Dow futures were pointing to an over 300-point decline at Thursday's open after more than 2.98 million more Americans filed initial jobless claims last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average's 2.2% decline Wednesday extended blue chips' losing streak to 4.5% over the past three sessions. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq were down for the past two days. Wednesday's over 1.5% drop sent the outperforming Nasdaq back into negative territory for the year.
The fuel for Wednesday's tough day on Wall Street was downbeat remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell. He said more needs to be done to support the economy during the coronavirus crisis. However, Powell did add that U.S. growth should see a substantial recovery once the outbreak is brought under control.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr turned over his cellphone to FBI agents in response to a search warrant served on him as part of a federal investigation of stock sales he made early in the coronavirus outbreak, NBC News confirmed on Thursday. The North Carolina Republican has said he made the decision to sell based on public information and not on anything he learned in his role as a senator.
Thursday's level of jobless claims, while still historically off the charts, continues a slowdown in the pace of filings in recent weeks. The latest eight weeks of data show nearly 36.5 million claims. The coronavirus crisis peak in initial claims was 6.6 million for the week ended March 28.
Last Friday, the government's April employment report confirmed the carnage of the weekly claims numbers, with nonfarm payrolls dropping by 20.5 million and the unemployment rate rising to 14.7%, both post-World War II records. The so-called real unemployment rate, which includes workers not looking for jobs and the underemployed, surged to 22.8% last month.
Tesla's head of human resources warned the company's California employees that if they're called back to work but choose to stay home due to Covid-19 concerns, they could lose unemployment benefits. CEO Elon Musk reopened the company's main U.S. car plant in Fremont, California, this weekend, in defiance of county health orders.
Amazon is again extending wage increases and double overtime pay for its workers through May 30, but both policies will come to an end in June. While keeping up hazard pay, Amazon continues to face criticism for its decision to end its unlimited unpaid time off policy. A company spokesperson said Amazon continues to provide flexibility for employees with its leave-of-absence option.
President Donald Trump is set to name a former pharmaceutical executive to lead the White House's all-out effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year. Moncef Slaoui, formerly at GlaxoSmithKline, will lead "Operation Warp Speed" as vaccine czar, an administration official told The Associated Press. On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, said a vaccine would not be available by the start of the next academic year. Trump on Wednesday characterized Fauci's warning as "not an acceptable answer."
U.S. total cases neared 1.4 million Thursday morning, with 84,136 deaths. Worldwide cases topped 4.3 million as fatalities approached 300,000. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization's chief scientist, said Wednesday that it could take up to 5 years before the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Trump warned that the U.S. government will go after any companies that did not deserve forgivable small business Payroll Protection Program loans. The PPP, which has had two rounds of funding, has been criticized for giving money to national chain restaurants and other major companies, some of which are publicly traded. While some of those bigger companies have given the loans back, others have not. Trump said Wednesday that recipients that did not take the money in good faith have until Thursday to return it. Of the $1.32 billion tapped by public companies across 407 loans, only 61 loans making up a combined $411 million are being returned, according to data analytics firm FactSquared.
— The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report. Follow all the developments on Wall Street in real-time with CNBC's live markets blog.