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Raging virus triggers new shutdown orders

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The uncontrolled coronavirus outbreak is prompting government officials across the nation to impose new restrictions on consumers and businesses, sapping the economy’s momentum and delaying the recovery of millions of jobs lost during the recession.

Washington’s failure to provide additional financial support is compounding the economic distress. Though Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell this week repeated his call for a fresh round of pump-priming, the economy for now is left to navigate a winter of disease and loss unaided.

On Friday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) tightened limits on restaurants and indoor gatherings, effective at 12:01 a.m. Monday, while the governors of California, Oregon and Washington state issued a joint statement discouraging travel and advising visitors to quarantine upon arrival for 14 days. The mayor of New York City, meanwhile, warned parents that public schools could close as soon as Monday.

Similar measures are taking effect or under consideration elsewhere, including Chicago, where the mayor on Thursday issued a stay-at-home advisory just hours before Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) threatened a mandatory statewide order. The renewed clampdown is reminiscent of the worst days of the pandemic in early March, when sports leagues, movie theaters and restaurants abruptly went into hibernation in hopes of curbing the contagion.

Those steps were only partly successful and came at great cost. By the end of June, the economy had shrunk by $2.2 trillion — more than Italy’s entire annual output. Now, as communities around the country inch toward new shutdowns, the economy is again at risk. Consumers are growing more pessimistic about the future, according to the latest University of Michigan confidence gauge. And even before new restrictions were announced, they had begun cutting back on spending.

“We see stronger growth in 2021. But we need a bridge to get there,” said economist Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics. “The outlook is honestly quite dark.”

The backsliding comes after a stronger-than-expected rebound from this spring’s abrupt recession. Slightly more than half of the 22 million Americans who lost their jobs when nonessential businesses closed have returned to work, and the current 6.9 percent unemployment rate is well below the double-digit figures that most Wall Street economists originally had forecast. Output expanded in the third quarter at a record rate.

Yet with more than 11 million still jobless, the United States is in danger of squandering the hard-won progress it has made in rebuilding the economy. On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the rampaging virus represented “an emergency of the highest magnitude.” But she and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have held no talks on a new rescue package.

In El Paso, local officials have deployed 10 mobile morgue trailers to handle a backlog of corpses. The county’s top elected official this week extended a shutdown of nonessential businesses until Dec. 1, ordering residents to stay home and avoid travel.

The pandemic has driven roughly 300 companies out of business in the border community, according to David Jerome, the president of the local chamber of commerce. An additional 300 companies — restaurants, hair salons and retail shops — have only enough cash on hand to survive for less than a month.

“We’re hitting a bit of a tipping point,” Jerome said. “People are getting to the point where they’re pretty stretched. People are vulnerable.”

Eight months into a historic crisis, the United States appears to be suspended in a sort of economic purgatory. The labor market is slowly healing, with initial unemployment claims falling for four straight weeks. But the virus outlook is grim and getting grimmer.

On Thursday, the United States for the first time reported more than 150,000 cases in a single day. Within the next week, the daily total will top 200,000 and is likely to reach 300,000 by early December, according to Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics.

By mid-December, hospitals will be swamped with twice as many coronavirus patients as during the pandemic’s earlier waves “unless most large-population states impose much more severe restrictions on the leisure and hospitality sectors, and on indoor gatherings, very soon,” he wrote in a note to clients Friday.

Consumers already have begun retrenching. Spending by 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders through Nov. 9 was 7.4 percent below last year’s level and had “fallen notably” over the past two weeks, according to economist Jesse Edgerton of JPMorgan Chase.

Investors are profiting despite the worsening health situation. On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average rose nearly 400 points and is up more than 11 percent this month. Yet millions of American households are suffering a silent financial squeeze.

Between the end of September and the end of October, the number of Americans saying it was “very difficult” to pay their usual household expenses rose by more than 2.3 million, to 34.8 million, according to the Census Bureau’s pulse survey.

In Los Angeles, Micah Martin, 57, has been struggling to survive since losing his job as a health-care training consultant. He finally received unemployment benefits this summer just as he was preparing to move back to his parents’ home in Oklahoma.

“Since then, it’s been living off fumes,” he said. “I’m aggravated that Nancy Pelosi and McConnell haven’t come up with a compromise. It’s really put a hardship on me and a lot of other people.”

Los Angeles County health officials warned Friday that tighter activity limits may be imminent if a recent surge in coronavirus cases isn’t contained. The county already is operating under the most restrictive conditions in California’s four-tiered system.

“Covid seems to be out of control here,” Martin said. “I haven’t been to a restaurant since February.”

There are reasons to hope the economy will fare better in the next few months than it did during the pandemic’s first wave. Doctors have more experience treating covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More Americans are wearing masks and practicing social distancing. And a highly effective vaccine could be widely available by April, according to Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease specialist.

“The American people’s reaction to the surge will be significantly different from what it was in the spring,” said Michael Strain, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute. “The risk of dying has gone down considerably relative to the spring. People may be willing to take more risks.”

That seems to be true in the resort town of Branson, Mo. Gail Myer, vice president of family-owned Myer Hotels, said the company has kept employees and guests safe through mask-wearing, social distancing and enhanced sanitizing and hygiene.

Though business is down significantly, and he has reduced his workforce by one-third, Myer said October was the company’s best month this year. November could be even better.

“People are tired of not being able to do things they consider normal, and they are also figuring out how to travel comfortably,” Myer said. “I think the economy in the U.S. is getting better and people are figuring out how to make it work for them.”

But the $3 trillion in federal support that cushioned the blow to the economy in the spring is now absent. The resurgent virus may depress activity no matter what government officials do.

“More businesses will be at risk of permanently going out of business, which would dampen labor demand and potentially spur new rounds of layoffs. This suggests the labor market recovery could meaningfully slow or even reverse in coming months as the country tries to get the virus under control,” economists at Bank of America said Friday.

In Chicago, restaurateur Kevin Boehm, 50, closed two of his 20 restaurants and laid off 1,800 of his roughly 2,000 employees in the spring. With the virus spreading uncontrollably, city officials on Oct. 30 reimposed a ban on indoor dining just one month after they had relaxed restaurant capacity limits.

Over a 27-year career, Boehm has had an oven explode in his face and seen a restaurant burn down. But with revenue off by 80 percent, the pandemic has pushed him and his partner in the Boka Group to the brink.

Now, as Boehm contemplates multimillion-dollar financial losses and the prospect of additional layoffs, he is looking to Washington.

“We need Republicans and Democrats to step up and give us the help we need,” he said. “You can only take so many punches.”

The House last month passed legislation to provide $120 billion in grants to independent restaurants amid warnings that 85 percent of them could fail without assistance. But the Senate has yet to act on the measure.

Ryan Rivett, chief executive of My Place Hotels of America, is also counting on new stimulus legislation. His extended-stay hotel chain remained open throughout the pandemic, with managers of some properties sleeping on site to compensate for reduced staffing.

Rivett received a forgivable government loan earlier this year, which was intended to prevent layoffs. But while he can adjust his labor costs as demand fluctuates, his loan payments are less flexible.

“The absence of stimulus is our bigger worry,” he said. “I don’t want to lose our business because we can’t service our debt.”

The economic outlook is clouded by the limited nature of some new restrictions. As the escalating health emergency threatens to overwhelm hospital systems, restrictions are spreading to politically conservative states, such as West Virginia, Iowa and Wyoming, that had resisted such measures during earlier phases of the pandemic.

But such efforts remain controversial. In Texas, a state appeals court on Friday blocked El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego’s shutdown order, saying it conflicted with the governor’s call to reopen the economy.

In New Germany, Minn., Jean Stelten-Beuning, owner of Top Dog Country Club, an upscale dog-boarding facility, is worried about the next few months.

Last year, at her 35-acre site, complete with a heated canine swimming pool, she boarded 105 dogs over Thanksgiving weekend. Now, as officials urge caution about traveling for the holiday, she expects just 35.

She has halved her 28-person staff, as her revenue dropped 55 percent. The state’s daily case total this week reached a new high and the governor ordered new limits on restaurants and other indoor gatherings.

“If the numbers keep growing and these shutdowns keep expanding, I have no idea what’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s going to be pretty bleak.”

Source:- The Washington Post

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Bond Rout Shows Risk of Uneven Recovery in World's Top Economies – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — The U.S. economy appears primed to recover from the Covid-19 slump much faster than others, causing havoc on bond markets this week and potentially exacerbating the kind of imbalances that caused trouble after the last crisis.The prospect that the U.S. recovery could decouple from developed-world peers and the implication of that for global currencies and trade is likely to figure high on the agenda when finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies meet online later today.“A multi-speed rebound in the global economy continues with a strong U.S., a moderating China and a choppy euro-area,” said Catherine Mann, chief economist at Citigroup Inc. “For 2021 at least, the U.S. as global locomotive is back on track.”

The speed differences are the result of economic policy choices as well as variance in the severity of virus outbreaks, rules for containing them and rollout of vaccination programs. If the gaps persist for too long, it could stir up tensions over trade and currencies like the ones that followed the financial crisis — as well as deepening inequality between countries.The U.S., where President Joe Biden is pushing another $1.9 trillion in pandemic relief measures through Congress, appears most committed to running its economy hot. U.S. officials are calling on others to keep their foot on the gas too.“I urge G-20 countries to continue to take significant fiscal and financial policy actions and avoid withdrawing support too early,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to fellow attendees before today’s meeting. “Together, our efforts will be greater than the sum of our individual responses.”

The U.S. will expand 6.2% this year, recouping all its 2020 losses and then some, JPMorgan economists forecast. By contrast, the euro area, Japan and the U.K. aren’t expected to reach their pre-Covid GDP until 2022.While all major economies boosted government spending to shore up growth in 2020, hardly any except the U.S. will be running expansionary fiscal policy this year, according to JPMorgan’s calculations.

In the near term, everyone gets a lift out of rapid growth in the U.S. –- because it’s the world’s biggest importer.For countries that have weaker economies or are less willing to stimulate them, “it basically means more external demand,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-­Pacific economist at Natixis SA in Hong Kong.She sees no problem for the rest of the world if the U.S. embarks on a big stimulus, provided it doesn’t trigger the kind of inflation that would lead investors in dollar assets rushing for the exit. “That is the big if,” she says.In the longer run, the perception that other economies were taking advantage of the U.S. role as consumer of last resort can fuel trade conflicts, like it did with China under President Donald Trump. Even before that, in the early 2010s, U.S. officials would complain that Europe was running too-tight policy and not contributing enough to global growth.The same kind of tensions could await in a post-Covid world if policy support is withdrawn “in an uncoordinated or haphazard manner,” wrote Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, in a Chatham House paper published last week.“Countries that under-stimulate their economies must rely on demand from the rest of the world,” he wrote. “There are already ominous signs that the recovery has become unbalanced,” like growing current-account surpluses in China, Vietnam and Taiwan, and deficits in the U.S.

Currencies may be another cause of contention. The dollar has been declining steadily after a spike early in the pandemic, causing anxiety among countries that don’t want their exports to become less competitive. Yellen has said the U.S. will let markets determine the greenback’s value.“The U.S. is likely to push back against other countries’ intervention in foreign exchange markets to weaken their currencies, despite other major advanced economies being in worse economic straits,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.Australia’s central bank has argued the local dollar would be stronger if it weren’t for its latest stimulus measures. In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he’s watching foreign exchange rates more closely than any other financial or economic indicator.

China’s yuan has gained about 10% against the dollar since June, spurring the government to consider relaxing restrictions on taking money out of the country in order to take the pressure off. Bloomberg Economics’ yuan stress indicators suggest the currency’s strength is set to continue in the near term.As well as addressing the uneven recovery in their own economies, G-20 leaders are also under pressure to prevent the gap with the world’s poorest nations from widening further. Those countries haven’t been able to ramp up government spending to fight the virus like their wealthier peers did, and they struggle to obtain vaccines.The G-20 has been working on a debt forgiveness plan that would involve private creditors. Yellen praised the effort in her letter, though she said implementation would be the real test. She also signaled support for boosting the International Monetary Fund’s lending power.“Without further international action to support low-income countries, we risk a dangerous and permanent divergence in the global economy,” Yellen said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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Bond Rout Shows Risk of Uneven Recovery in World's Top Economies – BNN

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(Bloomberg) — The U.S. economy appears primed to recover from the Covid-19 slump much faster than others, causing havoc on bond markets this week and potentially exacerbating the kind of imbalances that caused trouble after the last crisis.The prospect that the U.S. recovery could decouple from developed-world peers and the implication of that for global currencies and trade is likely to figure high on the agenda when finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of 20 major economies meet online later today.“A multi-speed rebound in the global economy continues with a strong U.S., a moderating China and a choppy euro-area,” said Catherine Mann, chief economist at Citigroup Inc. “For 2021 at least, the U.S. as global locomotive is back on track.”

The speed differences are the result of economic policy choices as well as variance in the severity of virus outbreaks, rules for containing them and rollout of vaccination programs. If the gaps persist for too long, it could stir up tensions over trade and currencies like the ones that followed the financial crisis — as well as deepening inequality between countries.The U.S., where President Joe Biden is pushing another $1.9 trillion in pandemic relief measures through Congress, appears most committed to running its economy hot. U.S. officials are calling on others to keep their foot on the gas too.“I urge G-20 countries to continue to take significant fiscal and financial policy actions and avoid withdrawing support too early,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wrote to fellow attendees before today’s meeting. “Together, our efforts will be greater than the sum of our individual responses.”

The U.S. will expand 6.2% this year, recouping all its 2020 losses and then some, JPMorgan economists forecast. By contrast, the euro area, Japan and the U.K. aren’t expected to reach their pre-Covid GDP until 2022.While all major economies boosted government spending to shore up growth in 2020, hardly any except the U.S. will be running expansionary fiscal policy this year, according to JPMorgan’s calculations.

In the near term, everyone gets a lift out of rapid growth in the U.S. –- because it’s the world’s biggest importer.For countries that have weaker economies or are less willing to stimulate them, “it basically means more external demand,” said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-­Pacific economist at Natixis SA in Hong Kong.She sees no problem for the rest of the world if the U.S. embarks on a big stimulus, provided it doesn’t trigger the kind of inflation that would lead investors in dollar assets rushing for the exit. “That is the big if,” she says.In the longer run, the perception that other economies were taking advantage of the U.S. role as consumer of last resort can fuel trade conflicts, like it did with China under President Donald Trump. Even before that, in the early 2010s, U.S. officials would complain that Europe was running too-tight policy and not contributing enough to global growth.The same kind of tensions could await in a post-Covid world if policy support is withdrawn “in an uncoordinated or haphazard manner,” wrote Neil Shearing, chief economist at Capital Economics, in a Chatham House paper published last week.“Countries that under-stimulate their economies must rely on demand from the rest of the world,” he wrote. “There are already ominous signs that the recovery has become unbalanced,” like growing current-account surpluses in China, Vietnam and Taiwan, and deficits in the U.S.

Currencies may be another cause of contention. The dollar has been declining steadily after a spike early in the pandemic, causing anxiety among countries that don’t want their exports to become less competitive. Yellen has said the U.S. will let markets determine the greenback’s value.“The U.S. is likely to push back against other countries’ intervention in foreign exchange markets to weaken their currencies, despite other major advanced economies being in worse economic straits,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.Australia’s central bank has argued the local dollar would be stronger if it weren’t for its latest stimulus measures. In Japan, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he’s watching foreign exchange rates more closely than any other financial or economic indicator.

China’s yuan has gained about 10% against the dollar since June, spurring the government to consider relaxing restrictions on taking money out of the country in order to take the pressure off. Bloomberg Economics’ yuan stress indicators suggest the currency’s strength is set to continue in the near term.As well as addressing the uneven recovery in their own economies, G-20 leaders are also under pressure to prevent the gap with the world’s poorest nations from widening further. Those countries haven’t been able to ramp up government spending to fight the virus like their wealthier peers did, and they struggle to obtain vaccines.The G-20 has been working on a debt forgiveness plan that would involve private creditors. Yellen praised the effort in her letter, though she said implementation would be the real test. She also signaled support for boosting the International Monetary Fund’s lending power.“Without further international action to support low-income countries, we risk a dangerous and permanent divergence in the global economy,” Yellen said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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The economy is heating up again and it's good news for millions of unemployed – MarketWatch

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The U.S. economy is accelerating again after a coronavirus speed bump at the end of last year, but what’s missing is a big increase in hiring and people going back to work.

First the good news.

Consumer spending soared in January and incomes rose even faster thanks to $600 stimulus checks from the government and more generous unemployment benefits. Sales of new homes also shot up again and are sitting near a 14-year high. And manufacturers boosted production and investment for the ninth month in a row.

Yet so far the rebound in the economy hasn’t translated into faster hiring — no thanks to a record spike in coronavirus cases over the winter.

The economy lost jobs in December and barely added any in January, leaving more than 10 million people who were working before the pandemic unable to earn a living.

Almost as bad, some 1 million-plus new claims for unemployment benefits are being filed with the state and federal programs each week.

“I do think the economy is getting better,” said chief economist Richard Moody of Regions Financial, “but the labor market is still where the biggest hole is.”

See: A visual look at how an unfair pandemic has reshaped work and home

Things appear to be looking up, though.

Hiring is all but certain to pick up again as the coronavirus vaccines are rolled out, the weather warms, more government financial aid floods the economy and businesses in the service sector are allowed to more fully reopen.

Lots of companies are going to have lots of jobs to fill to meet an expected surge in pentup demand, especially service-oriented businesses such as restaurants, hotels airlines and entertainment venues hurt the most by the pandemic.

Many economists think the rebound in hiring might have gotten underway in February. Wall Street
DJIA,
-1.50%

is forecasting a 150,000 increase in new jobs in the U.S. Labor Department employment report due this coming Friday, though estimates range far and wide.

See: MarketWatch Economic Calendar

Winter storms and the power outage in Texas could act as a drag, but those events happened later in the month after the government mostly completed its survey for the February employment report.

Read: Inflation worries are back. Should you worry?

The official unemployment rate, meanwhile, is hard to take seriously. The current rate of 6.3% is widely believed to understate true unemployment by as much as four percentage points.

The pandemic has made it harder for the government to collect accurate data, a problem that has not gone away. By contrast, the Federal Reserve’s own unofficial estimate puts the jobless rate closer to 10%.

The more important figures to watch are the number of people classified as unemployed and the size of the labor force.

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said 10.1 million people were unemployed, but that figure has hardly changed for three months.

The size of the labor force, meanwhile, has shrunk by 4.2 million since the start of the pandemic to some 160 million. That’s 4.2 million people who’ve basically lost all hope of finding work and aren’t even looking.

The number of unemployed needs to start falling rapidly and the size of the labor force has to increase sharply before the economy can truly heal.

The Biden administration is hoping to hasten the process with a pending stimulus plan that could reach up to $2 trillion, including another $1,400 for most families.

“One cannot deny the powerful impact that trillions of dollars in federal spending can have on consumers’ willingness and ability to spend,” said chief economist Scott Anderson of Bank of the West.

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