Mar 20, 2020

Axios Markets

By Dion Rabouin
Dion Rabouin

Good morning! Thanks to everyone who sent me emails yesterday. Some of you are having a really tough time, others are about to strangle their kids and others of you described some truly heart-warming experiences you've had with your neighbors, family and friends (all while practicing appropriate social distancing).

“Axios on HBO” is back! Sunday at 6 pm ET/PT, we've got a rare in-depth interview with China's ambassador to the U.S. discussing the spread of COVID-19 (clip), my one-on-one interview with the CEO of Carnival Corporation and much more.

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🎙“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” - See who said it and why it matters at the bottom.

1 big thing: The jobs apocalypse is here

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits jumped to its highest in two years, rising by 70,000 for the week ending March 14, and far outpacing expectations, the Labor Department said Thursday.

  • But that was nothing compared to the absolutely historic wave of job losses economists see coming.

By the numbers: Goldman Sachs predicts that more than 2 million Americans will file for unemployment claims by next week, pointing to "an unprecedented surge in layoffs this week."

  • The increase of unemployment filings is expected to rise to 2.25 million in the March 15-21 period, "the largest increase in initial jobless claims and the highest level on record."

The big picture: Thursday's jobless claims report is likely "only the tip of the iceberg: These numbers do not account for the surge of new claims from overwhelmed [unemployment] websites from coast to coast," Andrew Stettner, senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an expert on unemployment, told CBSNews.

  • To wit, New York, home to 463,000 workers in the food and hospitality sector as of 2018, saw a 17,000 net decline in unemployment filings last week.

One level deeper: Based on anecdotes from a wide range of business contacts, Goldman's economic research team foresees "an unprecedented decline in revenues across many industries."

  • "Consumer spending on sports and entertainment, hotels, restaurants, and public transportation in particular have already dropped dramatically."

Another perspective: Analysts at Bank of America Global Research expect a slower jobs drip, with the U.S. economy losing 1 million jobs a month.

  • "We expect a total of approximately 3.5 million jobs will be lost," BofA strategists said in a note to clients before the release of the Labor Department's initial jobless claims report.
  • They see the unemployment rate rising to 6.3%, hitting the leisure & hospitality and retail industries the hardest.
  • "These sectors have a high share of hourly workers - about 80% for the former and 70% for the latter. And these workers struggle to work from home. This means they are vulnerable to a reduction in hours worked and likely outright job cuts."
Bonus: Unlike anything we've ever seen

Data: U.S. Employment and Training Administration via Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

If Goldman's economic forecasters are right, the number of Americans filing initial claims for unemployment benefits next week will more than triple the all-time high of 695,000 set in October 1982, and nearly four times the number seen at the peak of the Great Recession.

  • The numbers are expected to be so bad the Trump administration has asked states to hold off on releasing them before Thursday, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing an email from a U.S. Labor Department official.
2. Catch up quick

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's proposal for a "Phase 3" stimulus bill in response to the COVID-19 outbreak includes cash payments to many Americans and billions for businesses. (Axios)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide order for all residents to "stay at home." (Order)

After unveiling an $820 billion bond-buying package Wednesday, ECB president Christine Lagarde said the central bank was "fully prepared to increase the size of our asset-purchase programs and adjust their composition, by as much as necessary and for as long as needed.” (FT)

Having already bought more than half of the $500 billion in Treasuries it committed to on Sunday, the Fed looks poised for a much more aggressive round of purchases. (WSJ)

Almost half of China’s public consumer companies don’t have enough cash to survive for six months. (Bloomberg)

3. Already, 96% of small business owners feel coronavirus impact
Data: Goldman Sachs; Chart: Axios Visuals

More than half of U.S. small business owners say their business will not be able to continue operating more than three months due to economic strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Goldman Sachs survey of more than 1,500 small business owners conducted March 16-17.

Why it matters: Much of the conversation around the economic effects of the outbreak has centered on the stock market and bailouts for large corporations, but its most acute impacts are being felt on Main Streets around the country.

4. The U.S. health care system is short staffed

Data: OECD GDP, OECD doctors, the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite being the world's largest economy and having a private health care system that politicians routinely call "the best in the world," the U.S. lags badly among industrialized countries in terms of the number of doctors.

  • The U.S. is 25th in the number of doctors among OECD countries and has the third-lowest number of doctors among countries that have 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The big picture: The number of doctors will be key in fighting the health crisis that must be quelled before the American economy can get back on its feet. As will the number of hospital beds — another area where the U.S. comes up short.

What they're saying: "Every corner of the U.S. is at risk for a severe shortage of hospital beds as the coronavirus outbreak worsens, according to new simulations from Harvard, mapped out by ProPublica and the New York Times," Axios' Bob Herman writes.

  • "Total nationwide capacity for health care supplies doesn't always matter, because hospitals in one area can help out neighboring systems when they're overwhelmed by a crisis. But these projections indicate that won't be an option with the coronavirus — everybody will be hurting at the same time."
5. Jack Dorsey gets a bank

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Axios' Courtenay Brown writes: Jack Dorsey's Square, the upstart payment processor for smaller merchants, got the OK to open a bank, after nearly three years of trying.

Why it matters: Square applied to set up an industrial loan company — a "lite" bank that isn't subject to Federal Reserve supervision — which hasn't been approved in more than a decade. It may open the floodgates for companies that want all the perks of being a bank without the same amount of oversight.

Driving the news: Square Financial Services, as the fintech's bank is to be called, will be based in Utah, and — when it opens in 2021 — will collect deposits and lend money to merchants that use Square devices.

  • The approval comes at a crucial time for Square, as many of its customers are the kind of small businesses that have been forced to shutter because of the coronavirus.

The conditions placed on Square — by the FDIC and the Utah Department of Financial Institutions — are way tougher than those of typical banks. But they are still answering to fewer regulators.

  • Its initial capital level will be $56 million, "significantly higher" levels of capital than other banks, per the FDIC.
  • The FDIC will also have the right to examine Square Financial Services' parent company.

Of note: The FDIC signed off on educational company Nelnet's request to launch a bank.

What they're saying: "Nonbanks have always wanted deposit insurance," Thomas Vartanian, a longtime banking lawyer who heads a financial regulatory institute at George Mason University’s law school, tells Axios.

  • "If you can take deposits at a very low cost, that's an enormously cheap way to fund yourself," he says, as opposed to regular companies that go into the markets and borrow money at more expensive rates.

The bottom line: Applications like Square's caused an uproar in the banking industry more than a decade ago. Remember when Walmart tried to be a bank? Traditional banking institutions howled about the potential consolidation of power in a single company.

  • But Square's approval marks the beginning of a friendlier approach, reopening the doors for other tech companies to open their own banks.
Dion Rabouin

Quote: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

Why it matters: We could all use a bit of the bright side in our lives. Fred McFeely Rogers, who kept audiences entertained for 33 years as the creator and host of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood," was born on March 20, 1928.