Axios Markets

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April 08, 2020

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🎙"The sun is gone, but I have a light.." - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: Tariff worries hit record high amid coronavirus outbreak

Data: CivicScience, margin of error ±1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

Data: CivicScience, margin of error ±1 percentage points; Chart: Axios Visuals

Concern about President Trump's tariffs on U.S imports grew to record high levels among Americans last month, particularly as more lost their jobs and concern about the coronavirus increased.

Driving the news: About seven in 10 people said they were at least somewhat concerned about tariffs in March, according to the latest survey from CivicScience provided first to Axios.

  • That's the highest number reported since the company started tracking the data.

Why it matters: As the Fed has cut U.S. interest rates to zero and provided trillions of dollars in support to markets, and Congress approved a $2.2 trillion relief package, the tariffs have offset some of that support by adding a massive tax on American businesses and individuals, experts say.

  • "The economy continues to be hampered by tariffs," Tendayi Kapfidze, chief economist at LendingTree, tells Axios.

The big picture: The tariffs have wiped out the lion's share of average American household savings from the 2017 tax cut, as Bloomberg noted in June.

  • And the president’s tariffs rank "as one of the biggest tax increases in decades," CNBC reported in May, citing data from the Treasury Department.

How it works: "The stimulus bill includes $290 billion in direct checks to consumers, but a lot of that will be going right back to the Treasury due to tariffs," Kapfidze says.

  • "Estimates from the CBO and Federal Reserve put the cost of tariffs in 2020 between $500 and $1,700 [per household]; essentially negating much of the benefit from the $1,200 stimulus checks."
  • "Just as tariffs killed the potential tax cut benefit to the economy in 2018 and 2019, they will be a drag on this stimulus."

Reality check: The administration reportedly has been considering an executive order that would defer tariff payments on some imports for 90 days, while leaving in place tariffs on European and Chinese imports.

  • But Trump said in late March that stories claiming he had approved such measures were "false reporting.”
  • Trump has instead continued to claim, falsely, that the tariffs are paid by China and other countries that ship the goods.

Where it stands: The administration did issue exclusions from the extra tariffs imposed on certain Chinese-made items such as gloves and surgical masks, but even those remain subject to tariffs from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.

  • Other medical equipment and supplies shipped from China still face tariffs.

2. Catch up quick

The U.S. saw its largest 24-hour spike in COVID-19 fatalities, per Johns Hopkins data. Recorded deaths across the U.S. surpassed 12,800 on Tuesday evening. (Axios)

An International Labour Organization report found the COVID-19 crisis is expected to wipe out 6.7% of working hours globally in the second quarter of 2020. (ILO)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will work to provide as much as $250 billion in additional money to help small businesses but GOP aides warn it’s unlikely a "phase four" relief bill will pass before May. (The Hill)

Despite an announcement from the White House that 178,000 loans totaling $50 billion had been approved, bankers, small-business owners and others participating in the Paycheck Protection Program say very little of that has reached companies seeking the cash. (N.Y. Times)

3. Timeline: How coronavirus impacted U.S. stock prices

Data: FactSet; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Data: FactSet; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

After largely ignoring the coronavirus outbreak in January, news about the pandemic has been just about the only thing that has mattered to investors since the market's initial fall from record highs on Feb. 23.

  • Stock prices have bounced back since hitting a low on March 23, but analysts warn the gains are likely "bear market rallies" not backed by data.
  • The S&P 500 has gained around 15% since hitting its low, ending the bear market.

Watch this space: “Risk to the downside is greater than the opportunity to the upside from this point where we stand today,” Goldman Sachs chief equity strategist David Kostin told CNBC on Tuesday.

  • “I would just remind you that in 2008 in the fourth quarter there were many different rallies, I call them bear market rallies, some of which almost 20% a couple of times — but the market did not bottom until March of 2009.”

4. Public transit's death spiral

Illustration of person in hazmat suit standing next to bus sign.
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Public transit systems across the country are experiencing a painful trifecta: Ridership has collapsed, funding streams are squeezed, and mass transit won't bounce back from the pandemic nearly as fast as other modes of transportation, Axios' Kim Hart writes.

Why it matters: Transit agencies could see an annual shortfall of as much as $38 billion due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to TransitCenter. At the same time, they're more important than ever, with more than 36% of essential workers relying on public transportation to get to work.

  • "There's never been a time in which transit in one fell swoop has taken such a hit," said Sam Schwartz, CEO of Sam Schwartz Engineering and former New York City traffic commissioner.

Between the lines: Most public transit systems are operating at only 10% capacity — with skeletal schedules with minimal crews — to transport essential workers to their jobs at hospitals, medical centers, pharmacies and grocery stores, per Paul Skoutelas, CEO of the American Public Transportation Association.

  • But even with drastic drops in ridership, busier systems are still struggling with sporadic crowding and workers have fallen ill — increasing the risk that the transit systems themselves could contribute to the spread of the virus.
  • New York's MTA has had more than 1,100 employees test positive for COVID-19, while 5,600 have been quarantined — and 33 have died, New York City Transit interim president Sarah Feinberg told NY1 on Monday.
  • In Los Angeles, some bus drivers are worried for their safety and want the system to close, per the local CBS affiliate.

The catch: Skoutelas noted that virtually all systems still have an obligation to provide door-to-door transportation to elderly and disabled passengers who have urgent health care needs.

  • When asked if systems would shut down completely to protect both workers and passengers, Skoutelas said those decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis at a local level.

In the short term, transit experts expect the $2 trillion stimulus package — which allocated $25 billion for public transit agencies — to help agencies maintain minimal levels of service for essential workers.

  • In the long term, many expect to need additional funding from the next relief installment passed by Congress. President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have signaled the desire to allocate money for infrastructure.

It may take much longer. After the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City, it took the subway nearly six years to fully recoup ridership, according to Schwartz, the former New York City traffic commissioner.

Read more

5. Rice prices hit 7-year high as supply dwindles

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

Increased demand and export disruptions as a result of the coronavirus outbreak have sent the price of rice sky high in recent weeks.

By the numbers: Rough rice futures tracked on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange rose to their highest in six years, according to FactSet data.

What's happening: Rerouted global supply chains and travel bans in many large Asian countries are adding to the cost of rice delivery, while local populations have been stocking up on the food staple, driving demand higher while constraining supply.

Quote: "The sun is gone, but I have a light."

Why it matters: On April 8, 1994, the body of Kurt Cobain was found lying on the floor of the greenhouse at his home in Seattle. Local radio station KXRX broke the news at 9:40 am.

  • Nirvana doesn't get the respect they deserve these days because they sold a lot of records in the '90s and everybody's a hipster now, but their music ranks among the best ever made.

My top 6 Nirvana songs:

1. "In Bloom"

2. "Lounge Act"

3. "Sappy"

4. "Very Ape"

5. "Blew"

6. "Teen Spirit"/"Polly" (acoustic)/"All Apologies" (acoustic)/"Love Buzz"/"Rape Me"/"Dumb"/"Marigold"

What are yours? (Note: Nirvana slander will not be tolerated.)