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RISKY BUSINESS

The Federal Reserve mentioned “coronavirus” 48 times in its economic survey

Reuters/William DeShazer
Trade welds the global economy together.
  • John Detrixhe
By John Detrixhe

Future of finance reporter

Published

The spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by a novel coronavirus, started rippling through the US economy last month, according to a Federal Reserve survey. The report shows the disruption affecting things like demand for heavy machinery, even as the overall economy has been powering ahead.

The central bank’s so called “Beige Book” mentioned the word “coronavirus” 48 times in its February survey of economic conditions. Published on Mar. 4,  it adds to the tableau of data showing a strong American economy that’s just beginning to be buffeted by the global epidemic. The US added 273,000 jobs last month, according to a Labor Department estimates, while the unemployment rate, at 3.5%, matched its lowest level in five decades. Previous monthly estimates were revised higher, signaling the job market was even more robust than earlier reported.

The Fed system is broken into 12 district banks that survey businesses and experts in their jurisdictions. The February Beige Book report shows that disruptions from the coronavirus were affecting American companies even when there were relatively few reported infections at home.

Boston

“One retailer noted that their inventory levels were impacted by the coronavirus in China, which slowed production at some manufacturing plants. Consumer sentiment remained strong.”

“A textile manufacturer reported flat sales, and two firms, in advanced sensors and chemicals, pointed to disruptions related to uncertainty and supply chain challenges from the coronavirus as factors leading to their slower 2020 start. Seven of ten manufacturers did not mention disruptions from the virus to date.”

New York

“One manufacturing contact noted problems with supply disruptions and shipment delays related to the coronavirus.”

“A few contacts reported that the coronavirus has deterred visitors, though New York City hotels have continued to report good business. Broadway theaters reported that business slowed by more than the seasonal norm, following a brisk December.”

Philadelphia

Several manufacturing firms “cautioned that the emerging coronavirus may disrupt supply chains in the near future. Two firms have already reported delays in receiving needed production inputs. Inquiries and orders to source parts domestically were increasing because of tariff uncertainty and are continuing because of the coronavirus. However, contacts explain that it can take three months to get a part into production, and longer for testing and redesign.”

“A tourism analyst noted that most metrics for the Philadelphia area were positive for 2019, but that national travel was slowing a bit, and the coronavirus was causing headwinds. In addition to fewer tour groups from China, local customers have been avoiding some of Philadelphia’s Asian restaurants and shops, as unfounded fears spread.”

“One business services firm has already noted disruptions to its vendor’s supply chain. A bank contact was aware of delays that a customer had faced for key production equipment.”

“Most banking contacts were optimistic about the overall health of the U.S. economy going forward but expressed concerns over the potential impact of the coronavirus.”

Richmond

For manufacturing respondents, “the coronavirus led to concerns about delays in the arrival of inputs.”

“Port officials were optimistic about recent trade negotiations with China but expressed concern over the potential impact of the coronavirus on imports, although they were currently uncertain about the magnitude of that impact.”

For retail, travel, and tourism operators “in the District of Columbia, some groups canceled travels because of the coronavirus. Firms around the Fifth District were fairly optimistic about continued strength in the coming year.”

Atlanta

“Due to the coronavirus, cancelled flights to China have reduced air cargo capacity significantly, which is expected to negatively affect first quarter revenues.”

“The continued rise in global supplies of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) was further augmented by slowing demand from China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.”

Chicago

“Some manufacturing contacts reported low inventories of inputs produced in China due to disruptions from the coronavirus outbreak; while most said the impact had been minimal so far, many expected a larger effect if the disruptions continued much longer.”

“Heavy machinery demand decreased overall, as a slowdown in demand in China—apparently due to the coronavirus—more than offset robust demand in the US.”

“Participants in the equity and bond markets reported little change in conditions on balance, citing the positive impact of low interest rates but the negative impact of the coronavirus outbreak.”

“Contacts expressed frustration that Chinese purchases of US agricultural goods had not yet materialized following the announcement of the Phase One trade deal and were concerned that the coronavirus outbreak would be used as an excuse for missing future trade targets.”

St. Louis

“Contacts raised questions and expressed concerns regarding trade with China, including when the trade agreement provisions will apply and what impact coronavirus will have on commodity prices and agricultural purchases.”

Kansas City

“The increase in recent activity was across both durable and nondurable goods factories, despite nearly half of firms reporting some negative effect from the coronavirus spread. Expectations for future activity also remained positive.”

Dallas

“Several contacts noted that the coronavirus was negatively impacting their supply chain, particularly in high tech and chemical manufacturing. While companies’ outlooks were slightly more optimistic than they had been over the past few months, uncertainty picked up.”

“Overall retail outlooks weakened slightly, with some contacts voicing concern over the coronavirus and its impact on supply chains and overall demand.”

“A railroad contact voiced concern that the coronavirus could reduce shipments from China.”

The energy “industry remained distressed with limited access to capital. Contacts noted that the coronavirus has pushed oil prices down and is a big source of uncertainty. Most contacts expect that oilfield activity will hold roughly near December 2019 levels through the end of 2020, and they express modest optimism about 2021.”

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