Labor steps up call for Virgin Australia lifeline

Labor has stepped up its calls for government to come to the aid of Virgin Australia, saying the beleaguered airline's survival is vital for Australia's economy and for industry competition.

The federal government has announced close to $1 billion in industry aid since the coronavirus outbreak, which has obliterated travel demand and put airlines around the world under severe financial pressure.

But it has balked at Virgin's request for a $1.4 billion loan, which the debt-laden carrier says it needs to ensure it can survive the crisis.

Virgin has asked for government help to ensure it survives the coronavirus shutdown. Credit:Edwina Pickles

Labor's shadow transport minister Catherine King said in parliament on Wednesday the industry status quo – having Qantas, Virgin and their budget off-shoots Jetstar and Tigerair – had served the economy and travelling public well and should be maintained to protect jobs, ensure regular air services and promote competition.

"The government must extend a lifeline to Virgin if we are going to continue to see the current aviation structure survive this crisis," she said.

"If it does not, it is taking an active decision to see one of our major airlines fail in this country, and that will have significant consequences for hundreds of workers in the aviation sector and across our economy to come."

Ms King said government should consider granting loans or guaranteeing loans, or taking an equity stake in airlines, which would ensure it recouped its investment when the industry bounces back.

Transport minister Michael McCormack said in a statement that the government was committed to ensuring the industry was sustained through the pandemic, and that he was talking to airlines daily about "what else may be required as the pandemic continues".

The deputy prime minister announced a $715 million aviation rescue package last month, consisting of waived fees and levies. He followed that with a further $198 million package for regional airlines, and another $100 million in cash support for smaller regional carriers if required.

Virgin has proposed a "bridging" loan of $1.4 billion to be paid back over two or three years, which government could convert to an ownership stake in the airline if not repaid.

With Virgin's market value sitting at $700 million, the government would become the airline's largest shareholder if it converted its debt to equity, significantly diluting its existing major shareholders.

Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways, Chinese groups HNA and Nanashan and co-founder Richard Branson together own 90 per cent of the company.

However, Mr McCormack has previously said government had no intention of nationalising airlines.

Reports last week quoted unnamed government sources saying it did not intend to bail out Virgin and would instead facilitate another airline's entry into the market.

Government sources told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that federal cabinet was divided on whether to come to Virgin's aid. The airline's CEO Paul Scurrah says discussions are ongoing.

Market analysts have suggested that Virgin could last for three to six months before it burns through its available cash balance as most of its planes sit idle. Qantas, which has pushed back against a government bail-out for Virgin, is in a stronger financial position and can last closer to a year.

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Stocks in Asia Head for Third Day of Gains: Markets Wrap

Stocks in Asia extended a rally into a third day on light volumes as investors weighed signs of a slowing rate of coronavirus spread against more fatalities. Oil continued to swing ahead of a key meeting of suppliers.

Japanese shares climbed more than 1%, with shares in Korea and Australia also higher. Hong Kong and China underperformed. S&P 500 futures rose to session highs as of 6 a.m. in London after fluctuating earlier, following a rocky session Tuesday when gains fizzled late in the day. The Australian dollar slipped after S&P Global Ratings cut the country’s credit-rating outlook to negative from stable. Treasuries were steady after this week’s dip.

While the S&P 500 briefly reached a 20% gain from its March low on Tuesday, the highest coronavirus death tolls yet in the U.K. and New York State reminded investors the outbreak is far from contained. Still, New York’s number of new cases slowed and Italy reported its fewest new infections since March 13. Several European nations planned to ease restrictions.

“As the quarter progresses, investors start to understand that everything we’re seeing is in the form of assistance and aid to just tide the economy over,” Bob Michele, global chief investment officer at JPMorgan Asset Management, said on Bloomberg TV. “It’s not stimulus that gets the economy going at a much higher rate than where it is.”

29,556 in U.S.Most new cases today

-21% Change in MSCI World Index of global stocks since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

-1.​005 Change in U.S. treasury bond yield since Wuhan lockdown, Jan. 23

Oil edged up after sinking to the weakest level since the start of the month. Investors are weighing whether the world’s biggest producers will be able to strike a deal that cuts enough output to offset an unprecedented demand loss from the coronavirus outbreak.

Elsewhere, the kiwi edged lower after New Zealand’s central bank said it is open to increasing the size and scope of its asset-purchase program.

These are the main moves in markets:


  • Futures on the S&P 500 rose 0.6% as of 6:02 a.m. in London. The index lost 0.2% on Tuesday.
  • Japan’s Topix index added 1.1%.
  • The Shanghai Composite slid 0.3%.
  • Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.8%.
  • Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 Index gained 0.9%.
  • Kospi Index added 0.3%.
  • Euro Stoxx 50 futures slipped 0.3%.


  • The yen was at 108.90 per dollar, down 0.1%.
  • The offshore yuan traded at 7.0768 per dollar, down 0.1%.
  • The euro slid 0.2% to $1.0866.
  • The kiwi lost 0.4% to 59.51 U.S. cents.
  • The Aussie lost 0.7% to 61.28 U.S. cents.


  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries rose one basis point to 0.72%.
  • Australia’s 10-year yield edged up to 0.95%.


  • West Texas crude rose 5.8% to $25.02 a barrel after tumbling on Tuesday.
  • Gold was flat at $1,648 an ounce.

— With assistance by Min Jeong Lee

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Trump Defends His Weeks Downplaying Coronavirus: I’m A ‘Cheerleader’

President Donald Trump rejected assertions that he had downplayed the spread of the novel coronavirus for weeks, saying Tuesday that he maintained a rosy public outlook while working behind the scenes because he felt the president needed to be a “cheerleader” for the country.

“The cases really didn’t build up for a while, but you have to understand, I’m a cheerleader for this country,” Trump said during a daily coronavirus briefing at the White House. “I don’t want to create havoc and shock and everything else. But ultimately, when I was saying that, I’m also closing it down. I obviously was concerned about it.”

Trump’s comments came after CBS reporter Ben Tracy asked about memos written by top White House adviser Peter Navarro in January and February that included bleak warnings related to the coronavirus, saying it could cost the U.S. economy trillions of dollars and potentially infect or kill millions of Americans.

The memos circulated among the top echelons of the Trump administration and came at the same time the president was downplaying the threat of the virus, saying the country had it “totally under control” and that the outbreak would have “a very good ending.”

“The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil,” Navarro wrote on Jan. 29, as first reported by The New York Times. “This lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.”

Trump did restrict travel from China on Jan. 31 and blocked most travel from Europe on March 11. But he did not declare a national emergency until March 13 and has not issued any national stay-at-home orders despite being urged to do so by leading public health officials. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said last week he didn’t understand why the U.S. wasn’t under such a mandate already.

More than 396,000 people have now been infected in the country and at least 12,700 have died.

Tracy asked the president about his dismissive comments as cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, were first reported in the U.S. But Trump refused to give up ground, insisting his initial statements were still accurate.

“You were saying things like: ‘I think it’s a problem that’s going to go away,’” Tracy said.

“Which I’m right about,” Trump interjected. “It will go away.”

The president later added: “I’m not going to go out and start screaming, ‘This could happen, this could happen.’ So again, as president, I think a president has to be a cheerleader for their country, but at the same time I’m cheerleading I’m also closing down a very highly infected place, specifically the location, as you know, in China, that had the problems.”

“Those were big moves,” he said.

The president also faulted the World Health Organization for its response to the coronavirus, which it declared a pandemic in early March after COVID-19 killed more than 4,000 people worldwide. Trump said the U.S. would “put a hold” on funding to the group because he felt it hadn’t done enough early on.

“They called it wrong,” he claimed on Tuesday. “They call it wrong. They really, they missed the call.”

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European Shares Set To Drift Lower On Virus Worries

European stocks are set to open lower on Wednesday after the U.S. recorded
700 deaths in one of the country’s darkest days from the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday, lifting total U.S. fatalities from the disease to more than 3,700.

“I expect to see some very bad numbers coming out of the economy in the first quarter, second quarter,” Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester said in an interview on CNBC.

The scientists leading the Trump administration’s fight estimated the virus could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 in the country.

Describing the pandemic as “a plague”, President Donald Trump has warned of a “very painful” two weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic was “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region and countries must prepare for large-scale community transmission, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said as the global death toll due to novel coronavirus crossed the 42,000-mark.

The U.S. has the highest number of infections, at over 189,000, followed by Italy, Spain, China and Germany.

Meanwhile, in an effort to dispel public fears about hidden cases of the virus, China said it will include asymptomatic cases in its official count starting today.

Asian markets are trading mixed amid tightened lockdowns across the world to combat the virus spread.

Results of a private survey showed that China’s manufacturing activity expanded slightly in March, compared with February’s sharpest contraction on record.

Elsewhere, a measure of sentiment among Japan’s large manufacturers plunged in January-March, marking the fifth straight quarter of declines and the longest downturn since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Gold clawed back from a steep fall in the previous session while oil prices traded mixed, following their biggest-ever quarterly and monthly losses.

Euro zone unemployment data for February and final euro zone manufacturing PMI data are due later in the session.

Across the Atlantic, reports on private sector employment and manufacturing activity may attract attention as investors attempt to gauge the early economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. stocks ended lower overnight as coronavirus worries overshadowed better-than-expected reports on consumer confidence and Chicago-area business activity.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled 1.8 percent and the S&P 500 shed 1.6 percent to record their worst first quarter performances ever, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite lost 1 percent.

European stocks rose on Tuesday after a report showed an unexpected expansion in Chinese manufacturing activity.

The pan European Stoxx 600 advanced 1.7 percent. The German DAX climbed 1.2 percent, France’s CAC 40 index rose 0.4 percent and the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rallied 2 percent.

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Boeing making new 737 MAX software updates to address computer issue

Boeing CEO: Coronavirus not impacting 737 Max plans

Boeing CEO David Calhoun says it remains on schedule to certify the 737 Max.

Boeing Co said late on Tuesday it will make two new software updates to the 737 MAX's flight control computer as it works to win regulatory approval to resume flights after the jet was grounded following two fatal crashes in five months.

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The planemaker confirmed to Reuters that one issue involves hypothetical faults in the flight control computer microprocessor, which could potentially lead to a loss of control known as a runaway stabilizer, while the other issue could potentially lead to disengagement of the autopilot feature during final approach. Boeing said the software updates will address both issues.


The Federal Aviation Administration said on Tuesday it is in contact with Boeing as it "continues its work on the automated flight control system on the 737 MAX. The manufacturer must demonstrate compliance with all certification standards."

Ticker Security Last Change Change %
BA BOEING COMPANY 141.58 -7.19 -4.83%

The largest U.S. planemaker has been dealing with a number of software issues involving the plane that has been grounded since March 2019. Boeing halted production in January.


Boeing said it does not expect the issues to impact its current forecast of a mid-year return to service for the plane. Boeing said the new software issues are not tied to a key anti-software system known as MCAS faulted in both fatal crashes.

Boeing is adding new safeguards to MCAS in a software update.

Boeing said neither new software issue has been observed in flight. Boeing said in the autopilot issue "flight deck alerts and warnings are already in place to alert the crew if it did."

Boeing did not say when it expects the updates to be completed.

Reuters reported in February a key certification test flight was not expected until April at the earliest and officials say it might not happen until late May or later.

Last month, Boeing decided to separate 737 MAX wiring bundles that the FAA had flagged by regulators as potentially dangerous before the jet returns to service, Reuters reported.


Boeing said in February it would need a new software update to address an indicator light issue.

In January, Boeing discovered another software issue relating to a power-up monitoring function that verifies some system monitors are operating correctly.


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Fitch downgrades Australia’s banks

The economic crisis sparked by coronavirus has prompted Fitch Ratings to cut its credit rating for the major Australian banks, as it warned of rising bad debts and pressure on profits from low interest rates.

Fitch has downgraded the big four banks.Credit:Karl Hilzinger

The global credit ratings agency on Tuesday night downgraded the big four banks to A+, with a "negative" outlook, as it predicted that government policies would not fully cushion the economy from the hit of the virus.

Banks have in recent weeks said small businesses and households can defer their loan repayments for up to six months if needed, but Fitch predicted this would not stop some loans from going into default.

It said that once the economic recovery begins, "a portion of businesses will fail to restart," and "some households will not be able to resume debt repayments after the repayment holidays provided by the banks."

"As a result, asset-quality metrics will likely weaken from current levels over the next 12-18 months," Fitch said.

The plunge in official interest rates was another risk identified by Fitch. Falling rates crunch banks' net interest margins, which refer to the difference between banks' funding costs and what they charge for loans.

"Earnings will face pressure from both higher impairment charges and lower interest rates. The central banks in Australia and New Zealand have cut their respective cash rates to 0.25 per cent and indicated that they will remain there for a prolonged period," Fitch said.

Credit ratings can influence banks' wholesale borrowing costs, which can in turn affect the price of loans.

Rival credit ratings agency Standard & Poor's has made no changes to its big four bank ratings, which are all AA- with a "stable" outlook.

Moody's, the other major ratings house, cut its outlook for the major banks to "negative" last week, citing similar factors to Fitch, but it has not changed its rating from Aa3.

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World’s Dirtiest Air Gets Cleaner After India’s Lockdown

As India went into the world’s biggest lockdown to combat the deadly coronavirus, trains, planes, automobiles and factories came to a halt. And the skies in some of the most polluted cities on the planet turned blue.

Cities across the country, which was home to 14 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world last year, are breathing some of the cleanest air after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a three-week nationwide lockdown, starting March 25. On April 7, only two cities from India figured in the top 20 most polluted places, according to data from IQAir.

$81.​9B Renewable power investment worldwide in Q4 2019 +1.​17° C Feb. 2020 increase in global temperature vs. 1900s average 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 7 6 5 4 3 .0 2 1 0 9 8 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 6 5 4 3 2 0 3 2 1 0 9 0 5 4 3 2 1 Parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere 0 3 2 1 0 9 ,0 9 8 7 6 5 0 7 6 5 4 3 0 8 7 6 5 4 Soccer pitches of forest lost this hour, most recent data

Mumbai, IndiaMost polluted air today, in sensor range

50,​820 Million metric tons of greenhouse emissions, most recent annual data -7.​02% Today’s arctic ice area vs. historic average

“The low AQI and blue skies prove beyond doubt that a lot of the air pollution” is a result of human activity, according to Jyoti Pande Lavakare, co-founder of the Indian environmental organization Care For Air. “Obviously slowing down the economy to such a degree isn’t the ideal way of bringing down air pollution but at least it proves that it can be done, if the intention is there.”

Modi’s unprecedented move to impose the lockdown may have been the only way to enforce social distancing in the densely populated nation of 1.3 billion people, where cases have surpassed 4,900 and experts fear that number could increase dramatically over the next few weeks as testing increases.

The lockdown improved the air quality index to satisfactory levels in nearly 90% of the 103 cities monitored by the country’s Central Pollution Control Board on March 29, according to data on the environmental agency’s website. In contrast, about half the cities it monitored in the middle of last month had satisfactory air.

The clean air could aid the country’s battle against the pneumonia-like virus as air pollution makes people more vulnerable to lung disease. The World Health Organization estimates that dirty air kills 7 million people globally primarily through increased mortality from diseases including acute respiratory infections. In India, it’s also leading to a sharp drop in complaints from people with respiratory problems, according to Delhi-based pulmonologist Pankaj Sayal.

“We are now able to treat asthmatic patients with minimum medications,” Sayal said. “Right now, in this season, I’m getting only 20% to 30% of the calls” he would get earlier.

Still, the clean air has come at a cost and is likely to be short-lived. India is set to focus on getting its factories and businesses going again after the lockdown forced hundreds of thousands to flee cities in a mass exodus unseen since India’s independence in 1947. The economy is poised to shrink this quarter and full-year expansion set to suffer markedly due to the standstill.

“If the economic restart isn’t done mindfully, pollution will come roaring back as industries try and catch up,” Pande Lavakare said. “I expect this winter to be worse than usual,” as there could be a temptation to relax emission norms to revive the economy.

The haze that shrouds India’s capital for much of the year has become a symbol of the South Asian nation’s struggle to contain toxic air. Emissions from millions of vehicles, industries and coal-burning power plants are some of the main contributors to pollution as the country prioritizes growth to pull millions out of poverty. Pollution intensifies from fall onward as rice farmers burn the stubble of the harvested crop and lower temperatures trap the pollutants.

“This lockdown is uncomfortable, and no country would have wanted it,” but it’s giving data on how air quality and health indices change before and after the lockdown, Sayal said. There is economic disaster but it also “improves the quality of life because the air has become better. Delhi’s air breathes like a mountain air after the rains now.”

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Nike unveils coronavirus face shields to aid Oregon health care workers

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Nike unveiled its design on Tuesday for face shields to aid hospitals and health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic in its home state of Oregon.

The retail giant worked with Oregon Health & Science University to develop the much-needed personal protective equipment or PPE. Aside from the face shields, Nike is producing powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) lenses for use in health care facilities throughout Oregon.


“Without proper facial protection, health care workers are at a higher risk of contracting the virus, which could place substantial strain on the health care workforce in the months ahead,” said Dr. Miko Enomoto, an associate professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine at OHSU School of Medicine. “The full-face shields help protect health care workers’ faces and also help to prolong the length we can safely use a surgical or N95 mask.”


Nike said it is converting materials used to manufacture its footwear and other apparel to craft the health care equipment. The company worked with health care workers to test prototypes for mass production.


The first delivery of face shields and PAPR lenses arrived at OHSU last Friday. Nike said the protective gear was produced at its factories in Oregon and Missouri.

Hospitals around the country have noted a shortage of face masks, face shields and other protective gear as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened.

Nike is one of several companies to either shift production and source necessary equipment to aid relief efforts. Tech giant Apple has sourced 20 million face masks, while L.L. Bean has converted material normally used in dog bed liners to produce face masks.


“Nike’s generous response to the COVID-19 crisis helps to instill an added layer of confidence and support for health care workers, that we can safely carry out the jobs we were born to do,” Enomoto added.

To date, Nike and its executives have contributed $17 million toward efforts to combat COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. Nike CEO John Donahoe disclosed during an earnings call last month that the company was looking into designs for medical equipment.

"This is a moment in society where the private sector has a major role to play,” Donahoe said.


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Travel meltdown: Airlines say 25 million global jobs at risk, can’t afford customer refunds

Global airlines warned that 25 million jobs across the world could be at risk from the coronavirus travel downturn and the industry's representative body said airline finances were so fragile they could not afford to refund customers.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has held a series of weekly news conferences, issuing increasingly desperate messages about the state of airline industry, and urging governments to help carriers.

The aviation industry is at a virtual standstill, putting millions of jobs at risk. Credit:Getty Images

In its latest warning, IATA whose members include the likes of Lufthansa and British Airways parent IAG said global air travel slumped by 70 per cent at the beginning of the second quarter, and its Director General Alexandre De Juniac said airlines could not afford to issue refunds. He said customers should accept vouchers.

"The key element for us is to avoid running out of cash so refunding the cancelled ticket for us is almost unbearable financially speaking," De Juniac told reporters.

IATA highlighted the loss of jobs and the impact on the world economy if governments let airlines collapse.

Three months of severe travel restrictions plus lower traffic over 2020 could put 25 million jobs at risk, IATA warned, adding that about a third of 2.7 million direct jobs in the airline sector had either been lost or were furloughed.

Airlines are burning through their cash reserves as they try to stay afloat, IATA said, and providing refunds for cancelled flights, as rules in many parts of the world such as EU261 in the European Union, require them to do, was not possible.

Consumer groups are angry at airlines for ignoring those rules and say hard-up passengers need the cash just as much as the airlines.

IATA said about $US35 billion ($56.5 billion) of tickets were due for refund at the end of the second quarter, and vouchers or a delayed refund was all airlines could offer. IATA has approached governments to ask them not to force airlines to provide cash refunds.

But the US Transportation Department has told airlines they must refund tickets for flights that they cancel, or make a significant schedule change that passengers do not accept, following a rising number of consumer complaints and inquiries.

In the United States, a passenger filed a class-action lawsuit on Monday against United Airlines for refusing to pay a refund after his family’s flight was cancelled.

Separately on Tuesday, an environmental group called Stay Grounded published an open letter signed by 250 environmental groups and charities from across Europe calling on governments to attach climate and labour conditions to any airline bailouts.

IATA has been asking governments for a reduction of charges and taxes to help its members, which represent 82 per cent of global air traffic, survive, and for funds to help restart routes in future.

It said on Tuesday that European countries had agreed to defer air traffic control charges totalling some 1.1 billion euros ($1.9 billion) from February to May.


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Hedgies look to capitalize on coronavirus pain à la Warren Buffett

Hedge fund billionaires like Nelson Peltz are looking to mimic Warren Buffett’s strategy of investing in distressed companies through preferred shares as the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the economy, The Post has learned.

Large hedge funds like Peltz’s Trian Partners and Howard Marks’ Oaktree Capital Management have been scouring the globe for opportunities to plow large sums of money into companies hurt by shelter-in-place orders in exchange for stock that comes with big dividend payments and warrants to buy new stock at a cheaper rate, sources said.

Buffett, the head of Berkshire Hathaway, is famous for using preferred stock to make billions from companies in dire straits, including Goldman Sachs during the financial crisis. Berkshire’s $5 billion investment in Goldman in 2008, in exchange for stock that yielded a lofty dividend of 10 percent as well as warrants to buy new stock on the cheap, resulted in a $3.7 billion payday in 2011, just three years later.

“It won’t just be Buffett this time,” one well-known hedge fund manager told The Post. “I spoke to one CEO this week” about just such an investment, the on-the-prowl hedgie said.

Trian, an $11 billion hedge fund known for its activist investing, declined to comment. But Peltz has not previously invested in distressed companies in exchange for preferred shares, sources said.

Marks, of Oaktree, which manages $120 billion in assets, has done such deals before, including a $225 million investment in 2012 in nut seller Diamond Foods. In exchange, Oaktree landed preferred stock that paid a 12 percent dividend and warrants to buy 4.4 million shares at $10. Four years later, in 2016, Diamond was bought by salty snack maker Snyder’s-Lance for $40.46 a share.

Marks declined to comment on his strategy for investing in the coronavirus economy. “I never talk about tactics and strategies while the game’s afoot,” he told The Post.

Sources say lots more hedge funds have been on the prowl for Buffett-esque deals, including two weeks ago, when struggling cruise giant Carnival was in search of financing.

“They were running a process, and reached out to every big hedge fund,” said a source familiar with the process.
Carnival ended up tapping the public bond markets — thanks to a last-minute recovery in the stock market, which helped to reopen the door to public market financing.

The cruise operator last week priced a $4 billion bond offering at an 11.5 percent interest rate. If it had been forced to turn to a large hedge fund or private equity firm for a cash infusion, including preferred stock with warrants to buy more stock, it would have likely come at a higher cost to the company, industry experts said.

Preferred shares, especially when partnered with warrants to buy stock, offer the promise of such high returns because they also carry a lot of risk. The stock could fall, leaving investors with nothing but the dividend. And when a company files for bankruptcy, preferred shareholders, while above common stock holders, stand below debt holders in the payout line.

Even the “Oracle of Omaha” can get whacked.

Buffett’s Berkshire last April invested $10 billion in preferred stock with Occidental Petroleum for a dividend of 8 percent. Buffett also snagged warrants to buy up to 80 million Occidental shares at $62.50 a share.
At the time, Occidental was valued at $50 billion. With oil prices plummeting, it’s now valued at just $13 billion and its shares are trading at $13.83 a share — well below the price of Buffett’s warrants.

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