Stocks mixed as Fed and Treasury chiefs testify

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin right speaks with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell at the start of a meeting of the Financial Stability Oversight Council Tuesday Oct. 16 2018 at the Treasury Department in Washington. (AP

While reported to be going more smoothly than round one, the second round of PPP loans faced computer processing delays and a number of publicly-traded companies ended up receiving money that Mnuchin demanded be paid back to the government.

In a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Mnuchin and US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the federal government's almost $3 trillion in coronavirus rescue programmes were working to support an economy devastated by the novel coronavirus.

Prices are staging a furious comeback from last month's collapse, lifted by record supply cuts and a pickup in global fuel demand that many investors hope heralds a swift economic recovery.

The challenges of reopening parts of the economy were underscored by the hearing's format.

Powell said Sunday on CBS' "60 Minutes" that Congress and the Fed must be prepared to provide additional financial support to prevent permanent damage to the economy from widespread bankruptcies among small businesses and long-term unemployment.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democrat on the committee, accused the Trump administration of pushing businesses to reopen prematurely, without adequate safeguards for workers. "How many workers should give their lives to increase our [gross domestic product] by half a percent?"

"We'll review that", Mnuchin responded.

"Different facilities have different requirements", Mnuchin said. But unlike the Payroll Protection Program and other small-business lending facilities, which forgive loans when businesses keep employees on their payroll, Treasury did not stipulate anything about big businesses having to do the same.

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The Treasury has so far committed up to $195 billion to its lending efforts.

The Fed, the USA central bank, has slashed interest rates to near zero and set up a broad network of programmes to ensure financial markets continue to function during the pandemic. It has also established precedent-setting lending facilities for companies and the first-ever corporate bond purchases.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin looks on as President Donald Trump signs the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on April 24, 2020.

When Mnuchin said that the CARES Act airline bailout program contained "very specific requirements to keep jobs", Warren replied, "That's right, and the rest was left up to you, and what you're saying is that you won't do it".

Mnuchin disputed that characterization and said the terms of the lending programs had been negotiated with both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Mnuchin also noted that the Treasury is willing to take on some risks in deploying the existing funds and is prepared to "take losses" with capital used in leveraging those funds.

"I think the jobs numbers will be worse before they get better", Mnuchin said, adding that the overall economy too was likely to weaken in the near term before starting to recover towards the end of the year.

"Working closely with governors, we are beginning to open the economy in a way that minimises risks to workers and customers", Mnuchin said.

Secretary Mnuchin offered an optimistic outlook for the country's rebound: "We expect economic conditions to improve in the third and fourth quarters", he said in an opening statement. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have not agreed on a chair, leaving the five-member commission without a leader.

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