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In a series of out of cycle announcements, the Federal Reserve lowered the federal funds rate to 0.0% – 0.25%, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on economic activity and with expectations that the rate would remain in this range until the economy “weathered recent events”. The Federal Reserve reiterated that it was “prepared to use its full range of tools to support the flow of credit to households and businesses and thereby promote its maximum employment and price stability goals”. Other measures taken by the Federal Reserve include buying $500 billion in Treasury securities and $200 billion in agency mortgage-backed securities, easing reserve requirements for banks, and coordinating actions with other Central Banks.
February retail sales, which included initial effects of business slowdowns, dropped -0.5% for the month, with only nonstore (i.e. internet) retailers and miscellaneous store retailers showing increases at +0.7% and +1.4% respectively. The report does not factor price changes into sales, and falling gas prices helped push gasoline stations in to the steepest of this month’s declines at -2.8%, with additional sales declines for electronics stores (-1.4%), building supplies (-1.3%), and clothing stores (-1.2%). On a yearly basis, the strongest performers were miscellaneous stores (+14.8%), internet retailers (+7.5%), and restaurants (+5.2%), and yearly retail sales fell only for electronics stores (-1.0%), and department stores (-5.8%).
On the last day of January, before coronavirus related slowdowns took effect, there were 7.0 million (+411,000) job openings, with 5.8 million hires and 5.6 million separations for the month. Job openings increased for finance/insurance (+65,000), federal government (+38,000), and mining (+8,000), but fell for leisure and hospitality (-24,000). In the 12 months ending in January there were 70.0 million hires and 67.9 million separations, leading to a net gain of 2.1 million jobs. However, new unemployment claims for the week ending March 14th reflected coronavirus related slowdowns and grew +70,000 to 281,000.
Tuesday March 24 – Durable Goods Orders
Friday March 27 – Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) Index