Apr 22, 2020

Axios Markets

🎥 Check it out! I worked with the Axios video team to create this 1-minute video on how COVID-19 will forever change the U.S. economy.

Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here. (Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,100 words, 4 minutes.)

🎙“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.” - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: Coronavirus puts farmers in "catastrophic" situation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

U.S. farmers are fighting for their livelihoods as the coronavirus pandemic slashes commodity values, cuts off supply chains, and closes markets around the globe to their products.

Why it matters: Farmers are at the center of industries being hardest hit by the virus and states' stay-at-home orders.

  • Fuel, retail, restaurants and manufacturing all trace their products back to American farms, whether that's livestock, cotton, soy, corn or the hundreds of other products that provide the backbone for the U.S. economy.

What's happening: Already reeling from the trade war — which cost farmers significant revenue from China, the world's largest U.S. agriculture buyer — the COVID-19 outbreak has wrought a situation the American Farm Bureau Federation's chief economist John Newton calls simply "catastrophic."

What we're hearing: "It seems like we’re fighting a battle on all fronts right now," Newton tells Axios.

  • "It’s not like commodity values hit a reset button. These are continuous demand shocks that are impacting the value of agricultural products."
  • The widespread decline in demand, combined with most Americans' move from now-shuttered restaurants to grocery stores for most of their food needs, "is having a ripple effect throughout the farm economy," he adds.

Where it stands: There were high hopes that China's commitment to $200 billion of increased spending on U.S. agriculture, energy, manufacturing and services as part of the "phase one" trade deal would help make farmers whole. But as the virus outbreak rattled Chinese demand, those planned purchases evaporated.

  • In fact, overall demand for U.S. agriculture exports has declined from 2019's low levels, Cullen Hendrix, a nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, tells Axios.
  • And now "the whole deal is really under threat."

Yes, but: Direct payments to farmers and ranchers totaling $16 billion along with $3 billion in product purchases were authorized as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act.

Yes, but, but: Industry groups' anticipated losses far exceed that total. The beef industry says it expects to lose $13.6 billion, pork producers expect to lose $5 billion, and the dairy industry anticipates $2.85 billion in losses.

  • That doesn't include farmers who plant cash crops like soy and sorghum, or corn growers who expect to lose $50 per acre in revenue.
  • It also excludes representatives for chicken producers and cotton growers, which have requested unspecified "relief measures for all of agriculture."
Bonus content: An uphill climb

Uncertainty overwhelmed the agriculture sector in 2019 as farm debt hit a record high and so-called family farmer bankruptcies rose by the most in eight years, up 20% from the previous year.

In 2020 things have gotten worse. Farmers now face declining prices and demand, shortages of labor, and disruptions to processing facilities and labor markets.

  • Farms relied heavily on migrant labor, which has dwindled in recent years, and workers at meatpacking plants have started to contract COVID-19 in large numbers, shutting down some of the country's largest facilities.
2. Catch up quick

Ending business shutdowns in early April could have led to an additional 172,000 deaths over the course of the pandemic, but the closures are likely to push the U.S. unemployment rate above 30% in the second quarter, according to the St. Louis Fed.

Starbucks will launch a plant-based lunch menu featuring Beyond Meat, which will set up a Chinese-language website and use Weibo and WeChat. (Reuters)

The Federal Housing Finance Agency is considering allowing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy home mortgages in forbearance. (WSJ)

3. Equity funds saw greater losses in Q1 than all of 2008

Data: Lipper Refinitiv; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Between price declines and investor redemptions, the value of stock mutual funds and ETFs held by U.S. investors declined by $3.6 trillion during the first quarter.

  • Not only is the number a record high for a quarter, it's higher than any full year on record, according to data from Lipper Refinitiv.

By the numbers: The decline in equity fund value during the quarter is over $700 billion more than was seen in 2008 during the Great Recession.

  • The average equity fund posted a 22.3% decline during the quarter, data show.

On the other side: Institutional and retail money market funds drew $702 billion of inflows during the quarter, more than the inflows for the entire year in 2008.

4. Oil's wild ride continues
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

After Monday's historic crash during which U.S. benchmark WTI crude futures fell below $0 for the first time ever and settled at -$37 a barrel, panic has continued to spread through markets, with Brent crude prices falling by more than 20%.

Why it matters: While some attributed Monday's unprecedented price deterioration in WTI to technical factors like expiring monthly contracts, the losses continue even on later-dated contracts for June and July. Prices for both Brent and WTI are now below $20 a barrel.

The big picture: Tuesday's declines happened despite a decision by CME Group, the world’s largest commodities exchange, to raise margins on crude futures and an announcement from President Trump that the U.S. was “looking” to add as many as 75 million barrels of oil to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

  • Brent crude prices have fallen by more than 70% year to date, while WTI has fallen by nearly 80%.
5. Netflix blows away earnings expectations

Netflix stock came back to earth in after-hours trading on Tuesday after jumping as much as 10% following the company's sublime first quarter earnings report.

  • The company reported 15.8 million net new subscribers versus expectations of just 8.2 million and revenue of $5.77 billion, beating consensus.
  • Earnings rose to $709 million, or $1.57 a share, from $344 million, or 76 cents a share, during the same period a year ago.

The big picture: Netflix has probably been the biggest beneficiary of nationwide lockdown orders that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • While the broader market remains down year to date and significantly below recent highs, Netflix has risen 34% this year and is within spitting distance of new record high.

The intrigue: With at least 80 S&P 500 companies having simply chosen not to provide guidance for 2020, Netflix said it expects 7.5 million new global paid subscribers in Q2, but warned the number was “mostly guesswork."

6. How the Senate's $484 billion bill breaks down

Table: Axios Visuals

The Senate passed a nearly $500 billion coronavirus relief bill on Tuesday after more than a week of intense negotiations.

  • The bill now moves to the House of Representatives, which could vote on it by Thursday.

Why it matters: The agreement will replenish the emergency small business lending Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and provide billions for hospitals and expanded coronavirus testing, Axios' Alayna Treene notes.

Details: This version of PPP includes a total of $322 billion for businesses, of which $60 billion will be set aside for small institutions.

  • Half of the $60 billion is directed to lenders with assets totaling less than $10 billion, and the other half to those with assets between $10 billion and $50 billion.

What's missing: The deal does not include $150 billion in aid for state and local governments sought by Democrats.

  • However Sen. Chuck Schumer told CNN that the White House agreed to use leftover funding to bolster state and local revenues.

Editor’s note: The top story was corrected to show overall demand for U.S. agriculture exports has declined (not imports). Story 5 was corrected to show Netflix had a revenue of $5.77 billion (not million).

Quote: “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

Why it matters: Cesar Chavez, a prolific labor organizer who led a more than five-year boycott of grapes that at one point included 17 million people and produced the California law allowing farm workers to unionize, died on April 22, 1993.

  • Oh, and don't forget to watch the 1-minute video on how COVID-19 will forever change the U.S. economy.