A lot Of "The Worst Ever"
With the outbreak of COVID-19 being unlike anything seen before in our lifetimes, the resulting economic damage is starting to enter unprecedented territory as well.
Just a day after the International Monetary Fund warned "The Great Lockdown" would be the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a handful of economic data released yesterday was the worst on record.
U.S. retail sales—which account for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, fell 8.7% in March, the largest decline since data began in 1992, according to the Commerce Department. With Americans confined to their homes, the breakdown of sales by category revealed where most people's priorities are.
Food and beverage sales jumped more than 25%, while nearly every other non-essential category showed large declines. Clothing and accessories sales fell more than 50%, with furniture/home furnishing and food services/drinking places sales each falling more than 25%.
With the economy in shambles, confidence among homebuilders also took a record hit. Homebuilder confidence for single-family homes fell 42 points to a reading of 30 from last month, according to the National Association of Homebuilders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, the largest monthly decline since the index’s creation in 1985.
A reading above 50 is positive, while a reading below 50 is negative. It's the first negative reading for the index since June 2014 and lowest since June 2012.
"This unprecedented drop in builder confidence is due exclusively to the coronavirus outbreak across the nation, as unemployment has skyrocketed and gaps in the supply chain have hampered construction activities," NAHB Chairman Dean Mon said.
In the energy sector, the International Energy Agency released its latest monthly Oil Market Report, where it predicts global oil demand will fall by a record 9.3 million barrels per day this year. "We may see it was the worst year in the history of global oil markets," IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said.
Not surprisingly, demand for fuel also saw an "unprecedented" drop, according to GasBuddy's first quarter report. GasBuddy found that gallons of gasoline purchased dropped 20% last month compared to the same period a year earlier. "Even if oil does see some sort of rebound then the problem still exists for refiners that millions of Americans are parked," GasBuddy senior petroleum analyst Patrick DeHaan said.
Lastly, manufacturing activity in the New York area dropped to -78.2 in April, according to the Empire State Manufacturing Index, the lowest reading ever. April's reading blew away the prior record low of -34.3 during the financial crisis. Just 7% of respondents reported stronger conditions, while 85% reported conditions had weakened.
"New orders and shipments declined at a record pace. Delivery times lengthened, and inventories fell. Employment levels and the average workweek both contracted at a record pace," the New York Federal Reserve said.
With record drops over the last month in retail sales, homebuilder confidence, energy and manufacturing, it's likely we'll see more record economic readings in the months to come as the U.S. economy remains at a standstill.
Fifth straight week. Mortgage applications to purchase a home fell for the fifth-consecutive week and down 35% from the same period a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Total mortgage application volume rose 7.3% from the previous week as applications to refinance jumped 10%. "Undoubtedly, the housing market is facing its greatest challenge in over a decade as our nation weathers this unprecedented economic event," said Sam Khater, chief economist at Freddie Mac.
Furloughs hit Best Buy. Best Buy announced it will furlough about 51,000 hourly employees, while retaining full-time employees and field employees to help with demand for work-from-home solutions. The company had nearly 125,000 employees throughout North America at the end of its latest fiscal year. "The situation remains very fluid and there is still a great deal of uncertainty, particularly as it relates to depth and duration of store closures and consumer confidence over time," Best Buy CEO Corie Barry said.
Coincidence? Just one day after a story broke that hedge funds are seeking bailout funds as small businesses, the small-business loan program is reportedly out of money. Congress and the White House continue to negotiate on ways to replenish the funds, hopefully for people who actually own small businesses and need it the most.
Antibody tests on the way. Abbott Laboratories will begin shipping blood tests that can detect if someone has previously been infected with COVID-19. The test will determine if people have antibodies that enabled them to fight off the disease with little or no symptoms when they contracted it. Abbott expects to ship 1 million tests this week, 4 million in April and 20 million by June.
They're still in business? With the coronavirus causing JCPenney to close stores, the company is reportedly exploring filing for bankruptcy protection as a way to bolster its finances. According to a spokesperson, the company "has been engaged in discussions with its lenders since mid-2019 to evaluate options to strengthen its balance sheet and maximize its financial flexibility, a process that has become even more important as our stores have also closed due to the pandemic."