Economy shrank 3.5 percent in 2020

https://thehill.com/policy/finance/536247-economy-shrank-35-percent-in-2020

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The U.S. economy shrank 3.5 percent in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses, schools and events, marking the first annual contraction since the Great Recession, according to data released by the Commerce Department on Thursday.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) suffered its largest annual decline since 1946 due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Commerce Department release. The outbreak of COVID-19 caused the steepest economic collapse since the Great Depression, wiping out more than 20 million jobs and years of economic growth within two months.

U.S. GDP increased by an annualized rate of 4 percent in the final three months of 2020, according to the data released Thursday, following an annualized gain of 33.4 percent in the third quarter and a 31.4 percent annualized decline in the second quarter. But the economic rebound staged in the second half of 2020 has been dampened by the continued rapid spread of COVID-19 throughout the country.

The U.S. economy came into 2020 remarkably strong. Unemployment reached a 50-year low of 3.5 percent in the previous year, inflation remained low and the U.S. had just set a record for the longest economic expansion in its modern history. While the U.S. was likely to face some headwinds from slowing economies overseas, the stunning emergence of the coronavirus pandemic shattered the strong labor market and forced thousands of businesses to shutter.

Consumer spending — which makes up nearly two-thirds of the U.S. economy — fell 2.6 percent in 2020, driven mainly by a 3.4 percent decline in spending on services. Spending on goods rose 0.8 percent, however, as purchases shifted from gatherings to products that could be used during lockdowns.

Economists expect the U.S. economy to bounce back quickly in the second half of 2021, assuming enough Americans are vaccinated to prevent large coronavirus outbreaks. Both economists and health experts insist that a full return to normal is not possible until the pandemic is defeated. 

Roughly 9 million jobs lost during the onset of the pandemic have yet to be recovered, and those without work have struggled to get by with swaths of the economy still largely shut down by the virus. The federal government approved more than $4 trillion to fund pandemic response and economic rescue in 2020, though Democratic lawmakers and many economists say more is still needed.

President Biden and congressional Democrats are pushing to pass another $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill meant to ramp up vaccine distribution and offer more economic relief to those in the greatest need.

Republican lawmakers have not ruled out passing another relief bill, but most object to the size and scope of Biden’s proposal after approving a $900 billion measure in December.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell have both warned lawmakers that the risks of holding back on necessary fiscal relief are far greater than adding more to the national debt or risking an increase in inflation.

“I’m much more worried about falling short of a complete recovery and losing peoples’ careers and lives and the damage that will do to productive capacity than about the possibility of higher inflation,” Powell said Wednesday.

U.S. Jobless Claims Fall, but Layoffs Continue: Live Updates

U.S. jobless claims fall in mid-September, but the economy still suffering  lots of layoffs - MarketWatch

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell last week, but layoffs continue to come at an extraordinarily high level by historical standards.

Initial claims for state benefits totaled 790,000 before adjusting for seasonal factors, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The weekly tally, down from 866,000 the previous week, is roughly four times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic shut down many businesses in March.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the total was 860,000, down from 893,000 the previous week.

“It’s not a pretty picture,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global. “We’ve got a long way to go, and there’s still a risk of a double-dip recession.”

The situation has been compounded by the failure of Congress to agree on new federal aid to the jobless.

A $600 weekly supplement established in March that had kept many families afloat expired at the end of July. The makeshift replacement mandated by President Trump last month has encountered processing delays in some states and has funds for only a few weeks.

“The labor market continues to heal from the viral recession, but unemployment remains extremely elevated and will remain a problem for at least a couple of years,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Initial claims have been roughly flat since early August, suggesting that the pace of improvement in layoffs is slowing.”

New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an emergency federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment benefits, totaled 659,000, the Labor Department reported.

Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.

 

 

 

 

Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs

https://thehill.com/policy/finance/510368-pandemic-reveals-flaws-of-unemployment-insurance-programs

Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs

The lapse of enhanced jobless benefits amid a record-breaking crush of applications is exposing the flaws and shortcomings of how the U.S. provides unemployment insurance.

The economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic has torn holes in a federal safety net woven by individual systems for every state plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. More than 30.2 million Americans were on some form of unemployment insurance as of mid-July, with the Labor Department reporting a growing number of new applications in subsequent weeks.

Friday’s expiration of a $600 weekly add-on to state benefits plunged those vulnerable Americans into financial peril.

Congressional Democrats and Trump administration officials are now deadlocked over negotiations for a broader coronavirus relief package that’s expected to include some form of federal unemployment benefits.

But short-staffed unemployment offices across the U.S. grappling with outdated technology and unprecedented demand would face challenges from implementing a scaled-down or more complicated approach to the weekly payments.

Economists and labor market experts also warn that any solution that emerges from the negotiations would take weeks, if not months, to get up and running, risking a potentially catastrophic fiscal cliff for tens of millions of U.S. households.

“You ought to be able to deliver the program that’s on the books,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and a White House economist under former President George W. Bush.

“The states, collectively, seem to have not kept up the systems and we now have a big problem because of that,” he added.

The unprecedented size and speed of the pandemic-driven economic collapse has posed a brutal challenge for state unemployment agencies. After 10 years of steady economic expansion, the labor market quickly went from the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years to the highest level of joblessness since the Great Depression.

New claims for unemployment benefits were averaging roughly 200,000 nationwide a week before the pandemic — a manageable level for state agencies that had largely been neglected during the longest stretch of growth in modern U.S. history. But the coronavirus lockdowns spurred 3.3 million new claims between March 15 and March 22, a then-record that would be doubled the following week. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the previous record was 695,000 from the first week of October 1982.

A little more than four months after the pandemic hit, state agencies are now processing roughly 2 million new claims a week for both unemployment insurance and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program designed to cover those who don’t qualify for typical benefits.

“On some level, you can’t really blame states for not being prepared for that level of onslaught,” said Michele Evermore, senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project.

“Usually, you see the recession starting up and state agencies say ‘You know, this looks like a recession here, so let’s start to staff up.’ This came on all at once, so we’ve had these neglected, antiquated systems and then there’s all these other stressors.”

The U.S. economy has been in recession since February, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Processing the massive surge of unemployment claims on shoddy technology would have been hard enough for states. Adding enhanced benefits and PUA claims to the mix strained state agencies even more.

“It took time to upgrade those systems. It took time to hire and train new staff who could deal with the volumes of the calls, and all in a pandemic, when face-to-face contact and training and being together in office were not possible,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at job recruitment and posting company ZipRecuriter.

“So it’s easy to see in hindsight why it all fell apart.”

Enhanced unemployment benefits are among the biggest obstacles to reaching a deal on what’s likely to be the last coronavirus relief package before the election. While President Trump and Republicans are divided over how and whether to extend the federal boost, Democrats are largely united behind extending the benefits and reducing them gradually along a curve tied to the unemployment rate.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for including such a mechanism, known as an automatic stabilizers, in the coronavirus package being negotiated.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, introduced a separate bill designed to tackle economic downturns beyond the coronavirus recession. His measure would establish a six-tier system for reducing the federal benefit in line with a state’s unemployment rate.

The approach was endorsed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who oversaw the central bank’s response to the Great Recession, and his successor, Janet Yellen.

“Every time you get close to a cliff and there’s a political battle and political price to be paid, probably by both sides, rather than just saying ‘This is what’s needed,’ let’s kick it in,” Beyer said in an interview.

“We talked to economists all across the country and virtually everyone we talked to said this makes the most sense.”

But Republican lawmakers and right-leaning economists have pushed back on efforts to codify mandatory spending and make decisions now about what will be needed to mitigate future crises.

“It’s hard for me to understand why it’s appropriate now to anticipate the economic conditions in the future and tie the hands of future elected representatives of Congress,” Holtz-Eakin said.

“It forked out $2.3 trillion in [the CARES Act] across the board in ways that got to small businesses, to households, to the employed, the unemployed. If you’re going to have one in 100-year events, that’s how you deal with them,” he added.

Republicans have instead proposed replacing the flat $600 weekly boost with a percentage of the worker’s pre-pandemic earnings in addition to what is prescribed by each state. While the wage-replacement is more tailored, Evermore warned that making the necessary calculations for each claimant could overwhelm an already teetering system.

“If you told states that they had to do a percentage replacement — oh, my gosh, that’s a recipe for crashing everything,” she said.

“It’s just not how the system is set up to work.”

 

 

 

 

Fed chief: New surge in cases is beginning to weigh on the economy

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/29/powell-fed-economy/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR2CvBwHTLxHdQVT0I2uItlkVA9TMiJQpxdEyT2wucJ-3r1J3isD2U8y6Ic

US Central Bank Chief Says Surge In Coronavirus (COVID-19) Cases ...

The Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates unchanged at close to zero, but the Fed is also extending programs to buy Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

The head of the Federal Reserve said Wednesday that rising numbers of coronavirus cases since mid-June are beginning to weigh on the economy, reinforcing that the fate of the recovery depends on containing the pandemic.

“On balance, it looks like the data are pointing to a slowing in the pace of the recovery,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said during a news conference on Wednesday. “I want to stress it’s too early to say both how large that is and how sustained it will be.”

Job gains from May and June came “sooner and stronger” than expected, Powell said. But those encouraging signs were closely followed by a surge in coronavirus cases nationwide. Powell said that at the same time people’s lives depend on containing the public health crisis, it is also important to “deal with the economic ramifications.”

Powell said some measures of consumer spending, based on debit card and credit card use, have moved down since late June. Powell also mentioned recent labor market indicators that are pointing to slower job growth, especially for smaller businesses. Hotel occupancy rates have flattened out, Powell said, while Americans are not going to restaurants, gas stations and beauty salons as much as they had been earlier in the summer.

Powell said the upcoming jobs reports and other surveys will help flesh out the Fed’s economic outlook, cautioning that he did not “want to get ahead of where the data are on this.” But as he has for months, Powell again emphasized that the economy’s recovery depends on the country’s ability to stop the virus from spreading.

“The path of the economy is going to depend, to a very high extent, on the course of the virus and on the measures we take to keep it in check,” Powell said. “The two things are not in conflict. Social distancing measures and a fast reopening of the economy actually go together. They’re not in competition with each other.”

As expected, the Fed’s policymaking board decided to keep interest rates, which are already near zero, unchanged as it concluded two days of policy meetings this week. Markets responded optimistically to the news, with the Dow Jones industrial average ending up 160 points at Wednesday’s close.

The Federal Reserve signaled in its statement on Wednesday that the Fed would continue to use “its full range of tools” to steer the economy out of recession, even as the virus significantly shapes the future of the economy.

“The ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term, and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the Fed’s top panel of policymakers said in a statement at the conclusion of two days of meetings.

After sharp declines, economic activity and employment “have picked up somewhat in recent months,” the Fed said. Economists have been closely watching July indicators, which could help explain whether the recovery from earlier this summer is beginning to fizzle as some states and cities reimpose restrictions on businesses to combat rising coronavirus cases.

“Overall financial conditions have improved in recent months, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses,” the Fed statement read.

To support the flow of credit to households and businesses, the Fed said it would increase its holdings of Treasury securities and agency residential and commercial mortgage-backed securities at least at the current pace over the coming months. The Fed has said its support of the markets should remain in place to help safeguard the broader financial system during the pandemic.

At his news conference, Powell said the Fed was committed to keeping its lending facilities and other emergency measures in place not only during the shutdown and reopening, but also through the “long tail where a large number of people are struggling to get back to work.”

“We’re in this until we’re well through it,” Powell said.

Powell’s news conference comes as Congress clashes over another stimulus bill and an extension for enhanced unemployment benefits. On Tuesday, President Trump brushed off the new $1 trillion Senate GOP coronavirus legislation as “sort of semi-irrelevant.”

Powell has repeatedly said that the Fed cannot heal the economy alone and that more help will be needed from Congress to ease the pain for millions of Americans. On Wednesday, Powell said funding from the Cares Act has been key to keeping people in their homes and jobs. He praised the Paycheck Protection Program, for example, for getting money directly to businesses that couldn’t necessarily have been saved through a Fed lending program.

“Lending is a particular tool, and we’re using it very aggressively, but fiscal policy is essential here,” Powell said. “As I’ve said, more will be needed from all of us, and I see Congress is negotiating now over a new package, and I think that’s a good thing.”

Powell has stopped short of telling lawmakers exactly what they should do, or how urgently they should act, saying it isn’t his role to tell other parts of government how to do their jobs. But on Wednesday, Powell pushed the success of Congress’s earlier programs as reason for lawmakers to act again, said Skanda Amarnath, research director of Employ America, a policy group that advocates for full employment and higher wages.

Amarnath said Powell’s framing could give some cover to Republican lawmakers who are less convinced more help is needed, or who dispute the connection between the virus and the recovery.

“[Powell] is trying to reiterate that you can’t think of this as ‘either or,’ ” Amarnath said, adding that when it comes to tackling the pandemic and the economy, “you’re going to have to tackle one to tackle the other.”

For months, Powell has insisted that the virus will dictate an economic turnaround, which he says can’t happen until Americans feel safe going about their daily routines. Since the Fed’s last meeting in June, rising case counts have forced states to reimpose restrictions on business activity. Minutes from the Fed’s June meeting showed officials were worried the United States could enter a much worse recession later this year if the pandemic is not contained.

At this week’s Fed meeting, Fed leaders were expected to discuss other policy tools, such as forward guidance and asset purchases, without necessarily coming away with any firm conclusions. Economists are also awaiting the release of the Fed’s long-term monetary policy review, which could change the way the Fed approaches its inflation target.

 

 

 

 

Did a third of the economy really vanish in just three months?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2020/07/30/did-third-economy-really-vanish-just-three-months/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR11oZa1zNZ4rPe-mKLgDKQDwgqCYa_r9DXpQtycSqu0ojgHKGVN8H8ljOs

 

The second quarter GDP report confused many, but any way you slice it, the economy saw its worst quarter in at least 145 years.

The Commerce Department opened today’s announcement of second-quarter economic growth with an eyeball-blistering observation: “Real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020.”

That 32.9 percent represents the loss of a third of the economy. Let that sink in. Now let it wriggle back out again — it is not exactly true. Why? The Commerce Department reports quarterly GDP at an annual rate to allow easy comparisons to other time periods. Remove the annualization, and we see the economy contracted a still-abysmal 9.5 percent.

In other words, 32.9 percent is how much the economy would shrink if the business closures and spending cuts of the second quarter increased at a compounding 9.5 percent for an entire year, after adjusting for seasonality.

Think of what an apocalypse that would be. Annualization assumes the businesses closed this quarter would remain closed and that just as many more would close in the third quarter. And we’d expand the closures again in the fourth quarter and again in the first quarter of next year.

In other words, take the devastation you saw in the past three months and multiply it by four. That is essentially what annualizing does, though compounding means the actual math is a bit more complicated.

The Commerce Department’s affection for annualization does not stop at percentage change. It also reports quarterly GDP totals at an annualized rate — when Commerce says GDP was at $17.2 trillion in the past quarter, it means GDP would be at $17.2 trillion if this quarter’s $4.3 trillion in output continued for a full year.

With that in mind, here is U.S. GDP, adjusted for inflation and reported as quarterly totals, as suggested by reader Nick Estes.

That chart does not crash by a third, obviously. A 32.9 percent drop would mean a loss of about $1.6 trillion from last quarter. In fact, the economy shrank $0.45 trillion in the second quarter, on the heels of a $0.06 trillion (1.3 percent) decrease in the first quarter of 2020.

To see a third of the economy truly vanish, look at the Great Depression. From 1929 to 1933, GDP contracted about 36 percent, according to data collected by economists Nathan Balke and Robert Gordon. That is the actual contraction — no annualization in sight.

Commerce Department data, which start in 1947, show the previous worst quarter on record was a 2.6 percent drop in 1958. That contraction just happened to coincide with the “Asian flu” pandemic, which claimed about a million lives worldwide.

With Balke and Gordon’s expanded data, we can also establish that a drop of 9.5 percent makes this quarter the worst since at least 1875. The next worst were in 1893, when a legendary panic and run on the banks resulted in a long, painful depression, and 1937, when the Great Depression took a turn for the worse. Then, we saw drops of 8.4 percent and 7.2 percent, respectively.

 

 

3 Months Of Hell: U.S. Economy Drops 32.9% In Worst GDP Report Ever

https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/07/30/896714437/3-months-of-hell-u-s-economys-worst-quarter-ever?utm_campaign=storyshare&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&fbclid=IwAR1L_YW1uYovd5bpjtU6xV7HI_DgGsYPgmdEs3fz0RbOn8XukrKhafRsljE

Economy Shrank At 32.9% Rate In 2nd Quarter

Percent change from the preceding period, seasonally adjusted annual rate

3 Months Of Hell: U.S. Economy Drops 32.9% In Worst GDP Report ...

The coronavirus pandemic triggered the sharpest economic contraction in modern American history, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

Gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic activity — shrank at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter as restaurants and retailers closed their doors in a desperate effort to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the U.S.

The economic shock in April, May and June was more than three times as sharp as the previous record — 10% in 1958 — and nearly four times the worst quarter during the Great Recession.

“Horrific,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit. “We’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

Another 1.43 million people filed for state unemployment last week, an increase of 12,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. It was the second week in a row of increased unemployment filings and shows that the economic picture continues to remain grim.

GDP swings are typically reported at an annual rate — as if they were to continue for a full year — which can be misleading in a volatile period like this. The overall economy in the second quarter was 9.5% smaller than during the same period a year ago.

After a sharp drop in March and April, economic activity began to rebound in May and June, although that recovery remains halting and could be jeopardized by a new surge of infections.

“As soon as the virus started to take off again in key states like Texas, California, Arizona, Florida, it’s fading very rapidly,” Behravesh said.

Restaurant owner Cameron Mitchell likens the pandemic to a hurricane. What appeared to be a business rebound in June turned out to be merely the eye of the storm, and he’s now being buffeted by gale-force winds again.

“Our associates are more scared to work today and guests are more afraid to go out, so sales have dropped,” Mitchell said.

Business at his restaurants in Florida had nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels in June but has since fallen sharply.

Other industries have enjoyed a more durable recovery, though few are back to where they were in February.

Dentists’ offices are ordinarily one of the more stable parts of the economy, but they closed for all but emergency services during much of the spring. Dental hygienist Alexis Bailey was out of work for 10 weeks before her office in Lansing, Mich., reopened at the end of May.

At first, she was reluctant to go back to work while the virus was still circulating.

“I was terrified,” Bailey said. “I was not happy to be back. But I have a job to do and I like to do it and I want to help people. We talk about how essential we are, so that’s what we’ve had to do.”

Within an hour of returning to work, Bailey said, she began to feel comfortable, particularly with the additional protective gear and other safety precautions her office has adopted.

“I tell my patients all the time I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel safe,” she said.

Nationwide, dental offices added more than a quarter-million jobs in May and another 190,000 in June. And there has been no shortage of patients.

She thought no one would want to come. “But we’re booked,” Bailey said. “People miss getting their teeth cleaned. They want to catch up. Every time they come in, they say, ‘This has been nice to get out of the house and feel safe and talk to somebody.’ ”

Factory production has also begun to rebound, along with construction. But airlines and amusement parks are still struggling.

“It’s very much a sort of two-tiered economy right now,” Behravesh said.

The unemployment rate approached 15% in April, and in June it was still higher — at 11.1% — than during any previous postwar recession.

While the drop in GDP was largely driven by a decline in consumer spending, the economic fallout was cushioned somewhat by an unprecedented level of federal relief.

Wages and salaries fell sharply in April, but that was more than offset by the $1,200 relief payments that the government sent to most adults and by supplemental unemployment benefits of $600 per week.

Those government payments helped prevent an even steeper drop in consumer spending — the lifeblood of the U.S. economy — and allowed struggling families to buy groceries and pay rent.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the money “has been well spent. It has kept people in their homes. It has kept businesses in business. So that’s all a good thing.”

Those extra unemployment benefits are expiring this week, though. With coronavirus infections still threatening the recovery, additional federal support is likely to be necessary.

“Until we get the virus under control, we’re going to need more help,” Behravesh said. “Our view is that we’re not going to get to the pre-pandemic levels of economic activity until some time in 2022.”

Restaurant owner Mitchell says his business lost $700,000 in June alone. He predicts a wave of restaurant bankruptcies unless the federal government provides more relief.

“No one is looking for a handout here,” he said. “We’re looking to survive.”

He’s watching news of vaccine trials closely in hopes that eventually diners will feel comfortable eating out again in large numbers.

“I don’t think it’s the next couple of weeks,” he said. “But I tell our team, ‘Every day that goes by, it’s one day closer to the end of this thing.’ ”

 

 

 

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/23/business/coronavirus-economy-recovery/index.html

The economy is in deep trouble again. Coronavirus is to blame - CNN

Restaurant reservations are waning. The rebound in air travel is leveling off. And foot traffic at stores is dwindling once again. There is mounting evidence that America’s fragile economic recovery is already stalling as the number of coronavirus infections and deaths spike.

Real-time economic indicators bottomed out in May as stay-at-home orders were lifted and many Americans felt safe enough to start visiting shopping centers, restaurants and even airports.
That gave hope, perhaps prematurely, of a rapid V-shaped recovery for the United States from the historic collapse caused by the pandemic.
But there is now a growing sense that the recovery is losing steam as coronavirus infections surge in California, Texas, Florida and other Sun Belt states.
“The premature reopening of the U.S. economy has resulted in an intensification of the pandemic, which is now causing growth in the economy to slow,” Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM International, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.
The stall of the fragile recovery comes as Congress debates whether the economy needs more stimulus — and if so, how much to provide. The $600 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits expire this month unless lawmakers take action.
Economists say there is nothing to debate: The recovery is faltering.
“Activity is now clearly contracting in COVID hot spots, including the Sun Belt and the West,” Aneta Markowska, chief economist at Jefferies, wrote in a report on Monday.
That is hardly surprising, given that 22 states have either reversed or paused their reopening due to health concerns.

Recovery hopes overdone?

This doesn’t mean the US economy will keep shrinking in the third quarter. Economists are still betting GDP will turn sharply positive after having collapsed by an estimated 34% during the second quarter. But now they worry that the forecasts for blockbuster growth may be overly optimistic.
For instance, S&P Global Economics warned Wednesday that its estimate for a surge in third quarter GDP at an annualized pace of 22.2% is “at risk of weakening” because of the health crisis.
“Although our base case is for a gradual recovery through next year,” S&P economists wrote, “the [recent] surge in COVID-19 and hospitalizations has raised concerns that a more likely scenario is that the COVID-19 recession has not bottomed out.”
The latest real-time economic indicators suggest those concerns are warranted.
More turbulence for air travel: The resurgence of coronavirus infections is derailing the travel industry’s modest recovery. The number of air passengers processed through TSA security lines fell during the week ended July 20, compared with the prior week, according to Bank of America. This metric is down more than 70% from a year ago.
United (UAL) CEO Scott Kirby told CNBC on Wednesday that the airline doesn’t “expect to get anywhere close to normal until there’s a vaccine that’s been widely distributed to a large portion of the population.”
Restaurant trouble: As the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard clearly shows, restaurant reservations on OpenTable have weakened in recent weeks. During March and April, as the pandemic wreaked havoc, reservations were down nearly 100% from a year ago. That figure rebounded to down “only” 50% in mid-June, but has since rolled over and stood at -65% as of Monday.
Foot traffic to Chipotle (CMG) was down 47% during the first week in June, according to Placer.ai, an analytics platform that uses anonymized location data. Traffic improved to down just 30% by the end of June, but has since “stagnated” through mid-July, Placer.ai said.
Retail slowdown: In April, US retail traffic declined by a staggering 98%, according to Cowen. Traffic steadily improved, with June traffic down 57%, but that rebound has stalled. US retail traffic fell 47% from a year ago during the second week of July, Cowen said, a slight deterioration from the first week in July when traffic was down 45%.
Small business shutdowns: As of Sunday, 24.5% of small businesses in the United States were closed, according to Jefferies. That is worse than late June, when only 19% were closed. Jefferies pointed to “particular weakness in COVID hot spots” and noted that small business employment had dropped to levels unseen since the end of May.
Weaker spending: After plunging by as much as 31% year-over-year in early April, purchases on credit cards issued by Synchrony turned positive in late June. However, Synchrony (SYF) said Tuesday that spending during the first two weeks of July was down 2%.
Unemployment website visits: Web traffic to state unemployment portals “leveled off at still-high levels, suggesting labor market momentum has stalled,” Jefferies said. That jibes with official government statistics in the CNN Business Recovery Dashboard that show unemployment claims have tumbled from their spike this spring but remain elevated. In fact, another 1.4 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week — the first increase in weekly claims since late March.
“The spread of the virus since mid-June has clearly had an adverse effect on economic activity,” economists at Bank of America wrote in a note to clients Wednesday. “It is clear that the path of the economic recovery cannot be disentangled from the path of the virus.”

No vaccine, no recovery?

That’s not to say all real-time indicators are negative right now. For instance, Jefferies said one of the last metrics to bottom out, a US job listing index that the bank created with alternative data platform Thinknum, continued to improve even last week.
Still, the New York Federal Reserve’s weekly economic index, which is composed of metrics on the labor market, consumer behavior and goods production, dropped for the first time since hitting the pandemic low point in late April.
All of this raises stakes in the race to develop a vaccine that is effective against Covid-19.
Vaccine hopes, on top of unprecedented easy money from the Federal Reserve, have helped catapult the stock market. The S&P 500 has spiked 46% since the March 23 low and is now positive for the year.
Real progress is being made on the vaccine front, underscored by a $1.95 billion deal announced Wednesday for Pfizer (PFE) to produce millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses for the US government.
Yet healthcare execs remain more cautious than Wall Street. Seventy-three percent of healthcare industry leaders polled by Lazard estimate that a vaccine won’t be widely available until at least the second half of 2021.
“It is becoming quite clear that absent an accessible and widely distributed vaccine,” RSM’s Brusuelas said, “there will be no complete economic recovery.”

 

 

U.S. passes 4 million coronavirus cases as pace of new infections roughly doubles

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/us-passes-4-million-coronavirus-cases-as-pace-of-new-infections-roughly-doubles/2020/07/23/d0125192-cd02-11ea-b0e3-d55bda07d66a_story.html?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&fbclid=IwAR3Ve5MnHiStJnPO_mzkc1c2sHE2EM6QOG-2HochFPBmJe6hnyvcmqEVQ4U

The United States on Thursday passed the grim milestone of 4 million confirmed coronavirus infections, and President Trump announced he was canceling the public celebration of his nomination for a second term, as institutions from schools to airlines to Major League Baseball wrestled with the consequences of a pandemic still far from under control.

The rapid spread of the virus this summer is striking, taking just 15 days to go from 3 million confirmed cases to 4 million. By comparison, the increase from 1 million cases to 2 million spanned 45 days from April 28 to June 11, and the leap to 3 million then took 27 days.

Trump’s cancellation of the in-person portion of the Republican National Convention planned for next month in Jacksonville, Fla., represented a remarkable reversal. He had insisted for months on a made-for-television spectacle that would have packed people close together in a state that is now an epicenter of the resurgent pandemic.

On Thursday, he conceded that was not going to work. “The timing for this event is not right,” Trump said during the latest of somber, solo White House briefings this week. “It’s just not right with what’s been happening.”

Florida reported 173 deaths on Thursday, its highest single-day count of new deaths, and also reported more than 10,200 new coronavirus cases.

In a scathing statement blaming the surge of new cases on Trump’s “failure to care,” presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden said the president “quit on this country and waved the white flag of surrender.”

Meanwhile, nearly every public health metric suggests America is badly losing its fight against the virus.

Positivity rates have reached alarming levels in numerous states, hospitalizations are soaring, and more than 1,100 new coronavirus deaths were reported across the United States on Wednesday, marking the first time since May 29 that the daily count exceeded that number, according to Washington Post tracking.

The rolling seven-day average of infections has doubled in less than a month, reaching more than 66,000 new cases per day Wednesday. The U.S. death toll now exceeds 141,000.

As a result, many businesses appear to be pulling back after their attempts to resume more normal operations proved premature, and an additional 1.4 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits last week. It was the first time since March that new claims rose. Another 980,000 new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims — the benefits offered to self-employed and gig workers — were also filed.

Congress, meanwhile, struggled to confront the crisis. Senate Republicans killed Trump’s payroll tax cut proposal on Thursday, widening an unusual rift with the White House over the cost and contents of the latest national coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had planned to roll out a $1 trillion GOP bill Thursday morning, but that was canceled amid the intraparty conflicts.

Administration officials then floated a piecemeal approach, involving several different aid bills, but ran into opposition from lawmakers in both parties.

Trump’s briefing Thursday afternoon, his third of the week, reflected an effort to increase popular support for his management of the coronavirus outbreak, which even many of his allies have criticized. About 2 out of 3 Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, a new poll found.

Trump dismissed or played down the risk of the virus for months after it had begun spreading in the United States and has been a self-described cheerleader for rapid reopening of businesses and schools shuttered to help slow its spread.

The survey of 1,057 adults in the United States, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, also showed that 3 out of 4 Americans, including a majority of Republicans, support mandatory face coverings when people are outside their own homes.

Democrats overwhelmingly favor mask mandates, at 89 percent. The majority of Republicans — 59 percent — also support them.

Ninety-five percent of Democrats and 75 percent of Republicans say they wear face coverings when leaving home. Overall, more Americans — 86 percent — are wearing masks compared with in May, when 73 percent were doing so.

Trump resisted wearing a mask in public until earlier this month, despite calls to set a good example from the top. He now calls it patriotic to wear a mask, though he still does not wear one consistently and says people should decide for themselves. Trump carries a black-cloth version in his pocket, which he says is sufficient for those instances when he is close to people who have not been screened for the virus.

Trump’s shift may reflect a growing consensus in favor of masks, although it is not clear that opposition to them has ebbed among some of the president’s strongest political supporters.

The business community is struggling, too. American Airlines and Southwest Airlines posted big quarterly losses between April and July in their earnings reports released Thursday, projecting that travel demand will not rebound anytime soon.

In American’s second quarter, revenue dropped more than 86 percent, to $1.6 billion, from nearly $12 billion a year ago, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. The company posted a net loss of nearly $2.1 billion, attributing it to stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions.

“As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented decline in the demand for air travel, which has resulted in a material deterioration in our revenues,” the company said in the earnings report. “While the length and severity of the reduction in demand due to Covid-19 is uncertain, we expect our results of operations for the remainder of 2020 to be severely impacted.”

Southwest posted revenue of $1 billion in its second quarter, an almost 83 percent dip compared with a year ago. The company also posted a net loss of $915 million.

Trump also took a small step back from his insistence that schools should open on time this fall, conceding instead that some schools might need to delay in-person learning. Many school districts have already announced that decision.

Trump has been critical of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, saying it made it too tough for schools to reopen, and promised new guidelines would be issued. On Thursday, the CDC released several documents emphasizing the benefits of in-person school, in line with Trump’s messaging. Some of the guidance was written by White House officials rather than experts at the CDC, people familiar with the process said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal decision-making.

The new guidelines for school administrators mention precautions outlined in previous documents, but they appear to drop specific reference to keeping students six feet apart — something many schools find almost impossible to do if they are fully reopened. This document also suggests that schools consider closing only if there is “substantial, uncontrolled transmission” of the virus, and not necessarily even then.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) echoed Trump in making a case for students to return to classrooms, despite the state’s teachers union suing over an order forcing schools to fully reopen. Meanwhile, a new poll showed that most parents would prefer to delay the start of in-person school.

During an appearance on “Fox & Friends,” DeSantis said that schoolchildren are “by far at the least risk for coronavirus, thankfully.”

“We also know they play the smallest role by far in transmission of the virus, and yet they’ve really been asked to shoulder the brunt of our control measures,” said DeSantis, a close Trump ally who had volunteered his state for the Republican convention next month.

DeSantis said that the “evidence-based decision” is for all parents to have the option of in-class instruction for their children if they choose. He said those who are not comfortable with sending their children back to school could continue distance learning.

The role children play in spreading the virus is still being studied, with experts saying that results are not definitive. A South Korean study found that children over the age of 10 were as likely to transmit the virus as adults, while those under 10 were less likely to spread it.

Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Wednesday on Fox News that the United States is launching a study of its own, adding that the data “really needs to be confirmed here.”

Among the most visible American institutions searching for a path forward is the sports industry. Major League Baseball began a pandemic-shortened season on Thursday, playing in empty stadiums amid questions about whether the sport can make it through October without having to abort. It is as much a science experiment as a championship pursuit.

Players are prohibited from spitting or high-fiving. Foul balls that wind up in the stands will remain there.

Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, threw out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals home opener against the New York Yankees. Nationals star outfielder Juan Soto tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday and missed the game.

Meanwhile, Japan marked a year’s delay of the Olympic Games on Thursday. Tokyo was to host the 2020 Summer Olympics starting Friday. A 15-minute ceremony in Tokyo’s newly built $1.4 billion Olympic Stadium started the countdown to the delayed games, now set to begin on July 23, 2021. The city also marked a new daily record in reported cases on Thursday, with 366.

poll this week by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency found that fewer than 1 in 4 people in Japan even want to host the games anymore. One-third of respondents said the games should be canceled, while 36 percent expressed interest in postponing them for more than a year.