Omicron “Shromicron” – U.S. Economy Grows as Fourth-Quarter GDP Shows Strongest Year in Decades
The U.S. economy grew rapidly in the fourth quarter of last year, advancing to a 6.9% annual rate, capping the strongest year of growth in nearly four decades as the country rebounded quickly from the pandemic-induced recession. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services, in the fourth quarter accelerated from the third quarter’s growth of 2.3%, adjusted for inflation, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
The gain reflected solid spending by households, much of it occurring early in the quarter, and companies pushed to rebuild depleted inventories as they try to overcome persistent supply shortages. But growth recently has run into obstacles that could lead to more modest growth this year, economists say.
Hochul Extends New York Mask Mandate to Feb. 10 as Appeals Court Decision Looms
Governor Hochul on Friday said New York would extend the indoor mask mandate for businesses through Feb. 10 amid a court challenge to the measure. The announcement came after a state Supreme Court judge struck down the mask mandate on Monday, prompting the state Attorney General’s Office to file a notice of appeal. An appeals court issued a stay Tuesday that kept the mandate in place for businesses and schools during the appeals process.
The mask mandate for businesses had been scheduled to expire Feb. 1, but Hochul said the state would now be reviewing it every two weeks to consider renewing the measure, or lifting it based on the COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and other factors. School leaders have noted the mask mandate for schools is scheduled to expire Feb. 21, unless it is terminated prematurely by state officials or the appeals court decision.
Hudson Valley Unemployment Rate, Labor Force Drop
The December 2021 unemployment rate for the Hudson Valley Region is 2.7 percent (lowest December rate on record, dating back 1990). It is down from 3.6 percent in November 2021 and down from 6.0 percent in December 2020. In December 2021, there were 29,600 unemployed in the region, down from 39,700 in November 2021 and down from 67,000 in December 2020. Year-over-year in December 2021, labor force decreased by 26,700 or 2.4 percent, to 1,095,000.
The Hudson Valley Region’s December 2021 unemployment rate (2.7 percent) was ranked third lowest among the 10 labor market regions in New York State.
NY State Public School Enrollment Falls Five Percent Since COVID
New York’s public school enrollment has dropped substantially for a second year in a row, for a total decline of five percent since the start of the pandemic. The data, posted Monday on the New York State Education Department website, show a drop of almost 60,000 students—2.38 percent of the total student population—in the past year alone. Last year, the schools suffered a similar historically sharp decline in enrollment. Final figures for the 2020-21 school year showed a 2.64 percent drop from 2019-20.
The public school enrollment data include public charter schools. Strikingly, during the same two year period, charter school enrollment rose by 14,502 students, from 159,211 to 173,713.
US COVID – Hospitalizations Retreat, but Deaths Keep Rising
Hospitalizations for Covid-19 continue to slow in the U.S., with the seven-day average of hospital patients with confirmed or suspected infections dropping to 146,769 on Saturday, about 8% down from a peak on Jan. 20, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The rolling seven-day average of daily deaths with Covid-19, a lagging indicator, continues to rise, however, reaching 2,379 on Friday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. are running at their highest level since February last year. The gradual decline in hospitalizations is making health experts cautiously optimistic that the current wave of Omicron may have peaked, and that deaths might trend downward in the coming weeks too.
NYS Vaccine and COVID Update – Hospitalizations Continue to Drop
Vaccine Stats as of January 30:
One Vaccine Dose
- 87.5% of all New Yorkers – 16,183,451 (plus 6,459 from a day earlier).
- In the Hudson Valley 1,680,957 (plus 149).
- 74.0% of all New Yorkers – 14,375,405 (plus 9,937).
- In the Hudson Valley – 1,465,055 (plus 404).
- All New Yorkers – 5,891,785
- In the Hudson Valley – 704,136
The Governor updated COVID data through January 30. There were 124 COVID related deaths for a total reported of 65,427.
- Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 7,117.
7 Day Average Positivity Rate – Cases per 100K population
- Statewide 6.92% – 75.79 positive cases per 100,00 population
- Mid-Hudson: 6.60% – 66.90 positive cases per 100,00 population
COVID Vaccines are Proving Just a Speed Bump Against Infections, Businesses are Adjusting
Every Monday night, senior leaders at RPM International gather virtually to review one of their company’s most important metrics: the global number of COVID-19 cases. managers spend anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours analyzing case counts and tailoring their safety strategies. It’s an operational step the Fortune 500 company implemented in 2020 and can’t afford to skip: After all, says CEO Frank Sullivan, a manufacturer doesn’t have the option to tell employees to work from home.
So when Omicron hit, RPM was ready. While it hasn’t avoided the effects of the highly infectious variant—as recently as Dec. 30, RPM had to close a plant in Colorado for 24 hours—the ripple effects in its workplaces have been manageable. Since the pandemic began, RPM has lost about 1,000 manufacturing days because of COVID-related shutdowns and closures. But it has lost only two since Omicron was first detected in the U.S. in early December. “It’s not that we don’t have problems every day, but we’ve learned how to operate,” Sullivan says.
Canadian Rally Against Vaccine Mandates Blocks Ottawa
Dozens of trucks and other vehicles blocked the downtown area of Ottawa for a second day after thousands descended on Canada’s capital city on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. The demonstration started out as a protest against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against the Trudeau government with a strong anti-vaccination streak.
Trucks remained parked on the streets near parliament on Sunday, a day before lawmakers are due to resume work after the holiday break. Hundreds of protesters were out on Sunday, too. Some truckers said they will not leave until the mandate is overturned.
Tight Commodities Markets Mean that Prices Are All Too Responsive to Rising Tensions
“If Russian tanks cross the border, markets will freak out.” That is the considered judgment of Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at rbc Capital Markets, an investment bank, and a former analyst at America’s Central Intelligence Agency. Were Russia to invade Ukraine, the biggest impact would first be felt on European gas markets. But Ms. Croft is not alone in thinking that the shock waves would spread far more widely.
The mere fear of disruptions has sent prices higher. On January 26th Brent crude oil approached $90 a barrel, a seven-year high; the European benchmark for natural gas stood at about €90 ($101) per megawatt hour, compared with €70 at the start of the year. The copper price is flirting with its multi-year peak.
Beyond the Great Resignation: 3 Trends Shaping the Future
A rising gray-collar workforce, upskilling and new leadership ethics are among the key trends that should be on the radar of forward-thinking leaders. While today’s HR leaders are working hard right now to address the Great Resignation, vaccine policies and return-to-office plans, the coming three to 15 years will see the rise of a more technically skilled portion of the workforce that could replace the traditional blue-collar worker, experts say.
These so-called gray-collar employees often will have a college degree and will be more likely to oversee technical roles but not while working at a desk in an office. And there will be more of them in the next decade. According to statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor, 13 of the 20 fastest-growing occupations will be categorized as gray-collar roles.
U.S. Wages, Benefits Rose at Two-Decade High as Inflation Picked Up
Employers spent 4% more on wages and benefits last year as workers received larger pay raises in a tight labor market, rebounding economy and period of accelerating inflation, marking an increase not seen since 2001. The U.S. employment-cost index—a quarterly measure of wages and benefits paid by employers—showed that costs continued to rise at the highest rate in two decades. The fourth-quarter gain, compared with a year ago, was 4% on a non-seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Friday. Still, the figures offered a sign that labor-cost increases could be easing, with the Labor Department reporting a seasonally adjusted 1% rise in compensation for the fourth quarter, down from with a 1.2% increase the previous three months.
Rising pay and benefits are putting more money in workers’ pockets—average hourly wages rose 4.7% in December from a year earlier—but not enough to keep pace with rising prices. Inflation recently hit its fastest pace in nearly four decades amid supply and demand imbalances for both goods and labor related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
NLRB: Amazon Labor Union Meets Significant Threshold, Moving Towards Union Election
The National Labor Relations Board has determined a group of Amazon workers at a Staten Island warehouse have enough signatures to move forward with a union election. An NLRB spokesperson told NY1 the union had “a sufficient showing of interest” from workers to move forward in the process. In order to have a union election overseen by the national board, unions must show they have signatures supporting an election from 30% of the workers they are trying to unionize.
Last year, the Amazon Labor Union withdrew its initial petition from the NLRB after they could not meet the 30% threshold. In that proposal, the union was attempting to represent several warehouses on Staten Island. In the petition moving forward now, the union aims to represent workers at one warehouse only, known as JFK 8. In paperwork filed with the NLRB, the union estimates it would represent about 5,000 workers. In response to the NLRB’s decision, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel sent NY1 the following statement: “We’re skeptical that there are a sufficient number of legitimate signatures and we’re seeking to understand how these signatures were verified. Our employees have always had a choice of whether or not to join a union, and as we saw just a few months ago, the vast majority of our team in Staten Island did not support the ALU.”
US Jobless Claims Trend Down as Omicron Disruptions Ease
First-time unemployment filings ticked lower for the first time in four weeks after notching a three-month high in the previous reading, suggesting some of the Omicron-related disruptions that have recently weighed on the labor market’s recovery may be easing.
- Initial jobless claims, week ended Jan. 22: 260,000 vs. 265,000 expected and upwardly revised to 290,000 during prior week.
- Continuing claims, week ended Jan. 15: 1.675 million vs. 1.655 million expected and downwardly revised to 1.624 million during prior week.
Even as Omicron’s spread may be slowing, payrolls will be a bit slower to respond to falling COVID cases than the real-time activity data, according to Pantheon Macroeconomics Chief Economist Ian Shepherdson. “It is hard to make the case for a huge acceleration in hiring this month,” he said.
NY Fed Study – The Global Supply Side of Inflationary Pressures
U.S. inflation has surged as the economy recovers from the COVID-19 recession. This phenomenon has not been confined to the U.S. economy, as similar inflationary pressures have emerged in other advanced economies albeit not with the same intensity.
In this post, the authors draw from the current international experiences to provide an assessment of the drivers of U.S. inflation. In particular, we exploit the link among different measures of inflation at the country level and a number of global supply side variables to uncover which common cross-country forces have been driving observed inflation. Their main finding is that global supply factors are very strongly associated with recent producer price index (PPI) inflation across countries, as well as with consumer price index (CPI) goods inflation, both historically and during the recent bout of inflation acceleration.
30% of Major Employers Keep Vaccine Mandate, 20% Drop It
Thirty percent of large employers are sticking to vaccine mandates, 50% are offering a choice between vaccines and weekly tests and 20% have jettisoned all vaccine policies, according to a Gartner survey. Among reasons why some companies, including Starbucks, have dropped the mandate include employee pushback, as well as the cost and effort related to implementing the rules.
As Apple Grows Sales, it Says Supply Chain Woes are Easing
Apple posted quarterly sales of $123.9 billion, up 11% year over year, with iPhone and services revenue increasing despite a decline in iPad revenue. CEO Tim Cook said Apple’s supply chain issues will be lessened in the current quarter.
“Most of the supply-constrained issues are over for Apple, but not necessarily for everybody else,” said Bob O’Donnell, chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research. Semiconductor companies tend to give priority to bigger players such as Apple, for its massive buying power, huge demand for its products, and the company’s ability to place custom orders for components used in its products. And Apple’s high-end chips are costly, an attraction for the chip makers.