Business returns in China as coronavirus outbreak eases

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Dow Inc. CEO Jim Fitterling expressed optimism Monday about the U.S. economy’s ability to recover from the coronavirus, pointing to positive signs coming from Chinese market. 

“Our demand is good right now,” Fitterling told CNBC’s Jim Cramer. “In fact, the last two weeks we’ve seen our demand in China bounce back.” 

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Fitterling, appearing on “Mad Money,” said the company really started to see the economic impacts from the coronavirus in China in early February, which was after the government implemented widespread travel restrictions in attempt to slow the disease’s spread. 

“We’ve already started to see a recovery from that,” he said. “I think that tells us that we can see the same thing wash through the economy here.” 

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The number of coronavirus cases outside of mainland China is now greater than the number there, where the disease was discovered in late December.

There are more than 181,000 cases globally. China has more than 81,000 of them while Italy is home to the second-largest outbreak with more than 27,000 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

China’s National Health Commission said there were 16 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China and 14 new deaths as of Sunday.  

The U.S. has more than 4,000 confirmed cases of as Monday night. 

Shares of Dow Inc., which makes chemicals used in brake fluids and packaging materials, closed Monday at $22 after falling 14.4%.

The stock, like the broader market, has taken a hit in recent weeks as investor concern grows about the economic consequences of the coronavirus. 

Dow’s stock is down 59.8% so far this year. The S&P 500 sits more than 29% off its February highs after it fell 11.98% on Monday.  

The fall in Dow’s stock price has created a dividend yield of around 12%, Cramer said.

Fitterling said the company has taken ample steps to protect its quarterly dividend of 70 cents since it was spun off from what is now DuPont de Nemours, Inc. last year. 

For example, the company has paid down nearly $3 billion in debt, he said, and began the year with more than $2 billion in cash on hand. 

“The market is full of fear, uncertainty and doubt and they may project that onto the dividend,” he said. “It’s an artificially high dividend yield. We’re in a much, much different financial position than we’ve been, and we did it deliberately to be ready to go into a down cycle after about a 10 to 11 year bull run in this market.” 

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