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Fed Beige Book Shows High Loan Demand, Severe Employment Cuts in Retail Sector Driven by COVID-19

April 16, 2020, 09:15 AM
Filed Under: Retail

Economic activity contracted sharply and abruptly across all regions in the United States as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the Federal Reserve. The hardest-hit industries—because of social distancing measures and mandated closures—were leisure and hospitality, and retail aside from essential goods. Most Districts reported declines in manufacturing, but cited significant variation across industries. Producers of food and medical products reported strong demand but faced both production delays, due to infection-prevention measures, and supply chain disruptions. Some other manufacturing industries, such as autos, mostly shut down. The energy sector, suffering from low prices, reduced investment and output. Districts reporting on loan demand said it was high, both from companies accessing credit lines and from households refinancing mortgages. All Districts reported highly uncertain outlooks among business contacts, with most expecting conditions to worsen in the next several months.

Employment declined in all Districts, steeply in many cases, as the COVID-19 pandemic affected firms in many sectors. Employment cuts were most severe in the retail and leisure and hospitality sectors, where most Districts reported widespread mandatory closures and steep falloffs in demand. Many Districts said severe job cuts were widespread, including the manufacturing and energy sectors. Contacts in several Districts noted they were cutting employment via temporary layoffs and furloughs that they hoped to reverse once business activity resumes. The near-term outlook was for more job cuts in coming months. No District reported upward wage pressures. Most cited general wage softening and salary cuts except for high-demand sectors such as grocery stores that were awarding temporary "hardship" or "appreciation" pay increases.

The general direction of price inflation was down for both selling prices and non-labor input prices, as Districts reported either slowing price growth, flat prices, or modest to moderate declines in prices on balance. These trends were seen as reflecting weaker demand for many goods and services in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Four Districts also reported further declines in energy prices. In contrast, supply chain disruptions and shifts in the composition of demand led to significant price increases for some essential services—such as freight—and some agricultural commodities and consumer goods. While expectations concerning agriculture prices were mixed, the outlook calls for further downward pressure on prices on average.

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