US Macro: Drag from hospitality has so far not derailed the recovery – US macro data has been something of a mixed bag of late, with a disappointing payrolls report last Friday, and weakness in the hospitality sector contrasting with continued strong recoveries in the manufacturing and broader services sector. On balance, the impact of the pandemic has become much more specifically confined to the hospitality sector; although payrolls in aggregate fell by 140k in December, the weakness was almost exclusively in the restaurant sector, which saw payrolls fall 372k – more than offsetting gains elsewhere. This is consistent with the fall we have seen in OpenTable seated dining data, which is down around 20 percentage points since November, when the third wave triggered tighter state-level restrictions. While pandemic trends remain poor – and this is even before the more transmissible British variant potentially takes hold – many states have managed to resist the kind of lockdown restrictions we have seen in Europe. At the same time, the broader economy has continued to recover. Indeed, one notable feature of the payrolls report was that permanent layoffs – which had risen significantly in recent months – fell by an impressive 534k, to 4.2mn, or 38% of the total unemployed. We suspect that news of the vaccine has given employers greater confidence to place more staff on temporary furlough as opposed to permanently laying them off.
Business confidence indicators also suggest the broader economy continues to recover – While today’s NFIB small business confidence index declined to 95.9 in December from 101.4 in November, this probably reflects that a bigger proportion of small businesses are directly affected by pandemic trends, including restaurants, hair salons, and small-scale retailers who lack the infrastructure to sell online. The significant fall in the expectations component of the index might also reflect fears over increased regulation following the election win by Democrats (conversely, small business confidence jumped when Republicans won in 2016). However, this contrasts with continued strength in the ISM manufacturing and services indices, as well as the Markit PMIs, and these have much stronger correlations with aggregate activity in the US. This continued and unexpectedly strong pace of recovery is one of the reasons why we are currently reviewing our US GDP forecasts (the other being higher fiscal spending following last week’s Democratic Senate wins), and we expect to make significant upgrades in the near future. (Bill Diviney)