As the country reopens, frozen industries show signs of thawing

The picture is still bleak in many areas, but green shoots are starting to emerge.


May 27, 2020

If we had to summarize the economic story of the quarantine era in a single symbol, it’d be hard to resist “scary red arrow pointing straight down.”

But some of the industries that have been hit hardest by the pandemic are slowly coming back to life.

It’ll probably be a long time before any of them return to normal (whatever that means). And the picture is still bleak. But if you squint, you can see green shoots reemerging on the vast horrorscape of our deserted economy.

Here’s what the trends look like

💪 Consumer confidence is stabilizing. The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index rose unexpectedly in May, following what the board called 2 months of “rapid decline.” It beat economists’ expectations, too — and stocks rallied Tuesday on the heels of the better-than-expected news.

🍽 We’re starting to go back to restaurants. Consumer spending at drinking and dining establishments fell to $32.4B in April — less than half of what it had been 2 months earlier, and the lowest level since October 1984 when adjusted for inflation. But restaurant traffic is recovering. One example, from Alabama: On May 7, OpenTable data showed restaurant traffic down 100% compared with last year. On Monday, it was down ~51%.

✈️ Hotels and airlines are seeing more travelers. The Wall Street Journal reported that air and hotel bookings are up. Last Thursday and Friday, 318k+ and 348k+ passengers passed through US security checkpoints — the first time since March 23 that air passengers topped 300k, according to TSA figures.

🌲The rings of the lumber industry tell a story, too. New home sales actually edged upward in April — by ~1% compared with March. That may not sound like a reason to pop the champagne, but they were expected to fall by 22%. The Journal said home-building trends (and strong sales at home-improvement chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s) have the dead-tree market blooming once again.

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