So It Begins
The economic impact of COVID-19 has been shockingly large and swift, but most of the information has been anecdotal. Economic data reports are by their nature backward-looking. However, the latest unemployment claim figure and the University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index point to a sharp contraction in economic activity.
Trillion Dollar Stimulus on the Way
Lawmakers in Washington struck a compromise on a major fiscal stimulus package to help combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill, already passed by the Senate and awaiting House vote, packs in a lot, with upward of $2 trillion slated to provide important support for the economy.
Fed Cuts Rates, Restarts QE as Economic Outlook Deteriorates
In recent weeks, COVID-19 has led to escalating economic concerns. What started as a seemingly sharp, but likely temporary, reduction in Chinese activity, including disruptions to global supply chains, became more worrisome as the coronavirus moved to the rest of the world.
Radical Uncertainty into March Sadness
In recent weeks, we’ve seen economic concerns about COVID-19 moving from supply chain disruptions, to expectations of softer global growth, to fear of the impact from social distancing. The odds of a recession have been rising day by day. Some economists believe that we’re already in one.
Markets Reach Bear Territory as Roller-Coaster Week Continues
The markets seem to be vacillating between concerns for the extent of economic damage and hopes the federal government will intervene to stimulate the economy or support certain businesses affected most by the spread of the coronavirus.
Markets Flash Fear as COVID-19 Approaches Pandemic Status
As coronavirus cases continue to escalate in several new regions, like South Korea, Italy, Japan, Iran, Singapore and the United States, Raymond James Healthcare Policy Analyst Chris Meekins believes we are now in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic. The word itself isn’t intended to cause panic, but rather to prompt increased awareness of the potential economic and health effects of this rapidly spreading virus.
Weekly Market Snapshot
Once again, China adjusted the criteria for recognizing COVID-19 cases (over 76,000 reported cases as of February 21, with 2,248 deaths). The immediate direct impact on the global economy is through supply chain disruptions and reduced travel/tourism (in China and throughout Southeast Asia).
More of the Same
The economy was mixed in 2019. Consumer spending, while uneven, was relatively strong, supported by solid fundamentals. Business fixed investment and manufacturing were weak, but not “recessionary weak.” January data are to be taken with a grain of salt – seasonal adjustment is huge and weather (good or bad) can exaggerate – but figures point to more of the same.
Job Market Constraints / Powell Preview
The January Employment Report remained consistent with the broader range of labor market indicators. Job conditions are tight. Wage growth has picked up relative to a few years ago, but is not particularly high by historical standards. Thus, the Fed is widely expected to keep short-term interest rates steady in the near term.
Uncertainties, Geopolitical and Otherwise
A year ago, the baseline scenario for the economy was moderate growth, but with an elevated level on uncertainty, with risks skewed to the downside. Trade policy uncertainty and slower global growth were dampening factors, but Fed policy was supportive. Investors were willing to look beyond the uncertainty.
The 4Q19 Economic Picture and the 1H20 Outlook
We’re still missing a lot of information on the fourth quarter, but recent reports paint a picture of moderate growth in the overall economy. That picture will become clearer as December data arrive next month. The economy was mixed in 2019, and should remain mixed into the first half of the year.
Fed Policy Outlook: A Steady Hand on the Tiller
The Fed’s policy statement, the revised dot plot, and Chair Powell’s press conference reaffirmed expectations that monetary policy will remain on hold for the foreseeable future. That doesn’t mean that rates won’t be changed. The Fed stands ready to provide further accommodation if conditions warrant. However, the hurdle for a rate increase appears to be relatively high.
Weekly Market Snapshot
The Federal Open Market Committee left short-term interest rates unchanged and indicated that the current stance of monetary policy was “appropriate” to support economic growth, a strong job market and inflation near the Fed’s 2% goal. The revised dot plot showed that 13 of 17 senior Fed officials anticipate no change in rates in 2020.
The November Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected in the initial estimate for November (+266,000), with upward revisions to the gains for September and October (a net 41,000 higher). In contrast, the ADP estimate of private-sector payrolls rose more modestly (+67,000). What to believe?
GDP: Arithmetic and Forecasting
There are two broad approaches to forecasting current quarter GDP. Some economists will estimate a number and stick with it. Most will adjust their forecasts as new data arrive. This may seem fickle to the casual observer. Estimates will change week to week and even day to day...
Divided We Stand
Consumer attitude measures are divided by political affiliations. That’s nothing new. Sentiment readings have long depended partly on which party occupies the White House. Republicans currently rate economic conditions better, just as Democrats did during the Obama years (Independents fall somewhere in the middle).
Theoretically, there is no single variable more important to the economy than productivity, or output per worker. Productivity growth is how we get improved living standards over time. Faster productivity helps to offset the impact of wage growth, supporting gains in corporate profits.
Weekly Market Snapshot
Once again, the economic data reports were dominated by shifting trade policy perceptions, but this time things were flipped. It was the Chinese indicating a possible rollback of tariffs on both sides, sending the stock market higher. However, that was refuted by the White House the next day.
The October Employment Report
Nonfarm payrolls rose more than expected last month, despite being held back by the strike at General Motors (which subtracted 42,000) and the exit of 20,000 temporary workers for the 2020 census. There is some uncertainty in these data.
Weekly Market Snapshot
It was a thin week for economic data. Both new and existing home sales were reported lower in September, although the trends are generally higher. Durable goods orders fell 1.1% in September, reflecting the strike at GM and ongoing problems at Boeing. Ex-transportation, orders slipped 0.3%, with mixed results across industries.
Economic Brief - A Field Guide to Recessions (updated)
The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) defines a recession as “a significant decline in economic activity spread across the economy, lasting more than a few months, normally visible in real GDP, real income, employment, industrial production, and wholesale-retail sales.
Insuring Against Recession?
As we saw in the Summary of Economic Projections released in September, the Fed’s economic outlook is similar to most outside economists. The baseline scenario is for moderate growth in 2020, with growth in real GDP near 2%, and inflation moving gradually toward the Fed’s 2% goal.
Debt and Taxes
The Treasury Department is expected to report that the federal budget deficit for FY19 (which ended in September) fell short of $1 trillion. That’s a lot of money, especially with an economy running full tilt. However, the government currently doesn’t have any problem borrowing.
Weekly Market Snapshot
The ISM Manufacturing Index fell further into contraction in September, while the Non-Manufacturing Index slowed (consistent with a continued expansion in the overall economy, but at a slower pace). The Employment Report was a mixed bag. Nonfarm payrolls rose by 136,000 in the initial estimate for September, with a net upward revision of +45,000 to July and August.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due
As expected, the Fed lowered short-term interest rates and officials remained divided about what to do next. The policy meeting came in a week that saw elevated funding pressures in money markets, which drove the effective federal funds rate above the top of the target range.
The Employment Report Raises Questions
Nonfarm payrolls rose by 130,000 in the initial estimate for August, less than expected and despite a 25,000 boost from census hiring. For production workers, average hourly earnings advanced by 0.5% (+3.5% y/y). Monthly wage and payroll figures can be choppy, but the underlying trend in job growth is lower.
A Mixed Bag
Recent economic data reports have continued to paint a mixed picture of the U.S. economy, with strength in consumer spending and a mild recession in manufacturing. On top of this, investors remain concerned about several issues, including global growth, geopolitical uncertainties, trade policy, and an inverted yield curve.