The Economy and The Virus

Not since the 1960s and 70s has the United States experienced social upheaval like it is experiencing today. We have protests (both peaceful and otherwise), and a massively divided political landscape. On top of that, we have a virus that is spreading across the country, creating fear and an acceptance of economic shutdowns.

Originally, the scientists said we needed 15 days to slow the spread. These same scientists have consistently lengthened the time they believe keeping the economy relatively closed is a good idea. Yet, eventually, as the number of new cases of COVID-19 slowed, people revolted against these constraints and states began to reopen. Now a pick-up in new cases, which many call a "surge," is causing politicians to reverse prior moves to re-open and they are now re-closing bars and restaurants again.

Yet, while these re-closures are happening, ordinary Americans are showing a desire to press for more freedom. On May 31st 352,947 people went through TSA airport security checks. On June 22nd, as reports of a surge in new cases started to appear, TSA counted 607,540 passengers. If these reports of a surge are slowing activity, we can't see it in the TSA data. On July 5th, 732,123 passengers entered airports.

Moreover, gasoline usage, which had been down about 50% from the year before at its worst back in April, is now down just 10%. And Apple mobility data, which reflects requests for directions, bottomed in April, down nearly 60% from the January 13, 2020 benchmark. Since April, the mobility data has rebounded 19%.

In other words, while many seem to think that new cases and some reversals in openings will do the same kind of damage to economic activity that we saw in March and April, it does not appear that way at the moment. This is likely one of the reasons that equity markets are recovering from their "surge-related" drop. Last week, in a holiday shortened four-day trading week, the S&P 500 was up 4%.