The black hole’s outburst was separately confirmed by two telescopes installed at the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.
The black hole appeared as a bright speck, a glowing spot against a cosmic backdrop, but one that easily could have been missed altogether — especially since astronomers weren’t even looking for it.
Students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University and scientists associated with NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission — an expedition to robotically retrieve a sample from a near-Earth asteroid — were conducting routine observations when they unexpectedly spotted the distant black hole belching out X-rays, the agency announced Friday.
This visualization simulates an X-ray outburst from the black hole MAXI J0637-043, detected by the REXIS instrument on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, as it moves through REXIS’s line of sight. At first, the outburst is visibly intense, but it gradually fades as it subsides. The animation was constructed using data collected by the X-ray spectrometer while REXIS was making observations of the space around asteroid Bennu on Nov. 11, 2019.
The cosmic phenomenon was captured by the Regolith X-Ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS), a shoebox-size instrument aboard the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around the asteroid Bennu. The spectrometer, which is jointly operated by scientists and students at the two schools, is designed to measure the X-rays emitted by Bennu as the space rock absorbs solar radiation.
The fortuitous observation provides a nice confidence boost for those involved with the student experiment.
“Detecting this X-ray burst is a proud moment for the REXIS team,” Madeline Lambert, an MIT graduate student who designed the instrument’s command sequences that revealed the black hole, said in a statement. “It means our instrument is performing as expected and to the level required of NASA science instruments.”
The “flaring” black hole was spotted Nov. 11, 2019, appearing as a luminous object just off the asteroid’s edge.
X-ray outbursts can occur when a black hole pulls in matter from a star in its vicinity, according to NASA. As stellar debris interacts with the disk of material that surrounds a black hole, intense bursts of energy can be unleashed. But these types of eruptions can only be observed from space, because Earth’s atmosphere protects the planet from X-rays and other forms of high-energy radiation.
The black hole’s outburst was separately confirmed by two telescopes installed at the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit.
The surprise detection is a valuable example of how many scientific discoveries can happen in unanticipated ways, said Richard Binzel, a professor of planetary sciences at MIT and one of the scientists working with the REXIS instrument.
“We set out to train students how to build and operate space instruments,” he said in a statement. “It turns out, the greatest lesson is to always be open to discovering the unexpected.”
The OSIRIS-REx mission’s robotic probe reached Bennu in December 2018 and is scheduled to return to Earth in 2023.
Bennu is thought to be a relic from the early days of the solar system. The diamond-shaped space rock measures about one-third of a mile at its equator and orbits at an average distance of about 100 million miles away from the sun.
According to NASA, the mission could help astronomers understand how planets and other cosmic objects formed in the solar system, and could help researchers study near-Earth asteroids that pose a threat to the planet.
After more than a year of talks, the agreement lays out the beginning of the end of the United States’ longest war. But many obstacles remain.
DOHA, Qatar — The United States signed a deal with the Taliban on Saturday that sets the stage to end America’s longest war — the nearly two-decade-old conflict in Afghanistan that began after the Sept. 11 attacks, killed tens of thousands of people, vexed three White House administrations and left mistrust and uncertainty on all sides.
The agreement lays out a timetable for the final withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan, the impoverished Central Asian country once unfamiliar to many Americans that now symbolizes endless conflict, foreign entanglements and a potential stage for terrorist plots.
The war in Afghanistan in some ways echoes the American experience in Vietnam. In both, a superpower bet heavily on brute strength and the lives of its young, then walked away with seemingly little to show.
American efforts to instill a democratic system in the country, and to improve opportunities for women and minorities, are at risk if the Taliban, which banned girls from schools and women from public life, become dominant again. Corruption is still rampant, the country’s institutions are feeble, and the economy is heavily dependent on American and other international aid.
The signing of the agreement in Doha, Qatar, which followed more than a year of stop-and-start negotiations and conspicuously excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government, is not a final peace deal and could still unravel.
But it is seen as a step toward negotiating a more sweeping agreement that some hope could eventually end the insurgency of the Taliban, the group that once ruled Afghanistan under a severe Islamic code.
The war cost $2 trillion and took the lives of more than 3,500 American and coalition troops and tens of thousands of Afghans since the U.S. invasion in aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, which were plotted by Al Qaeda leaders from safe havens in Afghanistan that were granted by the Taliban.
The withdrawal of American troops — about 13,000 are still in Afghanistan — is dependent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of major commitments that have been obstacles for years, including its severance of ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda.
The agreement signed Saturday also hinges on more difficult negotiations to come between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the country’s future. Officials hope those talks will produce a power-sharing arrangement and lasting cease-fire, but both ideas have been anathema to the Taliban in the past.
The Trump administration has framed the deal as the long-awaited promise made to war-weary Americans, for whom the Afghan war has defined a generation of loss and trauma but has yielded no victory.
At the height of the war, more than 100,000 American troops occupied Afghanistan, as did tens of thousands from about 40 nations in the United States-led NATO coalition.
The war has gone on so long — the first allied warplane and cruise missiles struck on Oct. 8, 2001, and American boots hit the ground in numbers on Oct. 19 — that many young Afghan soldiers and their coalition partners have no memory of its onset.
“If the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan live up to these commitments, we will have a powerful path forward to end the war in Afghanistan and bring our troops home,” President Trump said on Friday ahead of the signing of the deal, which he dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to attend.
“These commitments represent an important step to a lasting peace in a new Afghanistan, free from Al Qaeda, ISIS, and any other terrorist group that would seek to bring us harm.”
From the start of the talks, late in 2018, Afghan officials were troubled that the Taliban had blocked them from participating. They worried that Mr. Trump would abruptly withdraw troops from Afghanistan without securing any of the conditions they saw as crucial, including a reduction in violence and a Taliban promise to negotiate in good faith with the government.
The chief American envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, signed on behalf of the United States. Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a current Taliban deputy and a figure from the original Taliban government, signed for the Taliban.
During the signing, another senior American official, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper, was with Afghan officials in Kabul on Saturday. They issued a joint declaration asserting the United States’ commitment to continue funding and supporting the Afghan military. And Mr. Esper emphasized that if the Taliban did not honor their pledges, “the United States would not hesitate to nullify the agreement.”
Afghan officials expressed cautious hope. At the Kabul meeting, President Ashraf Ghani called for a moment of silence for those killed in the past 18 years and said, “Today can be a day of overcoming the past.”
The best-case prospect laid out by the deal signed on Saturday could go far beyond America’s disengagement. It raised the hope of ending a conflict that began more than 20 years before the United States invasion, when the Soviet Union’s forces invaded the country and the United States began supporting the guerrilla resistance against them.
But behind the hope lies a web of contradictions.
The United States, which struggled to help secure better rights for women and minorities and instill a democratic system and institutions in Afghanistan, has struck a deal with an insurgency that has never renounced its desire for a government and justice system rooted in a severe interpretation of Islam.
Though the Taliban get their primary wish granted by this agreement — the withdrawal of American troops — they have made no firm commitments to protect civil rights for people they brutally repressed when in power.
Among the Taliban, the reality of bringing the world’s strongest military power to the point of withdrawal has widely been seen as a victory. And Taliban officials have been anything but conciliatory.
“This is the hotel that tomorrow will turn into a historic hotel,” the Taliban’s multimedia chief posted on Twitter on Friday with a picture of the Sheraton in Doha, site of the signing. “From here, the defeat of the arrogance of the White House in the face of the white turban will be announced.”
In the hours before the signing, dozens of the Taliban officials based in Doha carried out what appeared a small march in a residential corner of the city. Many of the members were carrying the white flag of the toppled Taliban government.
“This is a day of victory — victory has come with the help of God,” said Sher Mohammad Abas Stanekzai, their deputy chief negotiator, in a video of the event released by Taliban channels. “Our mujahedeen fighters should be cautious not to become arrogant in this moment of victory.”
Even some Afghan soldiers came to see American troops as invaders, with some turning their guns on their American and NATO partners. More than 150 American and NATO troops have been killed in such “green-on-blue” attacks, including two American service members gunned down this month.
The deal provides a conditional schedule for the withdrawal of the remaining American troops. In the first phase, about 5,000 are to leave Afghanistan in 135 days. The withdrawal of the rest, expected to be completed within 14 months, will depend on the Taliban keeping its end of the bargain.
The insurgents have pledged to break with international terrorist networks and forbid Afghanistan’s use as a base for attacks by groups like Al Qaeda.
But at the same time, a dominant faction of the Taliban, the Haqqani network, is still listed as a terrorist organization for waging a campaign of suicide bombings in Afghan cities. The network’s leader, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is the Taliban’s deputy leader and military commander.
As part of the deal, the Taliban also agreed to open talks directly with the Afghan government and other leaders, ostensibly to negotiate a political settlement and an eventual cease-fire. An immediate cease-fire to halt the bloodshed that regularly rips through Afghanistan was not part of the initial agreement.
While American diplomats had pushed for a cease-fire, they settled for what they called a “reduction in violence” and tested it over seven days before the signing. Officials said attacks had dropped by as much as 80 percent during that period. The hope was that the reduction could extend into the next phase, until the two Afghan sides could agree to a more comprehensive cease-fire.
In recent years, Afghan soldiers and police have borne the brunt of the fighting, at a heavy cost in casualties and trauma, while the Taliban have gained ground.
The American and Taliban talks aimed at ending the war stretched through one of the most tumultuous times in the region, punctuated by conflicts among neighbors and others who have stakes in Afghanistan.
India and Pakistan almost went to war, as did Iran and the United States. Qatar, site of the negotiations, has been under a severe blockade by Saudi Arabia and its Emirati allies, further complicating the diplomacy
Mr. Khalilzad, the veteran diplomat leading the American peace efforts and himself a native of Afghanistan, long insisted that the United States was not simply seeking a withdrawal agreement, but “a peace agreement that enables withdrawal.”
One Western official compared the American withdrawal plan to the speed of a truck backing out of a driveway: it depends on conditions.
The Taliban’s willingness to enter negotiations with other Afghans, including the government, over a political settlement has offered both hope and fear to the Afghan people.
The hope is that some kind of durable peace can be reached. The fear is that the most difficult work lies ahead, and that the Taliban will be emboldened by the American withdrawal announcement after years of insurgent gains on the battlefield against the badly bloodied Afghan security forces.
The nearly two decades of war have been devastating in human and economic terms, though exact numbers are in many cases hard to come by.
Much of the peace negotiations happened in a year of record violence from both sides. In just the last quarter of 2019, the Taliban carried out 8,204 attacks, the highest for that period over the past decade. The United States dropped 7,423 bombs and missiles during the year, a record since the Air Force began recording the data in 2006.
In the past five years, more than 50,000 members of the Afghan security forces have been killed, and tens of thousands wounded. The Taliban’s losses are harder to verify, but their casualty rate is believed to be comparable. Out of about 3,550 NATO coalition deaths in Afghanistan, nearly 2,400 have been Americans.
Retaliation against Al Qaeda and its allies among the Taliban was the catalyst that drove the American invasion. But it has been a dawning sense of futility that has driven efforts to find a way out.
The Obama administration tried to seek a political settlement with the Taliban years ago, shortly after increasing troops in Afghanistan by tens of thousands, hoping to stabilize the government’s hold and bleed the insurgency until it was driven to negotiate. With Germany’s help, the administration opened back-channel contacts with the insurgents as early as 2010.
But those efforts remained at the level of trust-building measures, like the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the last known American military prisoner of war, for several senior Taliban officials being held at the American detention facility at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.
Officials who were involved in those efforts say the civilian and military sides of the United States government disagreed then about the need for a political solution, with the military refusing to accept that force could not win the war.
Global stock markets plunged further Friday on spreading fears over the impact of the new coronavirus, with some indexes set to close out their worst week since the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.
Germany’s DAX skidded as much as 5% before stabilizing, Tokyo and Shanghai closed 3.7% lower. Wall Street looked set for more losses a day after enduring its biggest one-day drop in nine years. Futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 were down 0.4%.
Investors had been growing confident the disease that emerged in China in December might be under control. But outbreaks in Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran have fueled fears the virus is turning into a global threat that might derail trade and industry.
Anxiety intensified Thursday when the United States reported its first virus case in someone who hadn’t traveled abroad or been in contact with anyone who had.
Virus fears “have become full-blown across the globe as cases outside China climb,” Chang Wei Liang and Eugene Leow of DBS said in a report.
In Europe, London’s FTSE 100 sank 2.9% to 6,599 and Frankfurt’s DAX tumbled 3.3% to 11,955. France’s CAC 40 lost 2.7% to 5,346. The Stoxx Europe 600 index is heading for its sharpest weekly drop since October 2008.
Markets in China and Hong Kong had been doing relatively well despite virus fears. Mainland markets were flooded with credit by authorities to shore up prices after trading resumed following an extended Lunar New Year holiday. Chinese investor sentiment also has been buoyed by promises of lower interest rates, tax breaks and other aid to help revive manufacturing and other industries.
But now, major companies are issuing profit warnings, saying factory shutdowns in China are disrupting supply chains. They say travel bans and other anti-disease measures are hurting sales in China, an increasingly vital consumer market.
In Asian trading on Friday, the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo tumbled 3.7% to 21,142.96 and the Shanghai Composite Index also fell 3.7%, to 2,880.30. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.5% to 26,129.93.
The Kospi in Seoul fell 3.3% to 1,987.01 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 sank 3.2% to 6,441.2. India’s Sensex skidded 3.6% to 38,331.87. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also retreated.
On Thursday, the S&P 500 fell 4.4% to 2,978.76. The index is down 12% from its all-time high a week ago, putting the market into what traders call a correction.
Some analysts have said that was overdue in a record-setting bull market, though Mizuho Bank noted hitting that status in just six days was “the fastest correction since the Great Depression” in the 1930s.
Investors came into 2020 feeling confident the Federal Reserve would keep interest rates at low levels and the U.S.-China trade war posed less of a threat to company profits after the two sides signed a truce in January.
The market’s sharp drop this week partly reflects increasing fears among many economists that the U.S. and global economies could take a bigger hit from the coronavirus than previously thought, weakening consumer confidence and depressing spending.
The Dow shed 1,190.95 points on Thursday, its largest one-day point drop in history, bringing its loss for the week to 3,225.77 points, or 11.1%. To put that in perspective, the Dow’s 508-point loss on Oct. 19, 1987, was equal to 22.6%.
“It is a race to the bottom for U.S. indices,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a report. “It may still be too early to call a bottom given the uncertainty around the matter of the coronavirus impact.”
U.S. bond prices soared Thursday as investors fled to safe investments. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, or the difference between the market price and what an investor will be paid if the bond is held to maturity, fell to a record low of 1.16%.
A shrinking yield caused by investors shifting money into the relative safety of bonds and pushing up their market price is a sign of weakening confidence in the economy.
Most access to the city of Wuhan, a manufacturing hub of 11 million people at the center of the outbreak, was suspended Jan. 23. The Lunar New Year holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed. The government told the public to stay home.
China has begun trying to reopen factories and other businesses in areas with low risk after shutting down much of its economy to stem the spread of the infection. Travel controls remain in effect in many areas and elsewhere governments are tightening anti-disease controls as new cases mount.
Japan is preparing to close schools nationwide and officials on the northern island of Hokkaido, where there are more than 60 confirmed cases of the virus, declared a state of emergency and asked residents to stay home over the weekend if possible. Saudi Arabia has banned foreign pilgrims from entering the kingdom to visit Islam’s holiest sites. Italy has become the center of the outbreak in Europe.
“The more countries that are faced with fighting a pandemic, the wider the potential for economic disruption and potential for increased recessionary risks,” said Tai Hui of J.P. Morgan Asset Management in a report.
In energy markets Friday, benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.35 to $45.74 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.64 on Thursday. Brent crude oil, used to price international oils, sank $1.11 to $50.62 per barrel in London. It declined $1.25 the previous session.
The dollar rose to 108.74 yen from Thursday’s 109.58 yen. The euro dropped to $1.0991 from $1.0998.
A massive UFO was spotted passing in front of the Sun
Image of the alleged UFO was captured by NASA’s satellite
The strange object changed directions while moving
A UFO expert claimed to have spotted a massive alien vessel flying in front of the Sun. Interestingly, the strange object changed directions as it eclipsed the massive star.
The strange sighting was made by Scott Waring of ET Data Base. According to Waring, he spotted the alleged UFO while he was browsing through the videos taken by the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO), a satellite launched by NASA in 1995 to study the Sun.
In the video, which was shared through NASA’s Helioviewer website, a large spherical object can be seen moving in front of the Sun. The movement and appearance of the strange object slightly resemble the motion of the Moon’s shadow as it eclipses the Sun.
However, as seen in the video, the object didn’t move in a straight line in front of the Sun. Instead, it changed its direction and started moving farther away from the massive Sun. For Waring, the sudden change in direction and the speed of the object indicate that it was not a planet or natural satellite.
“[I] found this very interesting object passing front of the Sun and then do a 180-degree reversal,” Waring wrote in a blog post. “It’s odd, I have never seen that before. The object reversed directions like it was on rails. Since it didn’t orbit the Sun we know it’s not a planet like Mercury, Venus or Earth.”
According to Waring, it’s possible that the strange object could be a UFO or alien vessel that happened to pass in front of NASA’s satellite as it was taking images of the Sun. In his previous posts, Waring discussed the possibility of a planet and moon-sized alien vessels approaching the Sun.
“There are a lot of UFOs out there, some planet size and this is crazy cool,” he stated.
Of course, there’s probably a simpler explanation regarding the appearance of the massive black object in front of the Sun. Based on its appearance, it could be a piece of equipment on the SOHO satellite that accidentally moved as it was observing the Sun.
Lazarus Group hackers have long plagued the internet—using at least one tool they picked up just by looking around online.
For years, North Korea’s Lazarus Group hackers have plundered and pillaged the global internet, scamming and infecting digital devices around the world for espionage, profit, and sabotage. One of their weapons of choice: a so-called loader that allows them to clandestinely run a diverse array of malware on targeted Macs with hardly a trace. But Lazarus didn’t create the loader on its own. The group seems to have found it laying around online, and repurposed it to elevate their attacks.
The reality of malware reuse is well established. The NSA reportedly reuses malware, as do state-sponsored hackers from China, North Korea, Russia, and elsewhere. But at the RSA security conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, former National Security Agency analyst and Jamf researcher Patrick Wardle will show a particularly compelling example of how ubiquitous and extensive malware reuse really is, even on Macs—and how vital it is to take the threat seriously.
“You take malware that someone else has created, analyze it, and then reconfigure it so you can redeploy it,” Wardle says. “Why would you develop something new when three-letter agencies and other groups are creating just incredible malware that’s fully featured, fully tested, and a lot of times has even already been tested in the wild?”
Researchers saw Lazarus Group using early iterations of the loader in 2016 and 2018, and the tool has continued to evolve and mature. Once Lazarus tricks a victim into installing the loader—typically through phishing or another scam—it beacons out to the attacker’s server. The server responds by sending encrypted software for the loader to decrypt and run.
The loader Wardle examined is especially appealing, because it is designed to run whatever “payload,” or malware, it receives directly in a computer’s random access memory, rather than installing it on the hard drive. Known as a fileless malware attack, this makes it much harder to detect an intrusion or investigate an incident later, because the malware doesn’t leave records of having ever been installed on the system. And Wardle points out that the loader, a “first stage” attack tool, is payload-agnostic, meaning you can use it to run whatever type of “second stage” attack you want on a target’s system. But Lazarus didn’t come up with all these impressive tricks itself.
“All the code that implements the in-memory loader was actually grabbed from a Cylance blog post and GitHub project where they released some open source code as part of research,” Wardle says. Cylance is an antivirus firm that also conducts threat research. “When I was analyzing the Lazarus Group loader I found basically an exact match. It’s interesting that the Lazarus Group programmers either Googled this or saw the presentation about it at the Infiltrate conference in 2017 or something.”
This reuse illustrates the benefits to attackers of recycling sophisticated malware tools—whether they come from intelligence agencies or open source research. The stolen Windows hacking tool EternalBlue developed by the NSA and then stolen and leaked in 2017 has infamously been used by virtually every hacking group out there, from China and Russia to criminal syndicates. But while recycling is a widely known hacker practice, Wardle points out that just knowing about it abstractly isn’t enough. He argues that security professionals need to meaningfully focus on the mechanics of the process so they can overcome the shortcomings of existing protections and malware detection methods.
Take signature-based defenses, which work by essentially fingerprinting malicious programs and adding that identifier to a blacklist. Regular antivirus and malware scanning tools that rely on signatures generally fail to flag reused malware, because even the minor tweaks a new attacker makes change the program’s “signature.”
Malware is typically set up to check in over the internet with a remote server—a so-called “command and control server”—to find out what to do next. In some cases, attackers have to extensively overhaul found malware to reuse it, but often, as is the case with the Lazarus loader, they can simply make small tweaks like changing the command and control address to point to their own server rather than the original developer’s. Recyclers still need to do enough analysis to ensure that the malware’s authors haven’t designed a way for the malware to fall back to the original control server, but once they’re sure they’ve scrubbed the previous owners, they can assume full control.
“This is why I think behavior-based detection is so important,” says Wardle, who presented novel techniques for behavior-based detection on macOS at RSA last year. “From a behavior point of view, repurposed malware looks and acts exactly the same as its predecessor. So we need to motivate the security tools community to step further and further away from signature-based detection, because it’s unacceptable that if you redeploy malware it can go undetected. Repurposed malware should not pose any additional threats.”
Recycled malware also has the potential to muddy attribution, as Russia’s elite hackers know all to well. If a certain actor develops a trademark malware, it can be easy to assume that all activity employing that tool comes from the same group.
That anonymity is obviously a benefit for attackers, though, and one of many that come with malware reuse. That’s why Wardle emphasizes the need to keep a close eye on such recycling over time.
“The Lazarus Group first-stage loader to me seems like the perfect case study,” Wardle says. “It drives home the point that with the ability to repurpose samples, the average hacker can weaponize advanced malware for their own goals—and signature-based detection is not going to catch it.”
Stocks continued their rout on Tuesday as diving bond yields raised more concern that the global economy is slowing significantly because of the spreading coronavirus. The 10-year Treasury yield hit a record low as the Dow Jones Industrial Average added to Monday’s 1,000-point drop.
The Dow dropped 820 points, or nearly 3%, hitting session lows after health officials gave new warnings about the possibility of a greater coronavirus spread in the U.S. The S&P 500 slid 2.9% while the Nasdaq Composite fell 2.6%. The Dow gained at the open Tuesday before the selling returned. At one point the average was up more than 180 points. Monday’s session was the market’s worst in two years.
These declines put the Dow and S&P 500 more than 7% below the record highs reached earlier this month. The Nasdaq is trading 8.2% below its all-time high from Feb. 19. Technology stocks such Apple and Facebook have also fallen into correction territory, down more than 10% from all-time highs hit just last month.
“I understand the inclination to buy on the dip. I understand that the path of least resistance in this market is to bounce up … but I stress, this is different,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief economic advisor at Allianz and former Pimco CEO, told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
U.S. equities dropped as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials briefed the U.S. on how to get ready if the coronavirus outbreak worsens domestically.
“We are asking the American public to work with us to prepare in the expectation that this could be bad,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official at CDC, told reporters on a conference call.
Stocks fell even as top White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow maintained that the coronavirus was contained so far in the U.S. and that economic growth had yet to be significantly affected.
Traders kept an eye on the bond market, which pointed to slower economic growth around the world. The 10-year Treasury yield traded at 1.32%, hitting an all-time low. The 30-year U.S. bond yield also reached a record low. Bond prices move inversely to yields.
“With global investors chasing after U.S. assets, specifically fixed income, there’s significant pressure on rates to stay low,” said Andrew Thrasher, founder of Thrasher Analytics. “This doesn’t mean we won’t see some counter-trend moves in the 10yr, but the trend is well defined to the downside right now which is not one I’m overly eager to fight.”
The drop in yields pushed bank stocks lower. Bank of America fell more than 4% while JPMorgan Chase traded 3.5% lower. Citigroup and Wells Fargo declined by 3.6% and 2.4%, respectively. Lower rates could hit bank profit margins.
The moves on Tuesday came after investors fled stocks on Monday as a surge in coronavirus cases outside of China intensified fears of a prolonged global economic slowdown.
The Dow suffered its biggest point and percentage drop since February 2018 on Monday. The S&P 500 plunged 3.3%, also the worst drop in two years. With Monday’s declines, the S&P 500 and the Dow both wiped out all of their 2020 gains.
South Korea raised its coronavirus alert to the “highest level,” with the latest spike in numbers bringing the total infected to more than 800. Meanwhile, Italy has been the worst affected country outside of Asia, with more than 130 reported cases and seven deaths. Iran also confirmed 12 deaths.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. remains small relative to other countries, but a strategist at Jefferies said that number could grow and further dampen investor sentiment.
“We increasingly find it hard to believe that USA cases are as low as reported, and believe that given the flow of Chinese, Korean and Iranian nationals into North America, a large USA community-based outbreak is increasingly likely,” wrote Simon Powell, equity strategist with Jefferies. “If not managed correctly, this could significantly rattle markets.”
Mastercard warned about the potential impact the coronavirus will have on 2020 results, sending their shares down more than 3%.
“The huge jump over the weekend to various other countries has many reassessing 2020 growth estimates,” said Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist for LPL Financial. “We could see quickly decreasing earnings and growth outlooks.”
Analysts have already begun cutting their earnings estimates for the first quarter. Data compiled by The Earnings Scout showed analysts expect S&P 500 earnings to contract by about 0.1% this quarter. Earlier this month, analysts expected growth of roughly 2.5%, the data showed.
The deadly animal-borne coronavirus spreading globally may have originated in a laboratory in the city of Wuhan linked to China’s covert biological weapons program, said an Israeli biological warfare analyst.
Radio Free Asia last week rebroadcast a Wuhan television report from 2015 showing China’s most advanced virus research laboratory, known the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The laboratory is the only declared site in China capable of working with deadly viruses.
Dany Shoham, a former Israeli military intelligence officer who has studied Chinese biological warfare, said the institute is linked to Beijing’s covert bio-weapons program.
“Certain laboratories in the institute have probably been engaged, in terms of research and development, in Chinese [biological weapons], at least collaterally, yet not as a principal facility of the Chinese BW alignment,” Mr. Shoham told The Washington Times.
Work on biological weapons is conducted as part of dual civilian-military research and is “definitely covert,” he said in an email.
Mr. Shoham holds a doctorate in medical microbiology. From 1970 to 1991, he was a senior analyst with Israeli military intelligence for biological and chemical warfare in the Middle East and worldwide. He held the rank of lieutenant colonel.
China has denied having any offensive biological weapons, but a State Department report last year revealed suspicions of covert biological warfare work.
A Chinese Embassy spokesman did not return an email seeking comment.
Chinese authorities said they do not know the origin of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 80 and infected thousands.
Gao Fu, director of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, told state-controlled media that initial signs indicated the virus originated from wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.
One ominous sign, said a U.S. official, is that false rumors circulating on the Chinese internet claim the virus is part of a U.S. conspiracy to spread germ weapons. That could indicate China is preparing propaganda outlets to counter any charges that the new coronavirus escaped from one of Wuhan’s civilian or defense research laboratories.
The World Health Organization is calling the microbe novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV. At a meeting Thursday in Geneva, the organization stopped short of declaring a public health emergency of international concern.
China has deployed military forces to Wuhan to halt all travel out of the city of 11 million people in an effort to contain the outbreak of the virus, which causes pneumonialike symptoms.
The Wuhan institute has studied coronaviruses including the strain that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), H5N1 influenza virus, Japanese encephalitis and dengue. Researchers at the institute also have studied the germ that causes anthrax, a biological agent once developed in Russia.
“Coronaviruses [particularly SARS] have been studied in the institute and are probably held therein,” Mr. Shoham said. “SARS is included within the Chinese BW program, at large, and is dealt with in several pertinent facilities.”
It is not known whether the institute’s coronaviruses are specifically included in China’s biological weapons program but it is possible, he said.
Asked whether the new coronavirus may have leaked, Mr. Shoham said: “In principle, outward virus infiltration might take place either as leakage or as an indoor unnoticed infection of a person that normally went out of the concerned facility. This could have been the case with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but so far there isn’t evidence or indication for such incident.”
After researchers sequence the genome of the new coronavirus, they might be able to determine or suggest its origin or source.
Biological weapons convention
Mr. Shoham, now with the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar Ilan University in Israel, said the virology institute is the only declared site in China known as P4 for pathogen level 4. That status indicates the institute uses the strictest safety standards to prevent the spread of the most dangerous and exotic microbes being studied.
The former Israeli military intelligence doctor also said suspicions were raised about the Wuhan Institute of Virology when a group of Chinese virologists working in Canada improperly sent to China samples of what he described as some of the deadliest viruses on earth, including the Ebola virus.
In a July article in the journal Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, Mr. Shoham said the Wuhan institute was one of four Chinese laboratories engaged in some aspects of biological weapons development.
He said the secure Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory at the institute was engaged in research on the Ebola, Nipah and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses.
The Wuhan virology institute is under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but certain laboratories within it “have linkage with the PLA or BW-related elements within the Chinese defense establishment,” he said.
In 1993, China declared a second facility, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, as one of eight biological warfare research facilities covered by the Biological Weapons Convention, which China joined in 1985.
The Wuhan Institute of Biological Products is a civilian facility but is linked to the Chinese defense establishment. Mr. Shoham said it is thought to be involved in the Chinese Biological Weapons Convention program. China’s vaccine against SARS is probably produced there.
“This means the SARS virus is held and propagated there, but it is not a new coronavirus unless the wild type has been modified, which is not known and cannot be speculated at the moment,” he said.
The annual State Department report on arms treaty compliance stated last year that China engaged in activities that could support biological warfare.
“Information indicates that the People’s Republic of China engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications, which raises concerns regarding its compliance with the BWC,” said the report, adding that the United States suspects China failed to eliminate its biological warfare program as required by the treaty.
“The United States has compliance concerns with respect to Chinese military medical institutions’ toxin research and development because of the potential dual-use applications and their potential as a biological threat,” the report said.
The biosafety lab is about 20 miles from the Hunan Seafood Market, which reports from China say may have been the origin point of the virus.
Rutgers University microbiologist Richard Ebright told London’s Daily Mail that “at this point there’s no reason to harbor suspicions” that the lab may be linked to the virus outbreak.
Less consumption, idle factories, broken global supply chains. It’s not just the Chinese economy that is suffering from the spread of the coronavirus — but the moment of truth is yet to come.
The coronavirus epidemic is spreading further in China and Chinese experts believe that it could peak in 10 to 14 days. Around 45 million people in the Chinese province of Wuhan are cut off from the outside world. In order to curb the spread of the virus, Beijing has extended the Chinese New Year holiday, and pushed back the opening of the stock markets. When it finally opened on Monday, stock prices crashed. They, however, stabilized again on Tuesday.
As a precaution, Beijing had given the financial system an unusually high injection of 1.2 trillion yuan (€156 billion, $171 billion) to keep the domestic money market and banking system functioning. In addition, import duties on goods that are important in the fight against the disease were eased.
Closed offices and factories
But it’s not only the stock markets that have been hit. Chinese consumption has also plummeted as a result of the outbreak. Large New Year’s events were canceled; tourist attractions and cinemas were closed. The doors remain closed at around 2,000 Starbucks, hundreds of McDonald’s restaurants, 130 Uniqlo shops and at all 30 Ikea stores.
The travel industry has also been badly affected. Several countries issued travel warnings about China; some airlines even suspended flights to China. Lufthansa and its subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines canceled their connections to and from Beijing until February 29. The Chinese authorities urged its own population to postpone travel abroad and prohibited domestic travel groups.
Most factories and offices will remain closed this week. Additionally, China’s largest oil refinery cut production by around 600,000 barrels a day due to shrinking fuel demand.
Supply chain disruptions
The outbreak of the coronavirus is meanwhile rippling through the global manufacturing supply chains, affecting especially the car industry. The world’s fifth-largest carmaker, Hyundai, for example said on Wednesday it had to close all its car factories in South Korea because it had been running out of components made in China. The carmaker is short on supplies of engine wire harness, and said is was looking for a new supplier.
Executives at a number of carmakers and auto parts suppliers warned that plants in Europe and the United States were just weeks away from being forced to close.The entire industry depends on a global network of suppliers, with parts originating in China often passing through companies in several countries before being built into cars in Europe and the US.
In Germany, carmakers such as VW and BMW have announced the temporary closure of their production plants in China, saying they expect to resume production next week in accordance with guidelines from authorities. However, those plans could be reviewed if the coronavirus continues to spread.
Industry analysts already say the impact of the virus on car sales and parts procurement could be bigger than from the outbreak of the SARS epidemic in 2003.
Learning from SARS
When SARS hit China 17 years ago, domestic trade suffered significantly and stock markets fell. However, the global economy is now much more interconnected and the Chinese economy is much more important. At the time China’s share of the world economy was only around 5%, today it is more than 16%.
Now the world’s second-largest economy is an important export market for German products, an important production location for German industrial companies and the starting point for many global supply chains.
The ifo Institute’s economic expert Timo Wollmershäuser believes that “the economic consequences will be greater than the SARS epidemic.” That crisis, which lasted 6 months, cost China about 1% growth in gross domestic product (GDP), a number so small that it was hardly reflected in the German figures. “Since then, the country’s economic importance has grown, the infection rate is greater and the Chinese government has reacted harder,” said Wollmershäuser.
Ifo has calculated that a drop of 1% in China’s GDP due to the coronavirus could cut German GDP by 0.06% now.
Too early for a true analysis
Many experts believe that it is too early to talk about the extent of economic consequences. Jens Hildebrandt, the director of the German Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, told DW that the country is at a practical standstill anyhow because of the Chinese New Year and spring festivities. “All factories close for three to four weeks,” he added. Thus, even under normal circumstances, the entire economy — except for the important tourism industry — would be offline.
How the coronavirus outbreak is impacting employment and ongoing production will only become apparent from next or the week after next, according to Hildebrandt, since the Chinese government has extended the holidays until February 2 and in some cities until February 9.
The reason is that a large part of the factory workers come from the region around Wuhan, which is almost completely quarantined, says Hildebrandt. Only in the coming week will it become clear how many workers will return to the main production locations in the Shanghai and Beijing areas and in southern China, and to what extent production and thus the international supply chains will be affected by the virus.
Hitting the supply chain
“We see no signs as of now that supply chains will be completely disrupted, even if there are delays,” said Gerhard Wolf, head of foreign trade at the Association for Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA). His credo: No need to panic.
So far, there is no trace of panic among German companies, says Hildebrandt from the German Chamber of Commerce in Beijing. “At the moment they are acting rather calmly, though plans are being drawn up for how to deal with the situation.”
The German Institute for Economic Research (DIW) is also taking a careful approach. “It is still far too early to be able to carry out a serious analysis of the economic effects of the coronavirus,” said DIW President Marcel Fratzscher. “If the spread of the coronavirus in China and worldwide can be successfully contained, then the economic costs should be limited and be limited to a short-term loss of production in China.”
Stopping the supply chain
However, should the production stops in China last longer, the international supply chains would be at risk, warns Klaus-Jürgen Gern from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy.
“China is significant as a supplier to the rest of the world,” said Gern. A long standstill could interrupt supply chains in the chemical, automotive, textile and electronics industries, warn Allianz economists. International companies would no longer get the parts they need and would have to find other suppliers or shut down production.
One that has already been hit is the South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Motor. The company announced on Tuesday it would suspend all production in South Korea later this week. The reason for the suspension is that the cable harnesses required for production, which Hyundai usually gets from China, are just not coming.
A US daredevil pilot has been killed during an attempted launch of a homemade rocket in the Californian desert.
“Mad” Mike Hughes, 64, crash-landed his steam-powered rocket shortly after take-off near Barstow on Saturday.
A video on social media shows a rocket being fired into the sky before plummeting to the ground nearby.
Hughes was well-known for his belief that the Earth was flat. He hoped to prove his theory by going to space.
Saturday’s launch was reportedly filmed as part of Homemade Astronauts, a new TV series about amateur rocket makers to be aired on the US Science Channel. The project had to be carried out on a tight budget.
With the help of his partner Waldo Stakes, Hughes was trying to reach an altitude of 5,000ft (1,525m) while riding his steam-powered rocket, according to Space.com.
In the video of the launch, a parachute can be seen trailing behind the rocket, apparently deployed too early, seconds after take-off.
In a tweet, the Science Channel said Hughes had died pursuing his dream.
Michael 'Mad Mike' Hughes tragically passed away today during an attempt to launch his homemade rocket. Our thoughts & prayers go out to his family & friends during this difficult time. It was always his dream to do this launch & Science Channel was there to chronicle his journey pic.twitter.com/GxwjpVf2md
The plan was to move dozens of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to Costa Mesa.
A federal court blocked efforts Friday night to transfer dozens of patients who tested positive for the coronavirus from Travis Air Force Base in Northern California to an empty building in Southern California.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton granted a temporary restraining order after the city of Costa Mesa filed a request for an injunction earlier in the day. Named as defendants were the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Defense, U.S. Air Force, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Department of General Services.
An expedited hearing is scheduled Monday in Santa Ana, California.
City officials said they were made aware of plans Thursday evening by regional representatives from state and local health agencies to transfer 30 to 50 patients to a building there. The patients would have arrived as early as Sunday, according to the court filing.
“Our top priority is the safety and security of this community and those who live in this region,” Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. “We have received no information regarding how the facility will be prepared, what precautions will be taken to protect those in the facility as well as those who live nearby, and other important planning measures.”
The empty building, the Fairview Development Center, once served as an assisted living center for people with disabilities and is situated near a country club, golf course, several high schools and a popular park frequented by families. It sits on 114 unsecured acres. The California State Department of General Services recently surveyed the site as a potential temporary shelter for people experiencing homelessness, but found that it required $25 million in renovations, according to the request for an injunction.
“Fairview is a dilapidated complex surrounded by residential neighborhoods, busy thoroughfares, and popular recreation facilities,” city officials say in the document. “It was not intended to house individuals infected with a highly contagious and deadly disease.”
An email to Travis Air Force Base was not immediately returned. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said they were not aware of the temporary injunction nor of plans to transfer patients from Northern to Southern California this weekend.
The disease caused by coronavirus that has spread throughout the globe is called COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 76,000 people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus to date. Deaths have been reported in Iran, Italy, South Korea, Japan and beyond. The vast majority of the deaths are in mainland China. In Hubei province, the center of the virus outbreak, the number of new confirmed cases climbed from 411 on Thursday to 631 on Friday, and the total number of confirmed cases rose from 62,442 to 62,662 in that period.