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:

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3 hours ago - Sports

Pac-12 will play football this fall, reversing course

A view of Levi's Stadium during the 2019 Pac-12 Championship football game. Photo: Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Pac-12, which includes universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state, will play football starting Nov. 6, reversing its earlier decision to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The conference's about-face follows a similar move by the Big Ten last week and comes as President Trump has publicly pressured sports to resume despite the ongoing pandemic. The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season, according to ESPN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A global initiative to ensure equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines now includes most of the world — but not the U.S., China or Russia.

Why it matters: Assuming one or more vaccines ultimately gain approval, there will be a period of months or even years in which supply lags far behind global demand. The COVAX initiative is an attempt to ensure doses go where they're most needed, rather than simply to countries that can produce or buy them at scale.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6:15 p.m. EST: 32,062,182 — Total deaths: 979,701 — Total recoveries: 22,057,268Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6:15 p.m EST: 6,967,103 — Total deaths: 202,558 — Total recoveries: 2,670,256 — Total tests: 97,459,742Map.
  3. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  4. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  5. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  6. Sports: Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  7. Science: During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.

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