Feb 28, 2020 - Economy & Business

The growing coronavirus recession threat

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In just a matter of weeks, top economists and investment bank analysts have gone from expecting the coronavirus outbreak to have minimal impact on the U.S. economy to warning that an outright recession may be on the horizon.

What's happening: The spread of confirmed coronavirus cases in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S., and the speed at which they are being discovered has set the table for the outbreak to have a larger and much costlier impact.

Between the lines: The outbreak threatens U.S. consumer-oriented businesses like restaurants, bars and travel, which have held up the economy as business investment has turned negative and the manufacturing sector has fallen into recession, largely as a result of the U.S.-China trade war.

What they're saying: Business investment, which declined through the last three quarters of 2019, could be further hit, Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG, tells Axios.

  • "If the virus spreads within the U.S. in any meaningful way, that is going to have a negative impact."
  • "That's a component we think could lead to a negative GDP print in the first and possibly the second quarter."

Europe and Japan are particularly at risk, as both have generated only 1% growth over the past year and are very susceptible to falling into recession.

  • “We could see a significant impact on Europe, which has been weak to start with, and it’s just conceivable that it could throw the United States into a recession,” former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday at an event in Michigan.

Flashback: Just a few weeks ago, many economists thought the coronavirus would cause only a tenth of a percentage point decrease in U.S. growth this year.

  • But rosy projections were in short supply on Thursday as the Dow flirted with its largest single-day points drop in history.
  • The S&P 500 has fallen by 10% in just six trading sessions, the fastest correction in history from a record high, Deutsche Bank Securities chief economist Torsten Sløk said in a note to clients.

One level deeper: Goldman Sachs' chief U.S. equity strategist David Kostin warned Thursday that the firm now expects U.S. companies to "generate no earnings growth in 2020,” and that “a more severe pandemic could lead to a more prolonged disruption and a U.S. recession.”

  • Bank of America Securities cut its 2020 global growth forecast, and is now expecting the lowest reading since 2009.
  • Credit Suisse lowered its projection to 2.2% — below the 2.5% growth rate the IMF set as the threshold for global recession.

The big picture: Nearly half of U.S. companies in China said they expect revenue to decrease this year if business can’t return to normal by the end of April, according to a new survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in China, a group representing members from 900 companies throughout the country.

  • One fifth of respondents said 2020 revenue from China would decline more than 50% if the epidemic continues through Aug. 30.

Go deeper

Zipline drones deliver masks to hospitals; vaccines could be next

Zipline's drone drops medical supplies via parachute. Image courtesy of Zipline.

Zipline, a California drone company, has made its U.S. debut by delivering medical supplies to hospitals in North Carolina under a pilot program honed in Africa.

Why it matters: The effort, made possible by a waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration to Novant Health, is the nation's longest-range drone delivery operation and could demonstrate how drones could be used in future pandemics, Zipline officials said.

NHL unveils 24-team playoff plan to return from coronavirus hiatus

Data: NHL; Table: Axios Visuals

The NHL unveiled its return-to-play plan on Tuesday, formally announcing that 24 of its 31 teams will return for a playoff tournament in two hub cities, if and when medically cleared.

Why it matters: Hockey is the first major North American sports league to sketch out its plans to return from a coronavirus-driven hiatus in such detail, and it's also the first one to officially pull the plug on its regular season, which will trigger ticket refunds.

Rising home sales show Americans are looking past the coronavirus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Americans are behaving very differently than they have in previous recessions — convinced that the coronavirus pandemic will soon pass, many continue to spend money as if nothing has changed.

Driving the news: The latest example of this trend is the Commerce Department's new home sales report, which showed home sales increased in April despite nationwide lockdowns that banned real estate agents in some states from even showing listed houses.