jigsaw puzzle with a scene from the Tom Cruise film “Top Gun” on a TV screen. “Susan and I are staying in and doing a puzzle this afternoon. Pro tip: if you’re missing the beach, just throw on Top Gun!” the caption read.

Many of the critics took Pompeo to task for apparently not working while thousands of Americans are struggling to find transportation home from various countries.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has been trying to jumpstart talks between Afghans on both sides of the conflict — the next critical step in the U.S.-Taliban deal — tweeted early Monday that the two sides are talking about the prisoner exchange.

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The intra-Afghan negotiations were never going to be easy but since Washington signed the peace deal with the Taliban, it has struggled to get the Afghan government to at least offer a unified position.

Pompeo’s visit is also extraordinary for the fact that the U.S., like the United Nations, had earlier said it would not again be drawn into mediating between feuding Afghan politicians. While the Afghan election committee this time gave the win to Ghani, Abdullah and the election complaints commission charged widespread irregularities to challenge Ghani’s win.

In Afghanistan's previous presidential election in 2014, also marred by widespread fraud and deeply disputed results, Ghani and Abdullah emerged as leading contenders. Then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mediated between the two and eventually cobbled together a so-called unity government, with Ghani as president and Abdullah holding the newly created but equal in statue post of the country's chief executive.

However, the Ghani-Andullah partnership was a difficult one, and for much of its five years triggered a parliamentary paralysis leading up to the September balloting.

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In coronavirus pandemic, cash is no longer king

Is it safe to open Amazon packages inside amid coronavirus outbreak?

Harvard’s Global Health Institute’s Dr. Ashish Jha says while one study shows coronavirus may be able to live on cardboard for more than 24 hours, it’s still unclear if it would lead to someone getting infected.

NEW YORK — In a world suffering a pandemic, cash is no longer king.

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A growing number of businesses and individuals worldwide have stopped using banknotes in fear that physical currency, handled by tens of thousands of people over their useful life, could be a vector for the spreading coronavirus.

Public officials and health experts have said that the risk of transferring the virus person-to-person through the use of banknotes is small. But that has not stopped businesses from refusing to accept currency and some countries from urging their citizens to stop using banknotes altogether.

Close up of unrecognizable woman giving money to delivering person.

Open Books, a non-profit bookstore in Chicago, sent an email to customers last week asking individuals not to use cash. A chain of diners in Washington State has also stopped accepting cash. And delivery services like Grubhub, Door Dash, and others have instituted “no contact” deliveries, and have either stopped offering cash as a payment option or are actively discouraging it.

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Experts say cash does carry a risk of transmitting the virus, but the risk from cash so far is small compared with other transmission routes. A scientific paper published early in the outbreak found the virus can live on cardboard for up to 24 hours and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. The researchers, however, did not test whether it can live on banknote paper.

The presence of live virus particles on banknotes does not mean they are a health hazard, public health experts said. Virus particles are unlikely to return to the air, or aerosolize, once on a surface.

Wallet, Sale, European Union Currency, Currency, Paper Currency

“It’s not impossible that there might be traces of virus on dollar bills but if you wash your hands it should provide adequate protections, you shouldn’t need anything else,” said Julie Fischer, a professor at the Center for Global Health Science and Society at Georgetown University, on C-SPAN.

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Other devices used to pay for items are just as likely to be vectors for disease transfer. Credit and debit cards are made of plastic and metal. ATMs are touched by hundreds of human hands a day. And there have been studies that show smartphones are heavily contaminated with bacteria because of their constant use.

Even the Federal Reserve has taken efforts to make sure the money supply is not contaminated. Banknotes that circulated in Europe and Asia are being quarantined for seven to 10 days as a “precautionary measure,” according to a Federal Reserve spokesperson.

While businesses are discouraging cash usage, there have been reports of customers making large withdrawals from ATMs in several parts of the country. Some banks have had to order additional cash from the Fed or keep ATMs stocked at higher levels to allow larger customer withdrawals.

Banknote avoidance is not just happening in the U.S. In South Korea, which has been more successful in stemming the outbreak, the country’s central bank took all banknotes out of circulation for two weeks or, in some cases, burned paper money.

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Iran is suffering the worst outbreak of the virus in the Middle East. Using cash there is common, but in recent weeks many people have avoided it and banks have announced that they will not accept cash from customers. Iranians often have multiple debit cards but cash is widely used in small-scale transactions, like buying bread in bakeries or leaving a tip. Many people have started even being careful in how they hand over debit cards, as contactless payment methods haven’t caught on there.

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Christopher Rugaber in Washington, D.C, and Nassar Karimi, in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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Boeing in talks for short-term US government assistance

Boeing stockpiling parts for its 737 Max plane; smart speakers are recording private conversations

Fox Business Briefs: Boeing says it plans to stockpile more 737 Max parts than in the past to guarantee order flow for suppliers; study from Northeaster n University finds smart speakers can be accidentally activated up to 19 times a day.

Boeing Co is in talks with senior administration officials and congressional leaders about short-term assistance for itself and the entire aviation sector, a person familiar with matter told Reuters.

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Boeing, already struggling to win approval from regulators for its 737 MAX to return to service after two fatal crashes in five months, is in talks with the U.S. government to try to win support for manufacturers, suppliers, airlines and airports, the person said. Boeing declined to comment.

AIRLINES SEEK EMERGENCY AID

U.S. airlines and cargo carriers have said they are seeking at least $58 billion in loans and grants along with additional tax changes, while airports have sought $10 billion.

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BA BOEING COMPANY 117.60 -12.01 -9.27%

It is not clear how much Boeing and suppliers are seeking.

Boeing shares fell 24% on Monday to $129.61. The stock has plunged more than 60% over the last month as the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand worldwide.

Airlines are slashing flights and it raises questions about whether they will cancel orders for the MAX, which has been grounded for just over a year.

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Boeing idled production of the MAX in January and has said it hopes to win approval for return to service in mid-2020.

Reuters reported last week that Boeing would separate key wiring bundles on the MAX after the Federal Aviation Administration rejected its proposal to leave them in place, saying they were potentially dangerous.

Boeing talks for short-term government aid were reported earlier by Bloomberg News.

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Best places to land in Call of Duty Warzone to help you win games

WARZONE, Call of Duty's free-to-play game, is finally upon us with players fighting to be the last man standing in a Fortnite-style battle to survive.

Players can parachute anywhere they like on the huge map at the start of each match, leading many gamers to ask: Where's the best spot to land?

We've got a few tips and tricks below for anyone searching for that game-winning location.

But first…

What is Call of Duty Warzone?

Warzone is a new standalone Call of Duty game that's free to play, even if you don't own a copy of the shooter.

It pits 150 players against one another in a hectic battle to be last man standing and is available to download from March 10 on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Players form squads of three and the new mode supports crossplay, which means people on PlayStation and Xbox will play against one another.

There are two Warzone modes available: Traditional Battle Royale and a Plunder mode.

Battle Royale games take on roughly the same rules as Fortnite, with 150 players dropping into a huge map where they fight to be the last man standing.

As the match goes on, gamers are gradually eliminated and the map gets smaller via an ever-tightening circle of poisonous gas that you must dodge to survive.

Fortnite's own Battle Royale mode helped make the game a huge success and it seems Activision, the studio behind Modern Warfare, is following suit.

The other mode, Plunder, has players collect as much cash as they can by looting items and stealing enemies' money across the all-new map.

Warzone – what are the key map locations?

You can start a Warzone match strong by picking a top location, and given the size of map, there are plenty to choose from.

Some are definitely better than others though. Here's a quick summary of the main crowded areas:

  • Between the TV Station and the Stadium
  • Boneyard
  • Dam
  • Downtown
  • Farmland
  • Middle of Airport, Storage Town, and the Superstore
  • Northeast of the Airport
  • South of the Quarry
  • The Military Base

Busiest Warzone locations

Depending on your plane's flight path, the busiest spots are The Military Base, Dam, Downtown, and Boneyard.

These are big areas, with plenty of loot available, and loads of players will head there at the start of each match.

If you're confident in your abilities, these can be great places to start provided you're happy to fight off rival players.

You'll bag plenty of loot and can take down other squads before they build too much momentum.

However, busy points are also more dangerous and starting there could condemn you to an early bum-kicking.

How to download Call of Duty: Warzone

Here's what you need to know…

  • Call of Duty: Warzone is a standalone game available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC
  • It's free to download, even if you don't have a copy of Modern Warfare, the latest Call of Duty title
  • You can bag yourself a copy by heading to the Steam, Microsoft or PlayStation stores
  • Brits will be will be able to download Warzone from 3pm GMT on March 10 if they own a copy of Modern Warfare
  • Those without a copy of the game will have to wait until 7pm GMT
  • In the US, those downloads open at 8am and 12pm PDT respectively
  • While the game itself is free, players will be able to pay for additional upgrades like new outfits for their avatars

Quieter Warzone locations

For those who want a calmer start to matches, try south of the Quarry, between the TV Station and Stadium, the Farmland or northeast of the Airport.

Players tend to stay away from these locations, giving you plenty of time to pick up a little loot before jumping into battle.

However, they aren't as bountiful as other spots on the map, so be prepared to work hard for a small reward.

These areas also offer the chance for decent contracts as other players won't have pilfered them as quickly.

Warzone locations – go rogue

Of course, you could ignore the list of named locations altogether.

If you want to go a little rogue, land somewhere rural, between two named points on the map.

These areas will likely go minutes without being touched by an enemy player.

This can give you time to set yourself before a firefight, but be warned: There'll be slim pickings in terms of loot.

Which Warzone location is best?

The key thing to remember is that the best location varies with each match.

You should pick your starting spot based on the flight of the plane, as well as the location of the next deadly circle of poisonous gas.

Spots far from the gas will be unpopular with other players, potentially providing you with a free path to great loot.

However, staying inside the circle will be a lot trickier from these locations, as you'll have further to travel.

Equally, hideouts further from the plane's flight path will be less popular with other players, but will take longer to get to.

In other news, you can read all the details about the launch of Warzone here.

The Sun described Modern Warfare as "thrilling but not perfect" in our comprehensive review last year.

And, Sony recently confirmed the PS5 release date as coming before Christmas 2020.

What do you think of the Call of Duty Warzone? Let us know in the comments!

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AAP subscribers in discussions over partnership as they plan for future

Australian Associated Press subscribers are holding discussions about pooling resources and forming journalism partnerships that could replace the newswire when it closes in June.

AAP clients, which include Daily Mail Australia, Guardian Australia and Verizon Media, have started looking at how to fill gaps in their existing editorial teams that will be caused by the closure of AAP, according to sources familiar with discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson has also confirmed he will be part of a new private business that will include AAP's fact-checking division and parts of its editorial services arm Pagemasters.

AAP chairman Campbell Reid (left) and chief executive Bruce Davidson briefing staff of the closure last Tuesday.

Mr Davidson and AAP chairman Campbell Reid, a senior News Corp executive, informed staff last Tuesday that the 85-year-old newswire would shut its doors in June in a decision that sent shockwaves through the local media industry.

Major shareholders Nine Entertainment Co, owner of this masthead, and News Corp severed their longstanding partnership with AAP because the business was no longer financially viable. The decision affects about 600 staff, including 200 journalists, and was made after a number of key AAP clients, including global news giant Guardian, either stopped using AAP or reduced their financial contribution.

As a result, Daily Mail Australia, Australian Community Media, Guardian Australia and Verizon Media, which runs sites Yahoo and HuffPost, as well as minority shareholders Seven West Media face gaps in their editorial departments in areas such as photography and court reporting.

Discussions are now underway about whether a co-operative that involves the remaining publishers sharing resources would work. By combining the fees previously paid to AAP, publishers could work together in areas such as photography. However, sources familiar with negotiations stressed no formal decisions had been made and the discussions were in early stages.

Nine and News Corp contributed more than $10 million combined each year to AAP as part of their shareholders' agreement, while ACM and Seven West Media both contribute more than $1 million a year. Publishers such as Daily Mail Australia and Verizon Media contributed in the "low hundreds of thousands of dollars", according to sources familiar with AAP's financial position. The Australian reported last week that the Guardian had cut its annual contribution by 40 per cent to $75,000 annually from about $120,000. On Twitter editor Lenore Taylor wrote that the company was offered a reduction by AAP because it was using fewer services after expanding its own editorial teams.

For some of the entities, the loss of AAP content and resources could have a financial impact. With smaller editorial staff, budgets and teams restricted to certain parts of Australia, the absence of a newswire creates gaps that urgently need to be filled for the benefit of readers. But any co-operative, should it be formalised, would not run like AAP's existing newswire, according to those involved in discussions.

News Corp and Nine are considering developing their own breaking news services.

AAP's decision will also affect the Australian Press Council, an industry-backed organisation that receives a fee from AAP as well as other members, including Nine and News Corp. "The closure of AAP will have financial implications for APC and we are currently working through these with AAP.”

Based on the APC's last publicly available financial report from 2018, AAP contributed between one to 10 per cent to the Press Council's annual funding of $2.1 million. Meanwhile, AAP's photo and text archive – which has decades worth of imagery – will remain the property of the shareholders. AAP's media analysis agency Mediaverse and media intelligence solutions business Medianet will be sold.

Mr Davidson will launch a new private enterprise that will include a fact-checking operation and some of Pagemasters' existing services. The business is expected to be formed in the coming months.

"Fact checking will continue under a new private enterprise that will also provide some of the current Pagemasters services such as TV guides and racing form guides," Mr Davidson told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Stockbroker John Murray has been working with Mr Davidson and other investors about potential deals to salvage parts of the business. "We have been in discussions with Bruce for a long time and are willing to back any plans that he has for parts of the business," Mr Murray said last week.

Discussions about AAP's future had been under way for six months and doubts around its future were first revealed by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald last week. Announcing the news, Mr Davidson said the media industry had been torn apart in the digital age.

"This is an unfortunate reality of media disruption. We’re not the first media company to be shut down and we won’t be the last," Mr Davidson said at the time.

AAP produces a broad range of news content that is syndicated by international and local media, with strong demand for its on-the-ground breaking news reporting and photography.

Staff will receive their redundancy entitlements upon closure.

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