Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

What a difference a month makes.

Then: The nation's largest companies were on top of the world — buying back stock, watching their share prices flirt with all-time highs and hiring in droves.

Now: Corporate America is prepping for what could be a very lengthy and severe recession.

The big picture: The never-before-considered scenario of revenues coming to an absolute standstill is now a reality for a slew of companies from a cross-section of industries. And it's threatening millions of jobs.

  • Companies are going to lengths to preserve the cash they have — and seeking ways to raise more.
  • They're fortressing their balance sheets and, in some cases, looking to federal bailouts.

Flashback: The S&P 500 hit an all-time high on Feb. 19 — an indication that investors were confident in the state of the economy even as the coronavirus outbreak worsened around the world. (The bond market was less confident.)

  • Now stock prices are plummeting, amid one of the worst bouts of volatility in stock market history.
  • The S&P 500 closed down more than 5% today — nearly 30% below that all-time high.
  • J.P. Morgan estimated today annualized Q1 GDP growth would fall to -4.0%, and -14% in Q2.

Driving the news: A stimulus proposal from the White House on Wednesday suggests that many suffering companies could get help from Congress, though it could come with some strings attached.

  • That's already leading to bad P.R., with citizen watchdogs asking why these now ailing industries spent so much money on stock buybacks in recent years. But even the most prolific forecasters couldn't see this coming.
  • "The setup going into the last 30 days took 10 years to develop," Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research and a long-time market research analyst, tells Axios, referring to how companies positioned themselves (or didn't) for a crisis.

What's going on: A wave of companies —including airlines and banks— are putting share repurchase and capital expenditure programs on hold. They're letting go of workers, or asking for government help so they can making payroll.

  • Boeing, Hilton, SeaWorld Kraft Heinz, and beer giant AB Inbev are among the companies that have tapped billion-dollar credit lines in recent days.
  • Others, including Coca-Cola, Verizon, and ExxonMobil, issued debt on Tuesday to raise a total of $25 billion in cash, as the Financial Times reports.

The bottom line: Preparing for an economic slowdown is one thing. Preparing for a never-before-seen halt in economic activity is another.

Go deeper

Updated 34 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 31,778,331 — Total deaths: 974,436 — Total recoveries: 21,876,025Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 6,943,078 — Total deaths: 201,930 — Total recoveries: 2,670,256 — Total tests: 97,459,742Map.
  3. Health: CDC director says over 90% of Americans have not yet been exposed to coronavirus — Supply shortages continue to plague testing.
  4. Politics: Missouri Gov. Mike Parson tests positive for coronavirus — Poll says 51% of Republicans trust Trump on coronavirus more than the CDC.
  5. Technology: The tech solutions of 2020 may be sapping our resolve to beat the coronavirus
  6. Vaccines: Johnson & Johnson begins large phase 3 trial — The FDA plans to toughen standards.
  7. Sports: Less travel is causing the NBA to see better basketball.
  8. Future: America's halfway coronavirus response

Biden: Breonna Taylor indictment "does not answer" call for justice

Former Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned the grand jury indictment of a Louisville police officer who entered Breonna Taylor's home in March in a botched drug raid that led to her death, saying in a statement the decision "does not answer" for equal justice.

The big picture: Biden called for reforms to address police use of force and no-knock warrants, while demanding a ban on chokeholds. He added that people "have a right to peacefully protest, but violence is never acceptable."

Trump refuses to commit to peaceful transfer of power if he loses

President Trump repeatedly refused to say on Wednesday whether he would commit to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election to Joe Biden, saying at a press briefing: "We're going to have to see what happens."

The big picture: Trump has baselessly claimed on a number of occasions that the only way he will lose the election is if it's "rigged," claiming — without evidence — that mail-in ballots will result in widespread fraud. Earlier on Wednesday, the president said he wants to quickly confirm a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because he believes the Supreme Court may have to decide the result of the election.

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