Check your junk mail — 4 million Americans are getting their stimulus payments as prepaid debit cards, not checks


Don’t throw away your junk mail — or you might throw away your stimulus payment.

The U.S. Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service began sending out Economic Impact Payments as prepaid debit cards last week. So almost 4 million Americans still waiting for their cut of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act can expect to get their stimulus money in the form of an EIP Card, as opposed to a paper check.

Problem is, these Visa
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cards are being issued by MetaBank (the Treasury’s financial agent) and delivered in plain envelopes from Money Network Cardholder Services — neither of which are familiar names for many folks. So reports of people mistaking these for pre-approved credit-card junk mail or scams have been popping up across the country. And in some cases, people have even thrown away the debit cards containing their long-awaited stimulus money before they realized their mistake.

Related:This is how fast Americans are spending their stimulus checks — and here’s a breakdown of what they’re buying

Thomas and Bonnie Moore of southwest Florida are one such pair. They told local CBS
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affiliate WINK-TV that they chucked their EIP Card because they were expecting a stimulus check from the U.S. Treasury. “My husband looked at it, briefly read it and he said, ‘Do you want this?’ And I said, ‘I don’t need another fake card,’ so he cut it up in little pieces,” Bonnie said. “The next thing you see is I am in the garbage can trying to pull out all of the pieces together, which did not work.”

Their neighbor also told the outlet that he found his prepaid debit card suspicious because it bore no official federal insignia, and the return address was Omaha, Neb. “Doesn’t sound like the federal government to me,” he said.

Several people have also complained on Twitter
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that they mistook their EIP Cards for junk mail.

This has led several authorities to reassure consumers that the EIP Cards are legit. Both the Nassau County District Attorney’s office in New York and the Belmont, Mass., police department have tweeted that this is “not a scam.” Better Business Bureau offices in Texas, Colorado and Alabama have all been fielding calls from concerned consumers asking if the debit cards are real. And the Iowa attorney general’s office said it received dozens of calls about the cards last Thursday and Friday. “People were very confused wondering what these were,” a spokeswoman told a local NBC
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affiliate. “They were throwing these in the garbage.”

Neither the IRS nor the Treasury Department responded to MarketWatch requests for comment on the confusion nor the complaints about getting debit cards instead of checks. But the IRS has been tweeting daily “reminders” this week that “millions of people are getting Economic Impact Payments by prepaid debit card mailed in plain envelopes from Money Network Cardholder Services.”

What’s more, the IRS also issued a press release on Wednesday afternoon with the subject line: “Economic Impact Payments being sent by prepaid debit cards, arrive in plain envelope.” It also answered several “frequently asked questions” about the cards, such as how the cards could be used without fees.

Because, yes, there are some fees tied to these EIP Cards, including a $7.50 replacement charge if the card is lost.

Some unsatisfied customers have already started complaining online about getting a debit card instead of a direct deposit or a check that they can more easily cash or deposit into their bank accounts.

The Internal Revenue Service has distributed more than 128 million checks and paid over $218 billion as of early May. This includes $1,200 payments to individuals with adjusted gross income below $75,000 and $2,400 to married couples filing taxes jointly who earn under $150,000. And that money can’t come soon enough for the roughly 35 million Americans out of work since the coronavirus temporarily shut down large swaths of the economy.

Related:Do I have to pay back my $1,200 stimulus check? Don’t fall for these 5 myths about the stimulus payments

May 13 was the last day that Americans could submit their direct-deposit information to receive their stimulus checks, which means the payments will arrive as either checks or debit cards moving forward.

So if you’re still awaiting your stimulus payment, visit the online Get My Payment tool to find the projected date when a direct deposit has been scheduled, or when your payment will be mailed by check or prepaid debit card.

Read more:Why haven’t I gotten my stimulus check? 6 reasons your payment might be a no-show

And here’s some important things you need to know about the prepaid debit cards, including what they look like, how they can be used — and where there could be hidden fees. You can also see an exhaustive list of questions and answers at the EIP Card website eipcard.com/faq or by calling customer service at 1-800-240-8100.

Who’s getting a debit card?

Nearly 4 million people will receive a prepaid debit card instead of a paper check, which was determined by the Bureau of the Fiscal Service, another part of the Treasury Department that works with the IRS to handle distribution of the payments. In some cases, people who qualified for an Economic Impact Payment, but whose bank account information was not on file with the IRS, received a debit card in lieu of a check or a direct deposit.

How will I receive my card, and what does it look like?

The EIP Cards are being sent to the most recent mailing address filed with the IRS. The cards will arrive in a plain envelope from Money Network Cardholder Services. The Visa name will appear on the front of the card, and the back of the card will feature the name of the issuing bank, MetaBank, N.A. The Welcome Packet will include information explaining that the card is an Economic Impact Payment Card.

Check it out:

Behold the EPI Card, or a prepaid debit card containing one’s stimulus payment.


epicard.com

The mailing will not include your balance, however. You’ll have to call and activate your card to find out how much stimulus money you get.

How do I use my card?

You will need to call 1-800-240-8100 to activate your card, and you will be asked to verify your identity by providing your name, address and the last six digits of your Social Security Number. You will also be asked to create a 4-digit PIN required for ATM transactions and automated assistance and to hear your balance. Then you will register your card online at EIPCard.com, where you will create a user ID and a password, which you can also use on the accompanying Money Network Mobile App.

You can use your EIP Card to make purchases at stores accepting Visa cards. During checkout, you’ll insert your card into the reader or present it to the cashier. You may be asked to enter your four-digit PIN number or to sign for the transaction. You can also get cash back at participating merchants by punching in your PIN number.

When shopping online (at merchants who accept Visa, naturally), you’ll need to enter the 16-digit card number when checking out, along with the expiration date and the three-digit code from the back of the card. You’ll also need to enter the billing address associated with your EIP Card.

For both shopping in stores and online, there is a $2,500 limit per transaction and per day limit. And the merchant’s cash back limit may be less.

How do I cash out the card?

You can withdraw cash at ATMs, get cash-back from participating merchants, or withdraw cash from a bank or credit union. But only some of these methods are free, and there are some limits to how much cash you can take at once.

Cash from an ATM: There’s no fee to withdraw cash at in-network ATMs, but fees may apply if you use an out-of-network ATM. Refer to this ATM Locator to determine which ones are in-network. To get cash, simply use this card like you would any debit card: insert the card, enter your PIN and select “Withdraw” from “Checking.” Just be warned that there’s a $1,000 ATM withdrawal limit per transaction and per day, and individual bank limits may be lower.

Cash-back from participating merchants: As you would with any other debit card, select “Debit” when paying, then enter your PIN and select “Yes” for cash-back. Enter the amount and then hit “OK.” Once again, there’s a $2,500 per transaction and per day limit, although individual merchant cash-back limits may be less.

Cash from a bank or credit union teller: You can visit any bank or credit union branch to withdraw cash, but fees may apply (except for your very first withdrawal with the card.) You’ll need to know your balance beforehand, since the teller cannot tell how much money is on your EPI Card. You’ll also need to know your PIN for the card, and you will probably be asked for an additional form of ID, such as a government-issued photo ID card. Then you’ll ask the teller for the amount that you would like to withdraw. There’s a $2,500 per transaction and per day limit, although the bank’s limit may also be less.

What if I just want to transfer my balance into my bank account?

You can transfer the funds from your EIP Card to your bank account online at EIPCard.com or using the Money Network Mobile App. You will need the routing number and the account number for your bank account, and you will need to have activated your EIP Card.

To transfer funds: Call 1-800-240-8100 to activate your EIP Card.

Register for online or mobile app access by going to EIPCard.com or the Money Network Mobile App and click on “Register.” Follow the steps to create your User ID and Password. Be sure to have your EIP Card handy.

Select “Move Money Out” and follow the steps to set up your ACH transfer. Transfers should post to your bank account in 1-2 business days. There’s a limit of $1,250 per transaction, $2,500 per day and $5,000 per month.

So what are the fees?

Those who receive their Economic Impact Payment by prepaid debit card can do the following without any fees:

• Make purchases online and at any retail location where Visa is accepted.

• Get cash from in-network ATMs.

• Transfer funds to their personal bank account.

• Check their card balance online, by mobile app or by phone.

But you will be charged $2 for withdrawing money from out-of-network ATMS — after your first ATM withdrawal. Of course, you may also be charged a fee by the ATM operator, even if you do not complete a transaction. Refer to this ATM Locator.

There’s also a $5 bank teller over-the-counter cash withdrawal fee, although once again, the first time you withdraw funds from your card at a teller will be free. So if you’re planning to cash out your card from an ATM or a bank, the lesson here is to take it all out at once, if you can.

Perhaps most importantly, there’s a $7.50 fee to reissue a lost or stolen card. It will be shipped in seven to 10 business days after the reissue order is placed. If you want that card to be sent four to seven days after the order is placed, there’s also a $17 priority shipping fee.

Will the government be tracking what I spend the money on?

No. Under the Right to Financial Privacy Act, the federal government is not allowed to ask the card issuer about your EIP Card account, and the card issuer is not allowed to give the government information about your EIP Card account without your written permission, except under very limited circumstances.

So these cards aren’t a scam — but what IRS scams should I watch out for?

Be warned that the IRS will never call, text, email or reach out to you over social media to say it needs more information to process a payment. The same goes for banks and credit unions. You will only get such IRS correspondence by mail. Here are five red flags to watch out for from scammers trying to steal your stimulus money.

Any additional questions can be answered by visiting eipcard.com/faq.





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As boomers hand over the keys to the stock market, sustainability-minded younger investors let their consciences lead


At age 25, Kevin Guardia has already been investing for nearly half his life. Guardia’s father opened a small brokerage account for his son when Kevin was in junior high, and the young man started to dabble in buying and selling stocks just as the long rebound from the financial crisis got underway.

Now that he’s on his own, Guardia tackles investing more purposefully. “The whole point of buying a stock is the discounted value of future earnings,” he said. “So you want earnings that are going to go up, but you also want earnings that will be good for the future of this world.”

Guardia’s views on what is “good for the future” are eclectic, just like the diverse drivers luring more investors to embrace the “environmental, social and governance,” or ESG, investing category, a segment of the market also sometimes called sustainable, socially responsible or values investing.

Guardia is concerned about pollution and the environment but is also keenly aware of privacy issues. Kevin’s father supports this approach, but “we have different priorities,” with the senior Guardia’s eyes firmly on returns, Kevin told MarketWatch. The question of priorities has long complicated how ESG investing is viewed, with detractors warning that the full potential for profits is almost always sacrificed to do good and proponents saying that’s nothing but a myth.

Kevin Guardia believes corporate earnings aren’t just a short-term consideration.


Kevin Guardia

Investing professionals have long expected the Guardia family dynamic to unfold across financial markets as a younger generation comes of investing age. Millennials and Generation Z may get blamed for “killing” plenty of old traditions, but they’re also seen as having a lot more heart — and awareness — about how their dollars impact the world. And in the immediate aftermath of two financial market shocks — one from the collapse in oil prices
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and the other from the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic — it’s an impulse that takes on additional weight.

Read:Why don’t we panic about climate change like we do coronavirus?

“We have a lot of evidence that this next generation that’s going to take over the world does care,” said Dave Nadig, chief investment officer and director of research at ETF Database. “They’re asking harder questions. The question now is, what is the right way for them to express those opinions?”

Strong inflows back up pledges

That’s a high-stakes, nearly $21 billion question in fact — the amount of new money pulled into funds identified as “sustainable” in 2019. The figure, tracked by Morningstar, marked a nearly fourfold increase over the previous calendar-year record, set in 2018.

In early 2020, even as COVID-19 ravaged mainstream investments
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global demand for ESG proved resilient. In the first quarter of 2020, Morningstar found that the global sustainable-fund universe collected inflows of $45.6 billion, compared with outflows of $384.7 billion for the overall fund universe.

For many ESG investing advocates, the flow data is validation. Americans aren’t just claiming to be interested in sustainable investing; they are putting their money where their mouth is. Forward-looking sentiment surveys are also encouraging for those who support this investing theme.

In its 2020 global exchange-traded-funds investor survey, taken ahead of the full force of the pandemic, Brown Brothers Harriman found that an estimated 74% of global investors plan to increase their ESG exchange-traded-fund allocation over the next year. Almost one in five investors said they would allocate between 21% and 50% of their portfolios to ESG funds in five years. BBH, in its report, concluded that ESG “doesn’t appear to be a passing fad.”

Yet even with the inflows and the optimism, ESG remains a landscape fraught with challenges for all ages, from do-it-yourselfers like Kevin Guardia all the way up the investing food chain to someone like Larry Fink, head of $7 trillion asset manager BlackRock
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Fink in January announced his firm’s climate-conscious shift and a prediction that climate change will shape all investing in decades to come.

Off the top, ESG labeling qualifications remain fuzzy; fund-manager intent isn’t always clear; and just how returns might be pumped up, for instance with funds retaining some companies with questionable social responsibility in the mix, eludes even the most open-minded investors.

Delivering as advertised?

Values are just as personal in investing as in, say, religion or education. Guardia tries to invest in companies seen as supporting the Hong Kong protesters rather than the Chinese government. Another investor may prioritize investing in companies with diverse boards of directors incorporating more women and people of color on the belief that they will guide that company’s actions in the future, even if its current performance causes other investors to shy away.

There’s a solid chance that if you’ve put some of your own money in a fund marketed as sustainable, you might be surprised and disappointed at the way those ideas are interpreted by the fund manager. That manager may in turn think she has a great “values” idea, but is hamstrung by archaic or inflexible industry customs. There’s plenty of professional piling-on — by financial advisers, wealth-management-product designers and the media, for starters — who don’t really care what “sustainable” technically means, so long as it brings more eyeballs, more dollars and, ultimately, some of the pie for them.

Read: Here’s what you need to know about the $12 trillion ESG investment world

SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce said late last year as the regulator began a review of the sector’s socially responsible promises that “the first issue is that we don’t even know what ESG means,” adding that “defining that would be an important first step before trying to develop metrics.”

Related: SEC cracking down on ‘misleading’ mutual-fund names

Also: Do well by doing good with this fund that supports freedom and human rights

This dynamic was on stark display at an exchange-traded-fund gathering earlier this year. One fund-industry pro suggested the X-Trackers S&P 500 ESG fund
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should be considered “ETF of the year.” Another scoffed because prominently displayed among the fund’s top 20 holdings is Exxon Mobil
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one of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel concerns, he noted.

Indeed, less than half of the funds — 91 of the 303 sustainable funds tracked by Morningstar — are fossil-fuel-free or even “low carbon” by prospectus. As for thermal-coal exposure, 47 funds have none, and another 26 have less than 1% exposure, but 34 sustainable funds have thermal-coal exposure of between 3% and 5% of assets (thermal coal takes up around 4% of broader global indexes). Three State Street ETFs use the phrase “Fossil Fuel Reserves Free” in their names. They exclude companies that own “proved and probable coal, oil, and/or natural gas reserves used for energy purposes” but still have overall fossil-fuel exposure ranging from 4.3% to 7.4%.

Read more: Oil giant BP is latest to pledge net zero emissions by 2050

Investors sometimes formulate their own definition and timeline, depending on broader market issues. In an article published recently by an ETF trade publication, the massive surge of inflows into the iShares ESG MSCI U.S.A. ETF was described as a response to “cratering oil prices” in early 2020. But there’s nothing especially “ESG” about the fund’s makeup.

Holdings that make up an ESG mutual fund or ETF can vary greatly, including sticky territory like fossil-fuel companies or tech stocks with large carbon footprints. Only 10% of sustainable diversified equity funds exclude all fossil fuels, says Jon Hale, director of sustainable-investing research at Morningstar.

It depends on your definition …

The lack of standardization in ESG plays out in other ways. After several years running a hedge fund, Nancy Davis launched a unique ETF in 2019. The Quadratic Interest Rate Volatility and Inflation Hedge ETF
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uses options to help manage the interest-rate risk from government bonds. Those securities are inherently oriented to the public good, funding infrastructure, for instance, in a way that rent-seeking corporations aren’t, Davis has argued in making the case that she, too, is an ESG investor of sorts.

She also said that, as a woman-owned firm, her company checks more of the “governance” boxes in the ESG playlist than the massive corporations behind funds like X-Trackers S&P 500 ESG. The SPDR Gender Diversity Index ETF
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has as a top five holding shares of Wells Fargo & Co.
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a poster child for bad governance, some would argue, in the wake of its widely reported customer abuse.

But Davis has had trouble securing for her fund the “ESG” label that helps market these massive concerns.

Performance anxiety

Another well-worn criticism of ESG is that performance lags. That bears a second look, says Karen Wallace, director of investor education at Morningstar. The fund research firm says its study of over 56 ESG-screened indexes finds that performance across the survey range reveals returns uncompromised by feel-good stock picking.

Why? Companies that care about ESG metrics also tend to care about healthier balance sheets, stronger competitive advantages and lower volatility overall, historically boosting their long-run returns, Wallace said.

Opinion: Critics of ESG funds are wrong — sustainable investing delivers competitive returns

Over the past five years, sustainable funds have done well in both up and down markets relative to their conventional peers, according to Morningstar data. When markets were flat (2015) or down (2018), the returns of 57% and 62% of sustainable funds, respectively, placed them in the top half of their categories. When markets were up in 2016, 2017 and 2019, the returns of 55%, 54% and 67% for sustainable funds placed in the top half of their categories.

A partial explanation for the outperformance of sustainable equity funds over traditional ones lies in their being underweight energy stocks during a period of significant underperformance by that sector, such as in 2019, even before the COVID-linked oil-price crater. Diversified sustainable U.S. equity funds have about a 1.9% average energy weighting, compared with 3.9% for the S&P 500
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.

Read: This ETF takes a ‘conscious capitalism’ approach


‘ESG is in many ways the new active investing.’


— Ethan Powell, Impact Shares

Importantly, investors are also getting more opportunity for portfolios that “create” good rather than only being able to avoid the “bad.” In other words, ESG investing has evolved over the past 20 years away from a focus on excluding components deemed negative (tobacco or gun stocks) to an integrative approach of building an ESG portfolio, perhaps adding solar stocks or seeking out a company with minority representation on its board.

The “avoidance” ESG approach, still in use by managers who often pledge an alignment with religious values, “excluded prominent companies from the investment universe for nonfinancial reasons, which can lead to underperformance,” said Wallace. The newer approach, she said, “tilts the portfolio toward companies that are better at managing ESG issues and therefore less likely to face financial risks such as fines, lawsuits and reputational damage.” In general, tech stocks increasingly find their way into ESG portfolios.

With more stock-specific selection, “ESG is in many ways the new active investing,” agreed Ethan Powell, a former hedge-fund manager who founded the nonprofit Impact Shares, which was named most innovative in 2019 by ETF.com. That includes how a fund engages with the companies it owns, applies pressure by proxy and seeks to provide measurable impact beyond financial return.

Jackie Liu, co-chair of San Francisco law firm Morrison & Foerster’s global corporate department, also questioned why there’s a lingering underperformance stigma, considering that institutional investors with long-run future returns at stake for trillions in holdings — large pension funds, including CalPERS, among them — have led the conversion to sustainable portfolios. Any investors might look at what drives institutional decision making, she said, which is formulated to be better insulated against climate-change lawsuits, rising insurance costs and other future risks.

Other ways to invest your values

Still, caution abounds. Investors would be wise to stop thinking of “Wall Street” as a service industry and start thinking of it as just another product peddler, Ric Edelman counsels. It’s his belief that “ESG” is an au courant way of making investing products sexy enough to distinguish them from the cheapest, commoditized offerings from the likes of Vanguard and BlackRock.


‘[ESG] is great marketing, but a lot of sizzle, no steak.’


— Chamath Palihapitiya, venture capitalist

Edelman is the founder of Edelman Financial Engines, the largest independent financial advisory firm in the U.S. And he’s not the only high-profile ESG skeptic. “It’s a complete fraud,” the venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya said on CNBC in February. “It’s great marketing, but a lot of sizzle, no steak.”

For his part, Edelman has other, more nuanced, reasons for not steering his clients to ESG strategies: “Applying a noneconomic filter to an economic decision is never a good approach,” he told MarketWatch. And: “Mixing social morals with investments can be as dangerous as mixing politics and investments.”

It’s Edelman suggestion that “morally driven” investors instead make charitable contributions with the returns they receive from traditional investment strategies.

Another increasingly popular approach is likewise an about-face from the traditional divest-from-the-violators concept, and urges investors to fight for change because they have skin in the game. Suz Mac Cormac, corporate partner at Morrison & Foerster, who chairs its energy and social enterprise and impact-investing practices, represents clients who see merit in “fighting from the inside.”

“You can cut them off or you can engage,” she said, by investing in, and thus, holding companies responsible for ESG action via shareholder or employee activism.

Fund giant State Street Global Advisors, for instance, this year put the companies it invests in on behalf of clients on notice, saying three out of four companies aren’t meeting ESG targets and will be subjected to proxy voting action against board members and other steps.

Read:JPMorgan Chase shareholders defeat call for greater climate-change disclosure at world’s largest oil funder

Finally, there’s another strategy that has its roots in the attempt to express social values through portfolios, but will likely soon overtake investing of all types: “direct indexing.”

Natalie Truty, an adviser at New York–based Wealthspire, is a veteran of what she calls “the values-based discussion.” Once she understands exactly what a client wants — sometimes the mandate can be as vague as “make me more sustainable” — Truty can essentially build, on the client’s behalf, a portfolio that reflects those impulses.

Truty describes direct indexing like this: “It’s as if you took an index fund and unwrapped it.” She can apply the client’s “screens” -— such as avoiding tobacco or guns — to narrow down, say, the S&P 500
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to the Smith Family 400.

Truty said she’ll be watching with interest to see if the socioeconomic issues that battered financial markets in March and April will filter into client decisions. When the global oil-price war — what many analysts believe may be the death rattle for fossil-fuel dominance — broke out, Truty fielded several calls from clients seeking reassurance that they had no exposure to oil.

ETF Database’s Dave Nadig says younger investors now ask tougher questions.


Dave Nadig

For now, that kind of high-touch service, including responding to all those increasingly plugged-in ESG investors, is only available to clients with enough assets to make it worthwhile for most advisers. But just like any revolutionary technology — ETF Database’s Dave Nadig calls direct indexing “the self-driving cars of investment management” — the software is likely to become more inexpensive and widespread.

“I’m an outlier on this, but I believe that in 10 years, wrappers like ETFs and mutual funds are going to seem archaic,” Nadig told MarketWatch. “They’re great for pooling people’s money together. But the minute you have a personal opinion, wrappers stink.”



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Airlines improve coronavirus safety protocols to lure back anxious passengers


Airlines are trying to fill at least some of the seats on the planes they have in the sky.

Air travel in the U.S. has largely ground to a halt as people have grown wary about potentially exposing themselves to coronavirus. Many airlines have resorted to flying mostly empty flights — although in some cases, passengers have complained about crowded planes, as in the case of a recent United Airlines
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flight.

Jet Blue
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said this week it will continue to block middle seats on Airbus
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planes in rows where people aren’t traveling together through July 4, and will block aisle seats on smaller Embraer
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190 planes.

“Even with blocked seats, it’s challenging to maintain six feet of distance between everyone onboard and that’s why JetBlue was the first U.S. airline to require face coverings for customers,” the airline said Wednesday. JetBlue will keep the seat distancing program in place through at least July 6.

United announced a series of changes this week to help restore the public’s confidence in air travel, outlining how it will operate at airports and on board planes, including a partnership with Clorox Co.
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for enhanced cleaning and another with medical experts from the Cleveland Clinic, as it works to keep passengers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.


United will introduce sneeze guards at check-in counters, touchless kiosks in select locations for baggage check-in, mandatory face coverings for crew and customers, and will give passengers options when flights are over 70% full.

The company on Wednesday unveiled new cleaning and safety protocols that include sneeze guards at check-in counters, touchless kiosks in select locations for baggage check-in, mandatory face coverings for crew and customers, new economy snack bags that will come with a sanitizing wipe, and providing individually wrapped hand sanitizer wipes to customers when they board. United will also limit advance seat selections when possible, and give passengers the option to take alternative flights when flights are over 70% full, the company said.

This is a notable turnaround in policy for the airline, given criticism leveled at United in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Ethan Weiss, a University of California, San Francisco, cardiologist, shared a photo on Twitter
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showing nearly every seat full on the plane out of Newark Airport in New Jersey. He said customers were “shocked” and “scared.”

“I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737,” Weiss wrote. “They could have avoided this by just communicating better,” Weiss added. “They literally just sent an email 10 days ago telling all of us the middle seats would be empty.” He was traveling with 25 other nurses and doctors who have been volunteering in New York hospitals.

At the time, United said it could no longer guarantee all customers would be booked next to an empty seat. “Last month, we began limiting advanced seat selection for adjacent seats in all cabins, including middle seats where available and alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs,” the company said in a statement to ABC7
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.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group, released a summary in April of how U.S. airlines are improving cleaning and safety protocols. Alaska Airlines
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increased its cleaning procedures between flights and is now using disinfectants that are effective against viruses, it said. American Airlines aircraft are cleaned at regular intervals throughout the day with disinfectant.

Read more: Airlines are issuing billions of dollars in vouchers — but can you still get a cash refund for coronavirus-related flight cancellations?

Airlines are working to help contain and stop the spread of COVID-19, Airlines for America said. “The safety of passengers and employees is the top priority of U.S. airlines,” it added. “Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, carriers have been working closely with Congress, the Administration and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

“There’s no doubt that these unprecedented times will lead to some major changes in the travel industry,” said travel expert Brian Kelly, also known as The Points Guy on his website. “Until a vaccine is developed, carriers will need to make customers feel safe. Increased cleaning is a start, but we’re likely to see demands for more protections, including health screening.”


‘Until a vaccine is developed, carriers will need to make customers feel safe. Increased cleaning is a start, but we’re likely to see demands for more protections, including health screening.’


— Brian Kelly, AKA The Points Guy

“JetBlue was one of the first U.S. airlines to require that crew members wear masks and just recently extended the same rule to passengers,” Kelly wrote on his site. “In addition, JetBlue has limited the number of seats available for purchase, allowing for more space between customers. Crew members will continue to review seat assignments to comply with social-distancing guidelines.”

U.S. airlines are considering taking similar actions to Chinese airlines.

“United Arab Emirates-based Etihad has already begun testing new technology that would screen passengers for dangerous medical conditions like COVID-19 by monitoring their temperatures, heart rates and respiratory rates,” Kelly added. “However, many people with COVID-19 have been asymptomatic.”

“In the U.S., Frontier Airlines recently implemented a program that requires passengers to accept a health acknowledgment prior to completing check-in via website or app,” Kelly said. “This is the first we’ve heard of any U.S. airline instituting its own health-screening check. This isn’t the most effective screening, but it’s a start.”

See also:Frontier Airlines will drop social-distancing fee after wave of criticism

Carriers’ stocks have had a rollercoaster ride in response to the nationwide economic shutdown due to the coronavirus. Warren Buffett recently revealed that Berkshire
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had sold off all of its holdings in the airline sector, including stock in Delta
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,
American Airlines
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and Southwest
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.

Boeing
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Chief Executive David Calhoun said a major airline will “most likely” go under as a result of the coronavirus pandemic during a recent appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. He added that it could take three to five years for the industry to recover to the passenger levels seen before the pandemic. Airlines, meanwhile, face an uphill struggle to convince passengers to fly.

“Safety has always been our top priority, and right now in the midst of an unprecedented crisis, it’s our singular customer focus,” Scott Kirby, United’s Chief Executive, said in a video message to customers on Wednesday. “We recognize that COVID-19 has brought cleanliness and hygiene standards to the front of customers’ minds when making travel decisions.”

(Jacob Passy and Ciara Linnane contributed to this story.)



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Nvidia data-center sales top $1 billion for first time, earnings beat expectations


Nvidia Corp.’s data-center sales topped $1 billion for the first time at the start of 2020 as the company beat expectations for earnings and sales, but shares were sluggish in late trading Thursday following nearly a week of record closes.

Nvidia
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-2.17%

reported first-quarter net income of $917 million, or $1.47 a share, compared with $394 million, or 64 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Adjusted earnings were $1.80 a share, compared with 88 cents a share in the year-ago period. Revenue rose to $3.08 billion from $2.22 billion in the year-ago quarter.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet had forecast earnings of $1.65 a share on revenue of $2.97 billion. Nvidia had forecast revenue of $2.94 billion to $3.06 billion, which had factored in a $100 million headwind from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shares shifted between slight gains and losses, and were last down 1% in after-hours trading, following a 2.2% decline in the regular session to close at $351.01. Thursday’s regular session was the first decline for Nvidia’s stock after a run of four consecutive closes at record highs.

Business in the Age of COVID-19: Nvidia should dodge coronavirus effects thanks to data centers and videogames

Nvidia’s two largest segments are chips for gaming and data centers, both of which seem safe from negative effects from the coronavirus pandemic after emerging from a year of struggle at the end of 2019. Data-center operators continue to push new chips into their servers to increase machine-learning capabilities for cloud customers and their own usage, while videogames have enjoyed a strong surge amid shelter-in-place requirements.

Nvidia launched new data-center products like its A100 graphics-processing unit last week as part of its annual GTC event, introducing a new architecture for its GPUs, dubbed Ampere. Chief Executive Jensen Huang said then that the new chips were already being shipped to customers, including the largest cloud-computing offerings such as Amazon.com Inc.’s
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-2.05%

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Corp.’s
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-1.20%

Azure and Alphabet Inc.’s
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-0.17%

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Google Cloud.

For more: Nvidia unveils Ampere GPU architecture for AI boost, and the first target is coronavirus

Nvidia reported gaming revenue of $1.34 billion, up from $1.06 billion in the year-ago period. Data center revenue came in at $1.14 billion, the first time the segment has cleared $1 billion in sales. That’s up from $634 million a year ago. Analysts had expected a 24% rise in gaming sales to $1.3 billion from a year ago, and a 62% surge in data-center sales to $1.03 billion.

“Cloud is a $100 billion market segment of IT today, growing at 40% into a $1 trillion opportunity,” said Jensen Huang, Nvidia founder and chief executive, on a conference call. “Cloud computing is the single largest IT industry transformation that we have ever seen. The two forces that are really driving our data-center business are AI and Cloud computing. We’re perfectly positioned to benefit from these two powerful forces.”

Nvidia expects second-quarter revenue of $3.58 billion to $3.72 billion, while analysts had forecast revenue of $3.25 billion.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, called the quarter “phenomenal” given the pandemic.

“The A100 data-center training/inference product appears to be off on a rocket-ship start, a very good sign,” said Moorhead in emailed comments. “Gaming and workstation growth are directly tied to competitive products and the need to work, govern and school from home.”

Nvidia shares are up 49% for the year. In comparison, the PHLX Semiconductor Index
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-2.70%

is down 3% in 2020, the S&P 500 index
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-0.77%

is down 9%, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index
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-0.96%

is up nearly 4%.

Of the 40 analysts who cover Nvidia, 32 have buy or overweight ratings, five have hold ratings, and three have sell ratings, along with an average price target of $325.18, according to FactSet data.



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Tech conferences are going virtual, and it feels like Netflix content on demand


The changing face of major tech conferences came in the form of a live-streamed speech on my computer screen Tuesday morning.

In it, Microsoft Corp.
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-1.20%

Chief Executive Satya Nadella laid out his vision for “empowering every developer.” His 20-minute speech was followed by a series of live and prerecorded tutorials on coding, cloud computing, and other geeky topics from TV-like studios on the Microsoft campus, buttressed by slick graphics and pretaped videos, all day and night. And all of it was free, with easy access to 509 sessions and documentation. The two-day conference had the look and feel of content-on-demand a la Netflix Inc.
NFLX,
-2.55%

A week earlier, Nvidia Corp.
NVDA,
-2.17%

Chief Executive Jensen Huang delivered a two-hour keynote at GTC Digital in nine 12-minute slices, based on topics ranging from autonomous vehicles to artificial intelligence. The presentation, taped in Huang’s kitchen, attracted 4 million views. This year, 57,000 developers signed up to attend; last year, 10,000 physically attended the conference in San Jose, Calif.

Such is the new world of tech conferences in the age of COVID-19. They’ve gone all-digital, like Build and GTC Digital, and may never be the same. Absent a vaccine, the days of thousands of people herded into hotel ballrooms and convention centers like cattle, sharing cabs and eating in cramped quarters, are gone.

Far from crippling the tech industry, however, virtual shows could lead to democratization of what had once been an exclusive, pricey privilege for tech movers and shakers. In the new climate, consumers have free access to valuable technical content whenever they wish to view it.

“This will definitely change the approach of tech conferences. Virtually, you can identify attendees online and track what they see,” Paddy Cosgrave, chief executive of the company that runs the Web Summit and Collision conferences, told MarketWatch in a phone interview Monday. The show, originally planned June 22-25 in Toronto, will go on as an all-digital event those days.

“If the show is pure content and not networking, like an F8 or Build, you can upsell to them virtually,” he said. “F8, AWS, and Build are like infomercials, selling to an existing customer base.”

“Without question it was a better experience: free, no red-eye flight, no hotel room charges, and better access to the Microsoft team,” Laron Walker, CEO of Mantisedu Inc., an Atlanta-based education hardware partner of Microsoft, told MarketWatch in a phone interview. “Last year, I paid several thousand dollars to attend, and if I was late for a session, I couldn’t rewind it. This year, I could.”

Walker, 41, said he was able to view sessions at any time, pause them to take notes, and then pass them on to co-workers. He was also able to connect with Build speakers via LinkedIn and email because he had more information about them via their presentations. “This made me look at tech conferences in a whole new light,” he said.

Developers conferences are as much an annual ritual in the tech industry as Apple Inc.
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product launches and gargantuan shows like CES and Mobile World Congress. All told, they set the narrative for developers and, eventually, consumers over the next year or two.

May is usually the epicenter of such gatherings. Before COVID-19, executives, analysts, business partners, and the press had scheduled their travel schedules to attend Microsoft’s Build (May 19-21, in Seattle), Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s
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I/O summit (May 12-14, Mountain View, Calif.), and Facebook Inc.’s
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+0.61%

F8 (May 5-6, in San Jose).

Two of those shows were dropped while a third will be vastly restructured. For example:

Apple: “We are delivering WWDC 2020 this June in an innovative way to millions of developers around the world, bringing the entire developer community together with a new experience,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, said in a statement May 5. “We look forward to sharing more details about WWDC20 with everyone as we get closer to this exciting event” on June 22. The event is free for all developers.

Facebook: The company, which has vowed not to host events of more than 50 people until June 2021, is “still working through what F8 and more broadly what FB’s events/conference approach will be beyond June 2021,” a company spokesperson told MarketWatch.

Google: Google canceled I/O altogether and declined to comment on the show next year. The show will go on, however, for Google Cloud Next ‘20, with more than 200 sessions over nine weeks, from July 14 through Sept. 8, a Google Cloud spokesperson told MarketWatch.

Amazon: AWS Insights Online Conference is offering a free half-day “educational immersion” tutorial on media tech capabilities on May 28.

The evolution of developer conferences was inevitable in an era of lightning-fast streaming services, content on demand, and videoconferencing. A developer in say, Spain, can binge-watch cloud-computing solutions on one channel while another in Brazil views an archived keynote speech at roughly the same time. If it sounds suspiciously like a viewing experience on Netflix or Walt Disney Co.’s
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Disney+, that is the goal, she and others say.

Microsoft was already in the process of “re-imaging” how to connect more with developers to improve engagement, accessibility, resources, and content before COVID-19 — which accelerated its plan, Charlotte Yarkoni, corporate vice president of cloud and AI at Microsoft, told MarketWatch in a phone interview.

“People don’t like watching something that requires you to sit for four hours; they prefer content when they choose to watch regardless of time zones,” said Yarkoni, who called first-day demand and interest of Build “unprecedented.” She said interest in the weeks leading up to the two-day conference signaled that Build would experience a bump. Traffic for Microsoft Learn, a learning-platform for technical content usually used by developers, was up 272% in April, year-over-year, she said. What is more, Microsoft now has more than 72 million monthly active users across its technical documentation and learning sites.

Perhaps, another tech executive suggests, the preponderance of consumers using Zoom Video Communications Inc.
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-1.96%

has conditioned them to digest technical information online.

“Business-to-business conferences like ours are dependent on people meeting in-person,” Okta Inc.
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CEO Todd McKinnon told MarketWatch in a phone interview. But his perception changed after this year’s edition of Okta Live, an all-digital show in early April, drew record attendance. He’s now considering a permanent shift to a hybrid model of both in-person and digital attendees next year and beyond.

“We had tons of leads and off-the-charts engagement with an all-digital format,” McKinnon said after 20,000 attended, compared with 6,000 a year ago.

Nutanix Inc.’s
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+2.38%

Global .NEXT Digital Experience was to take place June 30-July 2 in Chicago. Now, it’s scheduled to be online in September.

“COVID-19 has forced Nutanix to think outside the box,” Nutanix Inc. Chief Marketing Officer Ben Gibson told MarketWatch in an email. “Consumers can expect the same great content from our traditional in-person events but on a schedule that best suits them — from the comfort of their home office.”

Before we write off the concept of the classic tech conference — even with the best of intentions and a treasure trove of content, there is no better way to network than in person, Collision’s Cosgrave points out. “Bigger conferences for meant for networking — dinners, cocktails, late-night meetings,” he said. “The flurry of networking is the utility of conferences. Speakers and panels are an excuse to go.”

“At the end of the day, we hope to be back in person in Toronto next year,” he said.



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