Business Updates: Markets Slide as Investors Await New Jobs Figures
The latest clue to the American economy’s trajectory will come Thursday morning when the Labor Department releases new data on initial unemployment claims.
After drifting downward from the peaks reached after the coronavirus pandemic’s arrival in the spring, new claims have stabilized at a level far higher than in past recessions.
Last week, the department reported that more than 857,000 new claims were filed for unemployment insurance from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, before adjusting for seasonal factors. Before the pandemic, the weekly high was a seasonally adjusted 695,000 in October 1982.
A consensus estimate from Bloomberg foresees 850,000 claims in the new report on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from 884,000 in the previous two weeks.
Other economic data has been mixed. On Wednesday, the Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 0.6 percent in August, less than what analysts had been expecting and down from the revised gain of 0.9 percent in July.
On the other hand, the Labor Department reported this month that employers hired 1.4 million people in August while the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent.
“While we see evidence of hiring and new jobs being created, there are still millions of people struggling to get by and having to file for unemployment insurance,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
Those filers, he noted, will receive substantially less aid from the federal government than they would have two months ago. A supplement of $600 a week that was created in March expired at the end of July, and Congress has been unable to agree on an extension.
President Trump last month announced a makeshift replacement program using money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but its rollout has been shaky. It offers $300 a week, but funds have been depleted in some states, while others have yet to begin paying.
Experts will also be watching claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program for freelance workers, independent contractors and others not eligible for regular unemployment insurance.
Federal data suggests that the program now has more beneficiaries than regular unemployment insurance does. But there is evidence that both overcounting and fraud may have contributed to a jump in claims.
Main Street businesses — especially music clubs, gyms, restaurants, bars and others that were forced to close by the coronavirus pandemic — are trying to figure out how, or if, they can dig out of debt.
Nearly 73,000 businesses have closed permanently since the pandemic took hold, according to an analysis by Yelp. And the fate of many that remain open increasingly hinges on their ability to renegotiate their leases.
“For 10 weeks, our revenue went to zero and stayed at zero,” said Rhonda Stark, the owner of three Orangetheory Fitness gyms in Ohio that were shut down from mid-March until late May. Ms. Stark’s collective rent bill, her largest fixed expense, tops $32,000 a month. She hasn’t paid it in full since March. Ms. Stark’s gyms have reopened at a reduced capacity, cutting her sales by about 30 percent. To stay open, she needs to strike new deals with her landlords.
Retail rent collections plunged in April to just 54 percent of the total owed, according to Datex Property Solutions, a software company that tracks data on thousands of its clients’ retail properties nationwide. By August, collections had rebounded to nearly 80 percent, but some tenants, like movie theaters, clothing retailers, hair salons and gyms, were much further behind.
“When tenants can’t pay the rent, it imperils landlords’ ability to pay their own overhead and their loans, and the whole thing cascades,” Mark Sigal, chief executive of Datex, said.
For both sides, it’s a complicated dance. Property owners have their own expenses to pay, including taxes, insurance, mortgage or debt payments, and maintenance bills. Buildings owned by real estate investment trusts or Wall Street bondholders have complex management structures and governing covenants that can limit the property manager’s ability to make a deal.
Global markets swooned on Thursday, following the lead of Wall Street, which slumped after the Federal Reserve said it would need to keep rates near zero for years to help bring the U.S. economy back to full strength. Futures on Wall Street pointed to a downbeat open when trading starts.
Investors are awaiting the weekly tally of new claims for unemployment insurance in the United States, to be released later in the morning; a consensus estimate from Bloomberg predicts 850,000 claims on a seasonally adjusted basis, down from 884,000 in the previous two weeks.
European indexes were broadly lower, with the FTSE 100 down 1 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 losing 0.7 percent. Automakers like Volkswagen and Renault initially fell more than 2.5 percent after industry data showed European new car sales down more than 17 percent in August compared to a year ago.
In Asia, nearly every index closed lower. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.6 percent, and South Korea’s Kospi fell 1.2 percent.
Oil futures were down about 0.6 percent. Risk-aversion in the markets pushed up the price of U.S. Treasury’s 10-year notes, and gold was lower.
The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that the U.S. economy continued to show weakness, and that policymakers would keep interest rates very low through at least 2023.
“Overall activity remains well below its level before the pandemic, and the path ahead remains highly uncertain,” said the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell. The remarks caused the S&P 500 to tumble; it closed 0.5 percent lower.
Top Glove, the world’s largest medical glove manufacturer, on Thursday reported its best financial performance ever because of demand stemming from the pandemic. The Malaysia-based company said its net profit last quarter was 1.33 billion ringgit, or about $321 million, 18 times higher than the same quarter a year earlier. Rights activists have raised concerns about forced labor in Malaysia’s glove industry, which provides two-thirds of the global supply, leading U.S. Customs and Border Protection to impose an import ban on two of Top Glove’s subsidiaries in July. The company, which says it has begun reimbursing foreign workers for the fees they paid recruitment agencies, said on Thursday that it was “making good progress” in working with the U.S. authorities to lift the ban.
The pilots union at United Airlines has reached an agreement to avoid furloughs until next summer, sparing the jobs of thousands of pilots weeks before broad job cuts are slated to begin across the industry. The union, the United Master Executive Council, said the agreement, which has yet to be approved by its 13,000 members, would protect pilots from furloughs until June. It would also open a second round of early retirement offers and includes temporary work reductions that would be reversed automatically as the airline recovers.
Federal Reserve officials expect to leave interest rates near zero for years — through at least 2023 — and will tolerate periods of higher inflation as they try to revive the labor market and economy, based on their September policy statement and economic projections released Wednesday. “Effectively, we’re saying rates will remain highly accommodative until the economy is far along in its recovery,” the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, said at a news conference following the meeting.
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly devastating for Black, Latino and Native American people, according to a survey released Wednesday, forcing a broad range of households to deplete their savings and delay necessary medical care, while hampering their ability to afford food and care for their children. “The findings are not what we expected,” said Robert Blendon, a professor at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. “They’re actually much worse.”
Fastly is up more than 310 percent this year. Zscaler is up over 180 percent. Chegg and Veeva are up 75 percent and 90 percent. In a tech universe dominated by Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, the share prices of little companies you’ve probably never heard of are soaring.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated trends that were building for years by forcing large swaths of the population to work from home and shop online. And many obscure companies are taking off, driven by investors who expect them to flourish in an economy whose future arrived ahead of schedule.
“When it comes to remote work in particular, the past 10 weeks have seen more changes than we’ve seen in the previous 20 years,” said Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and the director of the Digital Economy Lab at Stanford University.
Surveys conducted by Mr. Brynjolfsson and economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that the share of Americans working from home jumped to about 50 percent this year, from around 15 percent before the pandemic.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index is up roughly 60 percent since it bottomed out in late March, and much of those gains can be attributed to the shares of the tech behemoths. Investors have bet heavily that those companies’ dominant market positions will only improve in the pandemic and its aftermath.
But the trajectory of smaller technology stocks has been even more remarkable. Zoom — the suddenly ubiquitous video conferencing service — has been an investor darling, up close to 500 percent this year as workplaces shut down. Peloton, the home video cycling company, is up almost 200 percent amid widespread gym closures — and just added to its product line.
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