Newsletter: What Does it Mean to ‘Reopen’ the Economy?

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This is the web version of the WSJ’s newsletter on the economy. You can sign up for daily delivery here.

One for the Record Book

April’s employment report, to be released Friday, will almost certainly show that the coronavirus pandemic inflicted the largest one-month blow to the U.S. labor market on record. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal forecast the new report will show that unemployment rose to 16.1% in April and that employers shed 22 million nonfarm payroll jobs—the equivalent of eliminating every job created in the past decade, Eric Morath reports.

The losses in jobs would produce the highest unemployment rate since records began in 1948, eclipsing the 10.8% rate touched in late 1982 at the end of the double-dip recession early in President Reagan’s first term. The monthly number of jobs lost would be the biggest in records going back to 1939—far steeper than the 1.96 million jobs eliminated in September 1945, at the end of World War II.


U.S. factory orders for March are expected to drop 9.2% from the prior month. (10 a.m. ET)

Note: This is a partial list of events and subject to change.


What Does it Mean to ‘Reopen’ the Economy?

In the U.S., at least 30 states have started to allow some businesses to operate or announced plans to do so this month. President Trump said during a Fox News town-hall appearance on Sunday that he expected more deaths in the U.S. from the pandemic, although he was ready to restart U.S. economic activity “as quickly as possible,” Talal Ansari, Jennifer Calfas and Sune Engel Rasmussen report.

As states reopen, some companies are ending bonus pay for hourly workers. But essential workers want more of it.

The WSJ’s guide to state coronavirus reopenings and lockdowns.

South Carolina eased restrictions imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus, allowing retailers to reopen April 20. But a look at traffic congestion and hours worked in South Carolina and other states in which lockdowns have eased indicates workers and consumers haven’t resumed their pre-pandemic routines. The early experience is a sobering portent for the country as a whole, suggesting it will take more than lifting lockdowns for economic activity to rebound, David Harrison and Justin Baer report.

One emerging trend in U.S. consumer-spending patterns: “quarantinis.” Sales of cocktail ingredients like garnishes, bitters and syrups are growing, while demand for gin, mezcal and various kinds of whiskeys has also been brisk, Gwynn Guilford reports.

Global brands are hoping China’s gigantic consumer market will help rekindle growth. They are facing an uphill battle. Companies from Lego to Domino’s Pizza say they are seeing a solid bounceback in China, at least compared with a month or two ago. But a full return to normal, much less growth, is proving harder because so many people have lost jobs and income, or want to save more. China is the world’s largest consumer market, with $5.8 trillion in retail sales last year. Its coronavirus epidemic peaked earlier than in the West, so its recovery serves as an important signpost for what might be to come in the U.S. and Europe as retailers reopen, Trefor Moss and Stella Yifan Xie report.

Factory Output Plunges

Factory output plummeted across Asia and Europe during April, as efforts to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus dealt a blow to the global economy that has few precedents in its breadth and abruptness. From India and Indonesia in Asia to Poland and Greece in Europe, purchasing managers at manufacturing businesses told data firm IHS Markit the same story: April saw the sharpest fall in output and other measures of activity on record. Similar surveys for the U.S. released Friday painted a similar picture, Paul Hannon reports.

U.S. Building Bust

Contractors are returning to work across the U.S. But after completing projects started this year, builders say they expect a drought for new jobs as property owners, banks and real-estate developers grow cautious until confidence in a longer-lasting economic recovery becomes stronger. As builders wait out a slump, so too will other construction-dependent industries, including machinery dealers and manufacturers, the steel industry and other material suppliers, Bob Tita and Austen Hufford report.

Tourism Trouble

Hawaii’s workforce has sought unemployment benefits at the highest rate in the nation since mid-March, reflecting how hard the coronavirus pandemic has hit the state’s vital tourism industry. The surge in job losses is renewing worries about the state’s reliance on visitor spending and need to diversify its economy. The crisis also is raising questions about how businesses on the islands—many of which depend on air travel, recreation and social gatherings—can rebound once restrictions on activity are lifted, Kim Mackrael reports.

Buyer Beware

U.S. regulators and state officials are finding a significant number of imported N95-style masks fall short of certification standards, complicating the response to the coronavirus crisis and potentially putting some front-line workers at greater risk, Austen Hufford and Mark Maremont report.


All layoffs are not equal. In this Friday’s U.S. jobs report, pay attention to the share that are temporary. “The more that employers use furloughs rather than pink slips, the more likely we are to have a speedier, more productive, and less stressful recovery. In the past, most workers on temporary layoff have been recalled to their former jobs. When they are, they can show up for work and be immediately productive because there’s no need for job search, recruitment, background checks, onboarding, training, getting to know teammates, etc. No firm-specific knowledge is lost. Furthermore, while they await recall, workers likely won’t delay as much consumption as if they faced the greater uncertainty of needing to find a new job,” Cornell University economist Erica Groshen writes.


Real Time Economics has launched a downloadable calendar with concise previews forecasts and analysis of major U.S. data releases. To add to your calendar please click here.


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