World News

B.C. approved deployment of more RCMP officers in Wet’suwet’en territory, say groups

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Premier John Horgan wasn’t truthful when he said the province had no control over the RCMP before Mounties enforced an injunction against pipeline opponents in northern British Columbia last month.

The chiefs have jointly released a letter with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs that they say was sent by Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan on Jan. 27.

“To be clear, no elected official in British Columbia directs police operations,” said Farnworth in a statement.

The Ministry of Public Safety says the RCMP has the ability to request additional resources for temporary situations, which it did following the B.C. Supreme Court’s granting of the injunciton.

It said it is the minister’s responsibility to ensure police have adequate resources, but that it is up to the RCMP to decide whether, when and how enforcement takes place.

The RCMP and a spokesperson for Horgan could not immediately be reached for comment.

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World News

Moncton musician’s Taiwan tour cancelled amid COVID-19 concerns

A Moncton pianist won’t be travelling to Taiwan to perform later this month after his tour was put on hold due to COVID-19 concerns.

Roger Lord, who is also a professor at Université de Moncton, admits he’s disappointed the tour had to be postponed.

The novel coronavirus has prompted government officials in Taiwan to cancel or postpone large gatherings of more than 100 people, he says.

Lord, who has been playing piano since the age of seven, was expected to play two concerts during his trip between March 15-23. One, he said, was in the capital city of Taipei and the other in Kaohsiung.

Lord credits his family roots for the passion that started about 50 years. He says he’s been in Asia more than 60 times in the last 20 years, mostly for his classical performances.

He says he was recently in contact with the Canadian Trade Office in Taipei discussing the status of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s funny because we had talked about two days prior and everything was fine. They said ‘look, there’s no worries here, there’s only about 20 cases, everything’s under control, it’s probably a bit like Canada right now and people are not in panic mode.’”

But despite monitoring the situation day-by-day, a phone call shortly after changed plans.

“I think out of precaution, one or two days later these new guidelines came out,” he says. “These new guidelines issued by the government concerning public gatherings came out and this did not really permit or allow a gathering of over 100 people.”

While disappointed, Lord knows the decision made is for the best.

He says he expects the concerts will be postponed to fall, pending the status of COVID-19.

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Coronavirus found on cruise ship as more U.S. states report cases

NEW YORK/LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Twenty-one people aboard a cruise ship that was barred from docking in San Francisco have tested positive for coronavirus, U.S. officials said on Friday, as half a dozen states reported their first cases of the fast-spreading respiratory disease.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is running the White House’s response to the outbreak, said at a news conference that 19 crew members and two passengers out of 46 people tested so far on the Grand Princess ship had the virus.

He said the vessel with about 3,400 passengers and crew would be taken to a non-commercial port where everyone on board would be tested.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would rather have passengers remain on board the vessel, but that he would let others make the decision whether to let the passengers disembark.

“I’d rather have them stay on, personally, but I fully understand if they want to take them off,” Trump told reporters after touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

Keeping passengers quarantined aboard a coronavirus-hit ship proved to be a disastrous strategy in Japan, leading to one of the world’s biggest outbreaks.

Trump earlier signed a bill that will provide $8.3 billion to bolster the country’s capacity to test for coronavirus and fund other measures to stem an outbreak that has now killed 15 Americans.

On Friday, six states – Pennsylvania, Indiana, Minnesota, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Nebraska – reported their first cases, bringing the total to 25 states that now have the virus.

Word of the new cases capped a week during which the virus began to disrupt daily life for many Americans.

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In Seattle, the epicenter of the nation’s outbreak, there were school closures and orders to work from home. In Miami and Baltimore, areas less affected by the outbreak, music festivals and sporting events were canceled or curtailed as a precaution.

In the most high profile cancellation, the South by Southwest (SXSW) music and tech festival in Austin, Texas was called off on Friday.

As stocks plunge and U.S. companies grapple with the economic fallout, the Trump administration is also weighing tax relief for the deeply affected cruise, travel and airline industries, according to a source familiar with the plan.

There are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for the respiratory illness, which emerged in China and has spread to more than 90 nations, killing more than 3,400 people and infecting more than 100,000 worldwide.


Americans are sharply divided over the dangers of the new coronavirus, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Critics of Trump, including Democratic lawmakers, have accused the president of downplaying the significance of the outbreak for political reasons. He has said the risk to Americans is low.

A union representing tens of thousands of U.S. government employees on Friday called on the Trump administration to take the coronavirus seriously for federal workers, especially those working in areas directly impacted by the outbreak.

Washington’s King County has been the hardest hit area in the United States with at least a dozen of the nation’s 15 coronavirus deaths, several of whom were people living at a nursing facility in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland.

The University of Washington announced on Friday that all classes would be held virtually for the rest of the winter term to limit contagion.

Apple Inc (AAPL.O) on Friday asked staff at its Silicon Valley headquarters to work from home if possible as a “precaution.” Gap Inc (GPS.N) closed its New York headquarters because one employee had tested positive.

In Florida, Miami officials canceled two music festivals on Friday – Ultra and Calle Ocho – because of potential risk that coronavirus could spread at events that bring large crowds into close proximity.

For similar reasons, the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament will go ahead at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore this weekend but without spectators, the university said on Friday.

The crisis has hit stocks hard. The benchmark S&P 500 closed down another 1.7% on Friday, after falling nearly 3% the day before.

As new states report their first cases, others watched their tally grow. Cases in New York jumped to 44 from 22, Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Friday, adding that some 4,000 people in the state were under precautionary quarantine and 44 under mandatory quarantine.

But he also tried to stem any sense of panic by the public. “I think the anxiety and the fear is more of a problem than the virus,” Cuomo said.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who was present at Trump’s bill signing, said the CDC had already sent tests for 75,000 people to public health labs around the country, amid widespread criticism of not enough tests available for states in need.

Azar said a private contractor was working with the CDC to send kits capable of testing 400,000 people to private hospitals and labs nationwide.

“The production and shipping of tests that we’ve talked about all week is completely on schedule,” Azar said.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged issues that slowed distribution of coronavirus tests, but said the overall response was going well.

“There were certainly some missteps in the beginning,” he told NBC’s Today program. “In the next couple of weeks we should be ratcheted up to get many more out.”

(Graphic: Tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus – here)

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White House considers tax relief for airlines, travel firms amid coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is weighing tax relief for airline, cruise and travel industries to help such companies cope with a growing coronavirus outbreak that has dried up bookings, a source familiar with the plan said on Friday.

The move, which could include tax deferrals, is one of several targeted steps that the administration is considering to try to limit the economic damage from the epidemic, which could stifle consumer spending and keep many workers at home.

White House Economic adviser Larry Kudlow said it was too early to determine the magnitude of the slowdown and the nation’s overall economy remained fundamentally strong and was not headed for a recession.

The Labor department released strong February payrolls data on Friday, reflecting surveys taken before the virus’ rampant spread outside China became apparent.

U.S. officials were concerned about people who may have to stay home because of the outbreak and lose wages, as well as about small business and airlines, among others, Kudlow told reporters at the White House.

“We’re worried about small business. We might be worried about small farms. We might be worried about some sectors of the economy that are really hard hit,” Kudlow said.

“There are a lot of things we can do for cash flow purposes, possibly deferred tax purposes, and we can set up mechanisms to do that,” Kudlow said, adding that they would be “micro-forms of assistance.”

Kudlow did not name the specific industries that could get tax deferments and a Treasury spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Washington Post first reported here that the administration is considering the idea.

Kudlow said the administration may have to go to Congress to seek additional funding, but aid would be “targeted micro-forms of assistance.”

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“We are at the moment are not going to do these gigantic packages where we put in helicopter money for everyone,” he added.

The Federal Reserve this week announced an emergency half-percentage point rate cut to try to blunt the coronavirus’ impact.

U.S. and global markets have slid for the past two weeks as the spread of coronavirus outside of China has raised investors’ fear of the outbreak’s impact as the number of cases neared 100,000 worldwide. In the United States, the death toll from the respiratory illness rose to 15.

The U.S. market slide alone had wiped out nearly $4 trillion of value through Thursday.

(GRAPHIC: U.S. stocks have fallen hard – here)

U.S. President Donald Trump could act via an executive order, or he could also turn again to Congress, which this week approved an $8.3 billion bill aimed at efforts to boost the U.S. response to the outbreak, including money for drug and vaccine development as well as the public health efforts.

Trump signed the measure into law earlier on Friday.

“We’re looking at different options,” Trump said on Friday when asked whether he was considering deferring taxes for companies as he toured tornado damage in Tennessee.

Earlier, at the White House, Trump called for another Fed rate cut to eliminate a “competitive disadvantage” for the United States compared to Europe and China.

Kudlow said the administration was not inclined to enact a temporary payroll tax cut, or lowering tariffs on imports, which some experts have said could ease global supply chain problems.

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World News

4 west-end Toronto pharmacies allegedly robbed at gunpoint by multiple young suspects

Toronto police say four pharmacies in the city’s west end have been robbed at gunpoint by a group of young male suspects Friday afternoon.

Officers responded to the first call at 3:10 p.m. about a robbery at a pharmacy in the West Mall Bloor Plaza.

Police said four teen boys robbed the store using handguns before fleeing the scene in a dark-coloured pickup truck. A woman in her 70s was reportedly assaulted in the incident.

Officers then responded to a second call at 3:50 p.m. about a robbery at a pharmacy in the Rexdale Commerical Centre Plaza.

Police said four teen boys entered the store wearing ski masks and holding guns. The suspects allegedly assaulted a store employee and robbed the store of drugs and money before fleeing the scene in a dark-coloured pickup truck.

A third pharmacy in Elmhurst Plaza reported a robbery to police just after 4 p.m.

Police said four young boys again entered the pharmacy wearing masks and holding guns. The suspects allegedly assaulted an employee and stole drugs and money before fleeing the scene.

A short time later, a fourth pharmacy in the Yorkdale Plaza reported four teen boys entered, wearing their hoods up. Police said the suspects fled through a parking lot. The plaza was subsequently put into a hold-and-secure.

It is unknown at this time if anyone was injured in the most recent incident.

Police said one suspect has been arrested and officers are still searching for three others.

Const. David Hopkinson told Global News that police cannot confirm it is the same suspects in each incident. However, each robbery has a “clear signature” of guns and wearing masks.

Hopkinson said pharmacies in the west end have been warned to be cautious.

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Coronavirus concerns drag down Wall Street, but indexes eke out weekly gains

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks fell on Friday as fears of economic damage from the spread of the coronavirus intensified, though Wall Street’s major indexes ended well above their session lows.

The S&P 500 posted its 10th decline in 12 sessions as moves to contain the virus crippled supply chains and prompted a sharp cut to global economic growth forecasts for 2020. Since its record closing high on Feb. 19, the benchmark index has lost more than 12%, wiping out $3.43 trillion from its market capitalization, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.

Even so, for the week the S&P 500, along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq, posted a modest gain as stocks on Friday pared losses late in the session. Comments from Federal Reserve officials about the possibility of using other tools in addition to interest rate cuts to blunt the economic impact of the coronavirus helped stocks ease declines, said Alicia Levine, chief strategist at BNY Mellon Investment Management in New York.

Nonetheless, “it’s very unclear what the economic impact will be,” Levine said.

Yields on long-dated U.S. Treasuries fell to record lows as investors fled to bonds, whose prices move inversely to their yields. The drop in Treasury yields weighed heavily on shares of financial companies, which tumbled 3.3%. The S&P 500 banks index dropped 4.7%, bringing its total decline for the week to more than 8%.

Shares of cruise operators Carnival Corp and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd slid after Reuters reported that the administration of President Donald Trump was considering ways to discourage U.S. travelers from taking cruises. Carnival shares fell 2.6%, and Royal Caribbean shares dropped 1.2%.

“The decline today is all about the efforts to contain the spread of the virus,” said Emily Roland, co-chief investment strategist at John Hancock Investment Management in Boston. “The measures being taken could dampen commerce and consumer activity, and markets are responding to that.”

Data showing a robust pace of hiring in February largely went ignored, given that the data captured little of the impact from the coronavirus. A sharp downturn in later economic and corporate earnings data would likely strike a further blow to U.S. markets, analysts said.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 256.5 points, or 0.98%, to 25,864.78, the S&P 500 lost 51.57 points, or 1.71%, to 2,972.37, and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 162.98 points, or 1.87%, to 8,575.62.

For the week, the S&P 500 gained 0.6%, the Dow added 1.8% and the Nasdaq rose 0.1%.

All 11 S&P sectors ended lower on the day Friday, led by a 5.6% drop in energy stocks, which tracked a 10% slump in U.S. crude prices. [nL4N2AZ0SL]

The Cboe Volatility Index, known as “Wall Street’s fear gauge,” hit its highest level since August 2015 during the session but pulled back as stocks pared losses. It ended 2.32 points higher at 41.94.

Starbucks Corp shares declined 1.1% after the coffee chain said it expected its sales in China in the quarter ending in March to fall by 50% in stores open for at least a year.

Costco Wholesale Corp shares fell 1.4% as it said it was struggling to keep up with demand for essentials, including disinfectants.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 4.40-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.77-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted five new 52-week highs and 142 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 16 new highs and 542 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 14.20 billion shares, compared to the 10.54 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

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U.S. financial regulators start contingency planning as virus reaches Washington

WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) – U.S. financial regulators are preparing contingency arrangements, including travel restrictions and home-working, to ensure they can effectively oversee the financial markets as the coronavirus closes in on the U.S. capital.

On Friday, U.S. officials said the first three cases of the flu-like disease had been diagnosed in Montgomery County, Maryland, home to thousands of federal workers who travel in to offices in nearby Washington daily.

Agencies including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the banking regulators also have offices in New York, San Francisco and New Jersey where other cases have been reported.

As New York banks start triggering their contingency plans, their watchdogs have also begun to take precautions, allowing more home-working, cancelling and limiting travel, calling off conferences, and restricting some external meetings.

“The safety and health of CFTC employees is our top priority,” Michael Short, director of public affairs at the agency said on Friday. “The CFTC continues to make all necessary preparations to accommodate scenarios that might arise.”

The derivatives watchdog has canceled some foreign travel and is allowing essential overseas trips on a case-by-case basis, he said. Domestic travel is still permitted, but staff are free to reschedule trips unless it is mission-critical.

Likewise, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation said it had taken steps to limit non-essential international travel. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) said it had reviewed its contingency plans, without elaborating.

On Thursday, the OCC along with the Federal Reserve and the FDIC canceled a joint conference on fair lending scheduled for next week “out of an abundance of caution,” they said.

Reuters also reported on Friday that the U.S. Federal Reserve had taken the unusual step of quarantining U.S. dollars it receives from Asia for up to 10 days.

A spokeswoman for the SEC said the agency was following government advice that staff stay home when they are sick or when they have returned from coronavirus hotspots.

“The agency also is focused on ensuring telework readiness and adjusting travel arrangements where appropriate,” she added.


The coronavirus has spread to 85 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people, according to a Reuters tally based on statements from health ministries and government officials.

U.S. Treasury debt yields plunged to historic lows on Friday, while U.S. stocks tanked and the Dow Jones shed more than 800 points before paring losses.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which oversees federal workers, trains federal agency staff annually on contingency plans for disruptions like a lapse in funding or epidemic-type scenarios.

“The first level of planning is behind the scenes and to make sure that you’ve got a contingency plan for anything and everything that can happen,” said Thomas Vartanian, a George Mason law professor and former senior OCC official.

Still, the market turmoil is adding to the regulatory workload, requiring officials to ramp-up market monitoring, and communicate daily with one another and the industry.

Short said the CFTC’s market intelligence team was providing multiple daily briefings, while the OCC said it had stepped up scrutiny of banks to ensure their plans are “relevant” and reflect a “comprehensive understanding” of their specific risks.

The agencies are also grappling with other issues, including how companies should disclose financial risks created by the virus, and which trading and lending rules may need to be relaxed to accommodate the disruption.

On Friday, the Fed said it was considering how it could encourage financial firms to ease loan repayment terms for people adversely affected by the virus.

Vartanian said regulators had to strike a balance between bolstering confidence in system safeguards, without taking measures that could actually increase market panic.

“Your job as a regulator is to make sure everybody has complete confidence in the system, because if the confidence disappears, it doesn’t matter what the crisis is.”

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Michigan to sanitize voting booths, machines amid coronavirus fears

(Reuters) – Officials in Michigan are telling election clerks to repeatedly sanitize voting booths, touchscreen machines, pencils and other equipment ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary, amid concerns about the impact of coronavirus on the 2020 presidential contest.

The guidelines to election officials in Michigan follow a move by Democrats in Washington state – which also holds a primary on Tuesday – to cancel a fundraising event this weekend over concerns about the rapidly spreading and highly infectious virus, which has killed 15 people so far in the United States, and more than 3,200 worldwide.

Republican President Donald Trump signed an $8.3 billion bill on Friday to bolster the country’s capacity to test for the fast-spreading new coronavirus, and fund other measures to stem an outbreak that has now hit 21 states, with Pennsylvania and Indiana reporting their first cases.

Michigan, which has not yet reported a coronavirus case, is one of six states holding elections on March 10 as part of the nominating process to chose a Democratic candidate to take on Trump in November. Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders are the last two viable Democratic candidates left in the race.

In Michigan, the biggest prize on Tuesday with 125 delegates up for grabs, the Secretary of State’s office has told election clerks to focus on cleaning and hygiene on election day, and to make contingency plans for additional staff in the event inspectors and election workers fail to show up.

“Regularly use alcohol/disinfectant wipes to clean pens/pencils, voting booths, voting equipment, touchscreens, headsets, tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks, and other surfaces,” the advice states under the heading “Election Day Hygiene”.

“Wash hands often with soap and warm water for 20 seconds. If not available, use hand sanitizer. Build in additional breaks for election inspectors to sanitize their hands regularly,” the guidance adds.

The election workers are also advised to tell voters to keep their distance from other people while in line, if voters express concerns about the virus.

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World News

5 Toronto detention centre guards charged with aggravated assault in alleged attack on inmate

TORONTO – Police have charged five guards from the Toronto South Detention Centre with aggravated assault.

The alleged incident occurred on Dec. 20.

Police say six correctional officers at the centre assaulted a prisoner.

They say the sixth man will be charged at a later date.

Police provided no other details of the alleged attack.

They say the five charged guards will appear in court on April 20.

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GLOBAL MARKETS-Bond yields slide to record lows, stocks succumb to virus fears

(Adds oil, gold settlement prices, comment)

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020

* U.S., European shares tumble on growth prospects

* Crude oil prices collapse in 10% plunge

* Gold prices post biggest weekly gain in eight years

* U.S. two-year, 10-year Treasuries hit record lows

* Dollar dips against yen, Swiss franc

By Herbert Lash

NEW YORK, March 6 (Reuters) – Yields on U.S. Treasuries plunged to historic lows on Friday as fear the coronavirus outbreak will slam the global economy drove investors to snap up risk-adverse assets and dump equities, overshadowing data highlighting a strong U.S. labor market.

The 10-year Treasury yield fell to a record low of 0.69% as new milestones were set across the U.S. bond market, which this week has seen some of its biggest moves in years as the pandemic rapidly spreads outside China.

Gold prices rose more than 1% at one point and posted their biggest weekly gain since October 2011, while declining U.S. government bond yields weakened the dollar and pushed it toward its worst week since 2016, down more than 2%.

The number of people infected with the new coronavirus across the world surpassed 100,000 on Friday as its economic toll intensified, with business districts beginning to empty and companies bracing for slower sales.

A U.S. jobs report showed employers maintained a robust pace of hiring in February, driving solid wage growth and the unemployment rate to fall back to near a 50-year low of 3.5%.

Upward revisions also were made to hiring in December and January but this month’s report failed to fully capture the impact of the coronavirus, which led the Federal Reserve to cut interest rate by a half percentage point earlier this week.

“If you have a really strong jobs report and there’s no one around to hear it, does it make a noise?” said Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors in Boston.

“Today’s an example that it doesn’t. There are many other things that investors are focused on besides the jobs report this morning,” he said.

Since the end of January when the coronavirus started to make headlines worldwide, markets have sold off on Fridays as investors are unwilling to go into the weekend holding too many risky positions, Arone said.

“That pattern has held true and we’re observing it in today’s market as well,” he said.

The flu-like virus emerged late last year in central China and has spread to more than 80 countries, killing more than 3,000 people. Travel restrictions and factory closings aimed at curbing the virus are expected to pressure global growth, but the extent of a slowdown is hard to calculate, analysts say.

Stock prices clearly have been impacted but how much and for how long earnings will be affected is unknown, said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer at Northern Trust Wealth Management in Chicago.

“We just don’t know the magnitude of the duration,” she said. Supply issues already are being resolved in China, but “the demand picture is a lot murkier as people are very rapidly changing their behavior around the world,” she said.

“Social distancing is the new black. Everyone’s doing it.”

IHS Markit cut its U.S. growth forecast for the year to 1.8% from a previous 2.1% because of the pandemic. “We are not forecasting a recession, but the risks have risen,” it said.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 3.10% and emerging market stocks lost 2.81%.

In Europe, the pan-regional STOXX 600 index fell 3.67%. The travel & leisure sub-index slid 3.9% to trade firmly in bear market territory, seen as a 20% drop from recent peak.

Rate-sensitive U.S. financial stocks nursed some of the biggest losses among the 11 S&P sectors on Wall Street. The banking sub-index fell 3.3%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 753.9 points, or 2.89%, to 25,367.38. The S&P 500 lost 107.67 points, or 3.56%, to 2,916.27 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 320.67 points, or 3.67%, to 8,417.93.

Money markets are pricing in another 25 basis-point cut at the Fed meeting on March 18-19, and a 50 basis-point cut by April. Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari said Thursday the Fed could cut rates further if needed.

Gold prices rose about 6.3% so far for the week but fell after initial gains. Spot gold added 0.9% to $1,684.76 an ounce.

Treasury prices soared but the strong U.S. non-farm payrolls report lifted the yield a bit from their lows.

Benchmark 10-year notes rose 68/32 in price to yield 0.7088%, while the 30-year bond rose 303/32 in price to yield 1.2131%.

Germany’s benchmark 10-year Bund yield fell to a six-month low of -0.739%, close to record lows hit last September during jitters over the Sino-U.S. trade war.

Oil prices tanked about 10% to their lowest levels since mid-2017 after Reuters reported that Russia balked at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries proposed steep production cuts to stabilize prices.

Brent futures settled down $4.72 at $45.27 a barrel, while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude shred $4.62 a barrel to settle at $41.28 a barrel.

Gold rose to its highest since January 2013 at $1,689.65 an ounce earlier in the session but later pared some gains.

U.S. gold futures settled 0.3% higher at $1,672.40.

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