A fresh reading on signs of economic recovery — or a possible retreat — will come in a pair of U.S. government reports on Thursday morning.
The Commerce Department will release the retail sales figures for June, and a modest rise is expected, thanks in part to federal stimulus checks and tax refunds. But the surge of coronavirus cases in states like California, Florida and Texas is raising the specter of another shutdown, which would be a major blow for store-based retailers.
Retail sales jumped 17.7 percent in May, the largest monthly surge on record. But that followed two months of record declines, and overall sales were still down from February.
Also coming Thursday is the Labor Department’s weekly tally of unemployment claims. Economists on Wall Street expect the report to show that 1.25 million new claims for state unemployment insurance were filed last week, continuing the decline since the peak in late March but still higher than levels ever seen before the pandemic. Any increase would signal that new restrictions are crimping the rebound.
“The labor market is not as bad as it was a couple of months ago, but we are still in a very deep hole,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh.
European shares opened lower on Thursday after Asian stocks faltered overnight, with risk appetite hit by deteriorating U.S.-China relations and worse-than-expected Chinese domestic consumption data.
The White House said on Wednesday it had not ruled out further sanctions on top Chinese officials to punish China for its handling of Hong Kong.
The United States also said it was studying the national security risks of social media applications including China’s TikTok and WeChat.
London’s FTSE 100 fell nearly 1 percent, partially erasing yesterday’s gains.
U.S. stock futures were predicting a lower open on Wall Street at the start of trading. Investors were awaiting fresh data on retail sales for June and weekly jobless claims that would offer more information about the country’s economic recovery.
Although China’s G.D.P. returned to growth in the second quarter, up 3.2 percent, retail sales data was worse than expected.
“We’re going to see a mechanical V-shaped recovery without a doubt but it’s the economic effects, things like discretionary spending, that I think people’s concerns are centered around,” said Russell Silberston, investment strategist at Ninety One.
“The big concern that we have is the economic scarring — how much damage is being done,” he said.
Oil prices eased after OPEC and allies such as Russia agreed to taper record supply curbs from August, though the drop was cushioned by hopes for a swift pickup in U.S. demand after a big drawdown from the country’s crude stocks. Brent crude fell 18 cents to $43.61 a barrel, and U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was down 29 cents, at $40.91 a barrel.
In Europe, the focus is on the European Central Bank’s meeting, at which it is expected to announce no new policy measures, having already bought record amounts of debt as part of its emergency response to Covid-19.
China’s economy expanded 3.2 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period last year, officials said on Thursday. The recovery is a sign, with caveats, of the authoritarian government’s success in bringing the outbreak under control with widespread testing and travel restrictions.
By contrast, economies in Europe and the United States are still languishing as the pandemic forces cities to shut down and shoppers to stay home.
China’s growth from April through June is an abrupt turnaround from first quarter, when its economy shrank 6.8 percent, the first contraction that the government has acknowledged in nearly half a century.
The new figures partly reflect the restrictions that China imposed after its early missteps delayed the response to the outbreak and fed public anger, as well as the government’s continued reliance on infrastructure spending instead of domestic consumption.
But all the recent spending on highways and rail lines raises questions about whether China’s economic turnaround is sustainable and whether it can become the engine needed to drive the global economy out of a slump.
Factories in China are already cranking out furniture, consumer electronics and mass-market cars more quickly than consumers at home or abroad want to buy them.
“It looks like there is still a mismatch there — people are not consuming as much as previously,” said Sara Hsu, a visiting scholar in economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Sales of groceries and other essentials have stayed strong in China throughout the pandemic, but people’s willingness to spend money on restaurant meals and other nonessential goods and services has still not fully bounced back. Tens of millions of Chinese, particularly young people, also remain out of work, and the slowdown caused by the pandemic has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.
Asian stocks were down on Thursday after China released its economic data. Chinese equities fell about 1.5 percept, and markets slipped in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.
The official China Film Administration also said in a notice on Thursday that movie theaters in the Chinese mainland would gradually reopen starting next Monday. Bookings will be limited, and theaters will be regularly disinfected, the notice said.
Before the pandemic, end-of-life start-ups — companies that help clients plan funerals, dispose of remains and process grief — had experienced steady to moderate growth. Their founders were mostly women who hoped a mix of technology, customization and fresh thinking could take on the fusty and predominantly male funeral and estate-planning industries.
Still, selling death to people in their 20s and 30s wasn’t easy. Since the pandemic, this has changed. Millennials are newly anxious about their mortality, increasingly comfortable talking about it and more likely to be grieving or know someone who is.
“The stigma and taboos around talking about death have been way reduced,” said Suelin Chen, 38, a co-founder of Cake, a free service that catalogs users’ end-of-life wishes, instructions and documents.
This has driven conversation across social media, spurred interest in deathfluencers (they will discuss how funeral homes are responding to the coronavirus but also whether your pet will eat your eyeballs) and increased traffic to end-of-life platforms. From February to June, people signed up with Cake at five times the normal rate.
Another new company, Lantern, which calls itself “the single source of guidance for navigating life before and after a death,” saw a 123 percent increase in users, most of them under 45.
It’s a tricky opportunity for these start-ups to navigate. “When you have a brand that’s directly interfacing with people in the throes of loss and grief, you have to walk a fine line,” said Liz Eddy, 30, Lantern’s co-founder and chief executive.
The number of hours people worked in Britain dropped to its lowest level in more than two decades, official statistics showed on Thursday. Hours worked between March and May fell by nearly 17 percent from a year earlier, the steepest decline since estimates began in 1971. The outlook is worsening. A survey by the British Chamber of Commerce found that 29 percent of businesses expected to lay people off in the next three months.
American Airlines told employees on Wednesday that it could furlough as many as 20,000 people starting Oct. 1, after federal stimulus funds expire. Despite planning to send out legally required warnings to 25,000 employees, American said it expects to be overstaffed by about 20,000 workers this fall. The warnings, which the airline started sending on Wednesday, will go to nearly 10,000 flight attendants, 3,200 maintenance workers, 2,900 passenger service employees and 2,500 pilots, among others.
J.C. Penney, the 118-year-old retailer that filed for bankruptcy in May, said on Wednesday that it would cut 1,000 corporate, field management and international jobs, as the company shrinks and closes 152 stores. The layoffs are separate from job cuts tied to the retailer’s first round of store closures, where most liquidation sales have started. A spokeswoman for J.C. Penney has said that the retailer plans to close up to 250 locations over all, which would leave it with roughly 600 stores.