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Exclusive: JPMorgan drops terms 'master,' 'slave' from internal tech code and materials

NEW YORK (Reuters) – JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) is eliminating terms like “blacklist,” “master” and “slave” from its internal technology materials and code as it seeks to address racism within the company, said two sources with knowledge of the move.

The terms had appeared in some of the bank’s technology policies, standards and control procedures, as well in the programming code that runs some of its processes, one of the sources said.

Other companies like Twitter Inc (TWTR.K) and GitHub Inc adopted similar changes, prompted by the renewed spotlight on racism after the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis in May. here

The phrases “master” and “slave” code or drive are used in some programming languages and computer hardware to describe one part of a device or process that controls another.

“Blacklist” is used to describe items that are automatically denied, like a list of websites forbidden by a company’s cybersecurity division. “Whitelist” means the opposite – a list of items automatically approved.

Floyd’s death has sparked a re-examination of words that might carry racial overtones. For example, some realtors are no longer using the term “master bedroom,” and Universal Music Group’s Republic Records stopped using the word “urban” to describe music genres and internal departments or roles.

JPMorgan appears to be the first in the financial sector to remove most references to these racially problematic phrases, and it comes after the bank has said it is taking other steps to promote Black professionals and anti-bias culture training for staff.

Columbia Business School programming professor Mattan Griffel said such terms have long been controversial and can be difficult to change.

The technology that underpins bank operations is often a spaghetti-like mess that results from merged companies, decades-old code and third-party systems, and any change can have cascading effects that are difficult to predict, Griffel said.

Changing these terms within the bank’s code could take millions of dollars and months of work, Griffel said.

“This is not a trivial” investment by the bank, Griffel said. “This kind of language and terminology is so entrenched. It has to (change) and now is as good a time as any.”

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UOB joins DBS to make second rate cut this year on flagship savings account

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – UOB has joined its Singapore banking peers in deepening cuts to interest rates tied to flagship savings accounts, reflecting the prolonged low-interest rate environment.

Singapore’s third-largest retail bank will from Aug 1 lower all rates on its UOB One account for account balances up to $75,000.

It notified customers this week, as did DBS on reducing rates on DBS’s Multiplier account.

The UOB One account offers customers tiered interest rates that are stepped up as customers grow their account balance as well as meet the minimum card spend and transact more with the bank. The bank tiers rates on its UOB One Account by attaching a higher rate per subsequent increment of $15,000 in the account balance.

For customers that meet the minimum card spend of $500 per month, interest payouts for account balances up to $75,000 will be slashed to 0.25 per cent per annum, compared with the prevailing rate of 0.5 per cent per annum.

Customers who meet the minimum card spend and credit their salary or make three GIRO debit transactions will see cuts on rates that are stepped up per $15,000-tier.

As an example, interest earned on the first $15,000 will be reduced to 0.75 per cent per annum from the current 1.25 per cent per annum. For customers in this category, interest earned on the next $15,000 will be cut to 0.85 per cent per annum, from the current 1.3 per cent per annum.

This means that the maximum interest earned on a balance of $30,000 will be $240 per annum, from Aug 1.

There will be no change to the qualifying criteria for bonus interest on the UOB One account. The interest rate of 0.05 per cent per annum for balances above $75,000 will also remain.

UOB said in a statement on its website: “Given the prolonged impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, countries around the world are anticipating economic contractions and central banks have kept their interest rates low to provide support to the economy. As a result, the low interest rate environment is expected to remain for some time.”

On Wednesday, Singapore’s largest bank DBS announced plans to cut rates on its flagship Multiplier account for the second time this year. Its latest changes will affect interest rates that are applied to account balances of up to the first $50,000 from Aug 1.

OCBC and Standard Chartered have also cut rates on their respective flagship savings accounts as at July 1. OCBC earlier made tweaks to its OCBC 360 account in May.

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Boeing communications chief resigns over decades-old article on women in combat

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Boeing Co’s (BA.N) communications chief Niel Golightly abruptly resigned on Thursday, following an employee’s complaint over an article the former U.S. military pilot wrote 33 years ago arguing women should not serve in combat.

His exit leaves Boeing trying to fill the crucial role for the fourth time in less than three years, just as it is battling to shore up its brand after the prolonged safety grounding of its Boeing 737 MAX jetliner.

The job has become the industry’s biggest hot seat as Boeing fends off criticism for its handling of the 737 MAX crisis.

“My article was a 29-year-old Cold War navy pilot’s misguided contribution to a debate that was live at the time,” Golightly said in a statement included in Boeing’s announcement.

“My argument was embarrassingly wrong and offensive. The article is not a reflection of who I am; but nonetheless I have decided that in the interest of the company I will step down,” Golightly said.

According to an excerpt on the U.S. Naval Institute website, the December 1987 article titled “No Right to Fight” said: “At issue is not whether women can fire M-60s, dogfight MiGs, or drive tanks. Introducing women into combat would destroy the exclusively male intangibles of war fighting and the feminine images of what men fight for – peace, home, family.”

Golightly told staff in an email seen by Reuters on Thursday that the exclusion of women at the time was “government policy and broadly supported in society. It was also wrong.”

Golightly declined to comment beyond Boeing’s statement and his email.

Golightly’s departure after just six months on the job, during which he was said to be introducing sweeping changes, followed the board’s review of an internal anonymous ethics complaint that flagged his article.

He decided to step down after discussions with Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun and others, Golightly said in his email.

Golightly acted after Boeing members, already feeling pressure from the 15-month-old MAX crisis, had expressed little patience for a potentially damaging new distraction, people familiar with the matter said.

U.S. employers have been more responsive to complaints related to sex and racial equality and diversity fueled in part by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment, and anti-racist activism following the slaying of Black men by police.

Boeing has touted its strong commitment to improving diversity, though the women on its executive council has fallen from five to two since the beginning of 2019, according to Boeing’s annual reports and website.

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How Moderna executives are cashing in on COVID-19 vaccine stock speculation

(Reuters) – Biotech firm Moderna Inc could reap tens of billions of dollars in sales and stock appreciation if it wins the race for a COVID-19 vaccine. If it loses, the early-stage company’s value could crash.

In the meantime, the firm’s chief executive is pocketing millions of dollars every month by selling shares that have tripled in price on news of Moderna’s development progress, a Reuters analysis of corporate filings shows. The sales – by CEO St├ęphane Bancel, his childrens’ trust and companies he owns – amount to about $21 million between January 1 and June 26, including $6 million in May.

The company’s chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, has cashed out the majority of his available stock and options, netting over $35 million since January, the filings show.

The lucrative liquidations highlight the unusually powerful incentives for biotech executives to highlight development milestones for drugs that often never get approved or sold, according to interviews with seven executive-compensation experts. Optimistic corporate statements on coronavirus vaccines, they said, could cause investors to overpay for company shares or create false hope among the public and health officials seeking new weapons to fight the pandemic.

Bancel set a fixed schedule for his share sales – known as a 10b5-1 plan – long before the pandemic hit. Such executive share-sale plans are meant to guard against insider trading, avoiding the potential for executives to sell in advance of bad news they know is coming, or to put off selling until after a positive announcement.

Zaks sharply increased the pace of his sales with a new plan he put in place on March 13. That was three days before Moderna announced it had dosed the first human with a vaccine candidate, news that sent its stock price up 24% and signaled that future development milestones might push the shares higher.

The sales give the firm’s executives an unusual opportunity to lock in big profits on what could be fleeting market optimism, said Jesse Fried, a Harvard Law School professor who wrote a book about executive compensation.

“This may be their one shot at making a boatload of money if the vaccine doesn’t work out,” Fried said. Executives have wide discretion in releasing information, he said, and Moderna’s chiefs have a powerful motivation to “keep the stock price up.”

Reuters found no evidence that Bancel, Zaks or Moderna has exaggerated the company’s vaccine progress.

Many news outlets have reported sales by Moderna executives in the wake of positive news on its vaccine efforts. Reuters is the first to report that Bancel and affiliated entities are selling 90,000 shares every month and that Zaks moved to sharply increase his sales in March, three days before Moderna released market-moving news.

A Moderna spokesman said that Bancel is liquidating only a small portion of his holdings and that “substantially all of his family’s assets remain invested in Moderna.” This stakeholding reflected Bancel’s “long-term commitment” to the firm, the spokesman said. Bancel, his companies and his children’s trust own more than 24 million Moderna shares, making him the second largest stockholder, owning about 8% of the firm, down slightly from the beginning of the year.

Zaks did not respond to requests for comment, and Moderna did not comment on his share sales.

The high frequency, volume and profits of Bancel’s transactions – at about 90,000 shares monthly – are unique among the CEOs of 26 companies identified by Reuters as developing COVID-19 vaccines or treatments and that regularly publish information on executive trades of company shares.

Twenty-one of the firms have seen their stock rise since the end of January, just before coronavirus spread globally, and ten of those, including Moderna, have seen share prices at least double. But just four of the CEOs of those firms, including Bancel, have sold company stock. Only one – Chad Robins of Adaptive Biotech – made substantial, regular sales under a 10b5-1 plan, like Moderna’s Bancel. Adaptive Biotech, however, has seen a far smaller recent stock-price increase – about 50% – than Moderna. During May and June, Robins sold about $12 million in stock after Adaptive’s stock price rose on news that it is researching antibody therapies and a coronavirus test that delivers faster results.

Adaptive Biotech declined to comment and referred to a company filing that said Robins sold the stock to diversify his investments.

Most of Bancel’s sales have been carried out through plans in place since December 2018, the filings show. The transactions started in November 2019, when a trust belonging to his children began selling 11,046 shares each week. This January, Bancel and two companies he controls started selling stock regularly. Since then, they have collectively sold about 90,000 Moderna shares each month.

HIGH RISKS, REWARDS

Such scheduled sales are more common at early-stage biotech companies such as Moderna – which face intense risk-reward scenarios – than at more established and diversified drug firms, where executives frequently hold their equity until they leave the company.

Executives’ ongoing sales are an effective hedge against the bigger downside risk faced by companies like Moderna. Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the firm has more than 20 therapies and vaccines in development – but none near approval. Investors view the firm as a frontrunner in creating a COVID-19 vaccine, but it faces 17 serious competitors with candidates in clinical evaluations and 129 others in earlier development stages, according to the World Health Organization. Only a very small number of companies are expected to get vaccines to market, biotech executives and health experts say.

If Moderna successfully launches its coronavirus vaccine and a dozen other of its most promising trial medicines, its stock price could rise to $279 based on the new revenues, according to Morgan Stanley analysts. That would yield Bancel a fortune of about $10 billion including currently unvested share options, the Reuters analysis shows.

The firm’s stock has soared from $18 in late February – just before it announced it had shipped its vaccine candidate to the U.S. government for trials – to close at $56.57 on July 2, down 5%, after a report that the start of its large vaccine trial would be delayed. That gives the company a market capitalization of nearly $23 billion. The stock hit a high of $80 in May.

But Morgan Stanley also has a “bear case,” in which the company would be worth only as much as the cash on its balance sheet if all of its vaccine and drug candidates don’t make it to market.

‘SCIENCE BY PRESS RELEASE’

Bancel and Zaks have been bullish on Moderna’s prospects in public statements.

Bancel calls the mRNA technology the company uses for all vaccine development the “software of life,” with potential to create “a new class of medicines.” He has also said Moderna’s process can create vaccines much faster and with a better chance of “technical success” – and, by implication, regulatory approval – than other firms.

“We are not aware of anybody else who can do this at this scale, with this focus, at this speed,” he told investors on June 2. Earlier, in a May 7 earnings call, Bancel said he had “never been as excited and optimistic about the future of Moderna.”

Many investors and analysts are optimistic as well but say it is difficult to evaluate Moderna’s prospects given the early stages of trials.

The company drew criticism from scientists for releasing incomplete data from a trial being conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). On May 18, Moderna announced that its vaccine candidate had produced protective antibodies in a small subset of healthy trial volunteers. The news pushed Moderna stock up 20% to its peak of $80.

Some scientists suggested Moderna should have held off publishing until it had all test subjects’ results. “This was science by press release,” said Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Without complete data, he said, “you’re left to read the tea leaves.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci – the nation’s top infectious disease expert – shared the test results with U.S. governors, Vice President Mike Pence said in a Twitter post the day of Moderna’s announcement. But Fauci – who is running the Moderna trial – later said he didn’t like the company’s early release of incomplete data, according to an interview published by the STAT health news service. A spokeswoman for Fauci’s agency, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not comment beyond what Fauci said in the interview.

Bancel told investors at a June conference that Moderna’s leadership worried the information had been seen by too many people, including at the NIH. He said the company made the partial findings public because it worried the data would get leaked – and it considered the incomplete results material information that all investors should receive at the same time. A company spokesman told Reuters the company believed it needed to release the information to comply with Securities and Exchange Commission rules.

The day after the May 18 announcement, Zaks sold 125,000 shares – netting him nearly $10 million – at a price of $78, up from $66 on the Friday before the Monday press release. Company filings show the sale was executed in accordance with the plan that Zaks put in place on March 13.

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Asian stocks set to follow U.S. jobs rally, China in focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Asian stocks were likely to track a firmer Wall Street session on Friday after strong U.S. jobs data although growing Sino-U.S. tensions and a worrying surge in coronavirus cases is likely to cap gains.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 futures rose 0.45% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 futures climbed 0.58%.

E-mini futures for the S&P 500 rose 0.14%.

“While June data reflected a big improvement in the U.S. labor market, the recent sharp acceleration in new virus cases plus the prospect of an end to unemployment benefits by the end of July are two big layers of uncertainty,” said NAB Markets analyst Rodrigo Catril, adding that the uptick in U.S. cases could mean extended headwinds for the labor market.

Wall Street ended Thursday higher following a record increase in payrolls and a decline in unemployment. U.S. markets are closed on Friday in observance of Independence Day.

However, investor focus is shifting to worsening strains between China and the United States.

More than 75 U.S. members of congress sent a letter to the President Donald Trump urging him to take make a formal determination on whether China’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs and other groups constitutes an atrocity.

The U.S. State Department also warned American companies including Amazon.com Inc, Walmart Inc and Apple Inc to check their supply chains and ensure they are not doing business with entities linked to alleged human rights abuses against Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province.

Separately, Congress passed legislation seeking to punish banks that do business with Chinese officials who implement Beijing’s draconian new national security law on Hong Kong.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.92%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.36%, the S&P 500 gained 0.45% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.52%.

The positive economic data also pushed oil prices higher.

Brent crude futures settled at $43.14 a barrel, rising $1.11, or 2.6%. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures settled at $40.65 a barrel, up 83 cents, or 2.1%.

Investors still embraced the safe-haven dollar and gold, which usually rise when risk appetite declines, as an acceleration in new COVID-19 cases across the country prompted fresh restrictions.

The dollar index rose 0.058%, with the euro up 0.01% to $1.1239.

The Japanese yen weakened 0.02% versus the greenback at 107.53 per dollar, while sterling last traded at $1.2468, up 0.02% on the day.

Spot gold rose 0.4% to $1,777.04 per ounce

U.S. Treasury yields ended the day lower ahead of the July 4 long weekend, with the benchmark 10-year yield fell 1.1 basis points at 0.6709%.

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U.S dollar gains on worries about resurgent coronavirus pandemic

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar rose on Thursday, regaining its safe-haven appeal, as investors worried that the resurgence of U.S. coronavirus cases could erase the summer’s employment gains.

U.S. financial markets closed on Friday for the July 4th Independence Day holiday.

In early trading, the dollar fell as risk appetite increased after data showed the world’s largest economy created jobs in June at a far faster pace than market forecasts. But that optimism waned on reports of more U.S. cases of COVID-19.

Florida reported more than 10,000 new cases, the biggest daily increase in the state since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally.

A day earlier, the number of cases nationwide shot up by nearly 50,000, the fourth record rise in infections in the last seven days, following moves in many states to allow businesses to reopen from strict shutdowns.

“Dollar performance will hinge on the U.S. response to COVID,” said Juan Perez, senior currency trader at Tempus Inc. in Washington. “On that end, the U.S. is losing because the situation is far more difficult than in other parts of the world.”

Despite Thursday’s rise, the greenback posted its second straight week of losses against a basket of major currencies.

In early trading, the dollar hit session lows against the euro and held onto losses against a major currency basket after data showed that U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased by 4.8 million jobs in June, the most since the government started keeping records in 1939.

Payrolls rebounded 2.699 million in May. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls increasing by 3 million jobs in June.

The unemployment rate fell to 11.1% last month from 13.3% in May, diminishing the dollar’s appeal as a safe haven.

That said, Dave Rosenberg, chief economist and strategist at Rosenberg Research said it was important to put some perspective to the jobs report.

He said the survey took place in the week in June where every state had re-opened and “all you have to do in the payroll survey to be counted as ‘employed’ is to have worked just one hour in the survey week.”

“We know that since then, around 40% of the states have now been forced to halt, or curtail their re-opening phases with the renewed jump in the coronavirus case count, so we shall see what July brings a month from now,” Rosenberg added.

In afternoon trading, the dollar index rose 0.1% to 97.269 =USD, as the euro fell 0.1% versus the greenback to $1.1235 EUR=EBS.

Despite the dollar’s recent spell of weakness, the greenback was still up about 2.5% from the 2020 low of 94.6 in the dollar index hit in early March. A Reuters poll predicts more weakness for the greenback over the next 12 months due to weak global demand.

The dollar gained 0.1% against the yen to 107.54 yen JPY=EBS.

(This story corrects typographical error in first paragraph; removes second bullet point)

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Boeing to pull the plug on its 747 jumbo jet: Bloomberg News

(Reuters) – Boeing Co (BA.N) is pulling the plug on its 747 jumbo jet, Bloomberg News reported on Thursday.

The 747 democratized global air travel in the 1970s but fell behind modern twin-engine passenger jets.

The last 747-8 will roll out of a Seattle area factory in about two years, according to the Bloomberg report. (bloom.bg/38n5A8p)

When contacted by Reuters, Boeing did not confirm the Bloomberg report.

“At a build rate of 0.5 airplanes per month, the 747-8 program has more than two years of production ahead of it in order to fulfill our current customer commitments,” a Boeing spokesman told Reuters.

“We will continue to make the right decisions to keep the production line healthy and meet customer needs.”

Boeing’s 747 plane is enjoying a second life as a cargo mule for companies like United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) due to a freight market boom fueled by online shopping.

In 2016, Boeing said it could end 747 production amid falling orders and pricing pressure.

Major U.S. carriers like United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL.O) and Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N) have already said goodbye to the 747.

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Cyclical rally, U.S. jobs data drive European stocks to one-week high

(Reuters) – European shares closed at a one-week high on Thursday as hopes of a COVID-19 vaccine and a better-than-expected rebound in U.S. hiring overshadowed concerns about surging coronavirus infections.

The pan-European STOXX 600 rose 2%, easing slightly from highs hit after data showed the U.S. economy created a record 4.8 million jobs in June as more restaurants and bars resumed operations.

Banks .SX7P were the top gainers in Europe, jumping 4.3% to mark their best day since June 5, while other cyclical sectors such automakers .SXAP, chemicals .SX4P and insurance companies .SXIP gained between 2.5% and 3.4%.

Equity markets started the second half of the year on a positive note earlier this week, as a COVID-19 vaccine developed by German biotech firm BioNTech (BNTX.O) and U.S. giant Pfizer (PFE.N) was found to be well-tolerated in early stage human trials, while business surveys showed a slump in global manufacturing eased in June.

“The market response is likely to be positive, but inevitably tinged with growing concerns that the recovery is already losing steam,” said Seema Shah, chief strategist at Principal Global Investors.

“With the closings having been reversed or paused across 40% of the U.S., July’s job report may paint a much weaker story.”

Raising risks of fresh lockdowns, new U.S. cases of COVID-19 jumped nearly 50,000 on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, marking the biggest one-day rise since the start of the pandemic.

Further adding to concerns, Britain and the European Union failed to make progress in talks on post-Brexit relations this week due to major differences, officials said.

Among individual movers, Associated British Foods (ABF.L) gained 4.1% after saying trading in its Primark fashion stores that reopened after the lockdown has been “reassuring and encouraging”.

Scandal-hit Wirecard (WDIG.DE) slumped 35.4% after police and public prosecutors raided its headquarters in Munich and four properties in Germany and Austria.

Dutch construction company BAM Groep (BAMN.AS) dropped 11.6% as it warned of a “significant” loss in the first half of the year.

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U.S. job growth roars back, but COVID-19 resurgence spells trouble ahead

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy created jobs at a record clip in June as more restaurants and bars reopened, but 31.5 million Americans were collecting unemployment checks in the middle of the month, and a resurgence in COVID-19 cases suggested the labor market could suffer a setback in July.

Record spikes in new coronavirus infections in large parts of the country, including the highly-populated states of California, Florida and Texas, have forced several states to scale back or pause reopenings, and send some workers back home.

The flare-up in the respiratory illness, which started in late June and hit bars and restaurants hard, was not captured in the Labor Department’s closely watched monthly employment report published on Thursday because the government surveyed businesses in the middle of the month.

“June may be the calm before the storm,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “We cannot be sure the labor market recovery will continue at a speed that is sufficient to put the millions and millions of Americans made jobless in this recession back to work.”

Nonfarm payrolls surged by 4.8 million jobs in June, the largest gain since the government started keeping records in 1939. Payrolls rebounded 2.699 million in May after a historic plunge of 20.787 million in April. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls would increase by 3 million jobs in June. Still, employment is 14.7 million jobs below its pre-pandemic level.

President Donald Trump, whose opinion poll numbers have tanked as he struggles to manage the pandemic, economic crisis and protests over racial injustice four months before the Nov. 3 election, hailed the job gains as proof “our economy is roaring back.”

Though the second straight month of strong hiring added to a stream of data, including consumer spending, in suggesting that the recession which started in February was likely over, that is all in the rear-view mirror as COVID-19 cases soar.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell this week said the economic outlook “is extraordinarily uncertain” and would depend on “our success in containing the virus.”

Hiring last month was boosted by the typically low-paying leisure and hospitality industry, which brought back 2.1 million jobs, accounting for about two-fifths of the rise in payrolls. But the return of these workers pushed down average wages 1.2% in June. Companies also cut wages and hours. The average workweek dropped to 34.5 hours from 34.7 hours in May.

The measurement of the unemployment rate continued to be biased down by people incorrectly misclassifying themselves as being “employed but absent from work” last month.

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The jobless rate fell to 11.1% in June from 13.3% in May. The Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which compiles the employment report, said the unemployment rate would have been 12.1% without the misclassification problem. The rate is 7.6 percentage points above its February level.

Stocks on Wall Street rallied, with the Nasdaq hitting an all-time high. The dollar .DXY edged up against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were mixed.

BROAD JOB GAINS

Jobs also returned in the retail, education and health, manufacturing, construction, professional and business services sectors, transportation and warehousing, wholesale trade and financial activities sectors.

Local governments hired teachers and support staff. But state governments, confronting reduced revenues and stressed budgets caused by the pandemic, laid off more workers. There were further job losses in mining.

Economists have attributed the burst in job gains to the government’s Paycheck Protection Program, giving businesses loans that can be partially forgiven if used for wages. Those funds are drying up and many companies, including some not initially impacted by lockdown measures, are struggling with weak demand, forcing them to lay off workers.

Economists and industry watchers say this, together with the exhaustion of the PPP loans, has triggered a new wave of layoffs, that is keeping weekly new applications for unemployment benefits extraordinarily high.

In a separate report on Thursday, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 55,000 to a seasonally adjusted 1.427 million for the week ended June 27. Including a program funded by the federal government, 2.3 million people applied for benefits last week.

The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid rose 59,000 to 19.290 million in the week ending June 20. These so-called continued claims, which are reported with a one-week lag.

There were 31.5 million people collecting unemployment checks in mid-June, up 916,722 from the first week of the month.

With the measurement of the unemployment rate continuing to be distorted since March, economists recommend focusing on continuing claims and data on the total number of unemployment checks recipients to get a better view of the labor market.

“The risks to the labor market are clearly tilted to the downside,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics in New York.

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State Department warns top U.S. firms over supply chain risks linked to China's Xinjiang

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department warned top American companies including Walmart Inc(WMT.N), Apple Inc (AAPL.O)and Amazon.com Inc(AMZN.O) over risks faced from maintaining supply chains associated with human rights abuses in China’s western Xinjiang province, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Friday.

“It is critical that U.S. companies and individuals be aware of the large-scale human rights abuses perpetrated by the PRC government in Xinjiang,” Keith Krach, Undersecretary of State for economic growth, energy and the environment wrote on July 1.

“Businesses should evaluate their exposure to the risks that result from partnering with, investing in, and otherwise providing support to companies that operate in or are linked to Xinjiang,” he said in the letter also sent to trade groups.

The United States is seeking to ratchet up pressure on China at a time of heightened tensions over that country’s treatment of Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang and Beijing’s new national security law for Hong Kong.

It also follows a Wednesday advisory by the U.S. government that said companies doing business in Xinjiang or with entities using Xinjiang labor could be exposed to “reputational, economic, and legal risks”.

In a call with reporters, Krach said the complex nature of supply chains was making companies vulnerable to potential risks and urged them to be more vigilant. “It’s incumbent on the board of directors for each company to conduct a detailed analysis of their supply chains to reveal who their company is buying from and who it is selling to,” he said.

He did not give specific number on how many U.S. companies might have been entangled in such supply chains.

The United Nations estimates that more than a million Muslims have been detained in camps there. China has denied mistreatment and says the camps provide vocational training and help fight extremism.

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