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The Economic Devastation Is Going to Be Worse Than You Think – The Atlantic

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Bourbon Street in New Orleans, normally bustling with tourists, is deserted.Gerald Herbert / AP

This is a tsunami, with a number of big waves dead ahead.”

Mark Zandi is not an epidemiologist, and he was not talking about the rapid spread of the coronavirus. He is the chief economist at Moody’s, an analyst highly regarded by both political parties, and generally not prone to hyperbole. Yet when I spoke with him on the phone yesterday, he immediately reached for the metaphor of a devastating natural disaster to describe the toll that the pandemic will take on American commerce—the businesses it will destroy, the jobs it will wipe out, the retirement nest eggs it will crack and shatter.

That there will be economic pain is already clear. The stock market has lost more than one-third of its value, giving up all of the considerable gains it’s made since President Donald Trump took office in 2017. The urgent call for social distancing across much of the country has forced the closure of just about any business where human beings congregate. The restaurant, live-entertainment, tourist, and airline industries are being crushed. Public and private mass-transit systems—many already unprofitable—are facing budgetary crises. State and local governments, legally required not to run a deficit, will soon be overwhelmed both by the strain on their public-health systems and by the ensuing burden on their balance sheets.

Yet the full scope of the economic ramifications of the coronavirus is, like its cascading effect on the health-care system, only just beginning to become apparent. On Thursday morning, the government reported that 281,000 people nationwide had filed unemployment claims in the previous week, a jump of 33 percent and the most in two and a half years. Add another digit to that number, and you’ll get the projection for how many people will file jobless claims in the weeks ahead.

Economic number-crunchers are struggling to keep up with the speed of the slide. On Sunday evening, Goldman Sachs projected that economic growth would be zero in the first quarter of the year, which ends March 31, and that economic activity would fall by 5 percent in the second quarter. Just three days later, J.P. Morgan put out a new forecast: The gross domestic product would fall by 4 percent this quarter and then plummet a staggering 14 percent in the next three months.

“We’re talking really big numbers,” Heidi Shierholz, who served as chief economist for the Department of Labor during the Obama administration and is now a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, told me on Thursday morning.

By Friday, Goldman Sachs had revised its figures: The investment bank was now expecting a 24 percent drop in the second quarter. “Holy hell,” Shierholz said in an email flagging the update for me.

To put the data in perspective: These second-quarter forecasts would mean the deepest, fastest drop in economic activity since the government began calculating the nation’s GDP on a quarterly basis in 1947. Before now, the worst three-month plunge was 10 percent in early 1958, which happened to coincide with a flu pandemic that began the year before.

Shierholz and her colleagues have been working to translate the Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan projections into the statistics that people care most about—namely, jobs. A nosedive along the lines of what J.P. Morgan is predicting, she told me, would mean that 8.5 million jobs would be lost by the summer, spiking the unemployment rate from its current 3.5 percent all the way up to roughly 8.7 percent. Under the Goldman Sachs estimate, the jobs gone would total 14 million. By comparison, a rough total of about 8.7 million jobs disappeared in the Great Recession a decade ago, but those losses were spread out over years. This would occur in a single springtime.

And whatever data the government produces will likely understate the true reality of the economic hit, because the unemployment rate measures only people who are actively looking for work. Unemployed waiters might not apply for jobs when all the restaurants are closed. Neither, in all likelihood, would many hotel staff, casino workers, theater ushers, or others.

“All the economists I’ve talked to are as freaked out as they’ve ever been,” Jared Bernstein, who served as chief economist to Vice President Joe Biden in the Obama administration and informally advises his presidential campaign, told me.

Yet what is scariest about the new economic projections is that they are probably too rosy. Both Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan foresee big rebounds in the third quarter, over the summer, due in part to assumptions that the Federal Reserve will accelerate its moves to stabilize the financial system and Congress will soon enact another enormous fiscal-stimulus package. But the crisis might not be over by then. A federal-government plan to combat the pandemic estimated that it could last 18 months and hit in “multiple waves” that would require some degree of prolonged social distancing. Modeling by Imperial College London indicated a similar duration.

“The economy isn’t going to recover before the social distancing is over,” Shierholz said.

And even when life returns to some semblance of normalcy, the economic trauma won’t be over. According to Zandi, at least three big waves will hit American economy activity. The first is occurring now, as businesses close and the economy grinds to a halt. Next will be the job losses.

“The third wave will hit when people realize they are worth so much less, particularly the Boomers, who are focused on their retirement,” Zandi told me. “When they realize their nest egg has evaporated, they’ll go into panic mode and cut back on spending, and that further exacerbates the problem.”

If there is any hope in this dark outlook, these economists told me, it is that the federal government likely has more power to soften the economic blow than it does to contain the virus. And unlike during the last economic crisis, in 2008 and 2009, both parties are in general consensus about the scope of the fiscal response required, deficits be damned. People who have lost jobs or who have seen their hours cut dramatically need immediate money to buy food and stay in their homes, while businesses need funds to stay afloat and postpone layoffs as much as possible.

“We know we’re going to cause a recession when we shut down huge parts of the economy, and it’s the right thing to do. It’ll make us better off in the long run,” Shierholz said. “But we need to make sure households are as whole as possible, so we don’t start to see a whole wave of foreclosures, bankruptcies—all the things that don’t have to happen.

“Those things don’t have to happen,” she emphasized. “We have total control over that.”

With warnings that the unemployment rate could hit a staggering 20 percent—by far the highest since the Great Depression—if Congress doesn’t act, Trump and his advisers have called for $1 trillion or more in stimulus spending. That’s in addition to the smaller emergency measures lawmakers have already enacted in recent weeks. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled a Republican proposal that would send one-time payments of $1,200 to individuals earning up to $75,000 a year (those amounts double for married couples) and an extra $500 per child. The plan also contains hundreds of billions in loans for businesses and corporate tax cuts to encourage big companies like airlines and hotel chains to keep their idle workforce on salary.

Democratic leaders immediately criticized the proposal as too heavily skewed toward corporations; they are pushing for a significant expansion of unemployment benefits and other measures that would more directly help laid-off workers and low-income Americans who are most vulnerable to the economic shock.

Yet even progressive economists like Bernstein agreed that just as individuals need fast help through cash payments or other means, so do businesses.

“Basically, we have to put the economy in a deep freeze or a coma to help meet the containment requirements of the virus,” Bernstein told me. “But to strain the analogy, you want to be able to thaw from the deep freeze or for the patient to be able to wake up from the coma. That means we have to preserve not just people, which are first on my list for obvious reasons, but businesses.

“There have to be businesses to bounce back,” he said.

And as unpopular as industry bailouts are, Bernstein said the government must step in to help both corporations and mom-and-pop shops. “Do we need Delta Air Lines to be alive on the other side of this? That’s one big question,” he explained. “But then do we need Joe’s Dry Cleaner around the corner to be there on the other side? And my view is we probably need both. I would err on the side of ensuring that businesses are held whole as possible.”

How quickly the economy can recover likely depends on time—how fast, and aggressively, Congress can act, and how long social distancing lasts.

The economists I spoke with all said that this economic free-fall was sharper than the financial crisis that sparked the Great Recession, but that because the government this time essentially turned the economy off like a light, the recovery needn’t be as long or slow. “So much of this depends on the effectiveness of the policy response,” a veteran Republican economist, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, told me. “I think we still have time. The clock’s ticking, though.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Russell Berman is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he covers politics.

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RBA warns of big hit to the economy from pandemic – MarketWatch

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SYDNEY–The Reserve Bank of Australia left interest rates unchanged Tuesday and affirmed its current targeting of bond yields while warning the economy will be hit hard by the corona pandemic in the second quarter.

The RBA’s official cash rate was left at a record low 0.25%, the bank said. The three-year bond yield target was also kept at 0.25%.

“There is considerable uncertainty about the near-term outlook for the Australian economy…a very large economic contraction is expected to be recorded in the June quarter and the unemployment rate is expected to increase to its highest level for many years,” RBA Governor Philip Lowe said in a statement.

Interest rates are set to remain low for a long period, he added.

“The board is committed to doing what it can to support jobs, incomes and businesses as Australia deals with the coronavirus,” Mr. Lowe said.

“The Board will not increase the cash rate target until progress is being made towards full employment and it is confident that inflation will be sustainably within the 2%-3% target band,” he added.

The RBA deployed alternative policy measures in March for the first time as the coronavirus pandemic forced social distancing on the population, shut firms and closed borders to international traffic.

When compared with other major economies, Australia has managed to limit the number of deaths from the coronavirus, but it has been hard hit nonetheless with tourism and education exports flattened while consumer spending has weakened.

Federal and state governments have responded to the pandemic with massive fiscal stimulus but despite the outlays, Australia is set to sink into its first recession since the early 1990s, economists have warned.

Data earlier Tuesday showed job advertisements fell by 10.3% in March, the biggest fall since the global financial crisis.

Still, consumer confidence was up with the ANZ attributing the rise to government measures to support incomes and keep workers on payrolls.

Write to James Glynn at james.glynn@wsj.com

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Quebec hatches plans to bolster economy as Legault eyes postpandemic world – The Globe and Mail

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Quebec Premier Francois Legault responds to reporters during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday, April 2, 2020 at the legislature in Quebec City. Mr. Legault’s government on Monday announced a $100-million program that companies can tap to pay workers being trained as well as those training them as they prepare for a return of economic activity.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Quebec is hatching plans to bolster the resiliency of its economy as it eyes a postpandemic world where countries are expected to become more protectionist and the province will need to be more self-sufficient.

Premier François Legault’s government on Monday announced a $100-million program that companies can tap to pay workers being trained as well as those training them as they prepare for a return of economic activity. Companies are eligible to apply for the program until September 30.

“This is the ideal time to do training,” Mr. Legault told reporters in Quebec City, adding many business need to be ready for a significant reorganization of work. “Things will change a lot over coming months.”

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Labour Minister Jean Boulet said companies could develop employee skills while being subsidized for their wages, which would “increase their competitiveness. We want companies to be able to prepare to relaunch and avoid any job losses as much as possible.”

As much of the rest of Canada has focused on immediate responses, Quebec has in recent days been talking more about its future once the health crisis subsides. Mr. Legault’s government says it has begun working on plans to increase the province’s self-sufficiency in health care and food, to make sure it has enough locally made medical equipment, medication and other supplies needed to weather a future crisis.

More broadly, Quebec has begun a detailed analysis of its trade balance in an attempt to prepare for a new economic reality once the peak of the global coronavirus pandemic has passed. The Premier is even evoking the possibility of using the province’s plentiful hydro power to warm indoor greenhouses in the winter and grow fruit and vegetables all year round instead of importing them.

“We want to be able to produce more locally,” Mr. Legault said Friday. “We’ll need to think about the entire food chain to ensure that if there were another crisis that we’d be autonomous.”

Quebec’s determination to cement its defences and boost its future economic prospects has already been likened by some commentators to a similar nationalism effort in the 1960s that ushered in the Quiet Revolution.

Not since that time has former Premier Jean Lesage’s campaign slogan “Maître chez nous” (Masters in our own house) become as pertinent as a societal objective, Quebecor media columnist Michel Girard said.

The government is also thinking about the demand side of the equation, trying to stimulate Quebeckers’ appetite for locally-made products in order to cut their reliance on goods made outside its borders.

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On Sunday Quebec announced a new non-profit project called Le Panier Bleu (blue basket), which is at the moment a website-accessed inventory of thousands of Quebec companies that provide locally-made products and services. The project is being led by several retail-sector veterans, including former Lowe’s Canada chief executive officer Sylvain Prud’homme.

With three million visits in less than 24 since the website went live and 1,170 businesses listed, the initiative is proving the propensity of Quebeckers to support their own, said Charles de Brabant, executive director of McGill University’s Bensadoun School of Retail Management. He compared the effort to the online marketplace created by China’s Alibaba Group, which has proven to be a major employment generator in that country since its launch in 1999.

For weeks, Quebec has led the country in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 533 people hospitalized and 121 deaths as of Monday. It has also put in place among the continent’s strictest social-distancing measures, extending a shutdown of non-essential businesses to May 4.

About 80 Quebec companies have expressed an ability and willingness to manufacture protective equipment and at least one will be tapped to make masks permanently, said Quebec Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon. The government is also working with pharmaceutical companies in the provinces to make sure Quebeckers’ medication needs can also be met by local producers, he said.

Quebec currently has a $20-billion annual trade deficit, meaning it imports more goods than it exports. The Premier says the gap will probably grow, accelerated by current events, meaning the province has to realign its economy internally.

Quebec’s chief exports by dollar value are aircraft and aircraft engines, aluminum and iron ores. Among its biggest imports are crude oil, light trucks and sport utility vehicles. The United States is by far its biggest trading partner.

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“You can imagine that some of our exports will face a bit more protectionism in coming years,” Mr. Legault said. “We’re going to need to figure out how we can help our local entrepreneurs make products that we are currently importing in order to keep our trade balance as even as we can.”

Quebec estimates it has spent $18-billion to fight the pandemic, which includes financial aide for business and the cost of buying medical equipment. The number represents between 4 and 5 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters.

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New technology is transforming Vietnam's economy – CNN

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Since then, its economy has been transformed — largely thanks to a package of economic and political reforms, designed to engineer growth, that was launched by the government in 1986.
More than 45 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2002 and 2018 as the country developed industries that span textiles, agriculture, furniture, plastics, paper, tourism and telecommunications.
Vietnam is now undergoing another transformation — thanks to technology.
Smartphones are changing the way of life in Vietnam.
New infrastructure has given Vietnamese citizens easy access to the internet — and propelled their country across the digital divide.
A 2018 report by Google and Singaporean investment company Temasek described Vietnam’s digital economy — which is growing at more than 40% a year — as “a dragon being unleashed.”
It’s not all plain sailing. Vietnam’s government has been widely criticized for its surveillance of citizens and restrictions on freedom of speech. And like the rest of the world, it’s impossible to predict how the coronavirus will impact the country’s economy.
What’s clear, though, is that technology is reshaping the way people in Vietnam do business, manufacture goods, entertain themselves, shop, organize their finances and communicate. CNN spoke to three business leaders — to take the pulse of a changing nation.

The startup pioneer

Nguyen Thuy Lien, head of corporate development for Appota
Nguyen Thuy Lien.Nguyen Thuy Lien.
One of the country’s most dynamic startups, Appota has hitched its wagon to the growth of Vietnam’s smartphone market.
Appota, which launched in 2011, has around 40 million users on its “digital ecosystem,” says head of corporate development, Nguyen Thuy Lien. The company publishes games licensed from developers in China (martial arts themes are especially popular) and has developed an e-wallet for gaming purchases. Its apps include a wifi password-sharing facility, a book reader, news, movies, comics and other forms of entertainment.
“Vietnamese of all ages love their smartphones” says Nguyen. “Everything Appota does is through mobile.”
A 2019 report by Google and the Mobile Marketing Association identified Vietnam as a “mobile-first market” with “over 51 million smartphones, representing over 80% of the population aged 15-years and older.”
Network coverage is extensive. “People get access to 3G and 4G even in rural and mountainous areas,” says Nguyen, adding that handsets and tariffs are competitively-priced.
Vietnamese beauty brand Skinlosophy fuses tradition with technologyVietnamese beauty brand Skinlosophy fuses tradition with technology
The company also operates a business-to-business advertising arm and is looking to expand its mobile payments operations.
Nguyen is responsible for securing funding for Appota — which has raised $17 million to date. She says that attracting investment is easier now than it was in the past, with the majority of funds coming in from overseas, especially Japan and South Korea. Vietnamese investors, however, tend to lack confidence in tech, she says. “They are more conservative and prefer putting money into real estate.”
Appota’s next foray will be into physical products — which function via smartphones. The company recently launched a “smart lock,” operated by an app, that secures everything from front doors to suitcases. Nguyen says her company’s vision is to fully integrate smartphones into the workplace and the home. “It’s the next step in digital transformation.”

The sustainability trailblazer

Hans Barkell-Schmitz, assistant to the chairman, Royal Spirit Group
Hans Barkell-Schmitz at the DBW factory. Hans Barkell-Schmitz at the DBW factory.
A manufacturing powerhouse, Vietnam is the world’s third largest exporter of textiles and garments (after China and Bangladesh).
But the global textile industry is highly polluting, churning through more than 90 billion cubic meters of water a year, and contributing around 10 percent of global carbon emissions.
Hong Kong-based garment manufacturer Royal Spirit Group opened the Deutsche BekleidungsWerke factory (its name reflects the company’s German heritage) on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City, in 2016. “We decided to position ourselves at the forefront of sustainability,” says Hans Barkell-Schmitz, who conceived and led the project.
DBW from the air. The roof is fitted out with solar panels and a garden, and is painted with light-reflecting paint. DBW from the air. The roof is fitted out with solar panels and a garden, and is painted with light-reflecting paint.
Known as DBW, the $20-million facility is designed to sustain both the environment and the 1,000-strong workforce. The chairs were designed locally to fit the average Vietnamese body size, says Barkell-Schmitz. Throughout the factory, LED lights glow at the optimal level to reduce eye strain and headaches, and complex calculations were used to set the ventilation and air conditioning systems at the right temperatures. “Our ethos is — if we have a happy workforce, we’ll have more efficiency and it’s a win-win” says Barkell-Schmitz.
Cutting energy consumption was key. The factory runs on renewable energy sources, including hydroelectric power, biofuel and solar, says Barkell-Schmitz. His team chose equipment with “great care,” he says, comparing the energy use of different options. They selected German sewing machines that automatically switch off when not stitching, and machines that make and apply pockets with minimal waste and electricity consumption.
DBW's ironing and sewing machines use much less electricity than conventional machines. DBW's ironing and sewing machines use much less electricity than conventional machines.
The factory is equipped with “highly technical dyeing machines that use less dye and water,” says Barkell-Schmitz. The building itself acts as a giant funnel, channeling rainwater into tanks — which is then filtered and used to wash textiles. The factory also incorporates a “gray water system” in which handwashing and dishwashing water is filtered and re-used to nourish a rooftop garden that produces fruit and vegetables for the factory cafeteria.
According to Barkell-Schmitz, the single biggest challenge was the paperwork. By planning and documenting all aspects of the project according to stringent requirements, DBW earned top level awards from both LEED, the US green building certification system, and Lotus, its counterpart in Vietnam.
Barkell-Schmitz hopes that DBW will inspire other manufacturers. “It’s a win for the planet, for the companies which invest, and for the consumers.”

The e-commerce entrepreneur

Tran Ngoc Thai Son, founder and CEO, Tiki
Tran Ngoc Thai Son.Tran Ngoc Thai Son.
In 2010 Tran Ngoc Thai Son launched his company, Tiki, in his bedroom at his parents’ house in Ho Chi Minh City. An online bookseller specializing in English-language titles, he used the family garage as a warehouse. “It was a tiny store, but my dream was very big,” says Tran.
Ten years later, Tiki is the one of the top e-commerce platforms in Vietnam, says Tran. It sells a vast array of consumer goods with an average of 17 million customer visits, and around 4.5 million items shipped, per month.
Tiki’s expansion has tracked explosive growth in Vietnam’s e-commerce market, which was worth $6.2 billion in 2019.
Why the world is waking up to Vietnamese coffee Why the world is waking up to Vietnamese coffee
This boom reflects, in part, the youthfulness and increasing affluence of Vietnam’s population, says Tran. The Vietnamese embrace new technology and feel optimistic about the future, “which drives them to go online and buy stuff,” he says.
Additionally, smartphones and internet access are extremely affordable, says Tran, while fierce competition between international conglomerates and local startups “drives innovation and consumer benefits.”
Tiki’s top-sellers are consumer electronics, although sales in lifestyle products and fashion have grown tremendously over the last year, he says.
Tiki's top sellers are consumer electronics. Tiki's top sellers are consumer electronics.
Efficient logistics are key to the company’s success. Tiki has 33 warehouses in 13 cities and prides itself on a two-hour delivery option, says Tran. However, although Vietnam is urbanizing, almost two-thirds of its population still live in rural areas. Delivery to remote areas typically takes longer and costs more.
Tran says that over half of purchases are still paid for with cash on delivery. He is keen to see digital payments become more widely adopted. “Sellers get paid earlier, and it speeds up the whole process,” he says. With use of e-wallets expanding at 28 percent a year in Vietnam, the number of digital transactions will only grow.

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