Axios Markets

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March 25, 2020

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🎙"Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, it's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's strengthening." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: Economists say Trump's coronavirus plan is dead wrong

Illustration of the American flag with a chains and lock over it.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's proposal to get business around the country back open by Easter Sunday, April 12, will do more harm to the economy if the COVID-19 outbreak has not been contained, economists say.

Why it matters: Such a plan would sow uncertainty in markets and among customers and business owners and make the recession longer and harsher.

Threat level: "We are still significantly behind the curve in containing COVID-19 and reopening the economy for political expediency in the middle of a pandemic, to which no has has an immunity, is absolutely mindless," Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist at the Economic Outlook Group, tells Axios.

  • "It will only delay a full economic recovery."

On the other side: A smattering of business owners and asset managers backed Trump's plan to push forward with lifting the lockdowns sooner than later.

  • David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue and WestJet, told Bloomberg that the suffering from a major economic downturn would outweigh the damage from the disease.

The big picture: "THIS IS A FALSE CHOICE!!!!!!" MacroPolicy Perspectives president Julia Coronado says in an email.

  • "If we go back to work and the disease continues to spread not only will people die and the 20% of our economy dedicated to health care be overwhelmed, but people won't have the confidence to resume normal activity."
  • "They won't go on airplanes or travel or hold conferences or events because they won't be able to trust the public health response has been adequate to protect them."

The latest: The World Health Organization said Tuesday the U.S. risks becoming the epicenter of the global COVID-19 outbreak with more than 55,000 confirmed cases and over 800 deaths so far, according to Johns Hopkins University.

  • Declarations from the president may not even have any impact, as governors and mayors have led the effort to quarantine much of the country.
  • More than 160 million people in 17 states are being told to shelter in place, accounting for nearly half the U.S. population.

The bottom line: "Trump is deluding himself if he thinks that he can step behind a podium and reopen the economy," Michael R. Strain, director of economic policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote in an op-ed for Bloomberg.

  • "A warning to the president: Trying and failing to reopen the economy before economic activity is organically ready to resume could have dire economic consequences."

2. Catch up quick

The Senate reached a deal for a $2 trillion stimulus package that includes sending $1,200 checks to many Americans, creating a $367 billion loan program for small businesses, and setting up a $500 billion fund for industries, cities and states. (The Washington Post)

Activity in the manufacturing and services sectors fell to record lows in both the U.S. and Europe this month. (WSJ)

Many states reported an increase in initial jobless claims of more than 1,000% and an estimated 3.4 million workers filed for unemployment insurance last week. (EPI)

The airline industry doubled its estimate of 2020 revenue losses to more than $250 billion. (Reuters)

3. Coronavirus fears juice OJ prices

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

While global stock prices have been battered, the coronavirus outbreak has been a major boon for orange juice futures, which have surged, rising by more than 6% on Tuesday and banking a fourth straight session in the green.

Why it matters: Thanks to a meteoric rise over the past week, orange juice has become one of the world's top performing assets so far this year.

What's happening: The COVID-19 outbreak is hitting both supply and demand for OJ. A desire for immune-boosting vitamin C has increased demand at stores while fear of infection is peeling off labor supply in key hubs.

  • "Traders are wondering if workers are around to man the plants here in Florida and in Brazil," Jack Scoville, a futures market analyst for the PRICE Group, wrote in a recent note.
  • "In addition, there are not enough tankers or containers around for shipping the product to buyers. Pickers are not going out into groves to pick the fruit for fear of getting too close to affected fellow workers and catching the coronavirus disease."

But, but, but: While orange juice has risen to near its highest price in a year, it remains well below its 2017 and 2018 highs, and is almost 50% below the settlement price it touched in late 2016.

4. Investors wary despite Dow's historic day

The Dow rose more than 11% to clock its largest single-day gain since 1933 on Tuesday, but few are confident the market is set for a sustained rebound.

  • Experts are urging tempered enthusiasm with U.S. and global equities on pace for a rare second day of gains.

Keep it 💯: "You’re going to see movement in the market, extremes in both directions, that have nothing to do with any of the headlines necessarily, but just the nature of the beast at this stage in the bear market," Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab, tells Axios.

Be smart: Neither U.S. nor global equity prices have posted back-to-back daily gains since the first half of February and more than $20 trillion has been erased from equity markets since late January.

Watch this space: The dollar declined for the second day in a row, suggesting the panic-driven global liquidity squeeze that pushed the greenback to near its highest level in 12 years earlier this week has subsided.

  • Demand for the dollar is a good barometer of "whether the Fed’s actions are having the intended affect to address severe disruptions" in credit markets, Michael Arone, chief investment strategist at State Street Global Advisors, tells Axios.
  • "Early signs are positive but we’ll need to see more movement to feel as though things are persistently improving."

The big picture: Many investors are still hiding out in cash, unconvinced the worst is over.

  • While historic bond buying by the Fed and other central banks and expectations of a $2 trillion U.S. stimulus package were positive developments, market participants say the "third prong" of a recovery — a peak in global COVID-19 diagnoses — remains elusive.
  • “We still need to see a slowing of the virus cases and a peaking in the U.S., because until then we’ll have these huge relief-rally days and then we’ll get a scary day and the market will plunge down again,” Carol Pepper, CEO of Pepper International, told Bloomberg TV.

5. Americans expect to spend stimulus money

Reproduced from CivicScience survey; Note: ±3 percentage point margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

Reproduced from CivicScience survey; Note: ±3 percentage point margin of error; Chart: Axios Visuals

The majority of respondents to the latest CivicScience poll, provided first to Axios, say they would spend a government stimulus payment on bills, necessities and treats, rather than saving or investing the money.

Why it matters: That is a plus for the economy, which is built on consumers spending and not saving their money.

Of note: The spending expectations don't differ markedly from the way respondents to earlier surveys said they would use tax refunds.

What to watch: The poll also found that of the respondents who said they would save their government payment, 64% said they would spend a gift of cash rather than save it.

  • 78% of respondents who said they would pay down debt or bills, said they would spend a cash gift rather than save it.

6. U.S. rent and retail wars have begun

In just over a week, more than 47,000 chain stores across the U.S. have shut their doors as retailers have taken extreme measures to help slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: "Most have pledged to remain closed to the public for at least two weeks, but they may stay closed for much longer. In the same period, small retail businesses throughout the U.S. also hit pause on their physical locations but are not included in this list."

On another front: A separate Bloomberg report finds that major U.S. retail and restaurant chains, including Mattress Firm and Subway, have told landlords they will withhold or pay only reduced rent starting in April.

The intrigue: A snowball effect could be underway. Landlords can’t afford to stop collecting rent for long, with many property owners sitting on large piles of debt.

  • "The U.S. relief packages being considered don’t directly address rents. But the Federal Reserve’s actions may give banks the leeway to defer mortgage payments, allowing property owners to delay rent," the story notes.
  • "It’s also unclear if retailers can declare a so-called 'force majeure,' a contract clause that covers highly unusual events, and if landlords could then make the same case to insurers."

Quick take: “In the space of a week, the retail landscape has changed from being fairly normalized to being absolutely disrupted beyond what we’ve ever seen before outside of the Second World War,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, told Bloomberg.

Quote: "Music does a lot of things for a lot of people. It's transporting, for sure. It can take you right back, it's uplifting, it's encouraging, it's strengthening."

Why it matters: The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, was born on March 25, 1942.