The U.S. economy’s ability to withstand layoffs and a renewed surge in coronavirus cases will become clearer on Thursday when the government reports the latest data on new claims for unemployment benefits.
After dropping in late spring and early summer as pandemic-related lockdowns eased, new claims for state jobless benefits have been steadily totaling about 800,000 a week, far above the level in previous recessions.
“The numbers are extremely worrisome, in my opinion, and they point to a labor market that is struggling to make progress,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
Despite widespread economic pain, Republicans and Democrats in Washington have been unable to agree on a new relief package, a failure that may cause the economy to slow further in the coming months. Federal benefits created in March to supplement state payments to the unemployed are set to expire by the end of the year.
The fresh data may show the impact from a wave of layoffs announced in recent weeks from companies like United Airlines and Allstate. Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, estimates that there have been 200,000 layoffs since the beginning of September.
“We really need the aid from Washington,” she said. “This is an economy that got into a deep hole, and it’s very hard to get out of. There is now a risk of deeper cuts and more permanent closures.”
Global stocks tumbled on Thursday, and Wall Street futures pointed to a drop of more than 1 percent when trading begins, as earnings reports reminded investors of the challenges so many companies face amid a second wave of coronavirus cases. New restrictions were imposed on London after a curfew in Paris and other French cities.
Share prices for airlines and hospitality companies, already battered this year, fell as the tightening rules in European cities cast a shadow over travel and spending during the coming holiday season.
The investment mood was further dampened by comments from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who said on Wednesday that he did not expect an economic relief package before the presidential election next month. It’ll be another blow to U.S. companies whose prospects have diverged from the country’s large banks, which have benefited from an increase in trading.
The Stoxx 600 Europe dropped 2.2 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 2.3 percent, Germany’s DAX index was down 3 percent and France’s CAC index was 2.3 percent lower. Asian indexes closed broadly lower, with Hong Kong’s Hang Seng down 2.1 percent and South Korea’s Kospi losing 0.8 percent.
Government bonds rose as investors moved to the relatively safer asset. The yield on U.S. Treasury 10-year securities, which moves in the opposite direction to prices, fell 0.03 percentage points, and Germany’s declined 0.04 percentage points to minus 0.62 percent.
The benchmark oil prices for Europe and the United States both fell 1.5 percent.
The slide in markets on Thursday is “linked to spikes in coronavirus cases and fears that regional lockdowns will subdue the economic recovery,” said Susannah Streeter, an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. “We are seeing fresh losses for airlines and travel stocks.”
Shares in the European airline companies Lufthansa and easyJet, which were already near their lows for the year, fell more than 5 percent, and shares in IAG, which owns British Airways and Iberia, fell 4.7 percent. Ryanair shares lost 3.7 percent after the Dublin-based airline said it would fly only 40 percent of its usual capacity this winter, down from previous plans for 60 percent. Shares in United Airlines were down 1.2 percent in premarket trading after the company said it had lost $1.8 billion in the three months through September.
Whitbread, which owns the Premier Inn chain of hotels and some restaurants, was among the worst performing stocks in Europe on Thursday, falling nearly 6 percent.
Shares in Marston’s, a large chain of bars and pubs in Britain, fell 6.9 percent after the company said sales for its financial year were down nearly a third compared with last year. Because of additional restrictions on the hospitality industry, the company also said it was looking to cut 2,150 jobs that are currently furloughed. That adds to concerns that Britain will experience a sharp rise in unemployment this winter as data published this week showed that the jobless rate had already climbed to a three-year high.
On the afternoon of Feb. 24, President Trump declared on Twitter that the coronavirus was “very much under control” in the United States, but hours earlier, senior members of the president’s economic team, privately addressing board members of the conservative Hoover Institution, were less confident.
Tomas J. Philipson, a senior economic adviser to the president, told the group he could not yet estimate the effects of the virus on the American economy. To some in the group, the implication was that an outbreak could prove worse than Mr. Philipson and other Trump administration advisers were signaling in public at the time.
The next day, board members — many of them Republican donors — got another taste of government uncertainty from Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council. Hours after he had boasted on CNBC that the virus was contained in the United States and “it’s pretty close to airtight,” Mr. Kudlow delivered a more ambiguous private message. He asserted that the virus was “contained in the U.S., to date, but now we just don’t know,” according to a document describing the sessions obtained by The New York Times.
The document, written by a hedge fund consultant who attended the three-day gathering of Hoover’s board, was stark. “What struck me,” the consultant wrote, was that nearly every official he heard from raised the virus “as a point of concern, totally unprovoked.”
The consultant’s assessment quickly spread through parts of the investment world. U.S. stocks were already spiraling because of a warning from a federal public health official that the virus was likely to spread, but traders spotted the immediate significance: The president’s aides appeared to be giving wealthy party donors an early warning of a potentially impactful contagion at a time when Mr. Trump was publicly insisting that the threat was nonexistent.
Interviews with eight people who either received copies of the memo or were briefed on aspects of it as it spread among investors in New York and elsewhere provide a glimpse of how elite traders had access to information from the administration that helped them gain financial advantage during a chaotic three days when global markets were teetering.
To many of the investors who received or heard about the memo, it was the first significant sign of skepticism among Trump administration officials about their ability to contain the virus. It also provided a hint of the fallout that was to come, said one major investor who was briefed on it: the upending of daily life for the entire country.
“Short everything,” was the reaction of the investor, using the Wall Street term for betting on the idea that the stock prices of companies would soon fall.
Americans used one-time stimulus checks they received from the federal government early in the pandemic to pad their savings accounts and pay off debt, new research from the Federal Reserve shows.
Households spent just 29 percent of the money they received earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said in a post on its website, citing its Survey of Consumer Expectations, conducted in June and August. Another 36 percent of the cash was saved, while 35 percent was used to pay down debt.
Americans adults who qualified for the stimulus received up to $1,200 each, with an extra $500 added per child in the household. Out of the Fed’s sample, 89 percent of households received money.
Poorer families and those who lost jobs or income amid the pandemic were more likely to use their money to pay down debts, while richer families saved the money.
“The economic impact payments, by increasing both household income and the debt pay down, contributed importantly to the sharp increase in the overall saving rate during the early months of the pandemic,” the central bank’s researchers wrote in the post.
Several factors might have been behind the relatively low spending and high saving. People were unsure when the economic crisis would clear up, the researchers wrote, and might have been acting cautiously. They were on lockdown, which might have limited opportunities to spend, and some rent payments — which count as consumption — were delayed.
The trends seem unlikely to change if new aid becomes available: In the August survey, the New York Fed asked what households might do if they received another $1,500 check. Respondents expect to spend even less of that money, about 24 percent.
The newfound savings buffer cushioned the blow as expanded unemployment insurance expired. Consumer spending has held up even though millions remain unemployed but are no longer receiving an extra $600 per week from the federal government.
“We’re still benefiting from the stimulus,” Randal K. Quarles, vice chair for supervision at the Fed, said during an event on Wednesday, noting that it makes it harder to guess what will happen to the economy once that tailwind fades.
Wells Fargo has found evidence that some employees filed fraudulent applications to get money from a Small Business Administration relief program supporting companies dealing with coronavirus lockdowns, according to an internal memo. The memo said the employees had created fake profiles to file for money from the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. “We have terminated the employment of those individuals and will cooperate fully with law enforcement,” the bank’s head of human resources, David Galloreese, wrote in the memo, which was posted on an internal website on Wednesday.
United Airlines lost $1.8 billion in the three months through September, with operating revenue down 78 percent compared with the same period in 2019. The airline said it ended September with more than $19 billion in cash and other available liquidity, boosted by a large debt offering backed by its mileage program and the ability to borrow $5.2 billion from the Treasury Department.