Mar 21, 2020

Axios AM

By Mike Allen
Mike Allen

🎬 Sneak peek at “Axios on HBO,” tomorrow at 6 p.m. ET/PT: A rare interview with China's ambassador to the U.S. ... Sen. Ted Cruz talks to me from self-quarantine ... plus the CEOs of Microsoft and Carnival, and a sit-down with Justice Stephen Breyer.

1 big thing: U.S.-China tensions hit dangerous new high

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The coronavirus crisis has sent U.S.-China relations spiraling, alarming analysts who say the two countries are at their most dangerous point in decades, Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian writes.

  • Why it matters: Instead of working together to fight the global pandemic, the world's two largest economies are engaging in risky escalation.

What's happening: A high-level blame game between Washington and Beijing has brought simmering hostilities and mistrust to the surface.

  • Seeking to deflect blame for a pandemic that originated within its borders, some Chinese officials and propaganda outlets are pushing a conspiracy theory that the U.S. military planted the virus in Wuhan — a disinformation strategy not seen at this intensity since the early days of the Cold War.
  • Some U.S. officials, including President Trump, have responded by dubbing the coronavirus a "Chinese" virus, which goes against World Health Organization naming conventions.
  • A tit-for-tat escalation in media expulsions has seen two historically unprecedented measures: the U.S. effectively expelled about 60 Chinese state media workers, and this week, Beijing announced that U.S. journalists at three flagship U.S. publications would have to leave.

What's at stake: A military accident or strategic miscalculation could quickly spark a conflagration.

What to watch: The Chinese government is now sending medical equipment and advisory teams to countries around the world. The U.S., on the other hand, has made few attempts to lead a global response. If the trend continues, it could mark a major victory in China's bid to be seen as a global leader that can rival the United States.

2. 🧼 Quick catch-up: Economists see job losses of 5 million or more
Philadelphia's coronavirus testing site next to Citizens Bank Park. Photo: Tim Tai/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

The coronavirus downturn could cost 5 million or more U.S. jobs, with a loss in gross domestic product of $1.5 trillion, The Wall Street Journal reports.

  • Why it matters: "A recession is now all but certain, according to a Wall Street Journal survey of 34 economists, which projects a downturn that would last months at least, and would in some ways rival—and possibly even surpass—the severity of the 2007-09 slump triggered by the housing collapse and subprime loan debacle."
  • The context: "[T]he economy lost more than 8 million jobs in the recession that began in December 2007. The unemployment rate climbed from 4.4% in 2007 to a peak of 10% in 2009."

Illinois and New York state joined California yesterday in ordering all residents to stay in their homes unless they have vital reasons to go out, restricting the movement of more than 70 million Americans — roughly 1 in 5, AP reports.

  • The lockdowns encompass the three biggest cities in America — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
3. Bull run unravels
Expand chart
Data: Yahoo Finance. Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

"Just weeks after cruising to new records, U.S. stocks have sunk more than 30%, ending the longest bull market ever," The Wall Street Journal writes.

  • U.S. stocks fell yesterday "as fresh measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic spooked investors, capping off the worst week for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 since October 2008."

The Dow, S&P and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite are all "down about 30% from their mid-February records," per The Journal.

4. Pictures of the week: The world shuts down
Photo: Michel Euler/AP

Above: Parisians synchronize applause for caregivers.

Below: A woman looks on through the window of a nursing home in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.

Photo: Alvaro Barrientos/AP
Photo: Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Above: Ashlee Montague dances in an abandoned Times Square.

Below: Drone photo of a temporary hospital being built on a soccer field outside Seattle in Shoreline, Wash.

Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP
5. Virus sends local news into crisis

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Dozens of local newsrooms began laying people off this week out of fear that the economic hit of the coronavirus could severely impact their ad revenue, Sara Fischer and Margaret Harding McGill report.

  • Why it matters: Local news was already facing dire times. The coronavirus and a pending recession could push the industry into near collapse at a time when people need access to local info more than ever before.

The Tampa Bay Times (long the St. Pete Times) announced Wednesday that it had laid off 11 journalists.

  • Alt weeklies have been hit hard, with cuts at the Monterey County Weekly, Detroit Metro Times, Cleveland Scene, Orlando Weekly, San Antonio Current and others, per Nieman Lab.
  • Some weeklies have suspended print publishing, including the Riverfront Times in St. Louis, Sacramento News & Review, Portland Mercury, The Stranger in Seattle and The Pulse in Chattanooga, Tenn.

How it works: Local news businesses depend on ads from bars, restaurants and entertainment venues, "and this evaporates that," says GroupM's Brian Wieser, one of the top advertising industry analysts.

Between the lines: Local and national outlets are beginning to drop their paywalls. But David Chavern, CEO of the News Media Alliance, a newspaper trade association, said there has been no bump in digital subscriptions:

  • "While we have seen a bump in digital traffic, the additional digital ad revenue is minimal because that system is dominated by Google and Facebook." 

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6. Business mobilizes
Harry Westhoff, 71, runs groceries back to his car in Teaneck, N.J., after Stop & Shop opened special morning hours for people 60-plus. Photo/John Minchillo/AP

Getting behind an idea from Andrew Ross Sorkin that excited CEOs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called on Congress to pass a "bridge loan" program to give federally guaranteed loans to companies with big losses from the pandemic.

  • The loans would include incentives for employers to maintain existing current workers at their existing pay.
  • Neil Bradley, the Chamber's executive vice president and chief policy officer, told me that the Chamber's full proposal was inspired by proposals by Sorkin, Kevin Warsh and Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio.

PepsiCo announced it'll provide enhanced benefits to all U.S.-based employees (including 100% pay during a 14-day quarantine) and additional compensation to U.S. frontline employees "who make, move and sell products."

📦 "Amazon to Hire 100,000 Warehouse and Delivery Workers [and] will raise pay by $2 an hour for warehouse and delivery employees through April." (WSJ)

🛒 Walmart said it plans to hire 150,000 U.S. hourly workers through the end of May, and many of the jobs will become permanent.

  • Target said it'll give a $2-an-hour wage increase to its 300,000-plus workers.

🥤 7-Eleven will add 20,000 jobs.

7. 🏈 For anyone who is underestimated

Tom Brady, 42, signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

  • The deal guarantees $50 million, with a $10 million signing bonus and $15 million salary for 2020.

The Tampa Bay Times 'fesses up about its new local celeb:

Of all the predictions in all the stories the Tampa Bay Times has published over the years, few turned out to be as wrong as the first sentence in the first profile we ever wrote about new Bucs quarterback Tom Brady.
"Years after Saturday’s Orange Bowl is over,” Darrell Fry wrote on Dec. 31, 1999, “it’s likely few people will be talking about Michigan quarterback Tom Brady.”
8. 1 smile to go: Drive-in boom
"Onward" shows at Paramount Drive-In Theatres in Paramount, Calif. Photo: Chris Pizzello/AP

The drive-in theater, long a dwindling nostalgia act in a multiplex world, is experiencing a momentary return to prominence, per AP Film Writer Jake Coyle.

  • With so many movie theaters shuttered, some drive-ins have become the only show in town.
  • Why it matters: Through decades of disruption and change in American life, they have managed to survive. They’ve somehow clung to life as relics of past Americana only to find themselves, for a brief moment anyway, uniquely suited to today

There are just over 300 drive-ins left in the country, compared with 5,500 indoor theaters.

Mike Allen

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