Newsletter: Where’s My $1,000 Check?

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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.

Americans Are Losing Work

Employers are cutting shifts, suspending work and starting to lay off workers as the new coronavirus devastates business across the country. Companies from restaurant operators to wedding caterers have started to let workers go as they ratchet down operations. Many firms have moved cautiously to date, furloughing employees and moving workers to part-time status. But for many companies, economists say, layoffs are likely next, Micah Maidenberg, Chip Cutter and Rachel Feintzeig report.

People who have already lost jobs are filing for unemployment benefits, resulting in a surge of claims in some states. Ohio’s three-day total for jobless claims through Tuesday was 78,000, compared with about 3,000 for the same period last week. State-level figures signal nationwide jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs, are slated for a potentially unprecedented rise in coming weeks, Sarah Chaney and Amara Omeokwe report.

WHAT TO WATCH TODAY

U.S. jobless claims are expected to rise to 220,000 from 211,000 a week earlier. This is one of the key indicators to follow at the moment and could soon signal the start of large-scale layoffs. (8:30 a.m. ET)

The Philadelphia Fed’s manufacturing survey for March is expected to tumble to 9.0 from 36.7 a month earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET)

The U.S. current account for the fourth quarter is out at 10 a.m. ET.

The Conference Board’s leading economic index for February is expected to be unchanged from the prior month. (10 a.m. ET)

The White House coronavirus task force holds a press briefing at 11 a.m. ET.

TOP STORIES

Where’s My $1,000?

President Trump signed a bill to provide free testing for Covid-19, require smaller employers to provide paid sick leave and support an initial safety net as layoffs begin and coronavirus cases hit every state. Congressional negotiators and the Trump administration have separately been discussing a new package that could total about $1 trillion, including a proposed $500 billion in direct payments to American households.

One challenge? Getting lump-sum payments into the hands of every American could take weeks to start and months to complete as the government tries to turn its tax-collection system into a money-distribution machine. Lawmakers have been talking about $1,000 per person or more, Richard Rubin reports.

The coronavirus pandemic is about to test the bounds of how much debt the U.S. government can bear. Even before the crisis hit, the U.S. was on track to increase its budget deficit to nearly $1 trillion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. Now analysts say the deficit will soar well past the record $1.5 trillion hit in 2009, when the U.S. reeled through financial crisis and recession. The risk: Bond investors could revolt against the sheer scale of bond issuance that’s about to hit markets and demand higher yields. That would mean higher interest costs for the government, and also for many other kinds of borrowing that is often benchmarked to Treasury securities, such as mortgages, car loans or business loans, Jon Hilsenrath reports.

DJ 20K

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped below 20000 for the first time since early 2017 as investors put their trust in only the safest assets—cash and the shortest-term government bonds. The Dow has fallen by about a third in just the past month, Paul J. Davies reports.

It’s not just investors looking for cash. Some branches of U.S. banks and credit unions have run low as customers make big withdrawals, Andrew Ackerman and Orla McCaffrey report.

U.S. crude prices plunged to their lowest levels in 18 years on Wednesday. American oil producers are expected to slash output and investment, while containment measures implemented to slow the coronavirus’s spread may stop consumers from spending much of the money they save from cheaper gasoline, David Hodari and Joe Wallace report.

Rescue Me

The Federal Reserve said it would launch a new lending facility to backstop the money-market mutual-fund sector as part of a broadening effort to calm turmoil sparked by the novel coronavirus epidemic.

The European Central Bank announced a new €750 billion bond-buying program aimed at shielding the eurozone economy. The move signals the bank’s determination to defend Southern European governments whose debt has come under pressure from investors.

China reported no new domestic coronavirus infections for the first time since the outbreak surfaced.

Catch a Falling Knife

The Labor Department’s jobless claims reports may soon offer the first official signs of severe economic fallout from the coronavirus. In the meantime, here are some additional ways to keep track.

Thousands of U.S. stores are closing, major clothing and mall retailers are shutting, some restaurants are closing their dining rooms and some grocers are limiting their hours. The WSJ is tracking the latest.

OpenTable has opened up its data, which show a sharp, global downturn in online reservations, phone reservations and walk-ins at restaurants.

Morning Consult conducts daily consumer sentiment surveys. As of Thursday morning, the research firm’s index was at the lowest point since it started the series more than two years ago.

Underscoring heightened uncertainty, economic projections from just a week ago now seem dated. On Wednesday, J.P. Morgan Chase slashed its estimate for second-quarter U.S. gross domestic product to a 14% contraction from a more modest -3% forecast issued last week. 

 

Follow the WSJ’s live coronavirus coverage here.

TWEET OF THE DAY 

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WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

A $1.2 trillion stimulus package? Double it. “Policy makers should be planning for two years in which, in the absence of a fiscal intervention, the output gap will be significantly negative—possibly as much as 6% of GDP, or on the same scale as the recession caused by the 2008-09 financial crisis. It’s going to take a much larger fiscal infusion to make up for that shortfall—something more on the order of $2.5 trillion rather than $1.2 trillion,” University of Rochester professor and former Minneapolis Fed president Narayana Kocherlakota writes at Bloomberg Opinion.

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