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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The COVID-19 outbreak began weighing on U.S. businesses even before the virus had really begun its spread in the U.S., the Fed's latest beige book shows.

Why it matters: The extent of the outbreak can't yet be quantified, but the report, a collection of anecdotes from the central bank’s business contacts around the country, suggests U.S. firms could be in for a significant slowdown in March.

  • The reporting period for the beige book ended on Feb. 24, two days before the first U.S. case of unknown origin, in which an American was affected without visiting the virus' epicenter or being in contact with a person who had.

What happened: The Fed's report contained 48 mentions of the term "coronavirus," and while the report characterized the U.S. economy as growing at a "modest to moderate pace," it also noted the St. Louis and Kansas City districts, which include 12 Midwestern and Southern states, reported no growth during this period.

What it said: "Consumer spending generally picked up, but growth was uneven across the nation."

  • "Overall, growth in tourism was flat to modest."
  • "There were indications that the coronavirus was negatively impacting travel and tourism in the U.S."
  • "Manufacturing activity expanded in most parts of the country; however, some supply chain delays were reported as a result of the coronavirus and several Districts said that producers feared further disruptions in the coming weeks."

The big picture: The Fed took the highly unusual step of cutting U.S. interest rates by 50 basis points Tuesday in order to soothe markets, but many economists fear the virus could send the country (and potentially the world) into a recession this year.

The bottom line: If quickly contained, the virus' economic impact would be minimal. Fiscal and monetary authorities around the globe are joining together to reduce the virus's impact, but if its spread continues there is limited action policymakers can take.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

6 hours ago - World

Top general: U.S. losing time to deter China

Stanley McChrystal. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Stanley McChrystal, a top retired general and Biden adviser, tells Axios that "China's military capacity has risen much faster than people appreciate," and the U.S. is running out of time to counterbalance that in Asia and prevent a scenario such as it seizing Taiwan.

Why it matters: McChrystal, the former commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, recently briefed the president-elect as part of his cabinet of diplomatic and national security advisers. President-elect Joe Biden is considering which Trump- or Obama-era approaches to keep or discard, and what new strategies to pursue.

Progressives shift focus from Biden's Cabinet to his policy agenda

Joe Biden giving remarks in Wilmington, Del., last month. Photo: Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Some progressives tell Axios they believe the window for influencing President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet selections has closed, and they’re shifting focus to policy — hoping to shape Biden's agenda even before he’s sworn in.

Why it matters: The left wing of the party often draws attention for its protests, petitions and tweets, but this deliberate move reflects a determination to move beyond some fights they won't win to engage with Biden strategically, and over the long term.

Dave Lawler, author of World
8 hours ago - World

Venezuela's predictable elections herald an uncertain future

The watchful eyes of Hugo Chávez on an election poster in Caracas. Photo: Cristian Hernandez/AFP via Getty

Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, Nicolás Maduro will complete his takeover of the last opposition-held body, and much of the world will refuse to recognize the results.

The big picture: The U.S. and dozens of other countries have backed an opposition boycott of the National Assembly elections on the grounds that — given Maduro's tactics (like tying jobs and welfare benefits to voting), track record, and control of the National Electoral Council — they will be neither free nor fair.