Jul 10, 2020

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

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🎙 “Next to God, we are indebted to women — first for life itself, and then for making it worth living." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: The jobs apocalypse part 2

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

This week, United Airlines warned 36,000 U.S. employees their jobs were at risk, Walgreens cut more than 4,000 jobs, Wells Fargo announced it was preparing thousands of terminations this year, and Levi's axed 700 jobs due to falling sales.

  • Those announcements followed similar ones from the Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Choice hotels, which all have announced thousands of job cuts, and the bankruptcies of more major U.S. companies like 24 Hour Fitness, Brooks Brothers and Chuck E. Cheese in recent days.

Why it matters: We have entered round two of the jobs apocalypse.

  • While round one was a swift reckoning that left 20.5 million Americans without a job after one month, part two will be a slow burn that sees millions more jobs lost as some businesses reduce headcounts and others shut down for good.
  • In the first half of 2020, more than 3,600 companies filed for bankruptcy, according to legal services provider Epiq. Just over 600 filed in June, up 43% from June 2019.

What it means: The initial jobs apocalypse was due to the mandated and temporary closures of businesses across the country in an attempt to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Part two is the fallout from the decline in consumption that resulted and will likely include the wreckage from wide-ranging business closures and a reckoning for white collar jobs, experts say.

The intrigue: "What we’re seeing in the numbers so far is more an outcome of the cumulative negative effect of March, April and May than anything worsening with the pandemic in the last few weeks," Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells Axios.

  • "The numbers are probably going to get worse."

What's next: "The pickup in COVID is going to increase uncertainty and make people cut back on spending, but ... even without that pickup in the pandemic, the economic weakness will lead to layoffs and failures from businesses that are only being indirectly hurt" by the pandemic, says Edelberg, who was previously chief economist at the Congressional Budget Office.

Bonus chart: Pandemic unemployment keeps rising

Data: Department of Labor; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

More than 1 million Americans filed for traditional unemployment benefits last week for the 16th week in a row, the Department of Labor reported Thursday. But perhaps more distressing has been the increase in claims filed for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

By the numbers: First-time PUA claims rose above 1 million for the first time since the week of May 23 last week, while the number of people approved for and receiving PUA benefits increased to 14.4 million, as of June 20, the last week for which data are available.

The big picture: The small decline in the number of Americans applying for and receiving traditional unemployment benefits is being more than offset by the increase in PUA beneficiaries, resulting in more people on unemployment.

2. Catch up quick

Chinese large cap stocks sank after two state-backed funds reduced their holdings in a sign that the government wants to slow down the rally. (Bloomberg)

The Chinese government's concerns over an equity bubble reminiscent of 2015 are causing a selloff in the country's sovereign bonds as the central bank is not expected to step in, worsening a route in government debt. (Bloomberg)

Coinbase is planning a stock market listing that could come as early as this year, making it the first major U.S. cryptocurrency exchange to go public. (Reuters)

Any hope for a rebound in air travel this year has vanished, as coronavirus cases have hurt demand and some states are imposing quarantines to keep visitors away. (Axios)

3. The myth of closing the wealth gap through personal responsibility

Data: Survey of Consumer Finances, reproduced from Hamilton Project; Chart: Axios Visuals

The myth that Black Americans can close the racial wealth gap through "personal responsibility" comes in part from a misunderstanding of what wealth is.

The big picture: As noted by a report last year from the Cleveland Fed, the income gap between Black and white Americans is the result of "persistent systemic differences in economic opportunity," rather than a lack of responsibility.

  • But even if Black people could close the income gap through personal responsibility, i.e. working harder, it would not close the wealth gap.

By the numbers: Research from the Brookings Institution, led by Kriston McIntosh, shows "[T]he racial wealth gap remains even for families with the same income."

  • "For those in the top 10 percent by income (only 3.6 percent Black), the racial wealth gap is still quite large." (see above)

What happened: Efforts by Black Americans to build wealth have been impeded in a host of ways, McIntosh notes, "beginning with 246 years of chattel slavery and followed by Congressional mismanagement of the Freedman’s Savings Bank (which left 61,144 depositors with losses of nearly $3 million in 1874)."

  • Then there was the violent massacre decimating Tulsa’s Greenwood District in 1921 (a population of 10,000 that thrived as the epicenter of African American business and culture, commonly referred to as “Black Wall Street”).
  • "And discriminatory policies throughout the 20th century including the Jim Crow Era’s 'Black Codes' strictly limiting opportunity in many southern states, the GI bill, the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act’s exemption of domestic agricultural and service occupations, and redlining."

What it means: "Earnings and other types of income are not key determinants of wealth," notes a 2018 paper from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity.

  • "Deliberate acts of personal savings out of earnings and other types of income do not actually play the fabled role assigned to them in the process of wealth accumulation."
  • "The linchpin for wealth accumulation is the transfer of resources across generations, maintaining higher wealth positions among parents and grandparents for their children and grandchildren."

The bottom line: "[T]he fact that intergenerational transfer of wealth is lightly taxed means that historical gaps persist over generations," McIntosh writes. "Furthermore, inadequate investments in the public goods that facilitate economic mobility make it harder to erase past gaps."

4. Nasdaq's divergence has some investors worried about a bubble

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

U.S. tech stocks continue rising even as the broader market falls, furthering the divide between the economically driven Dow Jones Industrial Average and the tech-heavy Nasdaq.

  • As earnings continue to be written down and the Nasdaq's value continues to rise, it has pushed the index to a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 34.2, well above its historical average, according to FactSet.

What's happening: "The Nasdaq 100 has beaten the S&P 500 for seven straight days, five straight weeks, 10 straight months," Bloomberg's Vildana Hajric, Sarah Ponczek and Lu Wang write.

  • "While that’s manna for bulls who own market proxies, it is also — at best — a mixed economic signal. As stirring as the rally has been, the whole thing can also be read as proof investors see the pandemic lockdown hanging around."
  • "Every time an automated, algorithmic Fang stock rallies, the theory goes, hopes for a speedy recovery in employment and consumer spending take a hit."

Between the lines: The outperformance has investors starting to sound the alarm about a bubble in the market, and particularly in tech stocks, similar to the one that formed before the dot-com crash in 2000.

What we're hearing: The bubbling IPO market in 2020 also is starting to look familiar.

  • "You see similar levels of companies with no earnings, so basically speculative investments, coming to the IPO market as we had in 1999–2000," Savita Subramanian, head of U.S. equity and quantitative strategy at Bank of America, said during a recent presentation.
  • "This is another warning sign that we’ve seen."
Dion Rabouin

Thanks for reading!

Quote: “Next to God, we are indebted to women — first for life itself, and then for making it worth living."

Why it matters: On July 10, 1875, Mary McLeod Bethune was born. She was an educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, who also served as minority affairs adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.