Industry Impacts of Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The impacts of coronavirus and COVID-19 continue to be felt differently across various industries. During resulting quarantines, some industries have seen a rise in demand and a push to be deemed “essential” for local, state, and national governments, while other industries have experienced a decline in demand or have struggled to survive numerous shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders.

Data is updated on a regular basis, so check back frequently to get the most up-to-date information.

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February 2, 2021

  • Time spent with media supported primarily by advertising dollars fell to an all-time low in 2020, according to PQ Media's annual Global Consumer Media Usage Forecast. The time the average American spent with all forms of media rose 2.9% to 73 hours weekly in 2020, largely due to the impact of the global pandemic. The share of that 73 hours spent with ad-supported media fell to 44.8%, however.
  • The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index increased to 89.3 in January, up from 87.1 in December 2020 (1985=100). The Present Situation Index – based on consumers' assessment of current business and labor market conditions – decreased to 84.4 from 87.2. The Expectations Index – based on consumers' short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions – increased to 92.5 in January from 87.0 in December. January marks the first uptick in consumer confidence after two consecutive months of declines. Consumer confidence remains below the October level of 101.4, however, which was the highest since the coronavirus pandemic hit the US. Confidence also remains below February's pre-pandemic level of 132.6.
  • Local advertising will rebound along with the greater economy through 2021, according to the latest US Local Advertising Forecast published by BIA Advisory Services. BIA expects total local advertising expenditures to rise 2.5% year over year in 2021. About 22.7% of the increase is expected to come from direct mail and 17% each from mobile and online advertising. Local TV and radio round out the top five, accounting for 11.4% and 9.2% of the total, respectively.
  • Total advertising spending is expected to have declined 8% in 2020. Spending on traditional media that includes linear TV, out-of-home, standard radio, print, and direct mail is expected to have declined 30%.

February 1, 2021

  • Federal aid payments were estimated to account for 40% of total net farm income in 2020, but the record payments of last year may not continue. The Food & Agriculture Research Institute (FAPRI) of the University of Missouri finds that baseline updates for US agriculture markets estimate federal farm payments will fall from $32 billion in 2020 to $16 billion in 2021. The analysis also estimates that without a strong economic recovery, farm income, a driver of demand for animal feed, will decrease by more than $10 billion.
  • China is forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a record $27 billion worth of farm products in fiscal 2021 (started on October 1) and regain its rank as the top foreign market for American farm products.
  • The American Chemistry Council expects total US chemical exports to rebound in 2021 and grow 10.9%, but a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels is not expected before 2022.
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) slightly increased its forecast for 2021 fuel ethanol production in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, released on December 8. The forecast for 2021 is now at 980,000 barrels per day, up from the 970,000 barrel per day estimate made in November 2020. Production averaged 1.03 million barrels per day in 2019. Almost a third of the US corn crop is used to make ethanol and its byproducts.
  • Net farm income, an indicator of demand for agricultural chemicals, is expected to have risen 43% year over year in 2020 to nearly $120 billion, the second-highest yearly total of all time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales are expected to have decreased 0.9% year over year to $3 billion, the lowest since 2016. Growth in 2020 farm income was driven by $46.5 billion in federal payments including those provided through farm bill and conservation programs, ad hoc support related to Chinese retaliatory tariffs, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and coronavirus pandemic relief funding. Federal support as a percentage of net farm income in 2020 is now projected at 40%. Federal support as a percentage of gross farm income is now projected at a record 10%.
  • The American Chemistry Council expects total US chemical exports to have decreased 14.5% in 2020. US agricultural chemicals production is expected to have decreased 9.3% in 2020.
  • Agricultural chemical industry employment increased 4.1% year over year in November 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 1, 2021

  • The CEOs of Delta Air Lines and United Airlines warned in January that the industry faces a difficult start to 2021. Executives expect it to take several more months before more Covid-19 inoculations fuel a significant rebound in travel demand. US airport screenings fell to the lowest level in more than six months in late January as Covid-19 infections climbed.
  • The US government is requiring travelers to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test before boarding flights to the US. A senior Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said in late January that the government is also weighing whether to require coronavirus tests before domestic flights.
  • Robert Spingarn, investment bank and financial services company Credit Suisse's aerospace analyst, estimates that the active commercial airline fleet decreased 37% in 2020. Spingarn says that about 70% of the fleet that was flying at the end of 2019 could be brought back using only engines that won't need overhauls until 2023 or later.
  • Most of American Airlines' parked aircraft are in an "active parked state," which means the airline can call them back into service at any time. Aircraft maintenance doesn't stop, even when planes are grounded: "The whole process is designed around ensuring that when the aircraft comes back into the operation it's as safe and reliable as it was when it entered into that storage program," said Craig Barton, the head of technical operations for American Airlines. Demand for replacement parts may rise initially as idle planes provide an opportunity to complete maintenance routines, but may eventually fall if planes remain out of service for an extended period.
  • The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is in the process of finalizing a digital COVID-19 passport that would include information about a traveler’s COVID-19 testing and vaccinations that would be verified by labs, airlines, and government agencies, according to several news reports. The IATA hopes that it will be universally accepted documentation that in turn could boost confidence among wary travelers. No governments have enforced a requirement for travelers to get vaccinated before entering another country. However, the CEO of Australian airline Qantas has stated his intentions for the carrier to require vaccinations ahead of international travel.
  • Boeing CEO David Calhoun said in late October 2020 that the company plans to have 130,000 employees at the end of 2021, down from 160,000 at the beginning of 2020. Boeing had already announced that more than 19,000 employees would be leaving this year, according to The Associated Press.
  • Aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce said that the impact on the company of the coronavirus pandemic will last seven years.

February 1, 2021

  • President Biden will maintain tariffs on aluminum imports from the United Arab Emirates, reversing former president Trump's move to end the levies on his last day as president. A 10% tariff was imposed on most aluminum imports in 2018. Trump had previously excluded Argentina, Australia, Canada, and Mexico from the tariff.
  • Car shopping web site Edmunds estimates that new vehicle sales decreased 15.5% year over year in 2020. The estimated 14,416,447 new vehicle sales during the year would be the lowest since 2011, but Edmunds says that the number is much stronger than expected given major disruptions created by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The spot price of aluminum was $1,999 per ton on January 25, down from a 2020 high of $2,056 on December 14. The spot price had fallen to $1,461 per ton on May 11, 2020 from about $1,820 per ton in January.
  • Aluminum manufacturing industry employment declined 6.3% year over year in November 2020 but was up 2% compared to the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 58.7% in January from 60.5% in December 2020. The decrease indicates a slower rate of expansion compared to the prior month. Any reading above 50% indicates expansion compared to the prior month, while anything under 50% indicates contraction. The New Orders Index registered 61.1%, down from the December reading of 67.5%. The production index fell to 60.7% from 64.7%. The backlog of orders increased to 59.7% from 59.1%.  The Employment Index increased to 52.6% in January from 51.7.
  • Analysts surveyed by Reuters news service expect a surplus of 1.8 million tons of aluminum, on average, in 2021 A 2.6 million ton surplus was expected for 2020. Many industry experts say that additional capacity needs to be idled to balance supply and demand, but many producers will not do so, partly because the cost of inputs such as electricity, carbon, and alumina have tumbled, supporting their margins.

February 1, 2021

  • Legislation introduced in the US Congress would authorize reimbursement to ambulance providers for on-location services delivered to Medicare beneficiaries during the coronavirus Public Health Emergency. “If a patient cannot be taken to a hospital because it is full, an EMT can treat the patient at their home,’ said a bill co-sponsor. Payment could be made for ground ambulance services in response to a 911 call in cases in which a beneficiary would have been transported to a destination permitted under Medicare regulations, but such transport did not occur as a result of community-wide emergency medical service protocols due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services announced in mid-December 2020 that it will provide $1.48 billion for ambulance services from the Provider Relief Fund. The $1.48 billion is an addition to the $350 million that ambulance services had received from the federal government since the beginning of the pandemic, for a total of $1.83 billion.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has approved a plan for who will be included in the first phase of coronavirus immunizations. The Phase 1A group will include people who work in “hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient home health care, pharmacies, emergency medical personnel, and public health workers.” Phase 1B includes “essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions, and adults 65 years and older. Essential workers include people who work in food and agriculture, food service, transportation, education, energy, police, firefighters, manufacturing, IT, communication, water and wastewater.
  • The first performance period for the Emergency Triage, Treat, and Transport (ET3) Model began on January 1, 2021, according to The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). ET3 includes provisions for reimbursement of care delivered at the scene and avoiding ambulance transport altogether. The Model was delayed from its original start date of May 2020 to support the response to the coronavirus Public Health Emergency.
  • EMS personnel are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 than other healthcare or emergency services professionals, according to an analysis conducted for industry news site EMS1. Researchers estimate that the number of EMS personnel COVID-19 related deaths is about three times higher than that for nurses and about five times higher than that for physicians. EMS professional fatalities were highest in New Jersey (36% of fatalities), New York state (22%), and Pennsylvania (8%).

February 1, 2021

  • Video-based post-discharge visits were noninferior to in-hospital follow-up in terms of the proportion of patients returning for a hospital encounter within 30 days of discharge after low-risk surgery at an ambulatory surgery center, according to a study completed at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC. Moreover, the virtual visits were typically about a half hour shorter than the usual in-person visit  but still provided patients with the same amount of time actually spent with their surgeons. The improvement in successful follow-up was accompanied by significantly greater satisfaction among participating nurses and no drop in patient satisfaction.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) revised in late November 2020 its guidance for allowing same-day, ambulatory surgical centers to temporarily certify as hospitals and provide inpatient care for periods longer than 24 hours before being required to transfer patients to an acute-care hospital. The update clarifies that ambulatory surgical centers need only to provide 24-hour nursing services when one or more patients are on-site instead of having nurses be present even when no patients are in the facility in order to achieve hospital certification. The actions are a response to reports from hospitals that they are running out of beds as a result of the surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • Surgery volume recovery that began in June and proceeded quickly to about 80% of pre-COVID volume levels has slowed, according to Monish Rajpal, managing director at LEK Consulting. Rajpal cites a 20% capacity reduction caused by new pandemic-related protocols as a key drag on surgery volume recovery. Demand for surgery has also been down, a trend Rajpal attributed to a shift in health insurance mix due to pandemic-related unemployment, a reluctance by patients to have surgery during the pandemic, and a backlog of surgical cases from the beginning of the pandemic. He also said that the "new normal" in procedure volumes could end up being lower than the "old normal", at least for a few years.
  • Ambulatory surgery centers may benefit from the new Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) initiative known as ‘Hospitals without Walls’. CMS has authorized new regulatory flexibility through the initiative that will allow hospitals to provide hospital-level care for patients in non-traditional settings. The waiver is intended to ensure that local hospitals and health systems have the capacity to handle the anticipated surge of COVID-19 patients through the duration of the public health emergency. Industry experts say that, due to their facility standards, personnel, equipment, and usual proximity to hospitals, ASCs a most likely candidates to serve as an alternate location for hospital services.
  • Knee replacements are expected to triple between 2020 and 2040, with hip replacements not far behind, according to the Journal of Rheumatology.

February 26, 2021

  • Consultant Dennis Speigel estimates that US theme parks, worth $25 billion in 2019, have lost $10 billion since the beginning of the pandemic. The impact, he says, has been larger than that of all economic downturns of the past 20 years combined. Spiegel estimates global losses during the pandemic to be $30 billion.
  • Health officials in several states are using large gathering areas like amusement parks as COVID-19 vaccination sites. Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, Minute Maid Park in Houston, TX, and Fairgrounds in Dallas, TX, are among the facilities that are being used as vaccination sites. California health officials plan to vaccinate as many as 12,000 people per day at sites like Disneyland.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in the reopening of amusement parks and arcades. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • Disney will lay off 32,000 employees in the first half of fiscal 2021. Prolonged closures at Disney's California-based theme parks and limited attendance at its open parks is a primary cause of the layoffs, the majority of which will be from its parks, experiences, and products division. The total includes the 28,000 workers that the company previously announced in September.
  • Employment in the amusements, gambling, and recreation industry decreased 29.4% year over year in December 2020.
  • Pandemic-related practices adopted by amusement parks include selling tickets in intervals and only allowing a set number of guests enter during the interval; limiting daily attendance to far below capacity; allowing guests to scan themselves in; and adjusting to one-way traffic flow to minimize guest contact (similar but not identical to IKEA).
  • Theme parks are also leaving seats or rows vacant on rides. Compliance with social distancing while waiting in the long lines that characterize popular rides remains an issue, as is dining room capacity, which will likely be reduced. COVID-19 may end 3-D rides that require reusable glasses. Shanghai Disneyland has successfully restarted its popular character dining programs.

February 1, 2021

  • About 87% of an additional $2.3 billion in COVID-19 aid to farmers is earmarked for those who raise pigs and poultry under contracts with food companies. The aid, which comes from money allocated to the US Department of Agriculture from previous pandemic stimulus legislation, follows record federal government subsidies for farmers in 2020. Contract farmers were not eligible for COVID-19 aid under previous USDA programs. They can receive payments if they produced hogs or poultry under a contract for the last two years and had lower revenue in 2020 than 2019.
  • Livestock producers will be compensated for animals culled during the pandemic under the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill that was signed into law in late December 2020.
  • Industry experts say that the agricultural provisions in the latest coronavirus stimulus package are far more detailed than in previous aid packages — which gave Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue great leeway in distributing aid — and direct aid to producers and processors who hadn't yet received assistance.
  • The Biden administration has former president Donald Trump’s Phase One trade deal with China “under review”. Beijing agreed to escalate purchases of US agricultural goods and other products in exchange for relief from US tariffs as part of the deal. Asked whether the deal was still in effect, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “I would not assume that things are moving forward.” China failed to meet its “phase one” target for imports of US food and agriculture products in 2020 despite a surge in purchases that began late last summer, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • Net farm income is expected to have risen 43% year over year in 2020 to nearly $120 billion, the second-highest yearly total of all time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales are expected to have decreased 0.9% year over year to $3 billion, the lowest since 2016. Growth in 2020 farm income was driven by $46.5 billion in federal payments including those provided through farm bill and conservation programs, ad hoc support related to Chinese retaliatory tariffs, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and coronavirus pandemic relief funding. Federal support as a percentage of net farm income in 2020 is now projected at 39%. Federal support as a percentage of gross farm income is now projected at a record 10%.

February 1, 2021

  • Americans are buying apparel again, though they’ve shifted to the casual and athletic wear more suitable to working or lounging at home, says Sue Welch, CEO of supply chain software provider Bamboo Rose. “People are bored with everything” in their wardrobes, Welch says. The sales rebound has led to shortages of some items, as demand has risen faster than supply.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Apparel manufacturers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections at the end of 2020. Many of the lenders that took part in the spring said that they were ready to make more PPP loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Nearly half of small businesses would apply for a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan if eligible, according to an early December 2020 survey of nearly 600 members of the National Federation of Independent Business. The majority of Paycheck Protection Program borrowers (91%) have spent all of their first PPP loan. About 36% of PPP borrowers are not yet ready to submit their forgiveness application and 20% are ready but their bank is not yet accepting them. Almost half of small business owners who have submitted a PPP loan forgiveness application have received final confirmation from the SBA. Over three-fourths of them had 100% of their loan forgiven, 16% had 99-91% of their loan forgiven and 6% had 90% or less forgiven. Receiving an EIDL grant was the reason for 85% of those who did not receive 100% forgiveness on their PPP loan.
  • The coronavirus relief package also mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • Apparel manufacturing employment declined 14.5% year over year in December 2020 but is up 34.3% from the low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Clothing and clothing accessory store sales increased 2.4% month over month but decreased 12.1% year over year in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Sales decreased 26.4% year over year for all of 2020.

February 2, 2021

  • Consumers stocking up on food at the onset of the pandemic drove a 45% year-over-year increase in deep freeze sales in the first quarter 2020, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. After an initial run on appliances in the early days of the pandemic, manufacturers cut back on production amid factory shutdowns and an anticipated reduction in consumer spending. Appliance production has also been affected by a scarcity of key components such as wiring harnesses and compressors, which also saw production disruption earlier in the pandemic.
  • Consumer Priority Services (CPS) is using Zoom Video services to communicate with customers and remotely diagnose appliance issues, walk owners through troubleshooting steps, and determine what parts may be needed if an onsite visit is required. Repair and maintenance firms have also created safety protocols, often based on CDC guidelines, to protect technicians and property owners. Repair firms are outfitting service personnel with masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. Trucks are sanitized frequently. Technicians request the shortest route through the home to reach the appliance and offer touchless payment options (phone or online). During the lockdowns, firms limited service calls to essential repairs and postponed calls for nonessential repairs like a broken handle or dent. Refrigerators were a top priority.
  • The value of manufacturers’ unfilled orders for household appliances increased more than 52% in November 2020 compared to a year earlier, according to the US Census Bureau. Factory shutdowns and supply chain disruption slowed appliance production and some appliance retailers report demand is outstripping supply. In the early days of the pandemic, refrigerator and freezer sales skyrocketed as consumers stocked up on food, and retail appliance inventories became depleted. Some appliance retailers report long wait times on new appliance orders. Longer wait times for new appliances have driven repair demand as consumers try to make do with older products until supplies return to normal.
  • Repair demand is rising as consumers shelter at home instead of eating out and put more wear and tear on their appliances. Some repair technicians report backlogs of a month or more due to the increase in repair volume and difficulties in obtaining replacement parts as manufacturers continue to struggle with supply chain disruption, according to The Washington Post. The appliance repair industry is starting to attract new entrants as people who have lost their jobs or seek a career change are attracted by the uptick in demand and potential for good wages. Prior to the pandemic, appliance repair jobs were expected to decline nearly 7% between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, the industry’s main US trade group – the United Appliance Services Association – says demand for technicians is strong, primarily because there are only two major appliance repair schools in the US where new technicians can receive training.
  • The pandemic-related appliance shortage and resulting rise in demand for repair services has brought more attention to Right to Repair legislation initiatives in some states. Some manufacturers restrict access to parts, tools, and repair manuals for appliances and electronics that contain digital technology, which is more prevalent with the increased popularity of IoT-enabled smart appliances. Such restrictions require repairs to be performed by manufacturer-approved technicians, which critics argue stifles competition and consumer choice. Opponents to Right to Repair argue it can result in unauthorized access to intellectual property. The US Public Interest Research Group, which is supportive of Right to Repair initiatives, says the average US family could save more than $300 per year by having appliances and electronics repaired instead of replacing them.

February 1, 2021

  • Architectural and structural metals manufacturers may soon be paying more for some raw materials. Investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group says that while last year’s strong rebound in many commodity prices might be viewed as a “V-shaped vaccine recovery”, it is just “the beginning of a much longer structural bull market for commodities.” Policymakers around the world have signaled that full employment and increased income for low-income households is a key part of post-COVID policy, Goldman says. Such redistribution policies are commodities-positive since lower-income households tend to spend more of the extra money that they receive. Rising wages would also lead to faster home formation, which is commodities-intensive in the form of construction and household appliances.
  • Steel prices may not be among the raw materials that cost more in 2021, according to industry publication The Fabricator. More steelmaking capacity is expected to come online next year and steel demand is likely to encounter some weakness. More than 10 million tons of new production is scheduled to come online in the next two years. Bank of America Analyst Timna Tanners says that the additional capacity threatens to throw supply and demand so badly out of balance that the market will face a glut that will drive steel prices to dangerously unprofitable levels.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Spending on nonresidential building projects is declining and will do so through 2021, according to a mid-year update to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Consensus Construction Forecast. The AIA estimates an 8% spending drop in 2020 and just under 5% in 2021 due to pandemic-induced economic disruptions. This is the first time in nearly a decade that nonresidential construction spending has trended downwards, according to the AIA.
  • Some banks, including JPMorgan Chase, the program's biggest participant with $29.2 billion in PPP originations, plan to delay processing loan forgiveness applications. Industry experts cite delays in developing the forgiveness program and unclear guidance from regulators as key causes of the reluctance to start the forgiveness process. JPMorgan Chase will start the forgiveness process in September, according to Kimberly Hooks, a vice president at Chase Business Banking.

February 1, 2021

  • Architecture firms are getting many requests to upgrade HVAC systems. High-density filtration is a common request from office building owners, as are ion technology and UV lighting in HVAC systems. Clients are also requesting a change from inoperable windows to operable ones to access outdoor fresh air, and installation of more hands-free technologies for doors, sinks, toilets, etc. Much of the work is being done when building leases turn, which happens every 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the contract.
  • The total Architecture Billings Index (ABI) decreased to 42.6 in December 2020 from 46.3 in November. A score over 50 indicates increasing billings, a score below 50 indicates decreasing billings. The figure is not much better than the pandemic-related drop to 40 of July and August 2020. Multifamily residential demand decreased to 46.1 in December from 52.2 in November. Commercial/industrial decreased to 47.2 from 47.5, and institutional decreased to 38.5 from 41.9 in November. New project inquiries increased to 52.4 from 52.0 in November. Newly-signed contracts decreased to 48.5 from 48.6.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • The coronavirus relief package explicitly states that small businesses which received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and used those funds to incur otherwise deductible eligible expenses can deduct the expenses even if they reasonably expect to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan. The relief package deductibility rule is a reversal of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) position that taxpayers cannot claim such a deduction because it would be an impermissible double tax benefit to have income on debt forgiveness not to taxed as income, and then to also allow tax deductions for the expenses paid with the forgiven loan money.
  • Architectural services industry employment declined 5.3% year over year in November 2020 but is up 1% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Many industry experts say that the coronavirus outbreak may slow or reverse the development of high-density housing. Transportation and denser housing have been critical for cities struggling with a severe affordable housing shortage. “I wouldn’t make any big development decisions right now,” said Dr. Jackson, a former officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The era of a single architect designing buildings is over, Dr. Jackson added. Transit-oriented development will need to bring in the best minds from design, health, and transit to create living spaces that are conducive to community but also the well-being of residents.

February 24, 2021

  • Traditional auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have taken significant hits due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Wall Street Journal. Christie’s sales decreased 22% year over year in 2020, while Sotheby’s decreased 12% despite efforts by both firms to transition to a digital platform.
  • Galleries that operate online only increased to 35% of total galleries in 2020 from 15% in 2018 and 2019, according to Artsy, an online platform for fine art.
  • About 75% of galleries have partnered with an online marketplace in 2020, according to Artsy.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in greater foot traffic at art galleries. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.

February 11, 2021

  • Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, has said that new gas tax revenue could fund transportation infrastructure spending proposed by the Biden administration. Congress has not increased the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. The tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation. Options under consideration by Buttigieg include adjusting the tax, tying it to inflation, and raising revenue based on vehicle miles traveled.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $10 billion for state highways. Industry experts say that the funding is intended to help offset severe losses in state transportation revenues due to reduced vehicle travel during the pandemic.
  • Q4 shingle shipments increased 44.9% year over year in 2020 while shipments for the full year were up 10.1%, according to the Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association.
  • A one-year extension of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act was signed into law on October 1, the day after it expired. Transportation policymakers argued that they simply ran out of time to reauthorize the FAST Act. The yearlong extension ensures temporary funding for highway and transit programs. “The extension will give Congress more time to finish a long-term, bipartisan highway bill to rebuild our roads and bridges,” said Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the committee on highways.
  • A coalition of construction industry associations and businesses including building material manufacturers and contractors is urging Congress to consider a new tax credit proposal that could spur property owner investment in roofing and other renovation and repair projects. The proposal includes a refundable tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of qualified home improvements, which makes improvements more affordable but also helps to support manufacturers of building materials and contractors by encouraging property owners to buy materials and have them professionally installed.
  • Employment in the asphalt product manufacturing industry declined 6.8% year over year in December and was down 5% from the start of 2020.
  • Manufacturers of asphalt paving and roofing materials kept their prices unchanged year over year in December 2020, but prices were down 4.3% since the beginning of the year. The cost to manufacture asphalt products is affected by the price of oil, a major feedstock. Crude oil spot prices rose from about $47 per barrel in early December 2020 to $58.68 on February 8, 2021.

February 11, 2021

  • Manufacturers that rely heavily on sales to the hospitality industry are likely to face additional financial stress due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association. Relief may not be coming soon. President Biden said in an early February interview with CBS News that it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity — a population-wide resistance to the virus — “much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Top health officials say they are increasingly worried that more COVID-19 variants will emerge in the coming months and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.
  • A pandemic-induced spending shift from restaurants, bars, salons, travel, live events, movie theaters, etc., contributed to a $100 billion uptick in e-commerce spending, notably on consumer electronics like audio and video equipment, according to eMarketer. Online consumer electronics sales during 2020 are estimated at $179.3 billion, up 19.5% from the pre-pandemic estimate of $150.1 billion.
  • Many legal experts agree that corporations can require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with the union before mandating a vaccine. Anti-discriminat
  • TV remains the primary source of entertainment for 92% of Americans, according to “Content in the COVID-19 Era: Current Realities and Future Opportunities” report from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The report also finds that 60% of video content viewing time takes place in front of TV screens; the rest is on smartphones, computers and tablets. “Consumers are watching more content and watching longer, as new innovations in format and delivery draw in millions of first-time users," said Sayon Deb, manager, Market Research, CTA.
  • Shipments of audio and video equipment decreased 3.2% year over year in December 2020 and were down 2% year over year for all of 2020.
  • The audio and video equipment industry is playing a pivotal role in connecting people and helping to keep businesses running through virtual meetings as the pandemic plays out. Businesses, entertainers, news organizations, and individuals have invested in AV equipment to remotely produce and broadcast content.
  • The AV industry is helping schools with technology to support distance learning. Manufacturers have an opportunity to work with schools and universities to develop technology plans, train staff, and supply them with audio and video equipment to make distance learning easier to execute.
  • Pro AV industry advertising spending is not expected to recover until late 2021 or 2022, according to financial firm PJ Solomon.
  • The pandemic is expected to drive innovation in the audio production industry. The need is rising for equipment that is wireless, hands-free, and less susceptible than traditional microphones, booms and audio filters to capturing and spreading infection. Greater demand for smaller but high-quality equipment is expected as individual and smaller crews produce content and broadcast live. Finally, consumers have become more comfortable with online streaming platforms and new content will need to be produced to keep these platforms running and viewership up. This will further drive demand for AV equipment.

February 23, 2021

  • The average price of a used vehicle surged nearly 14% — roughly 10 times the rate of inflation — to over $23,000 during 2020. It was among the fastest intra-year increases in decades, said Ivan Drury, a senior manager of insights for Edmunds.com. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, predicted a tight used-vehicle market with high prices for several more years.
  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US new auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • Average new vehicle transaction prices reached another all-time high in December 2020, rising 9.4% month over month to $40,578. Disciplined incentives and discounting, along with the shift towards more expensive trucks and SUVs, remain the key drivers.
  • Retail sales for auto dealers increased 10.9% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the auto dealer industry decreased 4% year over year in January but was up 21.3% from the low of April 2020.

February 2, 2021

  • Supply chain disruptions and delivery delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic are likely to continue well into 2021, according to financial information and analytics firm S&P Global. A lack of air freight capacity and a shortage of empty containers and other equipment needed to haul products away from port facilities are creating difficulties for supply chains in all industries. Deliveries are likely to take longer and costs of in-demand items are likely to rise as container shipping rates jump.
  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), an indicator of demand for tires, decreased 11.1% year over year and 0.7% month over month in November 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration. VMT was down 13.7% year over year during the first 11 months of 2020. The October year-over-year drop in VMT was largest in the Northeastern US (-14.75%) followed by the North Central (-13.8%), South Atlantic (-10.6%), West (-10.2%), and South Gulf (-7.4%).
  • A trade group representing automakers including General Motors, Toyota Motor, and Volkswagen has filed suit to block a Massachusetts state ballot initiative that expands access to vehicle data. Voters approved in early November an initiative to revise the state's 2013 Right to Repair law to require automakers to provide expanded access to mechanical and electronic repair data and allow independent shops to repair increasingly sophisticated technology. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation trade group said that, if the law takes effect, "years of manufacturers' work and billions of dollars in investment to protect and secure vehicle data will effectively be obliterated". The trade group asked a US district court judge in Boston to block the law which is set to take effect in the 2022 model year.
  • Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office argued that the Alliance for Automotive Innovation lawsuit against the state’s recently passed “Right to Repair” initiative is an attempt to undo a petition approved by voters, and said that nothing in the initiative is preempted by any federal law.
  • Auto parts shortages are being intensified by a shortage of semiconductor components needed for automotive production, according to automaker Volkswagen and parts manufacturers Continental and Bosch. The auto manufacturing industry has grown increasingly reliant on imported chips for electronic parts like electronic control units and electronic stability programs. “Although semiconductor manufacturers have already responded to the unexpected demand with capacity expansions, the required additional volumes will only be available in six to nine months,” Continental said in early December 2020. “Therefore, the potential delivery bottlenecks may last into 2021.”
  • The average vehicle age, an indicator of demand for auto parts, rose to 11.9 years in 2020, one month older than in 2019, according to IHS Markit. The market research firm cites a pandemic-related decline in vehicle sales as the primary cause of rising average vehicle age, but notes that the higher average price of a new vehicle and the fact that many new vehicles last longer are also causing the average vehicle age to rise. New vehicles represented 6.1% of vehicles on the road in 2019, but IHS Markit predicts that they will be around 5% of vehicles in 2020.

February 2, 2021

  • The Auto Care Association forecasts light-duty aftermarket sales to grow 11.4% year over year to $314 billion in 2021.
  • The Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) expects long-term growth in the parts sector to be driven by autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility, and advanced driver-assistance systems.
  • A recent AASA study concluded that nearly 40% of the expected growth in new-product volume over the next decade will come from parts that aren’t even on vehicles yet.
  • Automaker Ford will delay until summer 2021 the launch of the Bronco SUV due to a parts shortage caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The vehicle was scheduled to be launched in the spring. Ford didn't provide a more specific explanation of the delay.
  • Auto parts shortages are being intensified by a shortage of semiconductor components needed for automotive production, according to automaker Volkswagen and parts manufacturers Continental and Bosch. The auto manufacturing industry has grown increasingly reliant on imported chips for electronic parts like electronic control units and electronic stability programs. “Although semiconductor manufacturers have already responded to the unexpected demand with capacity expansions, the required additional volumes will only be available in six to nine months,” Continental said in early December 2020. “Therefore, the potential delivery bottlenecks may last into 2021.”
  • A trade group representing automakers including General Motors, Toyota Motor, and Volkswagen has filed suit to block a Massachusetts state ballot initiative that expands access to vehicle data. Voters approved in early November an initiative to revise the state's 2013 Right to Repair law to require automakers to provide expanded access to mechanical and electronic repair data and allow independent shops to repair increasingly sophisticated technology. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation trade group said that, if the law takes effect, "years of manufacturers' work and billions of dollars in investment to protect and secure vehicle data will effectively be obliterated". The trade group asked a US district court judge in Boston to block the law which is set to take effect in the 2022 model year.
  • Bankrupt auto parts manufacturer Shiloh Industries is moving forward with a sale of the company to Grouper Holdings, a subsidiary of private equity firm MiddleGround Capital. The company filed for bankruptcy in August after demand plummeted because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shiloh was forced to temporarily close some manufacturing and assembly plants around the world, according to Jeffrey Ficks of Ernst & Young LLP, who is serving as the company's financial adviser.
  • Auto-parts maker Garrett Motion filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late September 2020. Analysts cite heavy debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a payment settlement dispute with former parent Honeywell International as key causes of the filing. Garrett said it entered into a "stalking horse" purchase agreement with private equity firm KPS Capital Partners LP for $2.1 billion. The "stalking horse" agreement implies that any other bids that come in must be higher than the offer made by KPS. The agreement is subject to court approval.
  • Car shopping web site Edmunds estimates that new vehicle sales decreased 15.5% year over year in 2020. The estimated 14,416,447 new vehicle sales during the year would be the lowest since 2011, but Edmunds says that the number is much stronger than expected given major disruptions created by the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

February 23, 2021

  • A group of 15 US senators have urged the White House to work with Congress to address the global semiconductor shortage that is slowing or in some cases stopping auto parts production. The senators urged the White House "to support efforts to secure the necessary funding to swiftly implement the semiconductor-related provisions in the most recent National Defense Authorization Act, which would boost production of semiconductor manufacturing and incentivize the domestic production of semiconductors in the future." Auto parts retailers may soon face inventory shortages due to semiconductor-related production problems.
  • A University of Chicago study published in January concluded that “22 percent of all full work days will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent before.” Demand for auto parts may fall if vehicle miles traveled does not recover to pre-pandemic levels as a result. “The pandemic drove a mass social experiment in which half of all paid hours were provided from home,” according to the study. By most accounts, the authors concluded, that experiment was successful.
  • It may take more time than initially expected for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, and vehicle travel may remain low as a result. Public opinion research completed in December 2020 by KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor suggests that 29% to 37% of Americans plan to refuse a COVID-19 vaccine. Both academic and public opinion research finds that women and Black Americans are significantly more likely to intend to refuse vaccination. According to some epidemiological estimates, as many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread.
  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), an indicator of demand for auto parts, decreased 11.1% year over year and 0.7% month over month in November 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration. VMT was down 13.7% year over year during the first 11 months of 2020. The October year-over-year drop in VMT was largest in the Northeastern US (-14.75%) followed by the North Central (-13.8%), South Atlantic (-10.6%), West (-10.2%), and South Gulf (-7.4%).
  • Employment in the auto parts and accessories store industry decreased 1.3% year over year in December 2020, but was up 12.4% from the low of May.
  • The auto parts e-commerce market is expected to rise to $22 billion by 2023. The growth will be driven in part by a pandemic-induced shift away from bricks-and-mortar stores.
  • Major retailers Advance Auto Parts, AutoZone, NAPA Auto Parts, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and Pep Boys offer free curbside pickup for customers who opt to buy online and pick up their parts in the stores, according to Counterman. Advance Auto Parts offers same-day-delivery in several of its markets, an enhancement of the company’s ship-to-home service.

February 23, 2021

  • About 41% of respondents to a Morning Consult survey conducted from February 18 through 20 said that they would feel safe taking a road trip in a rental vehicle. Traveling via other means remains slightly less popular than renting a car. About 39% of respondents said they would feel comfortable going on vacation, the highest percentage recorded since the firm began tracking vacation comfort in April 2020.
  • The number of medium- and heavy-duty electric fleet vehicles sold is expected to grow by more than 100% year over year in 2021, according to electric vehicle infrastructure firm Chargepoint. Growth will be driven by cost savings of about 20-25% from greater efficiency for light-duty vehicles, more affordable fueling, and reduced maintenance requirements.
  • Total US car rental revenue is projected by Auto Rental News to have declined 27.4% year over year in 2020. The projected $23.22 billion in revenue for 2020 is the lowest since 2011. Avis Budget Group and Hertz Global Holdings reported a cumulative drop in revenues of over 50% for the second and third quarters.
  • The Atlanta City Council has extended rental relief for car rental agencies at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport through June 30, 2021. Rental car companies are allowed to pay rent based on a portion of their revenue rather than paying a flat rate. Hartsfield-Jackson, one of the world’s busiest airports, has budgeted for a steep decline in revenue due to the pandemic. Atlanta airport general manager John Selden has said a full recovery from the effects of COVID-19 could take two to five years. Hundreds of unused rental vehicles remain parked in off-site lots after airport rental car center lots filled to capacity, due to a nearly complete halt in travel because of the coronavirus. Rental car companies are still charged fees by airports, which may include a guaranteed minimum of approximately 10% of a firm’s expected gross annual revenue.

March 1, 2021

  • Depending on the state or city where they operate, repair shops may experience a rise in demand as driving activity continues to normalize. Since April, vehicle miles traveled has gradually increased as more states fully reopened, according to traffic data from the Federal Highway Administration. In December, the number of vehicle miles traveled was down more than 10% compared to the same month a year earlier. December traffic volumes were up 44% compared to the lows seen in April during the lockdowns. Daily new COVID-19 cases have dropped since the spike seen in mid-January. As of February 25, the 7-day average for daily new cases was down to about 70,000, and hospitalizations and deaths were also down significantly. Some states have eased restrictions which may improve miles driven.
  • COVID-19 and related economic factors are expected to reduce US automotive aftermarket sales by 8.8% in 2020, according to a jointly-prepared forecast by the Auto Care Association (ACA) and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA). However, the ACA/AASA forecast projects US automotive aftermarket sales to reach $314 billion in 2021 after sales of $281 billion in 2020. Aftermarket sales are forecast to rise as the number of miles driven continue to increase and as the average age of the US car fleet increases. The average age of the US car fleet hit an all-time high of 11.9 years in 2020, according to IHS Markit. About 25% of cars on US roads are at least 16 years old.
  • Repair shops are taking precautions like disinfecting door handles and steering wheels as well as wearing gloves and masks while in customers’ cars and communicating. Repair shops are reconfiguring seating in their waiting rooms to ensure social distancing. The pandemic has increased the popularity of mobile mechanics that fix cars without physical shops. Mobile repair startup Wrench has seen strong growth as more consumers and fleet owners opt for its touchless, app-scheduled services and quick turnaround times, according to GeekWire.
  • Auto repair shops that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.
  • As consumers have driven less, some are finding problems with their vehicles that were caused by long periods of sitting idle. Mechanics have reported higher instances of calls for dead batteries that need recharging or replacement. Other problems related to parking for long periods include rusty brake rotors and calipers, flat spots on tires, and motor oil contamination caused by condensation. Repair shops may see more calls related to idled vehicles as vaccinations gather pace, new COVID-19 cases drop, and state and local economies continue to return to pre-pandemic ways of life.

February 21, 2021

  • General Motors expects the semiconductor chip shortage to cut its earnings by $1.5 billion to $2 billion in 2021. Ford Motor said the situation could lower its earnings by $1 billion to $2.5 billion. Honda Motor and Nissan Motor combined expect to sell 250,000 fewer cars through March due to the shortage. Automakers are scrambling to get chips, which have extremely long lead times due to their complexity. Some automakers, like GM and Ford, have confirmed plans to partially build products and store them until chips become available. Others have said they may look to directly purchase the parts from smaller suppliers, cutting out much of the current supply chain.
  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • The CEO of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles says that COVID-19 is the biggest risk the auto industry has ever faced. He is calling on governments to spend pandemic recovery dollars to boost electric vehicles and other types of alternatively powered cars in order to meet climate goals. "The COVID pandemic ... is adding massive pressures on our sector at a time when it is navigating fundamental technological shifts," Mike Manley said. "We urgently need to find ways to pull through this with minimum damage to jobs and investments, while at the same time keeping strong focus on the climate challenge."
  • Fleet sales to rental car companies, corporations, and government agencies are likely to recover more slowly than sales to private individuals, according to Cox Automotive (CA). Fleet sales are not a major concern now for automakers focused on ramping up production to restore dealer inventories for higher-profit sales to consumers, according to CA, but they will become a challenge when inventories are replenished because production must be maintained to keep automakers profitable. “If we don’t see a rebound in 2021, this will be a problem for automakers,” said Zohaib Rahim, economic and industry insights manager at CA. “But right now they’re using all their production to supply dealers.”

February 3, 2021

  • The COVID-19 crises caused the global airline industry to have its worst year on record in 2020, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Worldwide passenger traffic demand, as measured by revenue passenger kilometers (RPKs), fell nearly 65% in 2020 compared to 2019. International passenger demand was off more than 75%, and domestic demand declined nearly 49%. There were glimmers of recovery during the summer but as 2020 neared its close new variants of the virus, worldwide spikes in new cases, and tighter travel restrictions put even more downward pressure on demand. Passenger traffic fell nearly 70% in December 2020 compared to the same month a year earlier. January bookings for new travel were off 70% year-over-year. Even as vaccination efforts make strides, new coronavirus variants and the rapidly changing patchwork of global travel restrictions will continue to hinder demand for air travel. The IATA forecasts passenger traffic will rise about 50% in 2021 over 2020 levels, which would still be only half of 2019 levels. If travel and lockdowns get more severe due to new coronavirus variants, the IATA estimates 2021 growth could be as low as 13%.
  • Amid weak passenger traffic, demand for used parts is likely to be strongest for cargo conversions of older narrowbody aircraft and for engine work on existing cargo aircraft. When air traffic improves, airlines’ MRO demand will likely favor used parts over new ones in order to reduce costs
  • Industry watchers suggest the COVID-19 pandemic will accelerate MROs digital transformation efforts as they look for ways to increase efficiency and trim costs. Key trends include remote inspection and training that’s enhanced with augmented reality (AR) technology, analytics-based predictive maintenance, and IoT-enabled inventory systems.
  • Prior to the pandemic, global air travel was strong, which kept some older aircraft in service. Now that much of the global fleet is grounded, as many as 4,000 planes may never return to service and instead be dismantled for spare parts over the next three years, according to AeroDynamic Advisory. Teardown and part-out services could be a growth area for MROs, but it may take time to fully materialize. Many widebody aircraft such as the Airbus A380 and older widebodies like the Airbus A340 and Boeing 747 may leave service as airlines focus on smaller, newer, and more efficient aircraft, according to aviation consulting firm IBA. Industry watchers suggest MRO firms that operate large hangars to maintain older widebodies should use the slowdown to retool for work on newer large aircraft like the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350.
  • Some industry watchers suggest that the coronavirus pandemic may cause airlines to rethink the strategy of keeping aircraft on their balance sheets. If airlines instead lease aircraft from manufacturers, it could further the pre-pandemic trend of aircraft OEMs bringing MRO in-house. As the pandemic has worn on, more airlines are leasing aircraft from aircraft leasing firms as they take on long-term liability in exchange for short-term liquidity, according to Aviation Week. However, with air traffic demand down, aircraft lessors may not have new lessees lined up when aircraft come off-lease. Under these market conditions, MROs that offer full-service technical and aircraft storage capabilities may be advantaged because they can store and maintain lessors’ planes until demand picks up.
  • In early October, Boeing released its annual 20-year Boeing Market Outlook (BMO) forecast for the aerospace and defense market. The BMO expects the global market value to be $8.5 trillion over the next decade, down from $8.7 trillion forecast in the 2019 BMO. The global commercial fleet will add about 18,500 aircraft over the next 10 years, or 11% lower than the 2019 projection. Single-aisle aircraft seating 90 or more passengers are expected to account for more than 32,000 of about 43,000 global aircraft deliveries between 2020 and 2039. During that period, Boeing expects the global aviation industry will need 739,000 new maintenance technicians, down 3.9% from the 770,000 projected in 2019.

February 25, 2021

  • Bars and nightclubs that closed during the pandemic will need to proceed carefully when lockdown orders are lifted, as hospitality employers in some jurisdictions must offer certain former employees their jobs back. A new Washington, DC, law, for example, provides eligible non-exempt workers in the hospitality industry who were displaced by COVID-19 the right to be reinstated to their former positions. The law may also apply when there has been a change of ownership. Covered employees can sue their employers for violations of the law on an individual and class basis. Prevailing employees can be awarded back pay, the cost of lost benefits, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. A sunset provision was included in the law that expires on June 30, 2023.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in the reopening of bars and nightclubs. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • States that have reopened bars experienced a doubling in the rate of coronavirus cases three weeks after the opening of doors, on average, according to a Washington Post analysis. A study that relied heavily on cell phone data found a statistically significant national relationship between foot traffic to bars one week after they reopened and an increase in cases three weeks later.
  • With bars, restaurants, and nightclubs across the US forced to close because of COVID-19, Americans shifted their drinking patterns to off-premise consumption. “That frequent on-premise drinker is 60% more likely to have purchased more alcohol in the past month through delivery or pick up from a store, 80% more likely to have purchased online from a bar or restaurant, and 55% more likely to have increased their online purchases from a brewery, winery or wine club, or distillery,” said Danelle Kosmal, Nielsen’s vice president of beverage alcohol.

February 11, 2021

  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021 compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion. Demand for basic chemicals is likely to increase as GDP increases.
  • Most pharmaceutical companies do not plan to change their manufacturing network despite the possibility that events like the COVID-19 pandemic may disrupt supply channels, according to a GlobalData survey. About 68% of the companies surveyed expect no changes to the finished dose manufacturing sites, while 57% expect no changes in the small molecule API manufacturing site network. Approximately 25% of the companies opined that they will need small molecule API manufacturing sites in more countries, while 7% seek to trim their manufacturing sites to fewer countries. Further, 17% of the companies opined that they need to expand their finished dose manufacturing network to more countries, while 15% opined that they need production sites at fewer countries than that they have today.
  • The basic chemical manufacturing industry could see significant demand if pharmaceutical manufacturing is re-shored in the US from low cost foreign producers like China and India. The US government has invested $354 million in Phlow, a start-up tasked with developing a low-cost production process for generic drugs in the US and reducing reliance on foreign suppliers. The company uses the flow chemistry method to manage the production process and reduce waste, ultimately to make products cheaper and readily available. If successful, Phlow’s strategy could overhaul the drug production and delivery system in the US.
  • Industry lobbyists, including those representing chemical manufacturers, want regulators to allow their workers to move forward in the queue for the coronavirus vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, through a panel known as the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, has established a framework for individuals to receive the first available doses of approved Covid-19 vaccines. The framework is nonbinding but expected to shape the decisions of state agencies and other institutions that will govern distribution of the vaccines. The category of essential work has been the main focus of lobbyists as various businesses and professional groups have pressed to be certified as essential in order to stay open. Each state has its own guidelines for who is considered essential, but the CDC provides broad guidance. Many industry groups have asked the CDC to rely on a memo from the Department of Homeland Security on critical infrastructure workers, a document published in August, to determine whether a worker is deemed essential for vaccination — a list that was itself the focus of intense lobbying.
  • The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) rose 1.5% in January on a three-month moving average basis following a 1.3% increase in December 2020. "With nine straight months of gains, the November CAB reading is consistent with recovery in the U.S. economy," said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. The barometer rose 1.3% year over year in January.
  • Chemical production decreased 2.7% year over year in December, marking the nineteenth consecutive month of year-over-year declines but an improvement versus earlier in the year, according to the American Chemistry Council. Chemical production remained lower than a year ago in all regions, with the largest year-ago declines seen in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast regions.
  • Employment in the basic chemical manufacturing industry decreased 2% year over year in December 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment is up 1.6% from the low of May 2020 but is unchanged from the start of 2020.
  • Chemical manufacturers are taxed with maintaining operations and production, but with limited contact and staff in many cases. Effective, remote communication is critical as this industry has hazardous operations, environmental impacts, health and safety protocols, and strict product quality requirements. Most chemical manufacturing plants run on shifts, making the continuity of remote communications even more important. Insiders highlight the need to maintain up-to-date and accurate activity and production logs online, allocate time at the end of each shift to document conditions in preparation for the shift handover, and use video conferencing to disseminate information and ease shift handover.
  • In light of the coronavirus pandemic, merger and acquisition (M&A) activity is expected to increase as chemical firms sell off non-core assets and acquire complementary firms to expand their market and transform their businesses. Segments ripe for M&A activity include specialty chemicals and agricultural chemicals, but opportunities still exist in commodity chemicals, according to the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services (ICIS).
  • The prices that manufacturers charge for their basic chemicals has declined. Prices fell 1% for basic inorganic chemicals in December 2020 compared to a year ago and were down 5.4% for basic organic chemicals.

February 21, 2021

  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • Some battery manufacturers are likely to benefit from the one-year extension of the 30% credit for installing electric vehicle chargers that was included in the federal stimulus package passed in December 2020. The credit is capped at $1,000 for home installations and $30,000 for businesses. The stimulus package also extended the 10% credit for two-wheeled plug-in electric vehicles, capped at $2,500 per vehicle.
  • Lithium-ion battery prices could fall to $100/kWh by 2023, allowing electric vehicles to compete with petroleum-powered cars on price, according to a forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Battery factories operating near capacity and falling raw material prices are significantly impacting prices, while battery technological refinement and escalating order sizes also play roles in cost reduction.
  • Greenko Energy Holdings has emerged as the preferred buyer for US-based utility-scale battery installer NEC Energy Solutions. NEC’s parent, the Japanese conglomerate NEC Corporation, had been trying to sell the business. But the pandemic and its economic upheaval made finding a buyer difficult, said Steve Fludder, who has resigned as chief executive officer. NEC was among a small set of companies in the utility-scale battery industry with a global reach. Many of the businesses that need big batteries, such as developers of solar plants and wind farms, have been building up their own capacity to install them, however. Integrators such as NEC have been forced to find buyers or partners to survive, said Logan Goldie-Scot, head of clean-power research at BloombergNEF.
  • The US Department of Energy (DOE) announced $20 million in funding for a project to further commercialization efforts in sodium-ion battery development. The project aims to scale up production of Natron Energy’s Prussian blue electrode sodium-ion batteries by 30 times while adapting industry-standard chemicals synthesis and battery manufacturing equipment to interest supply chain investors. “The project will also position Natron’s Prussian blue electrode sodium-ion batteries for emerging applications, such as electric vehicle fast charging and dispatchable storage for grid power,” DOE added. Industry experts note that “dispatchable storage” often refers to an electrical power system, such as a natural gas-powered "peaker" plant, that can be turned on or off. Sodium-ion battery development, experts say, may be targeted at replacing some gas-powered peaker plants.
  • The US and China will be the biggest markets for battery-based energy storage in terms of installations and installed capacity, according to market research consulting firm Frost & Sullivan’s "Outlook for the Global Energy Storage Industry, 2020". Frost & Sullivan predicts a decline for the energy storage market in 2020 due to project delays, including the lack of access to residential and commercial clients. The medium-term market should show strength, however, as strong progress is forecast across residential, commercial, and industrial and grid-scale applications. High electricity prices, declining feed in tariffs, increasing grid demand charges and declining technology and project costs all mean that energy storage is becoming a much more attractive proposition for consumers from households to heavy industry.
  • Some communities are developing plans to capitalize on attempts to re-shore industries that have been identified as essential. Hickory, NC, has allocated $90 million to attract these and other industries as part of a local revitalization plan. Targeted essential industries include battery manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and personal protection equipment, medical devices and testing equipment and products, medical and R&D labs, logistics and transportation parts and equipment, information and data storage, food production, and advanced textiles. Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County, NC, Economic Development Corporation, sees a trend, driven by the pandemic, for site selectors to opt for less densely populated areas instead of large urban metros.

February 26, 2021

  • Several companies, trade groups, and non-profits are developing digital passports intended to show proof of coronavirus vaccination and testing status, but public health officials are urging policymakers to resist calls for digital passport systems. It is hoped by many that the passports will boost a variety of industries, including tourism, by acting as a credential for access to airlines, events, and tourist destinations. Opponents say, however, that the protection that coronavirus vaccines offer is very far from complete and very little is known about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing infection or even asymptomatic disease against several variants circulating in different countries. The World Health Organization released a statement in late January stating that governments should "not introduce requirements of proof of vaccination or immunity for international travel as a condition of entry" at present.
  • The latest round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funding increases loan amounts available to food service providers including bed and breakfasts. These providers are eligible for loans amounting to 3.5 times their payroll instead of the normal 2.5 times. The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the PPP.
  • Travel bookings are increasing along with COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Tripadvisor. A survey conducted from December 28, 2020, through January 10 by the online travel platform found that 80% of US consumers planned to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021, with just over one-third of respondents planning at least three domestic trips this year. Popular destinations such as Orlando are already seeing a booking rebound.
  • Tourism will not fully rebound in New York City (NYC) for at least four years, according to NYC & Company, the city’s tourism promotion agency. Bed and breakfast inns are likely to be among the businesses that are negatively impacted. NYC & Company counts all overnight guests and anyone who travels from more than 50 miles away as a visitor. Its new forecast calls for 38.2 million visitors in 2021, rising to 69 million by 2024. NYC drew a record 66.6 million visitors in 2019.
  • Many bed and breakfast inns have adopted the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s Safe Stay protocols and tailored them to small accommodations. Touchless check-in, in which guests are handed a sealed container with their room key, single-use bath amenities, and any other essentials that might otherwise be left in the room, is widely used. In-room nonessentials, such as pillows and shams, bed throws, and decorative figurines have been removed. "...owners are sacrificing some of their inns’ much-loved character to keep people safe," says Heather Turner, marketing director for the Association of Lodging Professionals.

February 2, 2021

  • The pandemic brought about a widespread consumer shift to buying in bulk, and beer is no exception. Consumers increasingly bought 12-packs of beer in 2020, according to beverage alcohol trade news site SevenFifty Daily. Twelve-packs are the most popular beer size sold on ecommerce platform Drizly, accounting for 42% of overall beer sales in 2020.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans. Beer distributors are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • An Arizona judge ruled in favor of a group of Arizona bar owners who've argued that Governor Doug Ducey's May 2020 executive order allowing restaurants to sell to-go drinks gave restaurants an unfair advantage over bars, which were forced to close by the same order. The plaintiffs' attorney said that he and his clients expect Ducey to issue an executive order rescinding the provision that gave restaurants off-sale privileges.
  • Demand for beverages of all kinds is rising during the coronavirus pandemic, but beer distributors may struggle to maintain adequate supply due to an aluminum can shortage. "Aluminum cans are in very tight supply with so many people buying more multi-pack products to consume at home," Coca-Cola spokesperson Ann Moore said. Can manufacturers have announced plans to build at least three new factories within the next 18 months. Can maker Ball Corp. will open two new US plants and is adding two new production lines to existing US facilities.
  • The National Beer Wholesalers Association’s Beer Purchasers’ Index (BPI) rose to 66.4 in January from 64 in December 2020 and was slightly above the 65.7 level of January 2020. The BPI surveys distributors’ monthly buying behavior. An index of 50 points or more indicates that purchasing in a segment is expanding, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction. The "at-risk inventory" measure rose to 37.9 from 25.9 in December, the largest single-month increase since June 2020. A slower than expected December and healthy end-of-year shipments from suppliers significantly changed the industry's inventory picture.

February 19, 2021

  • Legislation under consideration in Alabama would allow home delivery of alcohol. The bill would allow for delivery of distilled spirits in original containers from package stores, as well as from bars and restaurants with a meal purchase, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. The bill has passed the state Senate and is now in the House of Representatives. Home delivery legislation is under consideration in several states, including Florida, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.
  • Global e-commerce alcohol sales are estimated to have increased more than 40% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis. Experts expect the pandemic to continue impacting on-premise sales for at least the first half of 2021. Alternatives to on-premise consumption — especially alcohol delivery, DTC and off-premise sales — are likely to carry momentum well into the year.
  • Beer, wine, and liquor stores are likely to benefit from the addition of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) to the $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the US Congress on December 22, 2000. The CBMTRA will make existing federal excise tax rates for small and independent breweries permanent. The current Federal Excise Tax rates for small and independent breweries, which were set to expire on December 31, 2020, could have increased as much as 100%. Sales may have declined if higher tax rates were passed on to consumers.
  • American adults say they’re drinking 14% more often during the pandemic, according to a report in the journal, JAMA Network Open. The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised limiting access to alcohol during the pandemic. “Alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes,” the WHO stated. “Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
  • Most liquor stores have been allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. Beer, wine, and liquor stores technically fall under the “food and agriculture” category of establishments, like grocery stores, which are considered essential. Some states, such as Maryland and Texas, allow alcohol deliveries to customers.

February 2, 2021

  • There has been a massive pivot of biotechnology companies to pursue infectious disease research, according to Dr. Michelle McMurry-Heath, PhD, president and CEO of BIO. The complexity of COVID-19 disease has allowed a role for many types of drug mechanisms to be effective. Companies that pivoted to infectious disease work may have opportunities to pursue new classes of therapeutics and areas of research. There are 191 COVID-19 vaccine candidates and over 800 clinical trials for various treatments and vaccines, McMurry-Heath said, many under development by companies with no prior experience in the infectious disease space.
  • Many industry experts say that the emergency approval of two COVID-19 vaccines within a year of the coronavirus outbreak shows that the vaccine development process can be accelerated substantially without compromising on safety. The fastest any vaccine had previously been developed, from viral sampling to approval, was four years, for mumps in the 1960s, according to the research journal Nature.
  • Industry experts say that a key challenge is determining which vaccine candidates should move forward through the costly clinical trial process. Running even a small study to test safety and dosing is beyond the reach of most academic groups, and smaller teams face an uphill struggle to get their candidates noticed. Scientists acknowledge that it would be a waste of resources to take every candidate to clinical trials. But they argue that it’s essential to have a diverse selection of COVID-19 vaccines in development.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has postponed the start of clinical trials for many medicines and may increase the time required for some of those drugs to come to market, news outlet CNBC says. Companies including Eli Lilly, Bristol Myers Squibb, and Pfizer announced in March that they would delay the start of new clinical trials and enrollment in some ongoing studies. Industry experts say that the delay and likely subsequent burst of activity will create a backlog of requests for approvals at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA has already warned about potential delays because of the large amount of work related to the coronavirus outbreak.

February 2, 2021

  • Blood supplies remain low in January due to the coronavirus pandemic, which is limiting the number of blood drives and slowing the blood donation process. The majority of donations are happening at fixed centers where appointments are staggered, masks required, and surfaces cleaned between donors. “We have about a two day supply right now,” Dr. Claudia Cohn, Chief Medical Officer of the Association of American Blood Banks, said in mid-January.
  • The Food and Drug Administration said in January that those who have had COVID and subsequently received a COVID vaccine cannot donate plasma until they have been symptom-free for six months. They can still donate blood, however. Convalescent plasma is being used to treat some people infected with COVID-19. The guidance only applies to convalescent plasma donations that are specifically meant to help treat COVID patients. Regular plasma, often called "source plasma," can still be donated.
  • Federal health officials are working with blood donation organizations to boost supplies of convalescent plasma, a promising COVID-19 treatment, according to The Wall Street Journal. Convalescent plasma is a blood product collected from people who have recovered from COVID-19 that carries antibodies that could help those sick with the disease recover.
  • Some blood banks are offering a free COVID-19 antibody test with any successful blood donation. The test can indicate whether someone was exposed to the coronavirus. Vitalant, the largest independent nonprofit blood collector in the US, began testing all blood donations for antibodies on June 1, 2020. Those who donate blood at Vitalant facilities will be able to see positive or negative test results about two weeks after completing successful blood donations by logging into private online donor accounts. The Vitalant antibody test, authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration, will indicate if donors’ immune systems have produced antibodies to the virus, regardless of whether they showed symptoms.
  • Red Cross is testing all blood, platelet, and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. Red Cross said that it's using an antibody test that the US Food and Drug Administration has authorized for emergency use, and results will be available to donors within seven to 10 days in the Red Cross Blood Donor App or donor portal.
  • Organ donations are down since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). The pandemic has also caused a dramatic rise in patients who are "inactivated" from the wait list. More than 8,300 patients have been listed "inactive" due to COVID-19 precautions. UNOS says that transplants have not been completely stopped during the pandemic. Each state and even each doctor has come to different conclusions regarding transplant protocols or decisions.
  • The Texas Organ Sharing Alliance, which manages deceased organ donations for the San Antonio area, had to rule out 21% of its referrals for potential deceased donors during the first nine months of 2020 because they had tested positive for the virus.

February 10, 2021

  • New boat shipments increased 3% year over year in November 2020 but were down 18% month over month on a seasonally-adjusted basis, according to The National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “While wholesale shipments remain constrained from supply chain and workforce issues stemming from the global pandemic, boat manufacturing is returning to normal as builders and dealers work together to replenish stock and maintain healthy inventory pipelines to meet a continued, heightened demand for boating this season,” an NMMA spokesperson said.
  • The NMMA expects total shipments in 2020 to have been at 92% of 2019 totals.
  • Retail unit sales of new powerboats increased 12% year over year in 2020, according to the NMMA. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008.
  • Boat building growth is expected to be constrained through the remainder of Q1 2021, turn up in mid-2021, and hold steady through 2023, according to ITR Economics.

February 10, 2021

  • Strong boat sales may continue well into 2021 due to the need for pandemic-induced social distancing measures. President Biden said in an early February interview with CBS News that it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity — a population-wide resistance to the virus — “much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Top health officials say they are increasingly worried that more COVID-19 variants will emerge in the coming months and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. As many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread, according to some epidemiological estimates.
  • Retail unit sales of new powerboats increased 12% year over year in 2020, according to The National Marine Manufacturers Association. More than 310,000 new powerboats were sold in 2020, levels the recreational boating industry has not seen since before the Great Recession in 2008.
  • Marine dealers responding to the Marine Retailers Association of America’s (MRAA) Marine Retailer Pulse Report survey for December 2020 echoed themes from earlier surveys by overwhelmingly predicting that a shortage of new boats, coupled with continued demand, will be their biggest challenge in 2021.
  • Some 76% of dealers reported sales growth in the December Pulse Report survey, and 14% reported a decline. About 81% of dealers reported that new inventory remained near record low levels.
  • Dealer sentiment on current conditions dropped to 71/100 in December from 81 in November, according to the MRAA. The three- to five-year outlook dropped to 53 from 66 in November and 70 the month prior.
  • New boat registrations were up 42.4% year over year in December 2020 and 9.2% for all of 2020, according to Statistical Surveys

February 2, 2021

  • Print and ebook sales reported to NPD BookScan increased 9% year over year to 942 million, according to Publishers Weekly. It was the most "unit sales" recorded in a single year by BookScan since the service began in 2004. Print sales increased 8.2% year over year, the largest annual increase since 2005, and the print total of 751 million units sold was the highest since 2009, the year before e-books started to become a meaningful part of the book business. E-book unit sales increased 12.6% year over year and were at their highest level since 2015, when 208 million units were sold.
  • ViacomCBS has sold publishing company Simon & Schuster to its competitor Penguin Random House. ViacomCBS said in a statement that Simon & Schuster will "continue to be managed as a separate publishing unit" under Penguin Random House, which itself is owned by the German media giant Bertelsmann. Simon & Schuster is the third largest among the so-called "Big Five" publishers, according to National Public Radio. ViacomCBS said that it plans to use the proceeds from the sale to pay down debts and invest in streaming.
  • The two largest US printing companies, Quad and LSC Communications, have been under intense financial strain, according to The New York Times, and their condition has weakened during the pandemic. LSC declared bankruptcy in April 2020. Quad completed the divestiture of its book manufacturing platform in November 2020. Some publishers are having difficulty bringing books to market on schedule. “The infinite printer capacity hasn’t been there for a while, now enter COVID and a huge surge in demand, and you have an even more complex situation,” said Sue Malone-Barber, senior vice president and director of Publishing Operations for Penguin Random House.
  • Some book publishers are racing to publish accounts of the coronavirus outbreak. Published works range from reported narratives about the science of pandemics and autobiographical accounts of being quarantined through spiritual guides on coping with grief and loss to a book about the ethical and philosophical quandaries raised by the pandemic. Upcoming works include examinations of the economic consequences of the pandemic, studies of the coronavirus, and histories of other pandemics.

February 19, 2021

  • Print book sales rose in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to the NPD Bookscan, which tracks sales through about 80% of the market. Unit-sales volume for print books rose 8.2% year over year in 2020 to reach 751 million units. Every category posted gains, led by juvenile fiction print books, which saw sales rise 11%. Adult non-fiction print books, the largest category of books in the US by both volume and sales revenue, increased 4.8%, or 14 million units. Juvenile non-fiction grew 23%, also a gain of 14 million units.
  • Unit sales of print books increased nearly 25% year over year during the week ended January 2 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. It was the first time in the history of the BookScan service that unit sales topped 17 million in the first week of January. Sales in the young adult nonfiction category jumped 61.3%, while fiction rose 49%. Juvenile fiction sales increased 34.6% over 2020, and nonfiction went up 33%. Adult nonfiction sales rose 19% during the period.
  • It may take up to five years for retailers to absorb and integrate the acceleration of e-commerce into a new operating model that matches pre-pandemic retail profitability, according to management consulting firm Kearney. Many brick-and-mortar retailers layered more expensive e-commerce offerings and new customer service options, from curbside pickup to home delivery, on top of normal business operations, putting pressure on their already-stressed profit margins. Firms must now create sustainable business and operational models that can hold or increase margins once COVID-driven artificial demand vanishes, as the cost of added digital platforms will not vanish.
  • Sales at sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores decreased 0.7% month over month but increased 17.2% year over year in December 2020. Sales increased 5.7% year over year for all of 2020.
  • Book store owners' responses to the COVID-19 outbreak varied based on the products and services they offer and on orders or recommendations made by government officials and health experts. Some stores closed completely due to mandates by state or local officials or to declining sales as customers avoided gathering places. Others closed bricks-and-mortar locations but kept e-commerce sites open. In some markets, home delivery and curbside pick-up replaced in-store browsing. Videoconferencing replaced in-store book groups, according to the New York Times.

February 10, 2021

  • President Biden said in an early February interview with CBS News that it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity — a population-wide resistance to the virus — “much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Top health officials say they are increasingly worried that more COVID-19 variants will emerge in the coming months and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Top members of President Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that herd immunity may not be reached until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter, according to The Daily Beast. Biden officials and health experts are recommending a return to basics, which includes following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding masks, social distancing, and limited indoor contact.
  • As nonessential businesses, bowling centers across the country were forced to close to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, a measure that has been especially difficult because the bowling market was vulnerable and contracting even before the pandemic.
  • Reopening has been slow because bowling centers were typically categorized with movie theaters and other entertainment venues, businesses where social distancing is problematic, even though bowling requires almost no contact between players.
  • The Bowling Proprietors Association of America advised operators to expect business to be at between 20% and 25% of pre-pandemic volume upon reopening and to offer a condensed menu in on-site restaurants and snack bars.
  • Centers will likely only be able to open every other lane to comply with social distancing, a change that essentially reduces revenue by half. Daytime senior leagues, which can account for a substantial percentage of business, are questionable because players are at a higher risk for COVID-19.

February 2, 2021

  • Nonalcoholic beer sales increased 38% year over year in 2020 with $188 million in sales, according to market research company IRI. Industry experts cite increasing interest in wellness-related products and increasing quality and variety of nonalcoholic beers as key drivers of sales growth. Companies ranging from craft operations like Athletic Brewing to industry giants like Heineken are offering alcohol-free IPAs, coffee stouts, Oktoberfests, and more.
  • Breweries are likely to benefit from the addition of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) to the $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020. The CBMTRA will make existing federal excise tax rates for small and independent breweries permanent. The current Federal Excise Tax rates for small and independent breweries, which were set to expire on December 31, 2020, could have increased as much as 100%.
  • Many breweries that have thus far survived the coronavirus pandemic have done so through outdoor on-premise sales. Now many of them must make dramatic changes to weather the cold months without violating health and safety guidelines. Seattle-based Fremont Brewing has shifted from mainly on-premise sales only in their Urban Beer Garden to a larger share of sales through to-go and pickup orders. They have also expanded their small-batch beer program and are offering unique beers in crowlers available exclusively at the taproom. Some cities are creating plans to help businesses maintain al fresco drinking and dining as a safe option. Proposed solutions range from weatherized outdoor spaces, issuing free tent and heater permits, and government-backed financial support.
  • An analysis by case investigators involved with contact tracing in Mecklenburg County, NC, showed that 36% of people infected with COVID-19 had frequented restaurants and breweries and 38% went to gatherings with family and friends. Less than 10% of people reported going to weddings, funerals and places of worship. Industry experts say that the data revealed in detail what health officials have been cautioning: The risk of getting sick or getting others sick from the coronavirus is highest in group settings and in places where long lengths of time are spent near strangers. The results may have negative implications for the brewing industry, as consumption of alcoholic beverages often occurs in these settings.
  • Sales by small and independent brewers are expected to have declined 7% to 8% year over year in 2020, according to the Brewers Association (BA). There are large variations by brewer and region, however. The smallest brewers have been hit harder, due to their reliance on draught and at-the-brewery sales. “Craft brewing is a very low margin business,” said Leia Bailey, associate executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association. “Most of them make 90 percent of their business through their tasting rooms."
  • Breweries are rapidly shifting their business models, with delivery, either by the brewery or a third party, seeing the largest increase, according to BA's most recent survey of brewers.

February 9, 2021

  • Online real estate marketplace Zillow expects home sales, a driver of demand for building inspection services, to rise 21.9% year over year in 2021, the largest one-year gain since the early 1980s. The 6.9 million existing home sales expected by Zillow would be the most since 2005.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in termination of social distancing measures. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • Industry experts say that the digitization of licensing, permitting and inspection services, which account for a substantial percentage of state budgets, represents the next phase of digital transformation in the public sector, and the coronavirus outbreak is accelerating the process. The city of Oakland, CA, for example, has launched a new application that allows people to schedule building inspections online. The Oakland Building Inspection Request application is expected to make it easier to schedule inspections and help the Planning and Building Department operate more efficiently. Customers using the app will get notified on the day of the inspection of the window of time the inspector will arrive, reducing long wait times for customers.
  • The Pending Home Sales Index, which represents homes that have a signed contract but have yet to close, decreased 0.3% month over month to 125.5 in December 2020, the fourth straight month of decline, according to the National Association of Realtors. The figure was the highest ever recorded in the month of December, however. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001. The index had risen for four consecutive months through August. Contract signings decreased 0.3% month over month but increased 21.4% year over year in December.
  • Sales of previously-owned homes increased 22.2% year over year and 0.7% month over month in December 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. Home sales in 2020 reaching their highest level since 2006. The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $309,800, up 12.9% year over year as prices increased in every region. December's national price increase marks 106 straight months of year-over-year gains. Total housing inventory at the end of December totaled 1.07 million units, down 16.4% from November and down 23% year over year. Unsold inventory sits at an all-time low 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 2.3 months in November and down from the 3.0-month figure recorded in December 2019.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic and related recommendations for social distancing have altered the way building inspection service providers operate. Home sellers became reluctant to allow strangers, including inspectors, into their homes for two to three hours, while stay-at-home orders in many states complicated the ability to perform physical inspections, which were often part of contractual obligations with deadlines.

February 2, 2021

  • Pandemic-induced material shortages will continue into 2021, according to the Q4 2020 US Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index. About 83% of construction contractors surveyed by the Chamber of commerce are experiencing product delays and 71% are struggling to meet schedule requirements. Some 58% are putting in higher bids on projects and 39% are turning down work opportunities.
  • Lumber cost $871 per thousand board feet on February 1, down slightly from $873 per thousand board feet on December 31, 2020, according to Business Insider. Lumber began 2020 at $407 per thousand board feet in January, fell to a low of $259 on April 1, then surged to a record of $941 on September 7. The price retreated to $496 on October 29 before beginning a steady rise to finish the year.
  • The US Department of Commerce has reduced duties on shipments of Canadian lumber into the US to 9% from more than 20%. “Tariffs have contributed to unprecedented price volatility in the lumber market in 2020, leading to upward pressure on prices and harming housing affordability for American consumers," said National Association of Home Builders Chairman Chuck Fowke.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 86 in December 2020 from a record 90 in November. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the first time since April that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline, but the reading was the second-highest since the index began in 2008. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in December for single-family sales, with a reading of 92 compared to 96 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 85 from 89, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 73 from 77.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.

February 2, 2021

  • Business and professional associations undertook risk assessments to determine the best ways to provide services during the coronavirus pandemic. Some associations have extended membership terms at no cost to support and retain members. Industry experts say that associations whose normal activities have been suspended may still be able to support members by helping with processes like applying for economic injury and disaster loans or providing up-to-date information on coronavirus response measures.
  • Business and professional associations can apply for loans through the emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Loan funds can be used for working capital and normal operating expenses. The EIDL Advance program - which offered grants for eligible businesses and nonprofits for payroll, rent, mortgage payments, or repaying obligations – was shut down in July after dispersing its total allotment of $20 billion.
  • The American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) has asked lawmakers for additional assistance for associations that suffered financial losses when events and meetings were cancelled, access to Small Business Administration loans to maintain payroll, and the creation of a federally-backed pandemic risk insurance program. Under the CARES Act, 501(c)(6) groups could only receive Payroll Protection Program (PPP) loans if lobbying accounted for less than 10% of their activities. A fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December. The $900 billion spending bill included more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and increased the threshold for lobbying activities from 10% to 15%. However, only organizations with less than $1 million in lobbying spending are eligible for PPP loans. The ASAE claims the $1 million limit is problematic for many organizations and opposed its inclusion in the final bill.
  • Repeated surges in outbreaks have led to postponing the resumption of in-person events. In November, the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) said it was extending its virtual meeting plans through February 2021 due to continued concerns about COVID-19. The ASAE still has hope of holding face-to-face meetings later in 2021. Daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 110,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were trending downward. As of January 29, about 14 states had a mix of business closures and two were mostly closed, according to The New York Times. The ongoing ramping up of worldwide vaccination efforts have buoyed optimism about the timeline of in-person events resuming.
  • More than 100 trade associations have joined to create the America’s Recovery Fund Coalition (ARFC). The aim of the group is to establish a federal grant-based recovery fund to assist companies struggling with the economic effects of COVID-19. The ARFC is made up of companies from all types of industries including travel, retail, construction, financial services, and real estate.
  • Business associations are urging lawmakers to pass legislation to protect businesses from lawsuits related to COVID-19, according to Kaiser Health News. More than half of US states either have passed some protections – primarily for the healthcare industry – or have legislation pending. Legal experts suggest a compromise on the federal level is necessary to strike a balance between protections for workers and businesses. A patchwork of state regulations could complicate compliance for businesses operating in numerous states. The stimulus package passed in December did not include liability protections.

February 18, 2021

  • Chocolate consumption increased 4.7% year over year during the 52-week period ending on February 14, according to chocolate and confectionery products manufacturer Ferrero. Premium chocolate consumption increased 9.4%. Ferrero has seen increased demand for its Nutella chocolate hazelnut spread as consumers cook breakfast at home. People are buying bigger jars of Nutella and more units as well.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance to give meat and food processing industry workers space in the line, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Revised COVID-19 vaccination guidance from the California Department of Public Health authorizes vaccination of those in lower-priority groups if demand wanes among people in higher-priority categories, or if doses are about to expire. The move may prompt other states to take similar actions, as California is highly influential, given its size and economic clout.
  • About 64% of respondents to a FMCG Gurus survey said that their confectionery product buying habits will change as a result of COVID-19. About 51% of consumers say they will trade-up on confectionery to compensate for reduced expenditure elsewhere. 52% say they will seek confectionery products suitable for "big nights in." About 79% have purchased more comfort food such as ice cream and confectionery, 40% said they purchased more chocolate as a result of COVID-19, and 28% said they purchased more sugar confectionery.
  • Industry experts in supply chain management are offering options for dealing with input shortages during the coronavirus pandemic. A common recommendation is to ask suppliers to do a double production run of inputs so the next run can wait twice as long. Manufacturers may also offer early payment, so the supplier can have more cash on hand during these uncertain times. Another option is having a supplier produce only primary SKUs, as retailers are likely to be understanding if you’re only able to supply those items.

February 16, 2021

  • Marijuana industry experts say that Democratic control of both houses of the US Congress may result in some form of federal cannabis legalization in 2021. The US House of Representatives has passed a comprehensive decriminalization package, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer is a legalization supporter, and President Biden campaigned on decriminalizing the drug and reducing prison populations. Maritza Perez, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said that comprehensive cannabis legislation may fail to overcome Republican filibusters or resistance by moderate Democrats and Democrats representing swing states, however. Action on the matter is initially more likely to come in the form of piecemeal legislation or executive actions from Biden’s administration, Perez said.
  • Five leading public and private cannabis producers announced job cuts in late 2020. About 600 workers were laid off, but several industry experts add that the number of laid-off workers over the past 12 months in the cannabis space is much more likely in the thousands. “There are so many different things that keep causing these companies to struggle,” said Kara Bradford, co-founder of Viridian Staffing in Seattle that helps cannabis businesses find workers. “I think maturation has quite a bit to do with it. We’ve been in a bubble … and I think maybe that bubble has popped and we’re leveling out.”
  • Sales of legal marijuana products increased 62.3% year over year in 2020 to more than $7 billion, according to Leafly.com. Leafly’s analysis includes sales from both medical-use and adult-use retailers. The increase was mainly due to customers purchasing greater quantities of cannabis per retail transaction than ever before. This shift began in March, at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and held steadily throughout the remainder of the year.
  • The number of financial institutions reporting that they service state-legal cannabis businesses decreased during Q3 2020, according to an analysis of federal data by the MarijuanaMoment.com industry news site. It was the third quarterly decrease in a row.
  • A rule proposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency would prohibit the largest US banks from refusing to lend to entire business sectors. The proposal follows years of complaints by Republican lawmakers about what they say are increasingly partisan and discriminatory lending practices by big banks that are under pressure from investors and staff to curb lending to industries including fossil-fuel companies, private prisons, and firearms makers. The rule, if approved, would apply to banks that may exert significant pricing power or influence over sectors of the national economy.
  • The US Supreme Court declined in October 2020 to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of federal marijuana prohibition. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court after both a US District Court and US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit previously determined that advocates would have to first seek administrative relief through existing channels such as a petitioning the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) directly to reclassify cannabis. The DEA has denied several petitions to change marijuana’s status under the Controlled Substances Act.
  • The technology and automation that cannabis cultivators relied on to cut costs before the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to be key to surviving the following economic downturn. Producers that invested in automated systems for watering; fertilizing; controlling lighting, irrigation, and climate; and rolling and filling joints were able to reduce labor costs. Successful commercial growers already ran clean, hospital-grade operations pre-COVID-19.
  • California is offering marijuana companies a mix of tax extensions, relief, and deferrals to help firms maintain operations and meet payroll, according to Marijuana News. Many businesses were denied loans in the first round of stimulus funding, according to Marijuana Daily. Some industry leaders argue that hemp businesses should be entitled to COVID-19 stimulus relief because hemp is not a controlled substance.
  • Most states that allow cannabis production have classified the industry as an essential business. Despite maintaining the ability to stay open, several large cannabis companies, including Acreage Holdings and 4Front Ventures, scaled back in anticipation of an economic downturn.

March 1, 2021

  • Depending on the state or city where they operate, car washes may experience a rise in demand as driving activity continues to normalize. Since April, vehicle miles traveled has gradually increased as more states fully reopened, according to traffic data from the Federal Highway Administration. . In December, the number of vehicle miles traveled was down more than 10% compared to the same month a year earlier. December traffic volumes were up 44% compared to the lows seen in April during the lockdowns. Daily new COVID-19 cases have dropped since the spike seen in mid-January. As of February 25, the 7-day average for daily new cases was down to about 70,000, and hospitalizations and deaths were also down significantly. Some states have eased restrictions which may improve miles driven.
  • Car washes may make several changes to ensure operations are safe for employees and customers. Steps may include reducing waiting room occupancy, outfitting employees with personal protective equipment (PPE), installing plexiglass shields around cashier stations, limiting washes to vehicle exterior, restricting employee and customer interaction, and eliminating manual prep and post-wash wipe down. Other strategies include eliminating cash transactions, allowing customers to position vehicles on conveyors and remain in their cars during washes, and employee temperature checks.
  • Car wash firms that offer unlimited wash subscriptions have fared better during the pandemic than car washes that don’t offer subscriptions, according to data released in November by car wash software and equipment firm DRB Systems. During the first wave of the pandemic (March 22, 2020 to May 18, 2020), car washes that offer subscription plans saw a 32% drop in revenue compared the pre-pandemic period (Jan 1, 2020 to March 21, 2020). Car wash firms that did not offer unlimited washing plan experienced a 66% decline in sales during the first wave of COVID-19. Car washes have long offered subscriptions to help smooth out revenue over the course of the year, and have also helped during economic downturns. Subscriptions are also completely touchless. Customers typically sign up via app or website and enter their license plate number and payment info. When the customer visits the carwash, an automated POS system reads the license number and processes payment with zero human contact.
  • A chain of car washes in Southern California offers a disinfecting fog service free of charge for customers. The fog – which is applied inside the vehicle after a full-service wash – is rated by the EPA to kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses – including the coronavirus. More car washes may add disinfecting services if customers begin to view it as an industry norm.
  • Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the car wash industry is usually robust during periods of economic growth. The US economy was fundamentally healthy prior to the COVID-19 crisis, which put a general damper on most M&A activity. Car wash industry watchers believe car wash M&A deals are likely to resume once the level of economic uncertainty abates.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak slowed the circulation of coins in the US economy which created problems for several coin-dependent business, including coin-operated car washes. During the quarantine, not only did retail activity drop but consumers stopped cashing in their coins for paper notes. The US Mint also slowed coin production in the early days of the pandemic to protect workers. Consumers’ shifting to contactless payment options also reduced coin circulation. However, the coin shortage has improved as the US Mint increased coin production, according to American Banker. The Mint produced 14.8 billion coins in 2020, up 26% in 2019.
  • Leading into 2021, some car washes may tweak their digital marketing strategies to optimize business opportunities. Because consumers are spending more time at home and online during the pandemic, it’s even more important for car wash operators to ensure they’re online listings are up-to-date, according to Carwash.com. Tools like Google My Business make it simple to update business hours, locations, photos, and promotions, and monitor and respond to customer reviews. Mobile apps, online wash subscription management portals, and regular posting on social media also increase customer engagement.
  • Car washes that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.

March 1, 2021

  • As offices reopen, tech companies are introducing cleaning scheduling apps to help office managers gather bids from qualified cleaning firms. The Onedesk Office Cleaning Platform allows cleaning firms to do a virtual walkthrough of an office space and bid on the job without having to visit the location. Carpet and upholstery cleaning firms may seek to become pre-vetted vendors for such apps.
  • Some carpet and upholstery cleaning firms quickly added new disinfecting services to meet the needs of commercial customers that are reopening. Some use disinfecting fogs and mists that can be efficiently applied with no wiping. Such services could become long-term revenue streams if consumers come to expect commercial spaces to be regularly disinfected. However, cleaning companies that promote their services to disinfect against coronavirus can open themselves to liability if workers are without proper training, equipment and chemicals.
  • Carpet and upholstery cleaning firms need to reassure customers that cleaning practices and equipment are safe to bring into their properties. Firms are encouraged to outline infection prevention in their proposals, assess their equipment performance, look professional, be transparent with clients, communicate cleaning protocols, and re-brand with language around infection prevention.
  • The Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) has developed a COVID-19 protection training and certification course for cleaning professionals. The course covers proper cleaning procedures, infection control, worksite safety precautions, and documentation and communication protocols. It also follows all CDC, OSHA, and EPA guidelines. Carpet and upholstery cleaners may want their employees to complete third-party certifications to assure customers the company’s services follow accepted best practices.
  • Industry insiders suggest companies that offer coronavirus-related cleaning and disinfecting services check to ensure their insurance policies cover them in the event of a COVID-19-related claim by a customer or employee. Many cleaning and restoration companies that are performing COVID-19 decontamination services are finding their insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage. Some insurance companies have created new biohazard coverage or added it to existing policies.
  • The cleaning industry is looking into how ozone can fight coronavirus. Ozone (over-oxygenated air) breaks the virus’ outer membrane, like topical cleaners, and destroys it. An ozone machine is turned on in the space and the technician leaves, providing lower risk of exposure to the ozone technician than a technician that applies disinfectant to a surface. Ozone machines are reasonably priced, easy to use and don’t require the purchase of liquid disinfectants, which can become short in supply during a pandemic.
  • As the pandemic has worn on, building and property managers have become more educated about the differences between cleaning and disinfecting. They are also becoming more aware of remediation firms that may unfairly increase the price if the job requires disinfecting a space where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19. Carpet cleaning firms that offer disinfecting services should offer price transparency and ensure their products, equipment, and certifications are appropriate for viral mitigation.
  • In November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidance to help employers understand compliance issues resulting in citations that are most common during OSHA inspections. The issues included: providing a medical evaluation before a worker is fitted with a respirator; development and implementation of worksite procedures for respiratory protection; ongoing training for PPE and respirator use; proper PPE and respirator storage that prevents damage and contamination; keeping required records for all work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.
  • Carpet and upholstery cleaning firms that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.
  • Industry insiders are urging facilities managers to understand that disinfecting mists and fogs are not a substitute for cleaning. Applying disinfecting agents to soiled surfaces reduces the disinfectant’s effectiveness by preventing the proper dwell time on the surface. Industry experts also note there is some misconception that disinfection is a cleaning step when in fact it is a separate process which must be performed after any soiling of the surface is cleaned. Carpet cleaning and upholstery companies that offer spray disinfecting services may find opportunities to clean surfaces prior to disinfecting, thereby offering customers a complete solution.

February 26, 2021

  • US gaming revenue decreased 31.3% year over year in 2020, according to the American Gaming Association (AGA). It was the first year-over-year decrease since 2014. The $30 billion in annual gaming revenue was the lowest total since 2003, when the industry generated $28.7 billion from legal gaming in 11 states, compared to nearly three times as many jurisdictions in 2020.
  • About 40% of all US jobs lost since February 2020 were in the leisure and hospitality industry, according to an analysis of Department of Labor national jobs reports by the US Travel Association. That is triple the number of the next-hardest-hit industry.
  • Travel bookings are increasing along with COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Tripadvisor. A survey conducted from December 28, 2020, through January 10 by the online travel platform found that 80% of US consumers planned to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021, with just over one-third of respondents planning at least three domestic trips this year. Popular destinations such as Orlando are already seeing a booking rebound.
  • As of February 26, 924 of 998 US casinos were open, up from 915 of 997 on January 25, according to the American Gaming Association. Pandemic-related adjustments in casinos include more space between slot machines, blackjack tables with limited seating, hand sanitizing stations, and a mask requirement for workers. In some casinos, poker rooms, keno, and Bingo were closed.

February 25, 2021

  •  The Knot’s annual wedding study predicts that 2021 and 2022 will be among the busiest years for weddings. Nearly half of the couples (47%) who planned to marry in 2020 but postponed have rescheduled for 2021 and later dates. A majority of couples who got engaged during the pandemic (73%) also set their wedding date for 2021. A third of couples who married in 2020 expect to have big celebrations when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ends restrictions larger gatherings.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal. The loans are available to both new and existing PPP borrowers.
  • Caterers that have pivoted toward dropping off food for business or social gatherings — rather than providing full service at events — have suffered, according to Melissa Wilson, principal at research firm Technomic. “One of the bigger financial challenges in catering is, when you offer a full service, from bartenders to servers to people cleaning up, you are able to charge way more and make more profit than you ever can dream of,” explained caterer Christine McEnery. “When you’re dropping things off in Tupperware, there’s a huge change in the customer’s perception of value.”
  • Social distancing has initiated the development of the “microwedding,” according to Catersource. Different from eloping, microweddings include the elements of a traditional ceremony and reception on a much smaller scale. Guest lists average about 25 to 30 individuals, which allow the bride and groom to celebrate for a few thousand dollars, a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding. According to the National Association for Catering and Events (NACE), weddings account for about half of industry revenue.
  • Outdoor weddings alleviate some of the concerns related to COVID-19. “Outdoors will be one of the safest ways to host a wedding for a variety of reasons. First, you have fresh air at all times, so the air is not being moved around by air conditioners, thus keeping the air at the party fresh. Also, when you have a tented wedding, you can make the tent larger to allow for more social distancing between tables. Ballrooms [can be] too restrictive when it comes to requiring more space,” stated the owner and planner of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli.
  • Because of COVID-19, events may no longer include passed hors d’oeuvres, buffets, or family-style service. The elaborate dessert and sweet displays that had grown popular pre-pandemic will likely take a break as events adapt to a new normal. Industry experts predict more creatively pre-wrapped individual servings, hygienic serving stations, and the return of the beautifully plated dessert, according to Special Events. The resurgence of classic homestyle desserts is also possible as hosts gravitate towards simplicity. In some cases, pastry chefs may have to adapt to limited ingredients because of constraints within the supply chain.

February 16, 2021

  • Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, has said that new gas tax revenue could fund transportation infrastructure spending proposed by the Biden administration. Congress has not increased the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. The tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation. Options under consideration by Buttigieg include adjusting the tax, tying it to inflation, and raising revenue based on vehicle miles traveled.
  • The transportation construction market is expected to shrink 5.5% in 2021, according to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA). The reduction will be driven primarily by the severe economic recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Overall, the value of work is expected to drop from $294.2 billion in 2020 to $278.1 billion in 2021. ARTBA cautions that overall transportation construction activity will vary across the country as states deploy different strategies to balance their budgets and manage debt. States are expecting shortfalls in transportation revenues of anywhere from $35 billion to $40 billion through 2024, according to ARTBA.
  • Total construction starts will increase 4% in 2021, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. "The dollar value of starts for residential buildings will increase 5% in 2021, nonresidential buildings will gain 3%, and nonbuilding construction will improve 7%. Only the residential sector, however, will exceed its 2019 level of starts thanks to historically low mortgage rates that boost single family housing,” said Richard Branch, Chief Economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.
  •  Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Spending on nonresidential building projects is declining and will do so through 2021, according to a mid-year update to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Consensus Construction Forecast. The AIA estimates an 8% spending drop in 2020 and just under 5% in 2021 due to pandemic-induced economic disruptions. This is the first time in nearly a decade that nonresidential construction spending has trended downwards, according to the AIA.

February 13, 2021

  • Four bus industry associations have called on Congress to fund $40 billion in relief programs even as companies are awaiting the $2 billion allocated in December 2020 through the Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services Act. The coalition says that its members cannot afford to wait for the first round of funding to be distributed. It provided Congressional leaders with data detailing revenue losses in 2020 and estimated losses for 2021. The total is just below $40 billion.
  • The Coronavirus Economic Relief for Transportation Services (CERTS) Act, which was passed as part of the coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020, provides $2 billion in funding for the transportation industry, including bus, motorcoach, passenger vessel, and other transport services providers. The legislation excludes the airline and aviation industries.
  • Demand for bus travel has decreased more than 80% during the pandemic, according to National Public Radio (NPR). The drop is raising concerns about the potential long-term damage to an essential transport method for millions of lower-income consumers. Greyhound said that it is operating less than half its normal bus routes during the pandemic, while revenues have fallen nearly 60%. The American Bus Association (ABA) estimates that 85% of the 100,000 people who work in the bus industry have been laid off or furloughed — in most cases since March.
  • Barons Bus, a private charter bus company in Cleveland, OH, claims to be the first in the US to have installed UV light to help disinfect the inside of its tour buses. “We’ve added two types of UV lights to our buses in service. We have a UVC light in our HVAC systems and a Far UV light that sits in the interior of the bus. It’s a UV light used in medical facilities and hospitals,” said company vice president Patrick Goebel.
  • The charter bus industry was operating at about 10% to 15% of capacity in late October 2020, according to Peter Pantuso, president and CEO of the American Bus Association (ABA). The charter bus industry will lose $11 billion, almost 75% of typical annual revenue, because of COVID-19, according to ABA.
  • About $25 billion of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act funding was assigned to transit agencies when the measure passed in March, but only three states — Michigan, Wisconsin and New Hampshire — have shared their funding with charter bus services, according to Bus & Motorcoach News. In all three states, the money is funding private operators that provide commuter and line services, not charter or tour operators. The industry has seen business decline by more than 70% since March, according to Joseph Schwieterman, who produces annual reports on the motorcoach industry. “Motorcoach operators fell between the cracks," Schwieterman said. "They were not given support like public transit agencies.”
  • The ABA has issued guidance for the industry regarding waiver of liability. Charter bus firms are looking to amend their contracts to reduce risk of litigation if a passenger contracts COVID-19 while using their services.
  • An ABA task force has developed sample policies to help charter bus firms create thorough cleaning regimens for vehicles. ABA is also creating messaging to help charter bus firms market their cleaning policies in efforts to reassure passengers and spur demand. The International Motorcoach Group (IMG) has developed Clean Care guidelines for sanitizing vehicles and protecting drivers and riders. The guidelines were developed using recommendations from the CDC, travel industry and medical community. The guidelines include increased cleaning, social distancing in seating, and use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Some of the same concerns that consumers have regarding air travel extend to bus transport. As a result, the charter bus industry is promoting its equipment safety features including seats that are high-backed and facing forward as limiting transmission risk. It’s also informing consumers about airflow and filtration systems that circulate fresh air.

February 3, 2021

  • The global business aviation industry’s recovery weakened in January as rising cases of COVID-19 prompted more travel restrictions. Global business flights were down 6% in the first three weeks of January compared to the same period in 2020, according to WingX. So far in 2021, business jet and prop plane traffic are holding up best in North America and Asia, and faring poorly in Europe. Business and prop aviation were down 4% in the US. Flights out of Florida, the largest US market, were up 20%, and Texas saw a 3% rise. Departures in California, the third-largest market, were off by 20%. Lockdowns in Europe have hindered chartered air passenger flights amid tighter cross border controls. With the added challenge of Brexit, the UK market was at its lowest point since the onset of the pandemic. Due to its large internal geography, the US market has been more resilient so far in 2021.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By early February, the 7-day average for new cases was more than 140,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were trending downward. Cases also rose in many other parts of the world as new variants of the coronavirus began to emerge and spread. In response, many countries and regions imposed new travel restrictions. The UK went into lockdown and will not emerge before February 22. In late January the US began requiring all travelers entering the country to show a negative COVID-19 test or prove they have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 90 days. Around the same time, the EU imposed similar requirements.
  • Firms are dedicating each pilot/crew to a plane rather than shifting crews across the fleet of aircraft in order to limit their exposure. Private jets also spend much less of their time in the air than commercial ones, leaving plenty of time on the ground for sanitizing aircraft interiors between flights. Fractional ownership jet companies NetJets and FlexJet have both announced they will fly pilots to and from their rotation shifts on their own fleets instead of having them fly commercially. Some companies also plan to test all their crews for COVID-19 to reassure passengers.
  • A study by Globe Air found that commercial passengers can experience as many as 270 person-to-person contacts while private flight passengers experience about 20. Concerns about coronavirus could improve consumers’ value perceptions about private flights.
  • Publicly traded companies are increasingly listing coronavirus among their risk factors in SEC filings. Companies may spend more for private travel to keep important executives safer, according to Forbes. However, the shift to at-home work and video conferencing for sales pitches and staff meetings are causing many executives to re-think their business travel budgets, according to the Wall Street Journal. Industry insiders have estimated it will take several years for business travel to return to pre-pandemic levels. Delta Airlines estimates that by 2023, business travel will be close to 70% of what it was before the pandemic.

February 12, 2021

  • Some industry experts say that more of the petrochemicals industry will be moving to China in pursuit of growing markets in the region. More than half of the oil refining capacity that comes on stream by 2027 will be added in Asia, according to industry consultant Wood Mackenzie, and around 70% to 80% will be plastics-focused. Chinese oil refining capacity is set to overtake that of the US in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency.
  • President Biden has ordered a review of Trump administration regulations, including more than a dozen Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) actions directly affecting commercial chemicals and the chemical industry. Actions to be reviewed include the EPA’s procedures for evaluating chemical risks under 2016 revisions to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Environmental groups sued the agency in 2017 for narrowing the set of uses that it considers in its evaluations and for limiting the time period for requesting toxicity data from manufacturers. A federal appeals court ruled partly in favor of the groups in 2019. The review will also target the EPA’s move to fast-track decisions on whether to regulate five persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals under TSCA: flame retardants decabromodiphenyl ether and tris(4-isopropylphenyl) phosphate; pentachlorothio-phenol, which softens rubber; 2,4,6-tris(tert-butyl)phenol, an additive in fuels or lubricants; and hexachlorobutadiene, which is used as a solvent and to make rubber and lubricants.
  • Total domestic chemical production volumes (excepting pharmaceuticals) decreased 3.6% year over year in 2020, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC). Chemical volumes are, however, predicted to rebound to a 3.9% growth rate in 2021. Rising demand, stabilizing export markets, and the competitive advantage linked to domestic supplies of shale gas and natural gas liquids are among the factors that are expected to contribute to the upswing.
  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021, compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion.
  • Chemical production decreased 2.7% year over year in December, marking the nineteenth consecutive month of year-over-year declines but an improvement versus earlier in the year, according to the American Chemistry Council. Chemical production remained lower than a year ago in all regions, with the largest year-ago declines seen in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and West Coast regions.
  • The American Chemistry Council’s (ACC) Chemical Activity Barometer (CAB) rose 1.5% in January on a three-month moving average basis following a 1.3% increase in December 2020. "With nine straight months of gains, the November CAB reading is consistent with recovery in the U.S. economy," said Kevin Swift, chief economist at ACC. The barometer rose 1.3% year over year in January.
  • Chemical distributors may be holding higher levels of inventory due to slow sales. Wholesale sales of chemicals decreased 1.1% year over year in December 2020 and 9.8% year over year for the full year.
  • Chemical distributor industry employment decreased 6% year over year in December 2020 and was down 6% from the start of the year.

February 2, 2021

  • Child care expenses have spiked by more than 40% during the pandemic, soaring from nearly $10,000 annually per child to more than $14,000, according to Center for American Progress data analyzed by online lending marketplace LendingTree. “So much more is being required of these centers during the pandemic, and these new, tougher safety guidelines from governmental agencies have forced them to ramp up their spending in order to comply,” said Matt Schulz, LendingTree’s chief credit analyst. Annual costs at center-based care providers for children ages 3 and 4 have increased 57% during the pandemic. Annual costs at center-based care providers for infants and toddlers (children 2 and younger) are up 37%.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans (PPP). Child Care Centers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expired at the end of 2020. Many of the lenders that took part the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Children and young teens could get a COVID-19 vaccine in the second half of 2021, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisor said in December 2020. Trials testing COVID-19 vaccines in young children may start in the second quarter of 2021.
  • The US Department of Labor reported that more than 847,000 workers filed new claims for state unemployment insurance during the week ending January 23. New weekly claims were typically a little over 200,000 before the coronavirus pandemic. The unemployment rate was 6.7% in December 2020, but the figure does not fully capture the extent of the joblessness because it doesn’t include people who have dropped out of the labor force and are not actively searching for work. The labor force participation rate was 61.5% in December, meaning there are still 7.3 million people in America who still want a job but are not actively seeking employment.

February 2, 2021

  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • Nearly half of small businesses would apply for a second Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan if eligible, according to an early December 2020 survey of nearly 600 members of the National Federation of Independent Business. The majority of Paycheck Protection Program borrowers (91%) have spent all of their first PPP loan. About 36% of PPP borrowers are not yet ready to submit their forgiveness application and 20% are ready but their bank is not yet accepting them. Almost half of small business owners who have submitted a PPP loan forgiveness application have received final confirmation from the SBA. Over three-fourths of them had 100% of their loan forgiven, 16% had 99-91% of their loan forgiven and 6% had 90% or less forgiven. Receiving an EIDL grant was the reason for 85% of those who did not receive 100% forgiveness on their PPP loan.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Visits to chiropractic clinics may decrease as the number of COVID-19 cases increases. Visits to  may decrease as the number of COVID-19 cases increases. There have been at least 26 million COVID-19 cases and 440,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the US as of February 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many states are re-imposing prior coronavirus-related restrictions or introducing new ones -- some requiring face covering, and others limiting gatherings and business occupancies or even generally asking people to stay home.
  • Many chiropractors say that they’re seeing more patients with back and neck complaints. Industry experts cite the rise of telecommuting as a likely cause of the increase in back and neck complaints, as quickly converted home spaces may not be suitable for work sessions lasting eight hours or longer. Doctor Jaclyn Andrews, a chiropractor with Pittsburgh Chiropractic and Massage Therapy Center, says working from a kitchen table or couch isn’t the best option. “Ideally, you want to have your shoulders rolled down and back and you also want to think about having your neck nice and neutral,” said Andrews.

January 29, 2021

  • Churches and other religious institutions are experiencing declines in attendance and collections due to closures related to the coronavirus. Smaller congregations are more vulnerable because they are likely to depend on weekly offerings collected in church. Megachurches, defined as having more than 2,000 members, are best positioned to withstand extended closures, largely because of their extensive online operations and online giving programs, according to NPR.
  • Nearly half of US Protestant pastors say the economy is hurting their congregations, according to a survey released in November by LifeWay Research. Of pastors surveyed, 48% reported the slowdown in the US economy is having a negative impact on their church; 5% say the impact is very negative. About 35% of pastors say giving has declined in 2020 compared to 2019 and about one-third report giving has stayed the same. Small and minority-led congregations were more likely to report negative impacts. African American pastors were 47% more likely to report 2020 giving levels below what was budgeted and 20% more likely to report the economy was having a very negative effect on their congregations.
  • While vaccines have brought hope for a return to more normal worship services for many congregations, services likely won’t completely normalize until herd immunity is attained, according to a January article in Christianity Today. Even with some congregants vaccinated, in-person worship will still come with infection risk. Some houses of worship may seek to offer special, scaled down services for those who have been vaccinated. Christianity Today suggested elderly worshipers who have received vaccines would likely appreciate the opportunity to gather before all congregants can safely do so.
  • Social distancing has forced churches and religious organizations to invest in technology to bring worship services, member resources, and tithing online. Leaders of churches and religious organizations are looking for technology training.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 155,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were trending downward. Some state and local governments have reimposed tighter restrictions on gatherings. In November a national organization that represents thousands of evangelical Christian doctors and other health professionals released a public plea urging churches to pause in-person worship services until the fresh wave of infections is past, according to NPR. The Christian Medical & Dental Associations suggests churches move services online until public health conditions improve. It a statement released earlier in the pandemic, the group encouraged churches to comply with their local health authorities’ restrictions and guidelines. In a handful of cases, churches have sued states alleging distancing rules singled out houses of worship unfairly. Some states exempt churches from distancing rules.
  • The vast majority of US churches have complied with various restrictions on in-person worship services aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19, such as requiring face coverings, social distancing, and limiting capacity. However, several churches have filed lawsuits claiming restrictions unfairly single out houses of worship. In such cases some rulings favored the church and others ruled on the side of the jurisdiction that issued the regulations. Early in the pandemic, the Supreme Court sided with the states in lawsuits against limits on church attendance in California, Nevada, and Illinois. The Supreme Court later blocked an order in New York state to limit attendance to 10 people in areas with severe community spread. The high court has also ordered lower courts to reconsider rulings that upheld congregant limits in California, Colorado, and New Jersey.

February 2, 2021

  • Many civic and social organizations suspended member access, activities, and programs during the coronavirus outbreak based on recommendations from the CDC and federal, state, and local health officials. Some organizations are offering online alternatives for classes and activities. Other outreach efforts include programs in which volunteers call to check-in on and provide contact for isolated and homebound seniors, emailing information on depression and stress reduction, and providing referrals to calls for help. As the pandemic has caused job losses and other stresses on military families, some VFW posts have raised food donations and are delivering them to military families in need.
  • Social distancing makes fundraising for school PTAs and scouting organizations more difficult, which hurts their programs and viability. Some civic organizations have come up with creative solutions such as “reverse parades” where donors drive through a school or other location to drop off donations. Other workarounds include parades that drive in front of donors’ homes.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 110,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were trending downward. As of January 29, about 14 states had a mix of business closures and two were mostly closed, according to The New York Times. Some civic and social organizations that had gradually phased member access, activities, and programs back in may have to curtail activities once again depending on guidance from state and local governments.
  • Local YMCAs have provided community support by offering childcare to healthcare workers and first responders, sheltering the homeless, and supporting seniors facing social isolation. Some local Ys have also established Learning Centers for children who do not have technology access and are doing remote-only learning. However, the pandemic has significantly impacted the YMCA’s finances. A typical affiliate’s margins are about 3% and revenues have fallen 30% to 50% nationwide, according to the New York Times. The national YMCA organization allowed local Ys to determine if, when, and how to go about reopening according to federal, state, and local guidelines. Since reopening, many branches have had to close amid budget shortfalls and worker furloughs.
  • Nonprofit civic and social organizations are finding their budgets squeezed as demand for services remains but staffing and donations have waned. Organizations that received funding from state and local governments may receive less as governments trim their own budgets due to reduced tax revenue. A fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December. The $900 billion spending bill included more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and expanded eligibility for nonprofit organizations. However, the bill did not include aid for state and local governments. Typical nonprofits get four times as much funding from state and local governments as they do from private foundations, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.
  • The Biden administration has outlined a plan for $1.9 trillion in additional stimulus. Under the plan, nonprofits would be included in a $35 billion loan fund and a $3 billion economic development grant program. The grant program would provide nonprofits, and state and local governments funding for initiatives that support “bottom’s up economic development and enable good-paying jobs.” The proposed stimulus plan would also provide $350 billion in aid for state and local governments. Negotiations over the cost and structure of any further stimulus are ongoing.
  • Nonprofits are also encouraging Congress to offer additional tax incentives for charitable giving. About 60% of charitable donors that give between $1,000 and $1 million per year plan to give the same amount in 2020 as they did in 2019, according to a recent survey by consultancy DickersonBakker in cooperation with some of America’s largest nonprofit organizations. However, DickersonBakker notes the pandemic is increasing competition among nonprofits for donors’ dollars. Cashing in and donating credit card rewards is an increasingly popular way for consumers to support nonprofits.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly reduced the number of people who volunteer for nonprofit organizations, according to The New York Times. Since the onset of the pandemic two-thirds of volunteers have cut back or stopped volunteering because of COVID-19, according to a recent study by Fidelity Charitable, a nonprofit organization created by Fidelity Investments. The drop in volunteering can exacerbate a nonprofit’s financial difficulties as they lose assess to free labor at a time when donations have fallen. According to nonprofit membership organization Independent Sector, the average value of a volunteer’s time is more than $27.00 per hour. Some nonprofits have had to hire paid workers to replace lost volunteers.
  • Despite the economic turmoil and other hardships brought on by the pandemic, more Americans say they gave to charitable causes in 2020 than those who say they did so in 2019, according to a recent survey by DealAid.com, an ecommerce site that donates a portion of sales to nonprofit organizations. More than 70% of survey respondents said they gave to charity in 2020, compared to 62% who said they gave in 2019. While the percentage of people saying they gave went up for 2020, the average overall amount given fell about 8% to $348. Nearly 72% of those surveyed said they planned to give to charity in 2021 and they plan to increase their giving amount by 14%. Causes related to health were the most popular recipients of charitable giving in 2020.

February 11, 2021

  • Democratic control of both the US Congress and the presidency may boost the chances that a federal infrastructure spending bill will be passed. "A $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion package — somewhere in that zone — could get through," according to Gautam Khanna, senior portfolio manager with Insight Investment. Demand for construction-related clay products is likely to increase if a bill is passed, as President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes investment in airports, ports, roads, and highways, as well as digital infrastructure and clean tech. Experts note, however, that achieving even a fraction of the infrastructure proposal will require Biden to secure new funding streams or expand debt-fueled spending, potentially upend the way infrastructure policy typically works, and ensure hundreds of Democratic lawmakers in a closely divided Congress remain in lockstep.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Manufacturers of consumer items made with clay products are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire on January 31, 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story." Houseware and décor sales may be negatively impacted if consumer spending on discretionary items declines.
  • Manufacturing giant Corning announced a “new breakthrough in glass-ceramic technology” that can kill pathogens within two hours. The Corning Guardiant technology adds copper to glass-ceramic technology to create a material that shows a “highly durable antimicrobial activity against SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19, company officials say. The product was tested in a paint coating that was still effective against the virus even after Corning simulated six years of scrubbing.
  • Construction levels are affecting demand for brick and construction clay products. Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • SINTEX Technologies, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of ceramic products for medical and nonmedical applications, has developed a silicon nitride compound with antiviral properties that it is marketing to reduce the spread of COVID-19 on surfaces and in PPE. The compound inactivates the COVID-19 virus within a minute of exposure. The silicon nitride can be applied to high-touch surfaces such as counters, door knobs, medical equipment, screens, and face masks and can be mixed into paints and coatings. The compound also works to inactivate other viruses including Influenza A and Enterovirus.
  • The value of the global market for ceramic filtering membranes is forecast to grow 8.2% annually to approach $699 million by the end of 2026, according to 360 Research. Demand from the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry will help to drive sales. The pharmaceutical industry uses ceramic filtration to prevent contamination of medicines from viruses. The accidental introduction of a virus like COVID-19 into a medicine product could have devastating effects on patients. Ceramic filters are also used in food, beverage and chemical manufacturing, metal finishing and power generation.
  • Employment in the clay product and refractory manufacturing industry decreased 4.1% year over year in December 2020 and was down 5.6% from the start of the year.
  • The coronavirus has not slowed clay and refractory manufacturers’ increases in product prices. The price of clay construction products was up 2% in December 2020 from a year earlier. Likewise, clay refractory prices increased 2.6%.
  • The Ceramic Manufacturing Solutions Conference was turned into a virtual event as a result of COVID-19. Ceramics Expo has been postponed until early May 2021.

February 23, 2021

  • Telecommuting has helped make the athleisure industry one of the most lucrative sectors of the fashion world as companies such as Lululemon, Alo Yoga, and Athleta have risen in popularity. The market for athleisure clothing is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 6.7% from 2019 through 2016 and reach a value of $257.1 billion.
  • The US Congress is negotiating a new coronavirus relief bill that includes direct payments for some Americans of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 for both child and adult dependents. Clothing stores may benefit if the proposed funding helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the US Congress in December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans.
  • Clothing store chain American Eagle announced plans in late January to shut between 200 and 250 of its approximately 880 stores in the next two to three years. The closures will mostly be mall-based locations. The company also plans to increase the number of Aerie stores by 50, to about 400, at the end of 2021, and is targeting having 500 to 600 Aerie locations in 2023.
  • Gap Inc., the owner of the Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy chains, plans to have closed 30% of its Gap and Banana Republic stores in North America by the beginning of 2024. “We’ve been overly reliant on low-productivity, high-rent stores,” said Mark Breitbard, global head of the Gap brand. About 80% of revenue from Gap and Banana Republic is expected to come from e-commerce and off-mall locations like outlet stores and strip mall spaces. Industry experts say that the closures may be due in part to avoidance by shoppers of enclosed malls due to coronavirus concerns.
  • Retail sales for clothing stores decreased 11.8% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the clothing store industry declined 22.8% year over year in December 2020 but was up 161% compared to the low of April.
  • Ascena Retail, owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant, is among the clothing retailers that filed for bankruptcy in 2020. The company will close 1,600 of its approximately 2,800 stores and hopes to shed $1 billion of its $1.1 billion in debt, according to the New York Times. Brooks Brothers, New York & Co., and Lucky Brand filed for bankruptcy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chains followed J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Stage Stores, and J.C. Penney in filing Chapter 11. UBS analysts said that "retail store closures are likely to accelerate in a post-COVID-19 world."

February 13, 2021

  • The share of energy generated from coal has dropped more sharply during the coronavirus pandemic than that of any other power source, according to a report from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Ottmar Edenhofer, director and chief economist at the Potsdam Institute and an author of the report, said that the findings were not expected because natural gas has traditionally had the highest operating costs of all power sources, so gas-fired plants are usually the first to be taken offline when demand for power falls. The sharp decline in gas prices during the pandemic may have made coal power more expensive than gas power, however. The trend away from coal could outlast the pandemic, according to the report. While power plants that use renewable energy, like wind or solar, are expensive to build, it is not necessary to purchase fuels to run them.
  • US greenhouse gas emissions decreased 10.3% year over year in 2020, the largest drop in emissions in the post-World War II era, according to the Rhodium Group. Power plant emissions saw the second largest decline during the year, dropping 10.3% below 2019 levels, driven by retirements of coal-fired power plants and a general decline in electricity demand due to the economic damage from the pandemic.
  • Coal production is expected to increase 19.5% year over year in 2021 to 624 million short tons (st), according to the US Energy Information Administration. Production is expected to have declined 26.1% year over year in 2020 to about 522 million st from the 2019 output of 705 million st.
  • Employment in the coal mining industry was down 9.3% year over year in January but up 14.4% from the low of April 2020.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued updated rules in early September 2020 that ease restrictions on water pollution resulting from burning coal. Pollution can place a variety of toxic metals into waterways. The EPA examined a variety of pollution control technologies and decided that a some are too expensive, even if they are more effective at removing toxins. Utilities are also given more time to get their plants into compliance, and plants that are slated for closing by 2028 won't be expected to control these pollutants at all. Some industry experts say that the changes are motivated in part by the EPA's decision to avoid having the added costs of control measures push any coal plants out of business.
  • Global coal power capacity has fallen for the first time on record, according to US research group Global Energy Monitor (GEM). The closure of generators outstripped stations being commissioned, causing coal power capacity to decline by 2.9 gigawatt in the first half of 2020. Slowed commissioning due to the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as stronger pollution regulations in Europe, caused the global decline, said Christine Shearer, GEM's coal program director. India has also shrunk its coal-fired capacity in 2020, but China increased its coal generating capacity. China built 86% of new coal generation capacity during the period. Some industry experts say that, while the decline represents less than 1% of generation capacity, it will be a "pivot point" for global electricity supply and mark the long-term decline of coal-fired generation.
  • Energy consumption from renewable sources (solar, wind, hydro) has overtaken coal for the first time since 1880, when wood was used to generate slightly more energy than coal, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The coal mining industry was already suffering before COVID-19 as more power plants were converting from coal to natural gas as a feedstock.
  • Natural gas prices fell as low as $1.43 in June 2020 but had risen to $2.90 on February 12. Industry observers suggest that natural gas prices will need to be at least $3 per million Btu before power producers will consider switching back to coal.
  • A coalition of America’s Power, the National Mining Association, and the Lignite Energy Council is asking the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to update its 2018 report to include mine closures that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. The coalition wants the updated figures available, so it can “educate decisionmakers so they will take steps to avoid even more retirements.” The coalition cites concern over energy diversity and electric grid reliability if more mines are shuttered and less coal is available for energy production.
  • Rhino Resources Partners filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and plans to sell its assets. The coal mining company operates two mines in Central Appalachia, one in Northern Appalachia and one in Utah. Despite taking steps to improve performance and strengthen financials, the company could not produce enough liquidity to continue operations and meet outstanding obligations.

February 11, 2021

  • Coffee and tea manufactures that depend heavily on sales to the hospitality industry may not see a quick sales rebound following the initial availability of COVID-19 vaccines. President Biden said in an early February interview with CBS News that it would be “very difficult” to reach herd immunity — a population-wide resistance to the virus — “much before the end of the summer” with the current daily rate of approximately 1.3 million vaccine doses. Top health officials say they are increasingly worried that more COVID-19 variants will emerge in the coming months and reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Top members of President Biden’s COVID response team are warning internally that herd immunity may not be reached until Thanksgiving or even the start of winter, according to The Daily Beast. Biden officials and health experts are recommending a return to basics, which includes following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding masks, social distancing, and limited indoor contact.
  • Consumer-product manufacturers are expanding factories and revamping production lines in the belief that work-from-home habits will outlast the coronavirus pandemic. J.M. Smucker Co., for example, has restarted idle machines and retrofitted others to make sizes and varieties of Folgers and Dunkin’ coffee that it expects to be popular with people working from home. The pandemic has lasted so long that people have formed new habits and bought equipment to help them work from home for years, said Bob Nolan, Conagra’s head of consumer insights and data. “This gives us confidence that this isn’t just a flash in the pan," he said.
  • Coffee pickers have become harder to hire amid the coronavirus pandemic, and production in affected areas may drop as a result. "If we cannot get more workers we could lose some of our crop," says Ángel García, manager of Santa Isabel farm in the Colombian province of Antioquia. "The beans will fall and rot on the ground."
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Coffee and tea manufacturers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire on January 31, 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Demand for coffee from restaurant chains is likely to have decreased as mornings are now the slowest time of day at fast-food restaurants, according to The Wall Street Journal. Many Americans work and attend school from home, reducing demand during weekday mornings. Breakfast-dependent chains including Dine Brands Global’s IHOP and Dunkin’ Brands Group are closing hundreds of restaurants. McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands International’s Burger King have said that sales of breakfast items remain weak. The operator of Friendly’s, an East Coast diner chain, has filed for bankruptcy protection.
  • Coffee shops are busiest at 10 am on Saturdays, according to Google. The Internet advertising and search giant made the discovery while studying its Maps and Trends services and comparing searches during the coronavirus pandemic to the same time period a year earlier.
  • Sales of century-old canned coffee brand Folgers are increasing, largely due to increasing interest from Millennials. J.M. Smuckers CEO Mark Smucker said that Folgers was "one of the brands in our portfolio that benefited the most from the pandemic," as people increasingly opted to make coffee at home. About 1.3 million new households bought Folgers over a three-month period during the pandemic, according to Bloomberg. Folgers was largely losing out on Millennial coffee drinkers to gourmet brands and single-serve Keurig products, which consumers of that generation tended to prefer to the inexpensive containers sold by Folgers, The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018.
  • World coffee production for 2020/21 is forecast to increase 5.4% year over year to a record 176.1 million. Brazil is forecast to account for most of the gain as its Arabica crop enters the on-year of the biennial production cycle and Robusta reaches record output. World exports are forecast higher, largely on the strength of Brazil. Global ending stocks are expected to jump to a 6-year high as production outpaces consumption.

February 25, 2021

  • Drive thru is becoming an increasingly attractive strategy to mitigate the impact of Covid-19. About 63% of consumers surveyed by World Coffee Portal in 2020 favored the drive-thru over entering a coffee shop, up from 48% in 2019. Dunkin’ is by far the largest drive-thru operator in the US with 6,391 sites, ahead of Starbucks’ 3,900 locations and Panera Bread’s 840. About 37% of all US branded café outlets offer a drive-thru option.
  • Coffee shop sales will only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023, according to research and consultancy firm Allegra World Coffee Portal. The firm estimates that sales fell 24% year over year to $36 billion in 2020 and will only grow to $40 billion this year, below 2019 levels.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result cancellation of social distancing mandates. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • More than half of specialty coffeehouses, especially ones with three locations or fewer, are going to close because many are not geared toward delivery or drive-thru lanes, according to R.J. Hottovy, a senior restaurant analyst at Morningstar.
  • COVID-19 hurt breakfast sales in restaurants more than lunch or dinner sales, and the recovery of the breakfast business has been slow due to the drastic reduction of commuter traffic. Executives at Dunkin’ Brands Group stated that they had seen a drop in business in the crucial 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. time frame, even as things had picked up between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

March 1, 2021

  • Laundromats are adapting business protocols in response to the coronavirus. According to a survey by American Coin-op, laundries are cleaning and sanitizing more often (94%), limiting the number of people on premises (62%), posting coronavirus-related signage (77%), emphasizing WDF (wash/dry/fold) and pickup/delivery services (32%) and increasing advertising and social media efforts (34%). Some establishments are only taking drop-off laundry, asking customers to fold clothes at home, and suggesting mid-week visits that allow for better social distancing, according to CBS News.
  • In the most recent American Laundry News Your Views survey, 80% of laundry owners said they made operational changes in response to COVID-19. Of about 20% of laundry managers that didn’t make changes, 60% said it was due to an existing emphasis on cleanliness prior to the pandemic. Key steps managers took included employee temperature checks, increasing wash temperatures, and daily electrostatic spraying. Mote than 70% of laundry managers say their changes in cleaning protocol will stay in place even after the pandemic.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak slowed the circulation of coins in the US economy which created problems for several coin-dependent business, including coin-operated laundries. During the quarantine, not only did retail activity drop but consumers stopped cashing in their coins for paper notes. The US Mint also slowed coin production in the early days of the pandemic to protect workers. Consumers’ shifting to contactless payment options also reduced coin circulation. However, the coin shortage has improved as the US Mint increased coin production, according to American Banker. The Mint produced 14.8 billion coins in 2020, up 26% in 2019.
  • Some industry insiders suggest coin-op laundry firms consider adjusting their service offerings to meet the evolving needs of customers. Touchless payment systems are expected to be very important, and some firms may add pick-up and delivery options as more consumers work from home and run fewer errands. Adding sanitizing features to existing laundry equipment can help draw in customers, differentiate from competitors, and generate additional revenue, according to American Coin-op. Sanitizing features include the injection of ozone gas to cold water intakes, which kills bacteria and viruses. Other disinfectants can also be added at various stages of the washing cycle. Sanitizing options often can be offered as add-ons to existing machine menus.
  • Laundries are adapting to help promote social distancing. Coin-operated laundries that are open 24-hours may offer better opportunity for social distancing. Laundromats that are larger may also have advantages in providing distance between customers. Some laundries have installed TVs or repurposed existing ones to display distancing information, such as suggesting customers wait in their vehicles between laundry phases. Concern over shared laundry facilities in apartment buildings and condos may drive demand for drop-off services as well as home pick-up and delivery.
  • Coin-operated laundries that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.

January 29, 2021

  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) encourages credit reporting agencies and furnishers to continue credit reporting but also provide leeway for consumers and companies experiencing hardships. CFPB is relaxing enforcement of dispute investigation timelines on a case-by-case basis to help collection agencies hit by staffing losses due to coronavirus. Collection agencies can also forego investigating disputes by credit repair organizations that are determined to be “frivolous or irrelevant.” The CARES Act outlines obligations for collections agencies to report as current any credit obligations in which payment accommodations were made.
  • The District of Columbia passed legislation in early April banning collection agencies from outbound calling, writing or messaging consumers to collect debts until 60 days after the coronavirus emergency ends. DC’s emergency order is set to last at least through the end of 2020. Agencies can still reply to customer-initiated communications. The law also prohibits collectors from initiating legal proceedings, repossessions, or visiting consumers’ homes. As of January 22, four states and the District of Columbia had in place regulation of collections during the pandemic beyond collections related to stimulus payment garnishments. A fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December. The $900 billion spending bill included $600 stimulus checks per person, including children. Under the new stimulus law, private creditors and debt collectors are not permitted to garnish stimulus payments.
  • US household debt rose 0.6% in the third quarter 2020, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Household debt rose by $87 billion to $14.3 trillion as consumers took on mortgages to buy and refinance homes. The third-quarter rise followed a six-year low for household debt in the second quarter as the shutdown curtailed spending, lenders’ standards tightened, and consumers paid down their liabilities. Q3 marked the third consecutive quarter of households paying down their credit card debt. Consumers continue to benefit from government aid and forbearance programs for mortgages, student loans, and auto loans. Some worry that rising consumer debt could lead to a wave of debt collection lawsuits in the coming months, according to Bloomberg Law. Shutdowns closed or slowed the flow of cases in many state court systems earlier in 2020, but courts are opening back up and debt collection cases are increasing. As some consumers have fewer financial resources, mortgages, rent, and car payments are a priority so other bills may not get paid, leading to collections actions.
  • Collection agencies handle personal information and require data security. Allowing employees to work from home raises security issues. For instance, digital assistants, like Alexa and Google on your smartphone, can “hear” conversations that employees have with debtors regarding finances and personal information.
  • Healthcare providers are turning to collection agencies to recover cash for them. Recovering past due bills is growing in importance for healthcare providers.
  • Debt collection scams are on the rise in 2020. The FCC has launched the COVID-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips website that aims to inform consumers about the rise in coronavirus-related phone and text scams.

February 3, 2021

  • The number of people earning associate’s degrees from community colleges decreased 6.7% year-over-year within a few months of pandemic-related campus shutdowns, according to National Student Clearinghouse, which tracks college enrollment and completion. The number is at the lowest level since the 2012-2013 academic year. More than 40% of households said that a prospective student had cancelled all plans for community college as of October 2020, according to an analysis of US Census Bureau data.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in a return to classrooms and dormitories. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 provides $82 billion for education, including $23 billion for colleges and universities. “The money provided in this bill will provide some limited relief, which is welcome news to struggling students and institutions. But it is not going to be nearly enough in the long run or even the medium term,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, said in a statement.
  • Tufts University in Medford, MA, has set up modular housing on its campus for students who may need to isolate themselves if they test positive for the coronavirus or COVID-19, the disease it causes. The school plans to test all students, including those living off-campus, as they return for classes this fall. Reopening plans also includes frequent testing of students and student-facing faculty and staff throughout the semester to identify asymptomatic carriers, rapid diagnostic testing of those exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, and contact tracing when cases are confirmed. Any student who lives off campus may be required to convalesce on campus if they test positive for COVID-19. If one member of an off-campus residential cohort tests positive, their housemates will also go into quarantine.

February 23, 2021

  • Adoption of robotic technology is increasing at bakeries due in part to pandemic-induced social distancing and safety measures. Robots were first used in bakeries 20 years ago, according to Baking Business, but advances in size, mobility, adaptability, vision, controls and end-of-arm tooling are so significant that robots installed just five years ago are being replaced today. Emerging in importance are collaborative robots well-suited to address labor shortages and repetitive motion tasks at medium to smaller wholesale bakeries. Quality control methods, approaching that of artificial intelligence and machine learning, are being incorporated into large and small robots alike.
  • It may take more time than initially expected for the administration of COVID-19 vaccines to be widespread enough for people to gather for work or other activities without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures. A peer-reviewed study published in the January version of Social Science and Medicine reported that the vaccine Americans most prefer may not reflect the choices we actually have. Americans are most likely to intend to vaccinate when a vaccine is made in the US, administered in a single dose, over 90% effective and carrying a less than 1 in 100 chance of experiencing minor side effects, and has spent just over a year in development. According to some epidemiological estimates, as many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Harvard University researchers found that 20% of 104 grocery workers tested positive at a store in Massachusetts. Most of them had no symptoms when tested. The infection rate was “significantly higher than the surrounding communities,” study authors wrote.
  • Retail sales in the grocery store industry increased 11.3% in value in value year over year in January.
  • Employment at commercial bakeries decreased 3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 17.5% compared to the low of April. Employment at retail bakeries decreased 8.5% year over year in December 2020 but was up 35.8% compared to the low of April.
  • According to a survey by commercial bakery LaBrea, 38% of those surveyed reported they were eating more bread than prior to the coronavirus; 92% reported they are buying bread from the grocery store, and 12% are buying directly from a local bakery.

February 13, 2021

  • Emergency lending programs have cut into the volume of traditional Small Business Administration (SBA) loans made, according to American Banker. Volume in the SBA’s 7(a) program is down 11% in the 2021 fiscal year from a year earlier, at $6.4 billion. The agency's fiscal year began on October 1. Lenders largely point to the prevalence of the Main Street Lending Program, which ended on January 8, and the January 11 return of the Paycheck Protection Program for the lower 7(a) volume. Many bankers have found it daunting to devote resources to both traditional and emergency loan efforts.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less. The American Bankers Association (ABA) and more than 100 trade groups had urged Congress to address the “overburdensome” Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness process before the end of the year.
  • Cumulative net income at FDIC-insured commercial banks and savings institutions declined 10.7% year over year during Q3, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The result was much better than that of the first half of 2020, as COVID-19 forced many business closures and stymied economic growth into the summer. Cumulative net income decreased 70% year over year during Q2 alone. Community banks, constituting 91% of all FDIC-insured institutions, reported a 10% cumulative net income increase during Q3.
  • Many banks say that they will need to continue increasing provisions for loan losses into 2021, according to a survey released in mid-November by IntraFi Network. Most banks have allowed borrowers to skip payments if their finances had been hit hard by lockdowns and other restrictions meant to slow the spread of the virus, but many of those grace periods have recently expired or will expire by the end of the year. Two-thirds of respondents said that they expect loans will need to be restructured for borrowers who are unable to make payments when their deferral periods end.
  • Employment in the commercial banking industry decreased 2.6% year over year in January.
  • Citigroup is planning to expand its commercial lending business abroad to take advantage of changes in the markets due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bank is targeting mid-sized businesses in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). Citigroup looks to add 10-20 employees to each of its 15 offices in the EMEA.
  • The pandemic has accelerated the commercial lending industry’s transition to digital, according to Finextra. More banks are turning their software and infrastructure systems over to trusted IT partners, so they can focus more on business continuity, services and client relationships. Digital lending platforms have become critical for educating and connecting with clients, modifying lending arrangements and repayment, and monitoring compliance.

February 9, 2021

  • The national office vacancy rate increased to 17.7% in Q4 2020, up from 17.4% in the third quarter and 16.8% a year earlier, according to Moody’s Analytics. Retail vacancy increased to 10.5% in Q4, up from 10.4% in third quarter and 10.2% a year earlier.
  • Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J. C. Penney Co. Inc., Ascena Retail Group Inc., Tailored Brands Inc., Fieldwood Energy Inc. and Chesapeake Energy Corp, according to S&P.
  • The retail sector was already struggling before the outbreak and dealing with bankruptcies and foreclosures of failing chains. Vacancies could peak as high as 14.5% by the end of 2021, according to a Moody’s Analytics Report, with negative net absorption of retail space peaking at more than 60 million square feet by the end of 2020. Average retail rents are expected to fall 2.7% nationwide in 2020, and another 1.2% next year, surpassing declines seen during the last recession.
  • The gradual disappearance of department and chain stores across the retail landscape, which has accelerated because of COVID-19, has put the existence of malls in jeopardy. Bankruptcies have plagued traditional anchor stores, like Sears and JC Penny, and Green Street forecasted that more than half of all mall-based department stores would close by the end of 2021. Smaller retailers often have co-tenancy clauses that allow them to pay reduced rent or even break the lease if two or more anchor stores leave a location. Apparel stores, a sector that has been especially hard hit by the pandemic. account for about 60% of occupied mall space, according to the New York Times.
  • Some firms are seizing on the coronavirus pandemic’s economic disruption to negotiate shorter leases at cheaper rents, according to The Commercial Observer industry news site. Companies that are not opting for traditional 10-year leases in Manhattan, for example, tend to be small and less tied to a specific office footprint, brokers say. Recent data suggest less interest in 10-year commitments even among larger companies. The average length of leasing deals of at least 100,000 square feet completed in 2020 through September in Midtown Manhattan, for instance, was 8.7 years, according to research from Colliers International. It was 12.5 and 12.7 years in 2018 and 2019, respectively, taking the years as a whole.
  • The pandemic likely will mark the end of an era for the office sector according to David Gilbert, CEO of real estate investment management firm Clarion Partners. Gilbert said in mid-November that he expects there to be less demand for office space. “You don’t abandon the office. It’s just less of a need to be there every single day,” he said. Companies experiencing a surprisingly “seamless” transition to work-from-home during the crisis likely will adopt more flexible work arrangements for employees going forward, perhaps only requiring a trek into the office for two or three days a week, Gilbert added.
  • The office market could see vacancy rates rise to 21.4% by the end of 2021, higher than their peak in the recession. Vacancy rates were 16.4% at the end of 2019. Average office rents are expected to have fallen 10.5% nationally in 2020, according to Moody's Analytics.
  • Employment in the real estate industry decreased 1.4% year over year in December 2020 but was up 6% from the pandemic-related low of April. Employment of real estate agents and brokers was unchanged year over year in December but was up 6% from the April low. Employment in the property management industry increased 0.5% year over year in December but was up 5% from the April low.
  • Fitch Ratings expects the commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS) delinquency rate to be volatile, particularly during the first half of 2021. CMBS are fixed-income investment products that are backed by mortgages on commercial properties rather than residential real estate. The delinquency rate is the percentage of commercial real estate loans that were 30 or more days past due or in foreclosure. A rising delinquency rate indicates that an increasing number of commercial property owners cannot pay the mortgages on those properties. The volatility will be caused by the continuance and extent of government support measures, servicers' appetite for forbearance or modifications, efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and volume of CMBS new issuance. Any significant reduction in the overall rate will not occur before 2022.
  • Fitch Ratings' CMBS delinquency rate fell 14 basis points to 4.55% in January from 4.69% in December 2020 due to slowing pace of new delinquencies and continued strong new issuance volume. It was the third consecutive month of decline. CMBS loan delinquencies had risen to 4.98% in July 2020, the highest level since April 2014, when the rate was 5.13%. The rate was 1.45% at the end of 2019.

February 7, 2021

  • The value of commercial and multifamily construction starts in the US decreased 20% year over year in 2020 to $193.4 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The value of starts in the top 20 metropolitan areas decreased 23% in 2020, falling to $111.1 billion. The New York metropolitan area continued to be the largest market for commercial and multifamily starts at $23.5 billion but suffered a 25% decline from 2019. The Washington DC metro area maintained its second place standing despite an identical decline in 2020 that cut commercial and multifamily starts to $8.9 billion. The Los Angeles, CA, metro area, which fell 21% to $7.4 billion, ranked third.
  • The Dodge Momentum Index increased 3.1% in January to 139.4 (the year 2000=100) from the revised December 2000 reading of 135.2. The Momentum Index is a monthly measure of the first (or initial) report for nonresidential building projects in planning, which have been shown to lead construction spending for nonresidential buildings by a full year. The commercial component of the Momentum Index moved 9.9% higher, offsetting an 11.7% decrease in the institutional component.
  • Total commercial construction spending decreased 2.2% year over year in November 2020 but was up 4.3% for the first 11 months of the year.
  • Spending on nonresidential building projects is declining and will do so through 2021, according to a mid-year update to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Consensus Construction Forecast. The AIA estimates an 8% spending drop in 2020 and just under 5% in 2021 due to pandemic-induced economic disruptions. This is the first time in nearly a decade that nonresidential construction spending has trended downwards, according to the AIA.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal. Industry experts say that shrinking project backlogs remain a reality in the wake of the pandemic and so further relief will go a long way to ensuring that the building industry remains active.
  • Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. “In the spring or perhaps even sooner, if it were the case that infections and hospitalizations were declining and we were back to a point that the U.S. was at in July or August, there could be a little more of a push to get back to the office, but it doesn’t seem likely considering where we are today,” MetLife Investment Management Head of Real Estate Research and Strategy William Pattison said.
  • Employment in the commercial building industry declined 3.2% year over year in December 2020 but was up 8.8% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The Associated Builders and Contractors' (ABC) Construction Backlog Indicator rebounded modestly to 7.3 months in December 2020, an increase of 0.1 months from November’s reading. Backlog is 1.5 months lower than in December 2019.
  • ABC’s Construction Confidence Index readings for sales, profit margins and staffing levels increased in December. The sales index climbed above the threshold of 50, indicating contractors expect to grow sales over the next six months. The index reading for profit margins remained below that threshold. The staffing level index increased to 56.3 but remains well below its December 2019 reading.

February 12, 2021

  • Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Demand for commercial equipment may decline due to increasing corporate bankruptcies. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group, J. C. Penney, Ascena Retail Group, Tailored Brands, Fieldwood Energy, and Chesapeake Energy, according to S&P.
  • FilmLA, the nonprofit group which serves as the official film office for both the city and county of Los Angeles, reports that production in 2020 decreased 48% compared to 2019. Film production figures are an indicator of demand for motion picture equipment.  Film and television production in Los Angeles during the coronavirus pandemic fell to its lowest point in more than 25 years. There were 18,993 shoot days in 2020, according to FilmLA, compared to 36,540 in 2019. Feature films saw the largest decrease in 2020 filming compared to 2019, with a 55.8% drop, compared to a 40.2% drop for commercials and a 38.3% drop for television.
  • The number of film permit applications filed in the city and county of Los Angeles declined 25% month over month in December 2020 to lows not seen since the weeks after the restart of production in June 2020, according to FilmLA, the official film office of the City and County of Los Angeles. Preliminary data shows that December will be the second consecutive month of declining permit requests since filming resumed under strict safety protocols.
  • The national office vacancy rate climbed to 17.7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from 17.4% in the third quarter and 16.8% a year earlier, according to Moody's Analytics. The office vacancy rate is an indicator of demand for commercial equipment. The vacancy rate increased in 54 markets, and 26 metros have a vacancy rate higher than 20%.
  • Commercial equipment rental and leasing firms servicing the medical industry may benefit from the need to store Pfizer's COVID-19 at extremely cold temperatures. Ultra-low temperature freezers that cool to minus 112 degrees are now back-ordered for months as hospitals and health care providers scramble for more to store the Pfizer vaccine, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper. "The freezers are a must for distributing the Pfizer vaccine," according to according to University of Arizona President Robert Robbins.
  • Permanent restaurant closures translate to loss of customers for commercial equipment rental and leasing firms. Restaurant closures also result in a flood of used equipment in the market that can undercut rentals and leases. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • In this capital-intensive industry, firms acquire significant loan and credit burden to build rental inventory. With less income, many firms are struggling to pay lenders, making loan forbearance critical to survival.
  • Industry employment declined 13% year over year in December 2020 and was down 11.2% from the start of the year.
  • United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rental company, reported a 10.1% year-over-year rental revenue decline and a 12.1% year-year-over-year net income decline for Q4 2020 as it continued to deal with the disruption of the coronavirus crisis. All branches of United Rentals in the US and Canada have remained open during the pandemic, according to company officials.

February 12, 2021

  • Up to 10,000 stores could close in 2021, according to Coresight Research. Retailers have announced 1,678 closures as of January 22. Coresight also forecasts that retailers will announce 4,000 store openings in 2021, driven by growth from grocery discounters and dollar store chains. Coresight tracked 8,741 closures in 2020, along with 3,304 openings.
  • Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group, J. C. Penney, Ascena Retail Group, Tailored Brands, Fieldwood Energy, and Chesapeake Energy, according to S&P.
  • Research firm Moody's Analytics says that retailers can expect increasingly favorable operating conditions in 2021 as the economy gradually rebounds from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Our current 2021 forecast is for 6.2% growth in core retail sales,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody’s Analytics.
  • Hopes for a rebound in equipment sales to restaurants may have been scuttled as state officials reverse reopening plans due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. The US reported more than 22 million COVID-19 cases and 374,348 deaths as of January 11, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Many states have re-imposed prior coronavirus-related restrictions or introduced new ones -- some requiring face covering, and others limiting gatherings and business occupancies or even generally asking people to stay home.
  • Wholesale sales of professional and commercial equipment and supplies increased 9.4% year over year in December 2020 but were unchanged for the full year.
  • Employment in the commercial equipment wholesaling industry declined 1.6% year over year in December 2020 and was down 1.6% from the start of the year.
  • The prices that wholesalers paid for commercial and service industry machinery were up 1.3% year over year in December but have been largely unchanged during 2020.
  • The Foodservice Equipment Distributors Association (FEDA) is urging Congress to retain CARES Act tax rules that allow businesses to carryback net operating losses (NOL) for 2018-2020 and suspends limitations on excess business losses for non-corporate taxpayers. FEDA argues that these provisions are critical in helping the industry deal with economic pressure created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • COVID-19 has practically eliminated demand for new buffet and salad bar equipment. The FDA has recommended foodservice establishments suspend buffets and salad bars, due to their use of shared utensils and wait lines. Restaurants and grocery stores have converted their existing equipment into platforms for selling boxed and packaged foods.

February 13, 2021

  • President Biden plans to rescind strict limits on legal immigration that former President Donald Trump said were necessary to protect US workers during the coronavirus-induced economic recession, a top White House official told CBS news. The restrictions have halted the issuance of several temporary visas, including H-2B visas for non-agricultural seasonal workers. President Biden is also expected to rescind a proclamation that former President Trump issued in October 2019 to allow the government to reject visa applications from immigrants it determines will not be able to pay for health insurance or cover medical costs in the US.
  • President Trump extended the ban on H-1B, H-2B, L, and J visa applications through March 31, 2021. Commercial fishing firms are likely to be negatively impacted, as meat, poultry, and seafood cutting and trimming was the third most common occupational use for H-2B visas in 2020.
  • Demand for seafood by the hospitality industry remains low. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion. About 72% of restaurant owners who closed for good told the NRA that it’s unlikely that they’ll open another restaurant concept in the months or years ahead.
  • Most of the crew of a United States Seafoods Company trawler tested positive for COVID-19 in early December, according to The Bristol Bay Times. Public health officials in Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, AK, warn that the upcoming winter fishing season will likely cause a surge in COVID-19 cases, as the population of the island doubles from the influx of fishermen and seafood processing workers.
  • Legislation introduced in the US Congress seeks to use "marine protected areas" to ban all "commercial extractive use" across 30% of the nation's exclusive economic zone by 2030. The closures would be part of the so-called "30x30" strategy to conserve 30% of ocean habitat worldwide by the 2030 target date. Fishing industry stakeholders are calling the conservation-fueled proposal an assault on the economic viability of fishing communities from New England to Alaska.
  • Seafood processing plants in Alaska, the top seafood processing state in the US, have emerged as COVID-19 hotspots, according to Bloomberg Government. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist, said that the outbreaks at seafood processing plants are “reminiscent of the meat packing plant outbreaks in the Lower 48.” The Food Supply Protection Act, which would help fishers and eligible seafood processors finance Covid-19 testing, personal protective equipment, and cleaning, among other expenses, was recently reintroduced in the US Congress.
  • Commercial fishing operations are waiting longer to get their boats repaired. Shipyards are staggering crews to meet distancing requirements, while making repairs. Longer wait times at port limit fishing opportunities and could affect a boats ability to fill its quotas and customer orders.
  • The US Coast Guard is extending mariner credential, medical certificates and course approvals due to office closures related to COVID-19. Mariner credentials and medical certificates that expire between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020 are extended to December 31, 2020. Course and program approvals that expire anytime in 2020 are extended six months from their current expiration date. Examination are currently by appointment-only.

February 3, 2021

  • Print volume, as measured by the consumption of printing substrates, decreased almost 10.4% year over year in 2020, according to market intelligence firm Smithers. The impact has been most severe on print publications —especially newspapers and magazines, according to Smithers. Lockdown orders and widespread homeworking has significantly reduced sales of printed media to commuters, and many more readers have switched to more instant online media channels.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • Spending on print advertising will stabilize in 2021 after dropping in 2020, according to advertising consulting firm WARC. It will take at least two years for total advertising spending to recover, however.
  • Industry leader Quad/Graphics completed the divestiture of its book manufacturing platform in November 2020. “We continue our strategic focus on where we can provide the greatest value to our clients, which is through our unique integrated marketing solutions offering," said Joel Quadracci, Chairman, President & CEO of Quad.
  • Industry leader LSC Communications has been acquired by private equity firm Atlas Holdings. LSC had declared bankruptcy in April 2020, less than a year after cancelling a $1.4 billion planned merger with rival printing firm Quad/Graphics. The transaction, which will take the publicly-held book, catalog, and magazine printing specialist; logistics provider; and office products supplier private, is expected to close during Q4 2020. “We entered into this financial restructuring process in April due to the fundamental changes in our industry and to strengthen LSC’s financial position for the future," Thomas J. Quinlan III, LSC Communications’ Chairman, President and CEO, said.
  • Commercial printers may see declining demand due to coronavirus-related business bankruptcies. Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J. C. Penney Co. Inc., Ascena Retail Group Inc., Tailored Brands Inc., Fieldwood Energy Inc. and Chesapeake Energy Corp, according to S&P.
  • Commercial printing industry employment declined 11.3% year over year in November 2020 but is up 7.2% from the low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Some commercial printers are investing in digital label printing equipment to take advantage of increasing demand created by the coronavirus pandemic. Label printing services are needed for items that companies began producing during the coronavirus crisis, like hand sanitizer. Labels can be printed for bottles, boxes, food products, health and wellness products, and other items. Demand has also increased for signs that promote social distancing, for directional signs, and for floor graphics that encourage customers to use specific traffic patterns.

January 29, 2021

  • Food banks are offering more mobile, delivery, and drive-thru options to assist vulnerable populations and observe social distancing guidelines. Food banks are experiencing long lines of cars as people stay in their vehicles to social distance and workers bring food to them. Food banks are discouraging the donation of food from individuals. They are asking for monetary donations so they can purchase food from food distributors and commercial suppliers.
  • Key concerns include increased demand due to job loss, reduced availability of food service employees and volunteers due to illness, and insufficient food collection and storage capability. Food banks have been overwhelmed as demand for food in many cases has more than doubled. Prior to the pandemic, more than 35 million people in the US were food insecure, including more than 10 million children. Due to COVID-19, Feeding America estimates the number of food insecure Americans may have risen to more than 50 million in 2020, including 17 million children.
  • While unemployment has fallen from the levels seen in April, joblessness remains high. The US economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7% compared to November. New jobless claims were 847,000 the week ending January 23. As of the week ending January 9, more than 18 million people were receiving unemployment benefits. However, a fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December, which might help ease the pressure on America’s food banks. The $900 billion spending bill included $600 stimulus checks per person, including children. The package also extends unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, and the extension will run at least until March 14. The bill extends assistance for up to 11 weeks for part-time and gig workers who do not qualify for state unemployment insurance. The Biden administration has called for further stimulus spending. The $1.9 trillion Biden plan includes $1,400 stimulus checks and a $400 weekly unemployment supplement. Negotiations over the cost and structure of any further stimulus are ongoing.
  • As demand has gone up, community food services’ budgets are becoming strapped. The gap between demand and food supplies is projected to be as high as 10 billion pounds of food through June 2021, according to Feeding America. Solutions by some community food services include public-private partnerships with online retailers already logistically positioned to deliver; and staggered, and therefore socially distant, feeding schedules for schoolchildren and others in need.
  • Congress allocated $850 million in food aid through two stimulus measures passed in March. Stimulus efforts also included $3 billion for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The program – which was extended as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act passed in December 2020 - aims help struggling farmers by paying them to provide produce, meats, and dairy products to the hungry. The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which provides USDA-funded reimbursement to school districts and food aid organizations to feed children during the summer, received a waiver from the USDA to provide meals to kids during the pandemic. Under the waiver the SFSP can feed kids regardless of age or district enrollment. In October, the USDA moved to extend SFSP through June 2021.
  • Individual communities are using mapping software to help people locate food banks and provide information about hours of operation and how the food distribution process works. Such tools are helping community food aid organizations connect with people who have never used food banks before. By leveraging US Census and other data, mapping technology is also being used to pinpoint areas in a community with the greatest need for food aid. Mapping data can also help with identifying trends across distribution locations which can help solve complex logistics challenges like the best storage spots for various types of foods and demand cycles for different food items.
  • Some food banks believe hunger will be an ongoing problem in their service area for months. Feeding America and other groups are lobbying Congress to include an increase in the maximum benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in another round of stimulus appropriations. The year-end spending package passed in December 2020 includes $13 billion to boost food stamp benefits by 15%, but does not expand SNAP eligibility.

February 12, 2021

  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in a return to the workplace. Health officials have stressed that even with effective vaccines, many of the same safety protocols will have to remain in place until there is clear herd immunity. There are growing concerns that virus mutations will slow the process. President Biden said in early February that wearing masks "though the next year" can save a significant number of lives.
  • The NAIOP Research Foundation projects a period of negative office space absorption through late 2020 and early 2021. “Given the continued challenges facing the US economy, office net absorption is forecast to be negative 18 million square feet in Q4 2020 and negative 10 million square feet in Q1 2021,” according to the forecast. “The coronavirus pandemic has led to conditions that are remarkably different from past recessions but are nonetheless challenging for the office sector.”
  • Wholesale sales of computer and peripheral equipment increased 15.9% year over year in December 2020 and were up 4.2% for the full year.
  • Computer shipments by manufacturers rose 25% year over year in Q4 2020 and 11% for the full year, the fastest growth in a decade, according to technology research company Canalys. Industry experts cite the pandemic-induced increase in telecommuting and distance education as the key cause of shipment growth.
  • Office equipment distributor employment decreased 9% year over year in December 2020 and was down 7% from the start of the year. Computer and software distributor employment was unchanged year over year in December 2020 and unchanged from the start of the year

February 12, 2021

  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in a return to workplaces. Health officials have stressed that even with effective vaccines, many of the same safety protocols will have to remain in place until there is clear herd immunity. There are growing concerns that virus mutations will slow the process. President Biden said in early February that wearing masks "though the next year" can save a significant number of lives.
  • The national office vacancy rate climbed to 17.7% in the fourth quarter of 2020, up from 17.4% in the third quarter and 16.8% a year earlier, according to Moody's Analytics. The office vacancy rate is an indicator of demand for computer and office equipment repair. The vacancy rate increased in 54 markets, and 26 metros have a vacancy rate higher than 20%.
  • The NAIOP Research Foundation projects a period of negative office space absorption through late 2020 and early 2021. “Given the continued challenges facing the U.S. economy, office net absorption is forecast to be negative 18 million square feet in Q4 2020 and negative 10 million square feet in Q1 2021,” according to the forecast. “The coronavirus pandemic has led to conditions that are remarkably different from past recessions but are nonetheless challenging for the office sector.”
  • Moody’s Analytics expects the national office vacancy rate to reach 19.9% in 2021 and 20.0% in 2022, then rise past historic highs within the next few years.
  • Computer and office equipment repair services may need to adjust their business practices to support telecommuting as employers extend work-from-home options. Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai extended in December the firm's work-from-home period to September 1, 2021. Technology companies including Salesforce, Spotify, Slack, Shopify, PayPal, and Uber are giving employees the option of working from home through the end of the year or up until the summer of 2021. Some companies, including Twitter, Square, Zillow, and Facebook will allow employees to work remotely for as long as they’d like.
  • Employment in the computer and office machine repair industry was unchanged year over year in December 2020 but was up 15.9% from the low of April.
  • Many computer and office equipment repair businesses closed during the quarantine, but those that stayed open experienced an increase in demand as workers and students transitioned to remote working and learning. Commercial demand for equipment repairs largely declined due to lack of use during the quarantine.
  • Some consumers are turning to online resources to troubleshoot and fix problems with their devices. IFIXIT publishes tutorials and manuals online for consumers to fix their own equipment and is a growing source of competition for computer and office equipment repair firms.er the coronavirus subsides and more workers need home-based office equipment, such as printers, postage machines, and computer systems, maintained and repaired.
  • Because technicians typically make repairs at customers’ sites, firms have developed protocols to protect technicians in the field, such as using PPE and contactless billing. Repair services are also making greater use of video and audio chats to walk customers through troubleshooting and minor repairs.

February 3, 2021

  • Sales of laptop and desktop computers increased 13% in volume year over year in 2020, the largest increase since 2014, according to market tracker International Data Corporation (IDC). “The obvious drivers for last year’s growth centered around work from home and remote learning needs, but the strength of the consumer market should not be overlooked,” IDC vice president Ryan Reith said. “We continue to see gaming PCs and monitor sales at all-time highs, and Chrome-based devices are expanding beyond education into the consumer market. In retrospect, the pandemic not only fueled PC market demand but also created opportunities that resulted in a market expansion.”
  • US shipments of desktop and notebook PCs will increase 1.4% in 2021, according to IDC. Notebook PC shipments are expected to grow 3.2% in 2021, while desktop PCs will decline in both periods.
  • Gartner predicts worldwide smartphone sales to end users will rebound to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, thanks largely to delayed purchases of 5G devices.
  • Computer and peripheral manufacturing industry employment increased 1.5% year over year in December 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 2, 2021

  • To keep abreast of the latest tech developments and maintain certifications, IT professionals need continuing education on a regular basis. Industry resources like CompTIA and others are offering online training and certifications for people who have shifted to working from home.
  • Although all US states are in various stages of reopening, working from home is expected to be much more common even after the pandemic subsides. Tech support for workers may shift to a remote model instead of supporting users in an office setting. As working from home becomes more common, companies of all kinds will need to make investments in secure networks, which may drive demand for computer facilities management services. As some workers return to offices, companies will also seek to find the right blend of technologies that seamlessly support workers who are at home and those who are in the office. Quickly shifting to work from home (WFH) models may create data security and compliance issues. Company and customer data making its way to “shadow IT” systems due to employees working from home can increase business and regulatory risk.
  • A large number of COVID-19-related business failures could reduce demand for computer facilities management services. More than 65% of small business owners in the US and Canada say they are experiencing a negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an early-January survey by Alignable, a social media outlet for small business owners. More than 45% say their revenues are less than 50% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Nearly 35% of small businesses reported having less than a month’s worth of cash on hand. About 85% said vaccine distribution was important to help them stay afloat until June. In 2020, the number of companies that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reached its highest level since 2013, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). About half of Chapter 11 filings were for subsidiaries of larger corporate entities. However, despite the pandemic, the number of new businesses being created is increasing. New business applications were up nearly 42% compared for the week ending December 26, 2020 compared to the same week in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau. Between March and May about 3,000 computer facilities management services jobs were lost, but by November industry employment was less than 1% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Amid the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide economic slowdown, global IT spending fell 3.2% to just under $3.7 trillion in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Gartner. All major categories of IT spending declined except for data center systems, which was flat. Devices saw the biggest decline with a dip of 8.2%, followed by IT services (-2.7%), enterprise software (-2.4%), and communications services (-1.7%). Gartner expects IT spending to bounce back to 6.2% growth in 2021; IT services spending is projected to rise 6%. Companies are expected to plan their IT spending based on growth projections rather than current revenue in order to keep digital transformation projects on track. IT projects that maximize return on investment in minimal timeframes should garner the most investment. Even as vaccines become more widely available, global IT spending related to remote work is projected to reach about $333 billion in 2021, up nearly 5% from 2020.
  • As the economy continues to recover IT services companies may target specific industry verticals that fared better during the pandemic. Energy, healthcare, legal, and financial services are moving to digitally transform quickly, according to industry insiders. Smart manufacturing is another key growth area. Internet of things (IoT) consulting and implementation are projected to be in high demand. The number of industrial IoT connections is forecast to rise from 17.7 billion in 2020 to 36.8 billion by 2025, according to Juniper Research. Even industries that were more negatively affected by the pandemic will need IT enhancements to survive. Retailers need to enhance ecommerce capabilities, and media/entertainment is spending on tech to pivot toward the new ways entertainment is consumed.
  • As IT spending begins to rebound in 2021 and businesses look to accelerate their digital transformations, IT services providers may seek to expand their service offerings to remain competitive, according to TechTarget. A wider breadth of services can help managed services providers (MSPs) build collaborative relationships with client company CIOs. Information executives are expected to look to nimble workforce strategies, which may lead to opportunities for companies that provide IT outsourcing services. Enterprises may use contract or temporary workers to help with setting up collaboration platforms, cloud technologies, and network solutions. In-demand occupations include IT security professionals, cloud architects and engineers, digital business and AI architects, and robotic process automation (RPA) engineers.
  • The COVID-19 crisis may spur investment in virtual network functions that replace traditional networking devices such as routers, firewalls, and switches. Virtual network functions can be deployed remotely, and don’t require visits to customer sites. Virtual networks can also be remotely monitored and managed from a central location.

February 3, 2021

  • Computer programming services may focus on shifting enterprise software development to cloud-based platforms due to the pandemic-driven acceleration of the move from on-premises data centers to data centers operated by cloud service providers and colocation specialists. “By the end of 2021, based on lessons learned, 80% of enterprises will put a mechanism in place to shift to cloud-centric infrastructure and applications twice as fast as before the pandemic,” market tracker International Data Corporation (IDC) said. Enterprise spending on cloud infrastructure services increased 33% year over year in Q3 2020, according to Synergy Research Group.
  • Healthcare and computing industry experts are concerned that a lack of transparency in and collaboration on development of artificial intelligence (AI) tools may be impacting COVID-19 patient care. Some institutions have not published any results showing whether their models work, according to healthcare industry news site Stat. Concerns have also been raised about the generalizability of a given model, especially one that is tested and trained only on local data. A study published in the November 2020 issue of Nature Machine Intelligence revealed that a Covid-19 deterioration model successfully deployed in Wuhan, China, yielded results that were no better than a roll of the dice when applied to a sample of patients in New York.
  • Computer programming services may benefit from rising interest in automation and robotics if they can quickly develop expertise in those areas. The pandemic-induced need for greater social distancing is boosting demand for automation and robotics in factories suffering from labor shortages and from businesses hoping to use autonomous cleaning equipment and to deploy contactless technology to interact with customers.
  • About 90% of organizations are maintaining or increasing their digital transformation budgets amid the pandemic, according to Tata Consultancy Services' "Digital Readiness and COVID-19: Assessing the Impact" survey. Companies which said that they are shifting digital transformation expenditures during the pandemic reported maximum increases on collaborative technologies (65% of respondents), cybersecurity (56%), cloud-native technologies (51%) and advanced analytics (39%).
  • Computer programming services industry employment decreased 1.3% year over year in November 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 2, 2021

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used in a variety of ways in response to the coronavirus outbreak, which could create opportunities for computer system design services firms. UK-based BenevolentAI used its platform to analyze a massive trove of biomedical data through machine learning to make connections that led to identifying existing drugs that could be effective in treating COVID-19 patients. BenevolentAI’s technology identified an Eli Lilly drug called barcitinib that might help COVID-19 patients. When tested on patients, barcitinib contributed to a 71% reduction in deaths among those with moderate to severe cases on COVID-19. Scientists are also using AI to reveal patterns is various data from patients infected with COVID-19 to discover why some barely experience any symptoms and others die. AI may also help doctors and scientists better understand how the novel coronavirus interacts with preexisting ailments to affect the immune system, which could lead to better outcomes for vulnerable patients. Machine learning has helped scientists at the University Oxford develop a new type of COVID-19 test that can return results in under five minutes and requires no sample preparation. The scientists believe the technology’s hardware can be miniaturized so the device can be used in places such as airports, business, and music venues. The testing device is being developed into a commercial product that could be available sometime in 2021.
  • In a July hearing by the House Subcommittee on Government Operations, lawmakers heard from technology experts how outdated IT systems used in various federal government agencies delayed stimulus aid disbursements and other critical services. Experts referenced computer systems that are several decades old. House subcommittee members suggested legacy IT systems led to small businesses being unable to apply for loans through the Small Business Administration and as many as 40% of unemployment benefit claims to be unsuccessful. Experts say federal agencies need to leverage modern private sector technologies to speed up IT modernization efforts. High numbers of new unemployment claims have also crashed antiquated IT systems on the state level. Many states’ computer systems for managing unemployment benefits are more than 40 years old. The CARES Act, nor the more recent stimulus package passed in December, provide any funding to states for modernization of state unemployment benefit IT systems. More attention to inefficient legacy systems could lead to opportunities for computer system design firms.
  • A large number of COVID-19-related business failures could reduce demand for computer system design services. More than 65% of small business owners in the US and Canada say they are experiencing a negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an early-January survey by Alignable, a social media outlet for small business owners. More than 45% say their revenues are less than 50% of pre-COVID-19 levels. Nearly 35% of small businesses reported having less than a month’s worth of cash on hand. About 85% said vaccine distribution was important to help them stay afloat until June. In 2020, the number of companies that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reached its highest level since 2013, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). About half of Chapter 11 filings were for subsidiaries of larger corporate entities. However, despite the pandemic, the number of new businesses being created is increasing. New business applications were up nearly 42% compared for the week ending December 26, 2020 compared to the same week in 2019, according to the US Census Bureau. As of November, computer systems design services employment was less than 3% below pre-pandemic levels.
  • Amid the coronavirus pandemic and worldwide economic slowdown, global IT spending fell 3.2% to just under $3.7 trillion in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Gartner. All major categories of IT spending declined except for data center systems, which was flat. Devices saw the biggest decline with a dip of 8.2%, followed by IT services (-2.7%), enterprise software (-2.4%), and communications services (-1.7%). Gartner expects IT spending to bounce back to 6.2% growth in 2021; Device spending is projected to rise 8%. Companies are expected to plan their IT spending based on growth projections rather than current revenue in order to keep digital transformation projects on track. IT projects that maximize return on investment in minimal timeframes should garner the most investment. Even as vaccines become more widely available, global IT spending related to remote work is projected to reach about $333 billion in 2021, up nearly 5% from 2020.
  • Industry watchers expect the need for speedy solutions to COVID-19-related technology problems to accelerate agile development methodologies that focus on incremental, minimal-viable-products that ramp up quickly as opposed to the waterfall approach that can take months. In a recent survey by Insight Enterprises, IT professionals reported that after the COVID-19 outbreak, their top technology concerns were: improving data and network security and recovery, enabling remote IT management, and increasing cloud-based networking.
  • Digital clinical trial computer system firm EDETEK offers cloud-based systems and platforms that support scientists that are working to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19. Such clinical study applications help with patient randomization, clinical supply, trial and document management, drug safety monitoring, and electronic data capture.

February 8, 2021

  • Industrial facility construction completions will increase 29% year over year in 2021, according to commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group. Large facilities in the 500,000-square-foot range will account for the majority of new product. Demand growth that began in 2020 will continue in intermodal hubs like the Inland Empire, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta markets. Demand for local infill space will also continue, spurred by the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Costco.
  • Experts say that Democratic control of Congress will make it easier for President-elect Biden to press for much more generous federal support for environmentally-friendly infrastructure and renewable energy projects. Concrete and masonry contractors are likely to benefit as a result. Biden will also have a better chance of getting the $2 trillion in climate-focused investments he proposed during the campaign.
  • Attorneys at Atlanta-based law firm Fisher Phillips told contractors that it is within their legal rights to compel workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Requiring construction workers to get a coronavirus vaccination is comparable to existing rules for healthcare workers that make flu shots mandatory in order to protect all patients and staff and keep the workplace safe, the attorneys said. The attorneys also recommended that contractors set up programs to administer vaccines on jobsites, during work hours, and free of charge, in order to get the highest participation possible while ensuring projects continue to move forward.
  • Construction workers are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than their peers in other professions, according to a University of Texas at Austin study. Lauren Ancel Meyers, one of the study authors, said that the findings don’t necessarily mean construction work needs to stop. “It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work.”
  • The prices that concrete and masonry contractors paid for ready-mix concrete was unchanged month over month but increased 1.9% year over year in December 2020.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 23, 2021

  • The ongoing semiconductor chip shortage is expected to spread beyond the auto industry, and may ultimately affect production of construction machinery. Industry experts say that the shortage is likely to affect some industries more than others. A significant portion of demand has shifted from auto and machinery manufacturers to consumer electronics and computer manufacturers. The entire auto industry, for example, spends around $40 billion per year on chips, about a tenth of the global market. Apple, by comparison, spends more on chips just to make its iPhones, according to banking and financial firm Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling. The chips used in cars and machinery also tend to be basic products such as micro controllers made under contract at older foundries, not the leading-edge production technology in which chipmakers would be willing to invest.
  • Construction equipment unit sales are expected to have fallen 18% in 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts, but are set to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 0.84% for the next ten years, according to Frost & Sullivan.
  • Total construction starts will increase 4% in 2021, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. "The dollar value of starts for residential buildings will increase 5% in 2021, nonresidential buildings will gain 3%, and nonbuilding construction will improve 7%. Only the residential sector, however, will exceed its 2019 level of starts thanks to historically low mortgage rates that boost single family housing,” said Richard Branch, Chief Economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
  • Interest in autonomous construction technology is increasing as the ongoing construction industry labor shortage is compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Among the more promising developments is artificial intelligence guidance systems. The systems may be built into new construction machinery or retrofitted to existing machinery, allowing machines to work without a human operator. Interest is highest among major construction firms that have the infrastructure, support, and internal innovation teams to dedicate to implementing the technology. Manufacturers including Built Robotics, Cyngn, Fastbrick Robotics, and Caterpillar are current leaders in the sector.
  • Shipments of construction machinery increased 3.6% in value year over year in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • Construction machinery industry employment declined 6% year over year in December and is down 5.7% since January, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.

February 12, 2021

  • Consumer electronics sales increased 7% year over year in 2020, according to Strategy Analytics. Strong demand for home computers, tablets, and games consoles helped consumer electronics sales reach $358.5 billion in 2020. Not every category grew: Sales of wireless speakers (including smart speakers) decreased 3% and TV sales decreased 2%. Government financial support measures played an important role, according to Strategy Analytics, and there were signs towards the end of the year that vendors were unable to meet demand.
  • uBreakiFix, which currently specializes in repairing personal electronics at its corporate and franchise stores, launched a mobile repair service that sends a technician to a customer's house to fix their broken devices. Customers schedule an appointment for a technician to visit their home, office, or other location. The repairs are performed in a mobile repair vehicle.
  • Mass retailer Walmart is setting up in-store kiosks at which consumer electronics repair services will be offered as a pilot program. The company hopes to have kiosks at 50 locations by the middle of 2021, and shoppers in areas with the service will be able to access it online. The kiosks will be staffed by True Network Solutions, which is partnering with the retailer to provide the service.
  • Loss of jobs and tighter finances may lead more consumers to repair damaged equipment rather than buy new. Repair firms may also sell refurbished electronics to price-conscious consumers. The global market for refurbished phones, PCs and appliances is estimated at $80 billion.
  • Many consumer electronics repair businesses closed during the quarantine, but those that stayed open have experienced an increase in demand as more people work, video chat, and game at home. Repairs of webcams have increased as more people attend virtual meetings and visit online.
  • Repair services are making greater use of video and audio chats to walk customers through troubleshooting and minor repairs. Firms are also offering touchless exchanges of devices and curbside pickup. Customers are urged to make appointments to minimize the number of people in repair shops and allow for social distancing.
  • Some consumers are turning to online resources to troubleshoot and fix problems with their devices. iFixit houses over 63,800 free manuals and 165,657 repair solutions for over 29,608 devices. DIY repairs can result in fewer job tickets for shops, but can also result in higher priced repairs if DIY attempts fail and create more damage.
  • Sales of gaming systems, electronics, computers and mobile devices have risen as consumers seek entertainment. This increase in the volume of consumer electronics will lead to future opportunities for repair services.

January 29, 2021

  • Consumer lending firms are facing competition from other lenders and the Small Business Administration. Federal regulators relaxed rules issued in 2013, allowing banks to provide small-dollar loans. Advocates argue that it’s better that banks issue small-dollar loans than other financial institutions, such as high-interest payday lenders. In October, Bank of America (BofA) announced a new short-term loan program called Balance Assist. The new loan product will allow BofA customers who have had a checking account for at least a year to borrow up to $500 for a flat fee. The loans are to be repaid over 90 days in three equal installments. BofA plans to launch Balance Assist in select states in January 2021. In November, BofA received a “no-action” letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), signaling the regulatory agency is unlikely to pursue supervisory or enforcement actions related to BofA’s Balance Assist loan program. In March, five federal financial regulatory agencies – including the CFPB - encouraged banks and credit unions to provide new loan products to struggling consumers. Some banking industry watchers suggest the “no-action” letter to BofA is a signal that responding to regulators’ requests can reduce regulatory scrutiny.
  • Industry trade associations, the Community Financial Services Association of America (CFSA) and the Online Lenders Alliance (OLA), are directing consumer lending firms to provide flexibility to customers who lost their jobs or had hours cut due to the coronavirus outbreak. CFSA suggest leniency on collecting past due accounts, restructuring or suspending loan payments. OLA suggests delaying delinquency notice and negative credit reports.
  • State and local authorities are issuing guidance and warnings to consumer lenders regarding their business practices. Consumer protection groups including Americans for Financial Reform and the Center for Responsible Lending have called for a cap of 36% on annual percentage rates for consumer loans to be included in any additional COVID-19 relief legislation. Opponents to the cap say it’s impractical for small-dollar lenders and would deny consumers access to much-needed loans.
  • A fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December. The $900 billion spending bill included $600 stimulus checks per person, including children. The package also extends unemployment benefits of up to $300 per week, and the extension will run at least until March 14. The bill extends assistance for up to 11 weeks for part-time and gig workers who do not qualify for state unemployment insurance. The Biden administration has called for further stimulus spending. The $1.9 trllion Biden plan includes $1,400 stimulus checks and a $400 weekly unemployment supplement. Negotiations over the cost and structure of any further stimulus are ongoing. Stimulus checks and extension of unemployment benefits could reduce demand for payday lending.
  • In early September, the CDC issued a moratorium on evictions for some renters through the end of 2020. The stimulus package passed in December extended the moratorium on evictions through January 31. On January 20, President Biden signed an executive order further extending the moratorium until at least March 31, 2021. The CDC rule could decrease the need for payday lending in the short term, but drive the need for loans when the moratorium is eventually lifted and back rent is due.
  • In July, a final rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rescinded an Obama-era provision that would have required payday lenders to ensure borrowers can pay back loans by verifying information like rent amounts, incomes, and student loan payments. The industry has argued the verification requirements were onerous and too costly. Critics say the final rule may put more consumers into a spiral of debt at a time when 25% of Americans have seen their incomes drop due to the coronavirus pandemic. In late October, the National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders (NALCAB), represented by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) sued the US CFPB in US District Court to overturn the final ruling in July that removed the Obama-era protections. The lawsuit claims the ruling is unlawful under the Administrative Procedure Act and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Industry watchers suggest it remains to be seen what changes the Biden administration might pursue regarding the Trump-era CFPB rules regulating payday lenders.

February 23, 2021

  • The Knot’s annual wedding study predicts that 2021 and 2022 will be among the busiest years for weddings. Demand for formal wear and other wedding-related products is likely to increase as a result. Nearly half of the couples (47%) who planned to marry in 2020 but postponed have rescheduled for 2021 and later dates. A majority of couples who got engaged during the pandemic (73%) also set their wedding date for 2021. A third of couples who married in 2020 expect to have big celebrations when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ends restrictions larger gatherings.
  • A plan announced by President Biden allocates $25 billion in rental and utility assistance for rental relief to low- and moderate-income households “who have lost jobs are or are out of the labor market." The assistance may help stabilize consumer finances, enabling them to continue making payments for rented products.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended the federal eviction moratorium, which was set to expire on January 31, through at least March 31. Nearly one in five households were behind on their rent in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. The extension may help ease the financial pressure on some consumers.
  • The weekly number of new unemployment claims, considered a bellwether for the health of the labor market, rose during the first half of February and remain above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000. First-time jobless claims totaled 861,000 for the week ending February 13. New weekly claims were typically a little over 200,000 before the pandemic. The unemployment rate has dropped from its peak in April 2020 but was 6.3% in January compared with 3.5% before the pandemic.
  • Low-income households ($15,000 to $50,000 annual income) account for over 80% of rent-to-own customers and may be more likely to default or miss payments during periods of financial distress.
  • The University of Michigan’s (UM) consumer sentiment index, a measure of consumer confidence, fell to 79 in January from 80.7 in December 2020. Higher consumer confidence may boost demand for . The Current Economic Conditions Index decreased to 86.7 from 90 in December and the Index of Consumer Expectations decreased to 74 from 74.6. The index remains almost 20 points below its pre-pandemic level.

February 3, 2021

  • A median of 37.5% of long-term care facility staff have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as of early February despite having access to shots at work, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A median of 78% of residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Industry experts cite both distrust of government and distrust of the healthcare system as key reasons why some may be refusing the vaccine.
  • Covid-19 continues to adversely affect senior housing occupancy, which reached another record low in the third quarter of 2020, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). The average occupancy rate across NIC’s 31 primary markets fell to 82.1% during Q3, a 2.6 percentage point decline from the second quarter and 5.6 percentage points lower than Q1 2020.
  • COVID-19 has introduced a fear of traditional healthcare delivery settings, especially among older adults, according to Bob Kramer, founder of aging services consulting firm Nexus Insights. The fear will drive change in healthcare delivery, and senior living settings are emerging as a key player in that change, with a major objective being to keep residents out of the hospital. “If you’re going to tell a resident’s family, in essence, ‘Well if something happens to Mom, we just call the paramedics and she goes to the ER,’ they’re going to go, ‘No, that’s not acceptable to us,’” Kramer said. “And payers are not going to put up with sending somebody that they are holding the managed Medicare plan risk for to the ER every time there’s an issue at 2 in the morning.”
  • The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care has launched the COVID-19 Reach Tracker, a report that draws on publicly released information to compile statistics such as the number of senior living properties in a given metro area with positive COVID-19 diagnoses among residents and staff. The Tracker is updated regularly as states revise their data and as additional reporting is provided by government sources.
  • Employment at continuing care retirement communities declined 7.1% year over year in November 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The average salaries for continuing care retirement community (CCRC) leadership continued rising in 2020. The average salary for CCRC executive directors overall rose to $182,000 from $174,000 in 2019, according to the latest Continuing Care Retirement Community Salary & Benefits Report from the Hospital & Healthcare Compensation Service. This marks a 4.92% increase over the previous year, based on same-community data. Chief financial officers (CFOs) participating in the survey reported a similar pay hike percentage. The average salary for CFOs was $154,165, compared with $148,051 a year prior — a 4.13% increase. Associate directors saw a 3.96% increase in salary, from $122,148 in 2019 to $126,981. The data collected for the report spanned April 2019 to March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic swept across the US.

February 27, 2021

  • Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), an indicator of foot traffic at convenience stores, decreased 10.3% year over year and 0.3% month over month in December 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration. VMT was down 13.2% year over year for all of 2020. The December year-over-year drop in VMT was largest in the Northeastern US (-15.2%) followed by the North Central (-11.9%), West (-11.2%), South Atlantic (-9.2%), and South Gulf (-5.4%).
  • The number of convenience stores decreased 1.6% year over year during 2020, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). Experts cite the pandemic-related drop in gasoline sales and lower in-store foot traffic as key causes of many closures. “The sustained growth of online shopping and the long-term effects of the pandemic will continue to reshape consumer shopping routines and affect the overall retail landscape," said Andy Jones, NACS vice chairman of research and technology.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who now advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Convenience store, gas station and foodservice workers should be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the phase of inoculations following the elderly and essential workers such as police officers and teachers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended on December 20. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Sales in the gas station industry, which includes establishments with convenience stores increased 4% in value month over month but decreased 8.8% year over year in January.
  • Employment in the convenience store industry decreased 1.8% year over year in December 2020 but was up 6.9% compared to the low of April.
  • Gas prices averaged $2.63 on February 22, up from $2.46 on February 8 and $2.46 a year earlier, according to the Energy Information Administration.

February 3, 2021

  • Chicago’s convention industry is cautiously planning a full slate of shows at McCormick Place for the second half of 2021. The number of major events scheduled is on par with the number of large shows McCormick Place typically hosted in pre-pandemic times, according to the Chicago Tribune. Experts note, however, that the number of shows ultimately held will largely depend on how quickly the state can reach its reopening bench marks, which hinges on a vaccination plan still in its early stages. Some researchers and industry experts in Illinois say that Chicago’s convention industry might not rebound in any significant fashion until 2022.
  • A health advisory group to the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau said that "big meetings, hundreds of people,” will not likely occur before the fourth quarter of 2021. Hopefully 60% to 70% of the population will have been vaccinated by then, leading to herd immunity from the disease, a group spokesperson said. Other precautions would still need to be in place, including better testing capabilities that are both “highly sensitive” and quick to deliver results.
  • The Center for Exhibition Industry Research told trade show promoters and vendors not to expect in-person conventions until late summer or fall of 2021.
  • Investment in convention centers continues despite a flood of cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Officials in Indianapolis, IN, for example, voted unanimously in September 2020 to add up to $155 million to the public debt to expand the city's convention center complex. “We see convention tourism racing back in 2023,” said Chris Gahl, senior vice president of Visit Indy, the nonprofit that markets the Indiana Convention Center. “When the green flag drops, we’re going to be on the competitive edge.”
  • Seventy percent of the 700 trade show events tracked by the Center for Exhibition Industry Research were cancelled in 2020. Cathy Breden, CEO of the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, said she believes that virtual and face-to-face events will be a permanent part of how business is done in the future. “[Based on] the surveys that we have seen and have conducted ourselves, what’s going to bring people back and feel safe about returning – it’s a vaccine,” Breden said.
  • Industry experts say that declining revenue may affect the future development of the convention and trade show industries. Many cities fully or partly finance the construction and operation of convention hotels to compete for events, according to the New York Times. Financing is often in the form of bonds backed by the hotels' income, as well as revenue from hospitality and tourism taxes. Declining revenue due to the coronavirus outbreak could cut the budgets of cities that used bonds to finance the construction of the hotels with the hopes of attracting more visitors.
  • Lodging tax losses across the top 25 hotel markets in the US could range from 52% to 60% in 2020, according to hospitality consulting firm HVS. Lodging tax revenues in states with a dedicated lodging tax could decline from $3.47 billion in 2019 to between $1.39 and $1.65 billion in 2020, according to HVS. The US Travel Association and Tourism Economics estimates cumulative tourism industry losses at $195 billion since the beginning of March.
  • King County announced in early December 2020 a $100 million bailout of the Washington State Convention Center expansion project in downtown Seattle. The interim financing is needed because the coronavirus pandemic has cut off the hotel tax revenue that was paying for construction. Project managers said earlier in 2020 that they may not be able to sell $300 million in bonds to finance the remainder of the $1.8 billion expansion due to the economic crisis induced by the pandemic. The Convention Center planned to use revenue from a tax on hotel room bookings to pay back the debt, but downtown hotel revenue fell by 96% after the coronavirus outbreak from the same period in 2019. The project will run out of money as soon as next March if they don’t get federal money, according to Matt Griffin, development manager of the Washington State Convention Center addition.

February 11, 2021

  • Cookie demand has risen 25% during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Top Data, a data analytics agency. One in five Americans is consuming more than three cookies per day. About one third of Americans eat between 24 and 48 cookies a month, with nearly 40% eating more than that.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance to give meat and food processing industry workers space in the line, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Many legal experts agree that corporations can require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with the union before mandating a vaccine. Anti-discrimination laws also provide some protections. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons are eligible to request an exemption.
  • About 90% of consumers surveyed by C Space agreed with the statement that “eating their favorite snack makes them feel normal and reminds them of the good times.”
  • Consumers are increasingly buying food online due to quarantines and concern about social distancing. Cookie and cracker manufacturers traditionally sold cases of products in light packaging for display on retail shelves. Now retailers are shipping individual packages to online customers and the light packaging with little to no structure has become problematic as cookies and crackers arrive damaged. The industry will need to address packaging if consumers continue to purchase significant volumes of these goods online.
  • Industry insiders indicate that consumers were paying greater attention to healthy ingredients and wholesome baked products before the pandemic, but that trend may be accelerated as a result. Manufacturers are looking at adding functional qualities to products, such as infusing snacks with CBD and essential oils meant to calm the consumer.
  • Employment in the cookie, cracker, pasta and tortilla manufacturing industry fell 3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 1% from the start of the year.
  • The prices paid by consumers for cookies rose 2.1% year over year in January. Consumer prices for crackers and bread increased 3.2%. Cookie and cracker manufacturers’ prices were unchanged from a year ago.
  • Industry organizations are creating online events and forums to keep cookie and cracker manufacturers and their suppliers and customers connected while in-person communications are limited. The Sweets & Snacks Expo has created its Sweets & Snacks On Demand, a new digital platform that will allow the industry to connect, innovate, promote products and learn online.
  • Cookie and cracker manufacturers have made contributions to food banks, which have experienced a spike in need for inventory. Campbell’s Snacks has donated over $5 million in cash and food to local food banks, panties and community organizations since the coronavirus pandemic.

February 27, 2021

  • The global beauty market is set to surpass 2019 sales in 2021 despite the pandemic’s setbacks, according to consulting firm McKinsey. The recovery will be uneven across categories, however. Haircare, skincare, and personal care are predicted to increase in 2021, while fragrance and color cosmetics sales are expected to decrease.
  • Consumer spending decreased 0.2% month over month in December 2020, the second decline since April. The decline followed a 0.7% month-over-month drop in November. Personal income increased 0.6% in December after two months of declines. Disposable personal income also increased 0.6%. The government estimated that the economy grew at a 4% annual rate in the final three months of 2020 but shrank for the full year by the largest amount in 74 years.  Hiring has slowed for six straight months, and employers shed jobs in December for the first time since April. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost to the pandemic, which began 10 months ago.
  • Beauty products firm Sephora plans to open shops at 850 Kohl's locations by 2023. Sephora will also launch on Kohl's website this year, offering more than 100 beauty brands, some of which are exclusive to Sephora. The Sephora shops in Kohl's stores will be about 2,500 square feet, offering most of the same services found at other Sephora stores, including help with makeup application.
  • Ulta Beauty, the nation’s largest beauty store chain, will place shops in more than 100 Target stores by mid-2021. The shops, which will each be about 1,000 square feet and carry makeup, skincare, and fragrance, will operate beside existing beauty sections in Target stores. Industry experts say that the partnership is intended to capitalize on changing shopping habits, as customers try to minimize potential exposure to the coronavirus through one-stop shopping.
  • Employment in the cosmetic and beauty supply store industry decreased 35.5% year over year in December 2020 but was up 119% from the low of May.
  • To comply with new COVID-19 safety and sanitation regulations, Ulta and Sephora no longer allow customers to sample or test beauty products, a practice that was once the hallmark of both retailers. Test products are now for display only and if a customer touches a display item, a worker must remove the item and disinfect the area. Both retailers offered virtual testing tools before the pandemic.
  • The “lipstick theory,” which was based on the fact that lipsticks sold well during the previous four recessions, has not been applicable during COVID-19 because recommendations to wear masks conceal the lips. Consumers are increasingly turning to eye make-up instead.
  • The coronavirus and related economic downturn are projected to create a 2.5% decline in the US cosmetics and toiletries market, according to Kline, which has divided the industry into four categories. Sales in “rescue” categories, such as hand sanitizers and liquid hand soaps, are expected to rise. Sales of “everyday basics,” like shampoos and deodorants, are expected to remain stable. Sales of “soothing solutions,” such as facial skin care and nail polishes, are expected to drop near term and then rebound as consumers turn to them as a treat and/or to maintain or establish a part of their routine they can still control. “Can-wait” categories, including fragrances and color cosmetics, are expected to suffer because of social distancing directives and projected to struggle in the years to come because of the economic fallout.

February 3, 2021

  • Industry watchers suggest the pandemic will hasten the demise of many large brick-and-mortar retailers as consumers shifted even further to online shopping during the lockdown. Losing commercial customers and gaining more residential business could be a mixed blessing for couriers like FedEx and UPS. The shift in volume toward residential deliveries compared to commercial ones can hurt carrier profits due to smaller package sizes, more frequent stops, and increased package sorting complexity. To help cover additional volume-related costs, UPS and FedEx have instituted COVID-19-related peak surcharges. The surcharges primarily apply to large-volume shippers.
  • As the surge in ecommerce is not expected to abate once the pandemic subsides, the logistics space is seeing new entrants and drawing investment. Global investments in logistics startups reached $8.1 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to CB Insights. One such firm is Pandion, founded by a former delivery executive at Amazon. Pandion aims to help retailers like Walmart, Target, and Wayfair compete with Amazon’s delivery speed by reducing the cost and congestion of the “middle mile” - the delivery gap between the warehouse and the vehicle that delivers a package to the customer’s home, according to Bloomberg. Pandion plans to operate package sorting centers and transport packages with contract trucking firms.
  • As the two biggest couriers – UPS and FedEx – increase rates and in some cases refuse volume increases by large shippers, it is creating opportunities for smaller regional players, according to FreightWaves. As shipping demand rises, the large couriers are increasingly refusing some shippers’ volume increases, especially for low-margin, difficult-to-handle freight. The imbalance between shipper demand and courier supply bandwidth is expected to give an opening to regional couriers. However, experts warn that regional players need to be careful about the new business they pick up to avoid the low-margin challenges experienced by UPS and FedEx.
  • As higher volumes have led to increased costs, couriers’ sales did get a boost in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the second quarter. Courier and messenger services sales rose 4%, according to the US Census Bureau. Courier and messenger service sales were up 15% in Q3 2020 on a year-over-year basis.
  • FedEx’s revenue in the fiscal second quarter 2021 reached $20.6 billion, an increase of 19% compared to the same period in fiscal 2020. The company said growth was driven by increased volume in its FedEx International Priority and US consumer package services. UPS posted fourth quarter 2020 revenue of $24.9 billion, a 21% rise over the same period a year earlier. Both companies enjoyed increased demand from ecommerce.
  • As more businesses gradually reopen, the balance between residential and commercial deliveries may swing back closer to its pre-pandemic state. However, daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By early February, the 7-day average for new cases was more than 140,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were trending downward. As of February 1, about 13 states had a mix of business closures and two were mostly closed, according to The New York Times.  While additional lockdowns could slow economic growth, the rollout of vaccine distribution has buoyed optimism.
  • On-demand food delivery services have grown as consumers sheltered at home and many restaurant dining rooms were closed. However, with few differentiators among the top players, pressure on pricing has led to consolidation. To complement its Uber Eats unit, Uber completed its purchase of food delivery start-up Postmates in late 2020. The move also helps shore up Uber’s struggling ridesharing business. Uber had shown interest in rival Grubhub, but the latter agreed to a merger with Just Eat Takeaway in mid-2020; the deal is expected to close later in 2021. Bar closures and capacity limits increased consumer thirst for on-demand alcohol delivery services. To capitalize on the trend, Uber Eats agreed to buy alcohol delivery company Drizly in early 2021 for $1.1 billion in stock and cash.
  • With a record year for package deliveries in the rearview, couriers are playing another key role as they help distribute COVID-19 vaccines. In November, three different vaccines were announced, each with effectiveness rates of about 90%. Deutsche Post estimates 10 billion doses of vaccine will be distributed on 15,000 air freight flights over the next two years. One of the many challenges of global distribution is that some of the vaccines must be stored at very cold temperatures. UPS has invested in “freezer farms” to store millions of doses at temperatures as low as -80 Celsius. FedEx has about 90 cold supply chain facilities scattered across the world and has plans for more. FedEx and UPS began delivering vaccines to administration sites in December. While the initial rollout of vaccines has at times been rocky, industry watchers note carriers have done their part and delivered vaccines on time.

February 3, 2021

  • CPA practices may benefit from pandemic-related complexities added to the 2020 tax preparation process. Common issues for individuals include taxable unemployment benefits, student loan relief, CARES Act changes regarding charitable donations, and real estate taxes that are still due despite mortgage payment suspensions. The major pandemic-related issues for businesses are likely to be related to the Payroll Protection Program (PPP).  The IRS begins accepting and processing 2020 tax returns on February 12.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified PPP forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • The federal coronavirus relief package also explicitly states that small businesses which received PPP loans and used those funds to incur otherwise deductible eligible expenses can deduct the expenses even if they reasonably expect to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan. The relief package deductibility rule is a reversal of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) position that taxpayers cannot claim such a deduction because it would be an impermissible double tax benefit to have income on debt forgiveness not taxed as income, and then to also allow tax deductions for the expenses paid with the forgiven loan money.
  • Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J. C. Penney Co. Inc., Ascena Retail Group Inc., Tailored Brands Inc., Fieldwood Energy Inc. and Chesapeake Energy Corp, according to S&P.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift by CPA practices from compliance services to advisory services, according to the Accounting Today news site. “This year the focus has been much more on how do I as a small business stay afloat,” said Charlotte Rushton, president of the tax professional’s customer market at accounting industry consulting firm Thomson Reuters. “How do I get the PPP loans that have been offered? What do I do once I get them? How do I apply for forgiveness?" "We’ve had a 50 percent uptick in the seminars we run to help train accountants on tools and techniques to use to make that relationship shift.”

February 3, 2021

  • The Biden administration has former president Donald Trump’s Phase One trade deal with China “under review”. Beijing agreed to increase purchases of US agricultural goods and other products in exchange for relief from US tariffs as part of the deal. Asked whether the deal was still in effect, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “I would not assume that things are moving forward.” China failed to meet its “phase one” target for imports of US food and agriculture products in 2020 despite a surge in purchases that began late last summer, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • Row crop farmers would see payments of $20 per acre under the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill signed into law in late December 2020. Industry experts say that the agricultural provisions in the latest coronavirus stimulus package are far more detailed than in previous aid packages — which gave Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue great leeway in distributing aid — and direct aid to producers and processors who hadn't yet received assistance.
  • China is forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a record $27 billion worth of farm products in fiscal 2021 (started on October 1) and regain its rank as the top foreign market for American farm products.
  • Net farm income is expected to have risen 43% year over year in 2020 to nearly $120 billion, the second-highest yearly total of all time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales are expected to have declined 0.9% year over year to $3 billion in 2020, the lowest since 2016. Growth in farm income was being driven by $46.5 billion in federal payments including those provided through farm bill and conservation programs, ad hoc support related to Chinese retaliatory tariffs, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and coronavirus pandemic relief funding. Federal support as a percentage of net farm income in 2020 is now projected at 39%. Federal support as a percentage of gross farm income is now projected at a record 10%.
  • President Trump announced an additional $13 billion in coronavirus relief for US farmers and ranchers in 2020. The funding will more than double assistance to the sector. The aid is expected to cover losses since April 15, the cutoff date for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had paid $9.9 billion in cash to producers by mid-September out of the $16 billion that was offered in CFAP. The new aid also follows $23 billion in payments made since 2018 to mitigate the impact on agriculture of US trade disputes with China.
  • Advocates for farm workers say that not enough farming operations have taken steps to protect workers from the coronavirus. “It’s very concerning given that there have been several outbreaks at farm labor camps this early in the season in North Carolina,” said Lori Johnson, managing attorney of the Farmworker Unit of Legal Aid of North Carolina. Labor leaders are asking government officials and farm industry representatives for expanded testing at individual farm sites and labor camps, contact tracing on farms where outbreaks are discovered, and industry-provided benefits like health care, hazard pay, and safer housing accommodations. Some farm industry groups have said that they can keep workers safe, noting that many farms have rebuilt workers’ housing to provide more separation among sleeping laborers and have added hand-washing stations and mask requirements

February 20, 2021

  • The number of hotel projects completed, a driver of demand for cut stone and stone products, will increase 11.5% year over year in 2021 and 11% year over year in 2022, according to Lodging Econometrics.
  • Of the 833 hotels that opened in 2020, upscale and upper midscale brands accounted for 68% of the new openings and 63% of new rooms, according to Lodging Econometrics. Extended-stay brands accounted for 29% of all hotels that opened in 2020. The middle tier extended-stay brands accounted for the most openings with 141 hotels/14,347 rooms, equating to a 10.3% growth rate. Extended-stay brands are projected to open 241 projects/25,779 rooms in 2021, or 26% of all forecasted openings for the year.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Total construction starts will increase 4% in 2021, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. "The dollar value of starts for residential buildings will increase 5% in 2021, nonresidential buildings will gain 3%, and nonbuilding construction will improve 7%. Only the residential sector, however, will exceed its 2019 level of starts thanks to historically low mortgage rates that boost single family housing,” said Richard Branch, Chief Economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
  • Growth in renovation and repair spending will reach 4.1% by the first quarter of 2021 with gains softening to 1.7% by the third quarter, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. “The remodeling market is bouncing back from the initial shocks caused by the pandemic, as homeowners continue to spend significant time in their home and are adapting it for work, school, and leisure,” says Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies.
  • Spending on nonresidential building projects is declining and will do so through 2021, according to a mid-year update to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Consensus Construction Forecast. The AIA estimates an 8% spending drop in 2020 and just under 5% in 2021 due to pandemic-induced economic disruptions. This is the first time in nearly a decade that nonresidential construction spending has trended downwards, according to the AIA.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.

February 11, 2021

  • About a third of steel industry experts surveyed by Steel Market Update said that the price of steel, which rose steeply in 2020, may remain elevated beyond Q1 of 2021. Several mills have expansions in the works that will add more than 7 million tons of steelmaking capacity to the market in 2021. About 31% of respondents to a Steel Market Update survey said that prices will peak in March, while 28% said that February would be the peak.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 explicitly states that small businesses which received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and used those funds to incur otherwise deductible eligible expenses can deduct the expenses even if they reasonably expect to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan. The relief package deductibility rule is a reversal of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) position that taxpayers cannot claim such a deduction because it would be an impermissible double tax benefit to have income on debt forgiveness not taxed as income, and then to also allow tax deductions for the expenses paid with the forgiven loan money.
  • Hopes for a rebound in cutlery sales to restaurants may have been scuttled as state officials reverse reopening plans due to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases. There have been at least 27 million COVID-19 cases and 470,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the US as of February 11, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association.
  • Employment in the cutlery and handtool manufacturing industry fell 7.4% year over year in December 2020 and was down 5.8% from the start of the year, indicating cuts in production volume.
  • Construction industry and consumer demand for handtools has not suffered as consumers take on DIY projects during the quarantine and many construction projects in-process continued. Sales of handtools may increase has sharing on the construction or jobsite has become less acceptable out of concern for transmitting the coronavirus.
  • The prices that cutlery and handtool manufacturers charge for mechanics’ hand service tools increased 6% year over year in December 2020. Prices for saw blades and handsaws increased 1% in December, while prices for edge handtools decreased 1%.
  • The global handtool market was valued at $22.2 billion 2019 and is forecast to grow 4.1% annually through 2027, according to Allied Market Research. In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has created challenges and opportunities for the industry. Challenges include slowed manufacturing and disrupted distribution channels. Opportunities have arisen in the development of safety keys and awareness of how the virus can be spread by sharing tools.
  • The global kitchen knife market is forecast to grow 4.1% annually from 2020-2024, according to Technavio. Non-electric knives will be the leading segment and the introduction of consumer ceramic knives will be a major factor driving sales. The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to have a negative impact on producers but a neutral impact on the consumer market for kitchen knives.
  • A flood of hand-held touch tools, aka safety keys, has hit the consumer market. These metal tools, which fit on a keyring or in a pocket, allow the user to operate door handles and press buttons without touching those surfaces. Prices range from $10-35 depending on the type of metal and craftsmanship.
  • The 39th annual Blade Show has been cancelled as a result of COVID-19. The show was originally rescheduling from April to August. Trade events like this are important for cutlery, handtool and weapon manufacturers to show new products, network with suppliers and customers, and learn. Blade Show 2021 has been scheduled for early June in Atlanta, Georgia.

February 3, 2021

  • The US average all-milk price reached its peak for the 2020 calendar year in November and isn’t expected to reach similar levels until the second half of 2021 at the earliest, according to The National Milk Producers Federation. The peak US average all-milk price reached for 2020 was $21.30 per hundredweight. The mid-January dairy futures indicated that milk prices would generally stay at around $18 per hundredweight until summer 2021.
  • The weekly National Dairy Product Sales Reports prices for cheese dropped to around $1.60 per pound at the end of December 2020 and remained there into early January. Industry experts say that food service use of dairy products will remain low well into 2021, making any strength in the cheese and butter price outlook dependent on news of additional government food assistance purchases.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief bill signed into law in late December 2020 includes $400 million to buy milk for processing into dairy products that would then be donated to food banks and other charities. Dairy producers would also be eligible for payments through a supplemental version of the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) subsidy that makes up to an additional $470 million available. Payments would be based on 75% of milk production in 2019 that exceeded the volume already covered by the DMC. The supplemental aid is targeted toward small and medium-size dairy farms and would be available through 2023, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.
  • Organic dairy product manufacturers have not been hit as hard as other dairy product manufacturers during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Dairy Foods Magazine. “There are relatively small amounts of organic that are used in foodservice,” said Joe Baird, CEO of Willows, Calif.-based Rumiano Cheese Company. “Accordingly, the reduced restaurant sales have not hit organic as severely as they have hit conventional.” Baird said that organics tend to be stronger in retail, and organic dairy product manufacturers may be benefiting as a result.

February 3, 2021

  • A panel of investment bankers who advise data center operators said that the industry appears set for a sustained boom, fueled by the acceleration of digital transformation across the business world as a result of the pandemic. Much of the growth will be driven by hyperscale cloud service providers, which will have deployed 2.1 million new IT racks between 2020 and 2025. The expected deployments translate to roughly $62 billion in capital spending on data center infrastructure, according to 451 Research’s projections. “These incremental deployments … won’t be made solely by the cloud players themselves,” Jonathan Schroth, research analyst for data center services and infrastructure at 451, said. “They will need to work with these data center providers and operators to expand their footprints, especially in the markets where they are not located today.”
  • Data processing and hosting services may continue to reap the benefits of the telecommuting boom for some time, as increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in an end to social distancing measures. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • The biggest growth in the US hyperscale data center footprint over the last eight quarters has come from Amazon, Facebook, and Google, according to Synergy Research Group. Those three together have accounted for over 80% of new hyperscale data centers that have been opened in the US.
  • A majority of states have some form of incentive program specifically targeting data centers according to the Site Selection Group. Those incentives normally include sales tax exemptions or other municipal tax abatements, and can add up to millions of dollars per year.
  • Data storage requirements are rising due to increasing use of data-generating IoT products like remote connected health monitoring solutions, packaging and shipping trackers, and streaming devices. Use of IoT products is rising due to greater reliance on telecommuting, telehealth, and telelearning. Industry experts say that many companies are now looking at establishing smaller locations closer to the customer, reducing reliance on larger data centers with central data resources. For medium- to large-size companies, deploying many more of those edge data centers means they need their own specific storage. It is a fundamentally different architecture that is required to increase the speed at which data can be accessed and processed.
  • A new crop of companies is chasing the business opportunity in building edge data centers to reduce network latency for end users and cut data transport costs. Companies including EdgeMicro, Vapor IO, and Compass EdgePoint are expanding in markets for content, cloud, and telecommunications that are underserved by the largest data center providers. EdgeMicro plans to add locations in Cleveland, Indianapolis, Memphis, Houston, and Pittsburgh. Without using edge data centers in Houston, for instance, internet traffic in the metro has to be served from the nearest major network hub in Dallas, which is 240 miles away. Building a smaller hub in Houston improves performance for end users there and eliminates the cost of moving data between Dallas and Houston for content companies.
  • Data center providers say that facility construction continues to move forward, with only a handful of projects slowed or halted by COVID-19 safety concerns. Industry analysts expect that staffing shortages may persist over time, however, creating challenges for data center construction projects and the supply chain supporting them.

February 25, 2021

  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on February 19 that the US saw a five-week decline in COVID-19 cases, with the seven-day average of cases declining 69% since peaking on January 11. Health officials have stressed, however, that even with effective vaccines, many of the same safety protocols will have to remain in place until there is clear herd immunity. There are growing concerns that virus mutations will slow the process. President Biden said in early February that wearing masks "though the next year" can save a significant number of lives. According to some epidemiological estimates, as many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Spas in many areas are struggling to comply with mandates related to the coronavirus pandemic. Tiered reopening plans have forced some spas to open and close several times as communities move across tiers, depending on the number of COVID-19 cases reported. Whether or not a business may remain open can also depend on its classification. In California, for example, Outdoor skate parks, batting cages and outdoor playgrounds can reopen even under the most-restrictive purple tier, while indoor businesses like spas must wait until a county reaches the least-restrictive yellow tier, and then only if local officials also approve. New York State is simultaneously allowing reopenings in some neighborhoods while ordering businesses and schools to close in others. No other state has tried such a granular approach to rising cases, public health experts told The New York Times. New York State’s plan cuts through city neighborhoods, ZIP codes and, in some cases, even streets. State and city officials hope this approach will prevent the need for additional broad geographical lockdowns.
  • Limited occupancy levels remain an issue, according to an International SPA Association (ISPA) Foundation Consumer Snapshot Initiative survey. More than two-thirds of all spas (68%) reported a maximum occupancy level of 55% or less. The reduction in occupancy levels corresponds to the sharp decreases in year-over-year performance noted by respondents, 30% of whom said, since reopening, they had seen a greater than 65% drop in spa services revenue compared to year-ago. Of the 12% of reopened spas that said they had encountered a confirmed case of COVID-19 since reopening, 71% did not have to close again as a result. Most spas (73%) also noted that they had not had to refuse service to any guest due to their COVID-19 or PPE policies. Of the spas that have had to refuse service for those reasons, most (73%) did so because the guest refused to wear a facial covering or comply with sanitation guidelines, suggesting that compliance with those common steps remains a notable hurdle for reopened spas.
  • Some spas are accepting clients by appointment only. Some salons and spas are not yet taking walk-in clients and will turn away customers unless a stylist, technician, or massage therapist is available at that exact moment. Spas that had operated on a walk-in basis have been forced to limit capacity and increase time between appointments for sanitizing. With fewer appointments available, those operators have been forced to implement a booking system to maximize resources.

January 27, 2021

  • Many funeral homes have seen families opt for cremation and delayed memorial services in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. More Americans have opted for cremation over the years, surpassing burials in 2017, according to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA). The pandemic has accelerated the trend, according to the NFDA. More families opting for cremation could present challenges for many funeral directors as burials are much costlier, and are more profitable, than cremations. Cremation may also be preferable as it doesn’t involve embalming which in deceased COVID-19 patients can present risks to workers who perform embalming. Some funeral homes have ceased offering embalming services unless it is legally required (such as when a body is entombed in a crypt).
  • Restrictions on gatherings create challenges for funeral homes and their clients’ ability to have viewings and memorial services. Funeral homes are making use of live streaming options to record and broadcast viewings and memorial services, so family and friends can attend remotely and send condolences electronically. To accommodate larger numbers of mourners while maintaining social distancing, some funeral homes stagger attendance of funerals and viewings into small groups. Other adaptations include drive-through casket viewings and visitations, and simulcasting services on large movie screens in cemetery parking lots which mourners can view from their cars.
  • Daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 170,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were falling. Outbreaks have tended to follow the same pattern - new cases rise, then hospitalizations, then deaths. Funeral homes have monitored local new case rates carefully to be prepared in the event of a spike in hospitalizations.
  • In hard hit areas of the country, crematoriums that typically make daily pick-ups from funeral homes are pushing back several days because their volume has increased significantly. Funeral homes are left holding remains for longer periods of time, while they are also overwhelmed with increased volume. Some funeral homes report being better prepared for rising cases than they were for the wave that occurred over the summer. Anticipating a rise in cases in the fall, many funeral directors ordered extra PPE and other supplies. Some also added refrigeration capacity.
  • Coronavirus has prompted consumer advocates to urge the Federal Trade Commission to update its regulation of funeral homes. Rules in place since 1984 require funeral homes to offer detailed pricing information if asked in person or over the phone. Advocates are calling for the rule to be amended to require funeral homes to include pricing on their websites to make it easier for consumers to research funeral services without leaving home.

January 20, 2021

  • About 99% of dental practices are open and 43% of practices report pre-pandemic patient volume as of January 18, according to an American Dental Association (ADA).
  • While 99% of dentists have reopened and some practices report a return to pre-pandemic volumes, the overall number of patients visiting offices remains about 20% below usual levels, according to the ADA. Industry experts say that many people continue to put off elective procedures, many of which are the source of demand for products made at dental laboratories, due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic. Some health experts, including dentists, told the New York Times that they are skeptical about going to the dentist for anything that is not urgent, especially in the many parts of the country where coronavirus cases are rising. Dr. Neetu Singh, the oral health program director at Health Care For All in Boston, said that for now people should use telehealth or call the dentist first for a consultation, then assess whether to come in.
  • The US Congress is negotiating a new coronavirus relief bill that includes direct payments for some Americans of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 for both child and adult dependents. Dental laboratories may benefit if the proposed funding helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the US Congress in December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments to qualifying Americans, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans.
  • Spending on dental care could decline by up to 20% in 2021, the American Dental Association (ADA) projects. More than 46% of dentists surveyed by the ADA said that their patient volume was down at least 15% from usual levels during the week of October 5.
  • About 15% to 20% of regular dental patients say that “they’re not going to go back to the dentist until there’s a vaccine or a proven treatment,” said Marko Vujicic, chief economist of the ADA.
  • The American Dental Association (ADA) and National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL) are encouraging dentists to conduct due diligence to determine whether dental laboratories are offshoring production. Dentists need to know what materials are used in the devices that they provide to patients, and need assurance that the lab manufacturing those devices follows the appropriate infection control protocols, according to Travis Zick, immediate past president of NADL. “ADA policy supports dental laboratories letting dentists know if the prescribed dental prostheses, components, or materials are to be manufactured or provided by a foreign dental laboratory,” said Dr. Rudy Liddell, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. “It also notes that state registration of dental labs is one way to achieve this.”
  • Dental offices, the primary source of demand for dental laboratory products, are struggling with the cost of complying with reopening requirements and guidelines, according to the Washington Post. The investment required to outfit practices with the personal protective equipment (PPE) that wasn't needed before the coronavirus outbreak can be substantial. Some dentists may lose their practices because of the unexpected expenses.

February 4, 2021

  • Patients have steadily been returning to dentist offices, according to an American Dental Association Health Policy Institute (HPI) poll. Average patient volume had reached 78% of pre-coronavirus levels by December 14, 2020, according to HPI. Implementation of safety protocols and increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines will increase doctors' and patients' confidence in returning to their usual routines, HPI officials said.
  • Dentists are not among the health care workers getting priority access to COVID-19 vaccinations in most states, according to the American Dental Association. Industry advocacy groups are asking the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make it clear that dental personnel are included in the agency’s recommendation to give health care workers priority access.
  • California professional organizations representing dentists and optometrists are in talks with state officials to expand their job descriptions to include administering vaccines. Oregon has already begun training and certifying dentists to give vaccines. At least half of the states have considered allowing dentists to administer COVID vaccines once they’re available, according to the American Association of Dental Boards.
  • The New York State Department of Financial Services, which regulates insurance firms, published guidelines directing medical, dental, and vision insurers to combat personal protective equipment (PPE) surcharges. Some dentists in New York State and elsewhere are adding a COVID-19 surcharge to help cover the cost of upgraded PPE that they say is essential for keeping employees safe during the pandemic. Insurance companies can't allow dentists in their network to charge members PPE fees and must get previously paid surcharges reimbursed, state regulators said. The American Dental Association has urged dental health plans to begin reimbursing a new fee to cover the expense. Some health plans have done so, but others haven’t, which can leave patients paying the bills.
  • Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh has issued an advisory, warning dentists that charging PPE fees may violate the Consumer Protection Act. Insurance laws typically prohibit participating providers from charging fees to insured consumers. Kimberly Cammarata, Assistant Attorney General and director of the state Health Education and Advocacy Unit (HEAU), said that the unit has received 17 complaints about PPE fees in the range of $10 - $40 per visit. “We heard anecdotally from other carriers that one provider was charging $172, another was charging $300,” Cammarata said. The fee may be acceptable when patients see an out-of-network provider or don’t have insurance, Cammarata added. The American Dental Association has said that it’s unethical to only charge uninsured patients or only seek reimbursement for these fees from insured patients.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) issued new guidance in August advising people to delay routine dental cleanings "...until there has been a significant reduction in covid-19 transmission rates, or according to official recommendations at national, subnational, or local levels.” WHO cited the role of aerosols in the “rapid contamination of surfaces and potential for the infection to spread” and called for more research into common dentistry practices that produce the tiny floating particles that might cause infection if inhaled, Reuters reported. “The likelihood of COVID-19 being transmitted through aerosol, micro-particles or airborne particles ... today I think is unknown. It’s open to question at least. This means that more research is needed,” Benoit Varenne, a WHO dental officer, said during a news briefing.
  • The American Dental Association (ADA) released a statement stating that it "respectfully yet strongly disagrees" with the World Health Organization's interim guidance recommending that "routine" dental care be delayed in certain situations because of COVID-19. The ADA Board of Trustees adopted an ad interim policy stating dentistry is essential health care, and will consider it as a resolution during its virtual meeting in October. "Millions of patients have safely visited their dentists in the past few months for the full range of dental services," ADA President Dr. Chad P. Gehani said. "With appropriate PPE, dental care should continue to be delivered during global pandemics or other disaster situations."
  • The Department of Labor has concluded that dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants have the highest exposure to the disease, ranking alongside respiratory therapy technicians and oral surgeons. The instruments used by dental practices create aerosol clouds that can hold germs for up to three hours, increasing the odds of exposure for staff if a patient has the coronavirus.

February 10, 2021

  • Nearly 70% of respondents to a survey conducted by University of Texas researchers reported that it was more difficult to achieve their weight loss goals during the pandemic, with about half spending less time on exercise. The researchers said that interventions including telehealth options and outreach efforts are needed to improve outcomes.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Diet and weight reducing centers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire on January 31, 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Millennials and Generation Z are struggling with weight gain and stress eating, according to a study conducted from October 2 through 6 by V8. Approximately 48% of Gen Z and 55% of Millennial respondents said that they have gained weight during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 60% of Millennials and Gen Z respondents revealed that they are struggling with mental health due to health, financial and social concerns.
  • More Americans are bypassing weight loss programs and opting for bariatric surgery. Insurance companies United Healthcare and Cigna have seen a demand increase of as much as 24% to 40% during June, July, and August compared to the same period last year, according to Dr. Frank Chae of the Denver Center for Bariatric Surgery. “I think a lot of people are fast tracking their decision process to sign up for surgery in order for them to protect themselves from the adverse effects of COVID-19 complications, which by the way, rises with obesity,” Dr. Chae said.
  • A study by Nutrisystem revealed that sheltering in place led to weight gain of up to 16 pounds for 76% of Americans. Instead of focusing on a “summer body,” Americans are now working towards a “post-quarantine body.”
  • A survey by the American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic revealed that 15% of respondents gained 1-3 pounds; 34% gained 4-6 pounds; 26% gained 7-9 pounds; and 21% gained 10-20 pounds during COVID-19-related stay-at-home periods. Lack of exercise, stress eating, and extra alcohol consumption were the primary reasons for weight gain.

February 10, 2021

  • The Virginia legislature is considering a privacy bill which may provide another blueprint that some industry stakeholders would prefer to see replicated in other states and on the federal level. The Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, which is modeled on a Washington state proposal, would apply only to businesses that have at least 100,000 customers in the state, or any business that makes 50% of its gross revenue from the sale of personal data and processes personal data for at least 25,000 consumers. The bill gives consumers the right to access, correct, and delete the data that businesses collect about them, and the ability to opt out of data collection outright. A major reason why many industry stakeholders back the bill is that it doesn’t give consumers the ability to sue when those data rights are violated, known as a private right of action. Federal and state lawmakers looking to craft their own privacy bills have typically followed two models, the California Consumer Privacy Act and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation. While the California and European Union privacy acts include a private right of action in certain cases, debate over whether to include it stalled progress on a privacy bill in Washington state last year and has continued to slow federal efforts. Enforcement in Virginia’s version would sit solely with the state attorney general’s office, and despite the state’s Democratic control, few lawmakers have publicly pushed back against the exclusion of the private right of action.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal.
  • Advertising spending in the US won’t recover until 2023, according to Forrester Research. The advertising industry is expected to lose 52,000 jobs between 2020 and 2021.
  • The US Postal Service predicted $13 billion in lost revenue for 2020 and requested funding and unrestricted access to borrowing from Congress.

February 4, 2021

  • Craft distillers are projected to lose $700 million in annualized sales, a loss of 41% of total craft business, due to lost tasting room sales and lost wholesale sales, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). DISCUS anticipates an increase  in tourism at some point in 2021 that is expected to boost craft distillery sales.
  • A 25% retaliatory tariff on American Whiskey that DISCUS says was imposed by the European Union in response to US Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum resulted in American whisky exports to the EU dropping 41%, year over year in 2020.
  • Distilleries are likely to benefit from the addition of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA) to the $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December. The CBMTRA will make existing federal excise tax rates for distillers and brewers permanent. The current Federal Excise Tax rates for small and independent breweries, which were set to expire on December 31, 2020, could have increased as much as 100% if the CBMTRA was not passed.
  • The coronavirus relief package also includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Distilleries are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expired at the end of 2020. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in the reopening of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has sent a letter to congressional lawmakers asking for economic relief for craft spirits manufacturers. The trade group is asking for suspension of tariffs on distilled spirits, creation of an industry stabilization fund, and ongoing support for low- or no-interest loan assistance. DISCUS says that, while off-premises sales of beer, wine, and spirits have been strong in recent months, distillers are "facing enormous financial hardship" as businesses serving alcoholic beverages, including distillery tasting rooms, have been closed or are reopening to only a fraction of pre-pandemic customer traffic.

February 22, 2021

  • Oversupply in the market and greatly reduced demand due to worldwide quarantines drove the US spot price for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude to a low of $3.32 per barrel for the week ending April 24, down from $63 at the start of 2020.
  • In January, the International Energy Agency dropped its forecast for Q2 2021 by 0.6 million barrels per day (mb/d) and 0.3 mb/p for the whole year. While vaccination efforts have helped boost prices, further significant price increases are unlikely until international travel bounces back, according to analysis by JPMorgan Asset Management. A fresh round of COVID-19 stimulus – including proposed $1,400 benefit for those earning up to $75,000, and $1,400 per dependent child – could help spur fuel demand.
  • Low prices have driven down the number of oil rigs in operation. The US rig count as of February 19, 2021 was 397, flat from the prior week and down 394 from a year ago, according to Baker Hughes Rig Count. In mid-February, oil production in Texas was hammered by winter storms that cut power to oil wells and froze equipment for several days. Prior to the storms, the US rig count had been rising for several consecutive weeks. The storm resulted in the lowest oil output from Texas’ Permian basin since the lockdowns in May. However, propped up by higher oil prices, new US drilling activity is expected to increase throughout 2021, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). US crude production is estimated to have fallen to an average of 11.3 million barrels per day (b/d) in 2020 from 12.2 million b/d in 2019. Crude production is projected to fall further to 11 million b/d in 2021.
  • US liquid fuel and petroleum consumption has bounced back from the low point seen in the first half of 2020, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Total US liquid fuels consumption for 2020 averaged 18.8 million barrels per day (b/d), down 1.7 million b/d from 2019. The EIA expects US oil and liquid fuels consumption to rise by 3.3 million b/d in 2021 which will still be below 2019 levels. US natural gas consumption fell 2.1% in 2020, primarily due to less gas use by the power sector. Natural gas consumption in 2021 is expected to decline 1.9%.
  • In the fourth quarter of 2020, six North American exploration and production (E&P) firms filed for bankruptcy, bringing the total number of E&P Chapter 11 filings in 2020 to 46, according to Texas-based corporate law firm Haynes and Boone. Amid continued low oil prices, producers are having trouble securing additional credit to stay afloat. The aggregate secured and unsecured debt for North American oil and gas producers in 2020 was comparable to that of the previous downturn in 2016. However, higher oil prices and rising rig counts may slow the rate of bankruptcies among exploration and production firms.
  • Exploration and production (E&P) companies are slashing capital expenditures for 2020. Among the supermajor E&P companies, capital expenditure cuts are typically between 20-25%, according to GlobalData. Together, 2020 writedowns by BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon totaled $51.4 billion, according to Bloomberg. In January, the International Energy Agency dropped its forecast for Q2 2021 by 0.6 million barrels per day (mb/d) and 0.3 mb/p for the whole year. While vaccination efforts have helped boost prices, further significant price increases are unlikely until international travel bounces back, according to analysis by JPMorgan Asset Management.
  • When oil prices hit the $40 per barrel mark in mid-2020, fracking activity was utilizing an unusually high inventory of drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs) – especially in the Permian Basin. However, some of the DUCs that remain may never be developed because of their age and the efficiency advantages of new wells, according to analysis by Raymond James. The number of DUCs is expected to drop to normal levels by the end of 2021, according to Raymond James. A lower number of DUCs could drive the need for new drilling activity.
  • The pandemic and resulting drop in oil consumption is fueling consolidation in the US shale oil industry, according to the New York Times. In January, Conoco Phillips finalized its acquisition of Texas-based Concho Resources. In October, Chevron completed its purchase of Nobel Energy. Smaller shale players will continue to shake out as shale investment drops; US shale investments in 2020 were an estimated $45 billion compared to about $100 billion in both 2018 and 2019, according to the EIA.

February 10, 2021

  • The pandemic has worsened shortages of dozens of essential drugs, especially injectable generics, according to CNBC. Industry experts cite supply chain issues related to the offshoring of about 80% of the production of generic drugs and ingredients, principally to India and China in search of lower costs, as the key cause. Martin VanTrieste, a former chief quality officer at pharmaceutical giant Amgen, said that manufacturers are incentivized to move production out of the US to areas with lower labor costs, lower regulatory compliance costs, and direct or indirect government support to build new facilities.
  • Distribution of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is being carried out by McKesson Corporation, the nation's largest medical supply company. The Moderna vaccine will take a slightly different path than Pfizer's vaccine, in part because it has simpler storage requirements. UPS and FedEx will send trucks to the McKesson distribution sites to pick up the packages. The two delivery companies have split the country, each delivering the Moderna vaccine and vaccine administration kits to about half the nation.
  • Drug manufacturer Pfizer has set up its own distribution network for its COVID-19 vaccine. The network bypasses traditional drug wholesalers and relies on logistics firms UPS and FedEx. UPS has spent months building "freezer farms" consisting of portable freezer units capable of storing the vaccine at -94 degrees Fahrenheit. The farms have been created near strategic air hubs in the US and Europe. FedEx and UPS begin shipping 2.9 million doses of the vaccine on December 12 from Pfizer plants to hospitals, clinics, and other distribution points across the country.
  • McKesson Corporation was selected by the CDC to be the central distributor of COVID-19 vaccines to state and local health departments, medical facilities, and doctors’ offices. The company distributed the H1N1 vaccine during the H1N1 pandemic in 2009-2010.
  • Wholesale sales of drugs increased 1.1% in value month over month on an adjusted basis and 14.8% in value in value year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020.
  • Pharmaceutical wholesalers joined manufacturers and retailers to collaborate during the COVID-19 pandemic and better work with state and national emergency response organizations.
  • The largest wholesalers are transparent about their allocation strategies to ensure availability during periods of peak demand and worked with suppliers to increase days-on-hand of critical inventory, such as IV fluids and generic injectables. McKesson allocated antibiotics, statins, antivirals, nebulizer solutions, and respiratory medications. AmerisourceBergen announced a small number of drug shortages.

February 23, 2021

  • The city of Seattle, WA, and several city and county governments across California have passed mandates requiring some large grocery, food retail, and pharmacy employers to provide hazard pay for frontline workers. The US Congress has not passed any government-funded hazard pay for frontline workers during the pandemic. While a few states have allocated federal CARES Act funding for hazard pay programs, experts say that it is unlikely that the programs will continue or expand without additional federal funding. There are also no national or state laws requiring employers other than the federal government to provide hazard pay to workers during a public health emergency.
  • Retail pharmacies will play a critical role in the next step of combatting the pandemic, according to officials from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS). "Based on conservative assumptions, pharmacies have the capacity to meet the demand for 100 million vaccine doses in one month when that level of the vaccine supply is available," NACDS president and CEO Stephen Anderson said in mid-January. Part of President Biden's proposed vaccination plan includes an effort to increase capacity at chain and independent pharmacies.
  • Drug stores and pharmacies that were laying off pharmacists and technicians in the summer are now scrambling to boost staff in preparation for large scale vaccine administration. Walgreens said it plans to hire about 25,000 people, including 8,000 to 9,000 pharmacists and other health care workers, to administer the vaccine. Some firms are reaching out to retired workers and offering signing bonuses.
  • The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) authorized licensed pharmacists to order and administer FDA-approved coronavirus tests, including serology tests.
  • Sales in the health and personal care retailing industry, which includes drugstores and pharmacies, increased 3.3% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment at drug stores and pharmacies was unchanged year over year in December 2020 and was unchanged from the beginning of the year.

January 27, 2021

  • The impact of the coronavirus outbreak on dry cleaning and laundry firms is likely to vary based on each firm’s customer base. Firms heavily dependent upon cleaning business attire are likely to be negatively impacted due to work-from-home measures. Firms deriving significant revenue from business-to-business sales may see revenue rise as clients intensify their cleaning efforts to minimize the possibility of infection. One in six dry cleaners in the US have closed or gone bankrupt, and industry sales are about half of what they were prior to the pandemic, according to the National Cleaners Association (NCA). More than 90% of dry cleaner owners are not taking a paycheck, and about 90% are paying employees out of their savings, according to the NCA.
  • Vaccine distribution gives dry cleaners hope that business will improve as more white-collar workers return to the office. However, the shift to work-from-home is expected to outlast the pandemic. The number of days spent working from home is expected to rise to 25% compared to just 5% prior to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom.
  • Nearly 85% of dry cleaning customers say it’s extremely important to feel safe about a dry cleaning establishment’s sanitation practices, according to the recent Cleaner’s Supply Dry Cleaning Consumer Pulse Report. Customers want to know dry cleaners are wiping down surfaces including door handles, counters, and credit card systems and offer contactless drop-off and pick-up. In an earlier Cleaner’s Supply survey, more than 70% of customers said they want touchless payment methods. Half reported they were working from home; half also said they were not wearing nice clothing – neither of which are encouraging for dry cleaners.
  • The National Cleaners Association recommends not shaking clothing; not using the same baskets for loading and unloading dirty and clean laundry; dry clothing thoroughly (as per CDC) and not using the short cycle; tag incoming laundry in nylon or plastic bags and let them sit for 24 hours to allow the virus to die; and not reusing bags unless they’ve been washed or sanitized.
  • Firms are advertising to let customers know they are open, that curbside drop-off and pick-up are available and if hours have changed. They are advertising laundry service as a means of battling coronavirus and making more pickup/deliveries. Some are installing plexiglass barriers at counters, according to a survey by American Cleaners. Adding sanitizing features to existing laundry equipment can help draw in wash-dry-fold customers, differentiate from competitors, and generate additional revenue, according to American Coin-op. Sanitizing features include the injection of ozone gas to cold water intakes, which kills bacteria and viruses. Dry cleaning and laundry service locations that offer no-touch features such as a drive-thru or pick-up/drop-off lockers may be advantaged.
  • While services like wash-dry-fold and free pick-up and delivery aren’t new, more customers are finding them helpful as they spend more time at home, according to American Drycleaner. Some cleaners are revamping their websites’ search engine optimization (SEO) strategies and placing online ads to boost their ranking in search engines and keep customers informed about service offerings.
  • The Clean Show – North America’s largest trade show for the laundry, dry cleaning, and textile care services, supplies, and equipment industry – has been postponed due to coronavirus concerns. The live event was originally slated for June 2021 in Atlanta. The location will not change, but the 2021 will now run from late July to Early August 2022. The change will also affect the planned CLEAN 2023 show which is now being backed off to August 2024. Clean Show 2019 attracted more than 11,000 industry attendees and more than 450 exhibiting companies.
  • Dry cleaners that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.

February 7, 2021

  • Democratic control of both the US Congress and the presidency may boost the chances that a federal infrastructure spending bill will be passed. "A $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion package — somewhere in that zone — could get through," according to Gautam Khanna, senior portfolio manager with Insight Investment. Demand for drywall and insulation contracting services is likely to increase if a bill is passed, as President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes investment in airports, ports, roads, and highways, as well as digital infrastructure and clean tech. Experts note, however, that achieving even a fraction of the infrastructure proposal will require Biden to secure new funding streams or expand debt-fueled spending, potentially upend the way infrastructure policy typically works, and ensure hundreds of Democratic lawmakers in a closely divided Congress remain in lockstep.
  • Pandemic-induced material shortages will continue into 2021, according to the Q4 2020 US Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index. About 71% of contractors surveyed for the report said that they are facing at least one material shortage. Price increases for materials like scrap steel and gypsum drywall are also expected to continue into 2021.
  • Construction workers are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than their peers in other professions, according to a University of Texas at Austin study. Lauren Ancel Meyers, one of the study authors, said that the findings don’t necessarily mean construction work needs to stop. “It means we need to go to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of workers when they do go to work.”
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 4, 2021

  • Legislation introduced in the US Congress would provide $10 billion in utility debt relief for Americans struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Energy Debt Relief for American Families Act would provide funding to states through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to pay down utility bills in arrears. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association estimates that 15% to 20% of residential customers are at least 60 days behind on their electric and natural gas bills. The sponsors of the legislation say that it would stop utility companies from being forced to either push the cost of “bad debt” to the rest of their customer base in the form of higher rates or impose cutbacks on assistance to struggling customers.
  • Residential and small business customers could owe "$35 billion to $40 billion dollars to their utilities by March 2021," according to the National Energy Assistance Directors' Association (NEADA). "Our new arrearage data shows that by then, individual unpaid bills may be as high as $1,500 to $2,000, which is as much as some customers pay for electricity in a year," said NAEDA Executive Director Mark Wolfe.
  • Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in early December that electricity consumption will double if the world’s car fleets are electrified. The increase will drive the need to expand nuclear, solar, geothermal, and wind energy generating sources. “It will take another 20 years for cars to be fully electric. It is like with phones, you cannot replace them all at once,” Musk said. The Brattle Group estimates that $75 to $125 billion in new charging infrastructure investments will be needed by 2030.
  • State regulators will allow Georgia Power to eventually recoup the cost of personal protective gear, extra cleaning services, overtime, and meals for the company’s frontline essential workers. The costs will be recouped from customers. Georgia Power will also be allowed to add the value of bills that go unpaid due to the pandemic into rates to be collected from customers. The added costs from bad debt and the coronavirus expenses will be factored in the next time Georgia Power reviews its rates with the state Public Service Commission in 2022.
  • At least 35 states either have granted utility requests for “accounting orders” or are poised to do so, according to Utility Dive. Accounting orders allow utilities to record on their books an offset known as a “regulatory asset,” which is a shareholder asset entirely backed by regulations that allow utilities operating as monopolies to recoup losses through surcharges at a later date that would not be possible in a competitive market. The accounting orders consist primarily of the rising “bad debt” associated with unemployed customers who cannot pay their bills, according to Utility Dive. These regulatory assets earn a return at an amount calculated by the regulator. In Wisconsin, for example, utilities have asked that their regulatory asset accounts grow at between a 7.22% and 7.77% annual return. A Wisconsin utility that couldn't collect $100 million from its customers during the pandemic ultimately would be able to collect $115 million in two years.
  • The Energy Information Administration said that natural gas’ share of generation will rise from 37% in 2019 to 41% in 2020 before dropping to 36% in 2021 as gas prices increase, while coal’s share will slide from 24% in 2019 to 18% in 2020 before rising to 21% in 2021. Nuclear’s share of generation will rise from 20% in 2019 to 21% in 2020 and 2021, while renewables will rise from 17% in 2019 to 20% in 2020 and 22% in 2021. Both nuclear and renewables will top coal for the first time in 2020.

February 7, 2021

  • Construction industry experts expect a surge in commercial renovations in 2021 due to tax changes included in the 2020 CARES Act. Facility upgrades qualified for tax deductions before the passage of the CARES Act, but to reap the full benefits, facility managers had to claim a 2.5% write-off each year for up to 39 years. With the passing of the 2020 CARES Act, facility managers can write off 100% of qualifying facility improvement costs in the first year. A few improvements that qualify for the tax deduction are the installation of airflow management accessories, HVAC devices, and physical security and access control solutions.
  • Construction workers should receive the coronavirus vaccine after other frontline essential workers and people age 75 and older, according to recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Industry experts say, however, that there could still be variation in vaccination plans. The committee said that these recommendations are nonbinding and intended to guide state and local health officials, and can be adjusted based on local needs.
  • Attorneys at Atlanta-based law firm Fisher Phillips told contractors that it is within their legal rights to compel workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Requiring construction workers to get a coronavirus vaccination is comparable to existing rules for healthcare workers that make flu shots mandatory in order to protect all patients and staff and keep the workplace safe, the attorneys said. The attorneys also recommended that contractors set up programs to administer vaccines on jobsites, during work hours, and free of charge, in order to get the highest participation possible while ensuring projects continue to move forward.
  • The National Association of Homebuilder’s Remodeling Market Index (RMI) posted a reading of 79 in Q4 2020, down from 82 in Q3 but up from 73 in Q2 and 24 in Q1. An index number above 50 indicates that a higher share view conditions as good than poor. All components and subcomponents of the RMI were 71 or above. The Current Conditions Index averaged 85, with large remodeling projects ($50,000 or more) yielding a reading of 78, moderately-sized remodeling projects (at least $20,000 but less than $50,000) at 88 and small remodeling projects (under $20,000) with a reading of 89. These readings indicate remodeling activity is strong across projects of all sizes. The Future Indicators Index averaged 72, with the rate at which leads and inquiries are coming in at 71 and the backlog of remodeling jobs at 73.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 12, 2021

  • Construction industry experts expect a surge in commercial renovations in 2021 due to tax changes included in the 2020 CARES Act. Facility upgrades qualified for tax deductions before the passage of the CARES Act, but to reap the full benefits, facility managers would have to claim a 2.5% write-off each year for up to 39 years. With the passing of the 2020 CARES Act, facility managers can write off 100% of qualifying facility improvement costs in the first year. A few improvements that qualify for the tax deduction are the installation of airflow management accessories, HVAC devices, and physical security and access control solutions.
  • Experts say that Democratic control of Congress will make it easier for President-elect Biden to press for much more generous federal support for environmentally-friendly infrastructure and renewable energy projects. Electrical equipment distributors are likely to benefit as a result. Biden will also have a better chance of getting the $2 trillion in climate-focused investments he proposed during the campaign.
  • Dodge Data & Analytics predicts 4% growth in total construction starts for 2021. Total residential starts are expected to rise 5%. Nonresidential construction is expected to decrease 9.3%.
  • Some states are slowing their reopening process, which could impact electrical equipment distributors, their suppliers, and customers. There have been at least 27 million COVID-19 cases and 470,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the US as of February 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • The electrical utility industry is expected to have suffered a 12.4% decline in revenue in 2020 with the greatest losses recorded in Q3 and Q4, according to DISC Corp. Revenue is expected to be flat in 2021 before rising 7.8% in 2022.
  • Electrical equipment distributor industry employment decreased 7.4% year over year in December 2020 and was down 6.4% from the start of the year.
  • Demand for electrical equipment is tied to commercial construction. The US Chamber of Commerce’s Commercial Construction Index increased to 60 in Q4 2020, up three points from Q3 but still well below pre-COVID levels. The strongest of the three key drivers behind that number was backlog, with the ratio of average current to ideal backlog rising to 70 from 68. About 41% of contractors surveyed by the Chamber said that reduced availability of building products and materials is a severe consequence of the current outbreak.
  • Distributor sales and marketing have largely moved online along due to social distancing requirements. Distributors have cutback travel to conferences and are attending virtual conferences and product training sessions when available. Distributors are also recognizing the importance of having a disaster recovery or emergency preparedness plan.

February 27, 2021

  • Electrical equipment manufactures may not be able to maintain adequate supplies of components that require semiconductor chips. One specific bottleneck is a type of semiconductor called a microcontroller, a very small component used for things like engine control systems, according to New Street Research analyst Pierre Ferragu. The semiconductor shortage is likely to be particularly disruptive to firms supplying auto manufacturers. Vehicles require dozens of computer chips for electronic components that control engines, transmissions, entertainment systems, brakes and other systems. Both General Motors and Ford have estimated that the shortage will lower their operating profit by at least $1 billion this year.
  • Total US energy consumption, a driver of demand for electrical equipment, decreased 7.8% in 2020 but is expected to increase 2.6% in 2021 and 2.5% in 2022, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).
  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021, compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion.
  • A group of major electric utilities, auto maker Tesla, ride sharing service Uber and other stakeholders launched a group to lobby for national policies to boost electric vehicle (EV) sales. The Zero Emission Transportation Association wants to boost consumer EV incentives and encourage the retirement of gasoline-powered vehicles. Demand for electrical equipment is likely to rise if EV sales increase.
  • Electrical equipment manufacturers, particularly those that need rare earth magnets to make motors and generators, may benefit from attempts to reduce US reliance on rare earths imports from China. Rare earth metals are used in the production of high-tech goods, including smartphones, electric vehicles, and modern defense systems. The RARE Act introduced in the US Congress in September 2020 would provide tax incentives through deductions on property used for the mining and on the purchase of materials extracted within the United States. It would also create a $50 million yearly grant program through the Secretary of the Interior through the next four fiscal years. China produces over 85% of the world’s rare earth materials, and most US imports of them come from China, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
  • New orders for electrical equipment, appliances, and components decreased 1.2% year over year in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Shipments declined 2% during the period.
  • Electrical utility industry revenue is expected to be flat in 2021 before rising 7.8% in 2022. With electrical utilities suffering losses, demand for equipment is likely to stall.
  • US production of electrical equipment was down 11.6% year over year in January, but was up 7.4% from the low posted in May 2020.
  • Employment in the electrical equipment manufacturing industry declined 9.8% year over year in December 2020 and was down 8.3% from the start of 2020.
  • Imports of electrical equipment decreased 5.1% year over year in 2020 while exports decreased 11%.

February 17, 2021

  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • Global PC shipments increased 10.7% year over year during Q4 2020, according to Gartner. Shipments increased 4.8% year over year in 2020, the highest annual growth in ten years. “Business PC spending was again weaker this quarter, as the urgent purchases for remote work peaked earlier in the year. However, in certain regions like China where economic recovery from the pandemic has already begun, business growth was slightly stronger,” said Mikako Kitagawa, research director at Gartner.
  • Auto manufacturers are cutting or stopping production due to shortages of critical microprocessors and other computer chips. The problem is exacerbated by the rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic that led to lengthy factory closures last spring, said Kristin Dziczek, a senior industry analyst with the Center for Automotive Research. Manufacturers have ramped up production to respond to inventory shortages, putting them into competition for chips with a consumer electronics industry facing its own surge in demand.
  • The United States must find a path to domestic sources for the important microelectronics that are used in defense weapons systems, according to US Department of Defense (DOD) Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen M. Lord. "While we still design components, [field-programmable gate arrays], [application-specific integrated circuits], and printed circuit cards in the US, the majority of fabrication, packaging, testing etc., is done offshore," Lord said. "We can no longer clearly identify the pedigree of our microelectronics. Therefore, we can no longer ensure that backdoors, malicious code or data exfiltration commands aren't embedded in our code."
  • Employment in the electronic component manufacturing industry decreased 4% year over year in December 2020.
  • Multinational banking and financial services corporation ING doesn't expect major changes in the length or location of global value chains in direct response to Covid-19. The coronavirus outbreak has led to many calls for more resilient production chains, but in the industries that ING studied, the sheer number of suppliers and their concentration in specific regions present major obstacles to diversifying risks. Specialization in electronics value chains makes it difficult for firms to diversify their suppliers across countries to increase supply chain resilience. ING cites South Korea, the major exporter of memory chips, as a prime example. Although some other countries produce memory chips, quantities are not sufficient to meet global demand in the event of a shock affecting the supply of South Korean producers.

February 23, 2021

  • Best Buy is expanding its test of a new store format that reduces the space for customers to browse by nearly half. The electronics retailer’s experiment shows how retailers are adapting their business models to cope with the sharp uptick in e-commerce during the pandemic. The new format, first tested in late 2020 at four locations near Best Buy’s Minneapolis headquarters, provides additional space to prepare digital orders for pickup or delivery from the store. Some of the additional floor space in a few locations could be devoted to the retailer’s Geek Squad service desk.
  • Electronics and appliance sales increased 6% during the expanded 2020 holiday shopping season that ran from October 11 to December 24, according to Mastercard (MA) SpendingPulse. Total holiday sales rose just 3% during the period.
  • Research firm Moody's Analytics says that retailers can expect increasingly favorable operating conditions in 2021 as the economy gradually rebounds from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. “Our current 2021 forecast is for 6.2% growth in core retail sales,” said Scott Hoyt, senior director of consumer economics for Moody’s Analytics.
  • Retail sales for the electronics and appliance store industry decreased 4.1% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the electronics and appliance store industry declined 6.1% year over year in December 2020 but was up 32.7% compared to the low of May.

January 27, 2021

  • All states have taken steps toward reopening. However, daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 170,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were falling. Demand for employment services may drop if state and local officials re-issue stay-at-home orders. The American Staffing Association’s Staffing Index was down 1.3% over the four weeks ending January 10, 2020 compared to a year ago.
  • As of December 31, job postings on Indeed were 10.6% lower than they were a year earlier. Hospitality and tourism, and arts and entertainment have been among the hardest hit. Postings for high-wage office sectors including banking & finance and software development have also seen significant declines. Jobs related to loading and stocking, and construction showed strong growth, rising 15.7% and 13.2%, respectively. Pharmacy postings were up 9.7%, and retail showed signs of a continued rebound as job postings grew 7.2% compared to 2019. Staffing agencies are filling high-need jobs like food, goods delivery, and warehousing with displaced workers from the entertainment and hospitality industries. While some in-person services like beauty & wellness and dental service are growing as people obtain services they put off earlier in the pandemic, other in-person service job postings including food preparation, and childcare have been slower to recover.
  • The US economy shed 140,000 jobs in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.7% compared to November. New jobless claims were 900,000 the week ending January 16. As of the week ending January 9, the number of insured unemployed persons was 5 million.
  • US average shift work volume fell 3.2% in December compared to the prior month, according to data compiled by HR solutions firm Ultimate Kronos Group (UKG). No sector of the economy posted shift work growth in December. Public sector and non-profit shift work declined the furthest with a drop of 6.6%, followed by services and distribution which declined 4.1%. Shift work volume in the retail, hospitality, and food service sector was off 2.7%, and manufacturing was down 2%. Health care shift work fell 1.7%.
  • Glassdoor developed a dedicated COVID-19 job search hub and a hiring surge explorer, so job seekers can filter and see industries and cities where hiring is strong. Job seekers can also filter listings for work-at-home jobs. Working from home was born out of necessity for many companies at the onset of the pandemic. As some types of jobs become less tethered to physical workplaces, employment services may have to adapt to locating the best candidates regardless of where they live. In a survey released in January by the Pew Resource Center, only 11% of employees said they “rarely or never” want to work from home.
  • Over the course of the pandemic, the flow of human capital into startup companies declined, according to an October report issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). Analyzing AngelList data, the NBER found that amid the COVID-19 crisis, job seekers shifted their focus away from early-stage ventures in favor of larger, established firms. At the same time, job seekers widened their searches to include jobs with lower pay and in different locations and roles. The NBER suggests the trend could make it harder for start-ups to recruit top talent. Early-stage companies may turn to employment services companies to help fill key positions.
  • The US jobs market may be recovering, according to the latest quarterly Business Conditions Survey conducted by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) and released in January. The survey showed that 30% of NABE member respondents said they planned to increase employment, which was up from the 16% who said they planned to increase employment in the previous quarter’s survey. The number of survey participants who said they planned to decrease employment fell from 15% to 10% during the same period.

February 4, 2021

  • President Biden signed an executive order in January aimed at closing loopholes in existing “Buy American” provisions, which, according to Reuters news service, apply to about a third of the $600 billion in goods and services the federal government buys each year. The order will make any waivers more transparent and create a senior White House role to oversee the process. Biden’s order also directs federal agencies to reevaluate the threshold used to determine US content, a move intended to prevent companies that sell to the government from importing largely foreign-made goods and selling them as US-made. New percentages for required U.S. content will be determined as a result of the process. Industry experts say that the order is part of Biden's plan to revitalize the manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy. It is also a key part of Biden’s broader push to drive up wages, create more union jobs, support minority-owned businesses and strengthen US supply chains. A Biden administration official said that updated Buy American provisions would be fully consistent with US commitments under the World Trade Organization, and Washington would work with trade partners to modernize global rules.
  • Democratic control of both the US Congress and the presidency may boost the chances that a federal infrastructure spending bill will be passed. "A $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion package — somewhere in that zone — could get through," according to Gautam Khanna, senior portfolio manager with Insight Investment. Demand for engineering services is likely to increase if a bill is passed, as President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes investment in airports, ports, roads, and highways, as well as digital infrastructure and clean tech. Experts note, however, that achieving even a fraction of the infrastructure proposal will require Biden to secure new funding streams or expand debt-fueled spending, potentially upend the way infrastructure policy typically works, and ensure hundreds of Democratic lawmakers in a closely divided Congress remain in lockstep.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less.
  • A one-year extension of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act was signed into law on October 1, 2020, the day after it expired. Transportation policymakers argued that they simply ran out of time to reauthorize the FAST Act. The yearlong extension ensures temporary funding for highway and transit programs. “The extension will give Congress more time to finish a long-term, bipartisan highway bill to rebuild our roads and bridges,” said Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the committee on highways.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Engineering industry employment was unchanged year over year in November 2020 but was up 4.6% from the pandemic-related low of April 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 13, 2021

  • The pace of reopening varies by state which presents challenges for environmental consulting firms operating across state lines. Industry insiders recommend field consultants work very closely with their firm’s general counsel office to ensure they are in compliance with the state regulations where they are operating.
  • Environmental and sustainability (E&S) consulting industry insiders are feeling better about their business positions than they were in mid-2020, according to a recent global member survey by trade group Environmental Analyst. On a worldwide basis, median revenue growth for E&S consulting firms is expected to rise 2.5% for 2021. Sentiment has improved significantly from July 2020 when median revenue growth was projected to fall 5% in 2021. E&S consultants in North America are more optimistic than their counterparts in other regions. North American median revenue growth in 2021 is expected to be in the range of 7.5% to 8%. In terms of impacts across client verticals, projects related to renewable energy, the circular economy, technology, and communications fared well in 2020. There were fewer new project opportunities in hard-hit sectors including retail, hospitality, aviation, and residential and commercial construction.
  • As businesses, schools, universities, and other public indoor spaces reopen, it may create opportunities for consulting firms with expertise in maintaining indoor environmental quality. Facilities may seek consulting expertise to ensure proper sanitization and ventilation. Consultants can offer third-party assessments and inspections for cleaning and disinfection policies and procedures, HVAC ventilation evaluations, air and surface testing for pathogens, and indoor environmental safety training.
  • Prior to the pandemic, government and consumer pressure was building to regulate single-use plastic products and their impact on the environment, especially oceans. The spread of COVID-19 greatly increased waste from single-use products, including masks, plastic gloves, and food containers. The impact of this increase in waste may prompt companies, industries, and governments to perform life-cycle assessment (LCA) studies to determine product development initiatives and government regulations. However, critics of the LCA process argue the studies can often be skewed to further a corporate or government agenda. The need for improved public perception and transparency could drive demand for environmental consultancies to perform independent LCAs and/or provide peer review services for LCAs produced by corporations and governments.
  • The pandemic is expected to hasten the adoption of remote sensors and other digital tools that can help environmental consultants monitor conditions in the field. Restrictions on travel and social distancing requirements challenged some firms’ ability to perform environmental field work and maintain optimal levels of regulatory compliance. Advanced sensors - monitored via cloud-based mobile aps - can make compliance faster, less costly, and more efficient.

February 13, 2021

  • Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Demand for equipment machinery and repair may decrease as a result. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile 2020 bankruptcies included Fieldwood Energy, and Chesapeake Energy, according to S&P.
  • Right to Repair legislation was introduced or carried over in 20 state legislatures in 2020. Carryovers included California, Massachusetts (House and Senate), Minnesota, Vermont (which added a companion bill in the House), New Hampshire, New York (House and Senate), Illinois, Washington (House and Senate), Georgia, and Hawaii (which added a companion bill on the House side). New bills were filed in Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Colorado, Maryland (House and Senate), Virginia, Idaho, and New Jersey.
  • Right-to-repair legislation is being considered by the US Congress for the first time. The Critical Medical Infrastructure Right-to-Repair Act of 2020, which would exempt medical equipment owners and “servicers” from liability for copying service materials or breaking DRM if it was done so to improve COVID-19 aid, is seen by some legal experts as a gateway to broader right-to-repair legislation. States have been unable to pass right-to-repair legislation, in large part because major technology companies have lobbied extensively to prevent it by claiming that letting customers and independent repair merchants fix devices would be a privacy and security problem. The same technology firms are expected to lobby heavily against the proposed federal legislation.
  • Repair shops are pushing for right-to-repair legislation that allows independents to repair ventilators. Ventilator manufacturers are restricting access to repair manuals. The Medical Imaging Technology Association (MITA) is asking the FDA to “impose new limitations on independent repair”, according to Repair.org. Limitation on who can repair medical equipment is not a new issue but given the COVID-19 pandemic and high use of ventilators and lab devices, the equipment repair services industry is arguing that a larger repair base is critical to maintaining safety and lab operations. The ability to repair and maintain ventilators creates major opportunities for independent repair shops since the volume of ventilators in service has risen in efforts to treat coronavirus patients.
  • The practice of hacking systems and using improvised devices to swap parts and transfer software in order to repair devices is not uncommon in the repair industry. Technicians often rely on the global grey-market, technician networks, online forums, friends and foreign suppliers to access software, manufacturers’ manuals, and homemade dongles, so they can make repairs. The practice is used in repairing a wide range of products from ventilators to farm tractors.
  • Industry employment declined 2.4% year over year in December 2020 and was down 2.1% from the start of the year.
  • The prices that commercial machinery repair and maintenance services charge increased 5.1% year over year in December 2020 and 2.4% from the start of the year.
  • Demand for repair and maintenance service of manufacturing machinery is likely to increase as manufacturing returns to pre-coronavirus levels and idled machines are put back into service. Capacity utilization for the manufacturing sector as a whole rose from a low of 60.4% in April 2020 to 73.4% in December, approaching the 77.2% level achieved a year earlier. Total capacity utilization, including factories, mines and utilities, increased to 74.5% in December. That rate compares with 76.9% in February.
  • Construction firms are using remote monitoring to connect to equipment and determine if repairs are needed. Equipment repair services can link into these same systems to diagnose equipment remotely and bring parts and tools needed to the site to make repairs more quickly. Repair services can also work remotely with a client to troubleshoot equipment malfunctions and minor repairs.
  • Maintenance and repair organizations (MRO) are expected to postpone acquisitions and divestments during the pandemic, according to Beroe Inc, a North Carolina-based procurement intelligence firm. MROs are also having some difficulty sourcing parts for equipment that is produced outside of North America and may look to build supply partnerships with Canada and Mexico to reduce reliance on Asian suppliers.

February 4, 2021

  • Students continue to take exams like the SAT and ACT despite the fact that more many colleges stopped requiring them for admissions. Education experts say that demand for the test is being sustained by their use in determining the winners of academic scholarships. Colleges and universities including Loyola University Chicago, Clemson University, and the University of Oklahoma, have made scores optional for admission but continue to require test results for their most prestigious merit scholarships. Students who are among the top PSAT scorers could earn $68,500 from the University of Oklahoma, which would cover full tuition for an in-state student. Some state-run scholarship programs, including in Idaho and Florida, also continue to require students to have an SAT or ACT score to be considered.
  • The Brookings Institution found that more than four-fifths of the tutoring programs that were examined since the pandemic started resulted in "statistically significant" improvements for the students involved.
  • Demand for individual and group tutoring may not be immediately affected by the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine. Children and young teens may not get a COVID-19 vaccine until the second half of 2021, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisor said in early December. Trials testing COVID-19 vaccines in young children may start in the second quarter of 2021. School officials may choose to delay school re-openings as a result.
  • The increasing popularity of so-called "tutoring pods" has drawn the attention of state and local officials. The Shawnee, KS, planning commission has discussed potential regulations for commercial learning pods, leading to speculation that organized study groups may soon have to get a license to operate in the community. The planning commission may require learning pods to have a safe drop-off and pick-up zone, an inspection from the city, and fire marshal and business licenses with the city and state. Any potential regulations would apply to commercial and industrial properties, not learning groups inside people’s homes.
  • Some school districts have announced that employees who try to lead tutoring pods while keeping their regular teaching jobs may be fired. “As a reminder…[Arlington Public Schools] teachers are not permitted to take on additional positions such as tutoring or learning supervision during the school day,” officials in the Northern Virginia district wrote in a recent message to staff. “Nor are they allowed to tutor students they work with…outside of the classroom for pay.” Some school leaders contacted by The Washington Post said they could not estimate the number of pod leaders in their ranks. Industry experts say that data on how many teachers are leading pods is difficult to gather because many educators are hiding their activities from school districts.
  • Over 1,450 colleges and universities have dropped standardized testing requirements for fall 2021, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Some institutions are entirely abandoning the SAT and ACT as a requirement for applicants. Many industry experts say that, in a year when most seniors can’t take the test, some students believe that a score will tip the scales for them. Experts also note that schools that have chosen "test optional" policies have created confusion among students and families about the role that scores play in the admission process. Test-optional means that students may submit standardized test scores on their application, but they are not required to. Going test-optional doesn’t mean that a college won’t look at scores.
  • The private tutoring market, which includes Chegg, Club Z, and Varsity Tutors, is projected to grow in the US by $7.37 billion by 2023, at a compound annual growth rate of almost 8%, according to Technavio. Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform connects students with tutors, who work as independent contractors, "... is experiencing unprecedented demand, as students — especially [those in] kindergarten through fifth grade, who have historically been less receptive toward online learning — work to stay on track during closures,” according to Chief Academic Officer Brian Galvin.

February 20, 2021

  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales  to increase about 6.9% in 2021. Fabrics are used in the manufacture of auto seating and auto floor coverings. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 mandates the Small Business Administration (SBA) to create a simplified Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) forgiveness application for small businesses whose PPP loans were less than $150,000. The simplified application must fit on one page and will include loan information as well as a certification from the business owner that the funds were used properly and are eligible for forgiveness, but will not include calculations or other additional information. The SBA already has a simplified one-page PPP forgiveness application for borrowers of $50,000 or less. More than 100 trade groups urged Congress in late 2020 to address the “overburdensome” Paycheck Protection Program forgiveness process before the end of the year.
  • The coronavirus relief package also includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal.
  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021, compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion.
  • Legislation has been introduced in the US Congress that is intended to boost domestic production of personal protective equipment. The US Made Act of 2020 would provide eligible US manufacturers with a 30% tax credit against equipment costs associated with PPE manufacturing. Items that would be declared national priorities by the legislation include bedding, privacy curtains, and surgical and isolation gowns.
  • Scientists are developing antiviral fabrics that target the coronavirus through a variety of approaches. Intelligent Fabric Technologies North America, a Canadian biotech company, has developed a chemical that can be coated onto fabric. The chemical enters the outer shell of the novel coronavirus, disrupting its ability to replicate. Swiss textile company HeiQ has also developed a fabric coating, ViroFormula, which may deactivate and block the replication of coronaviruses. University researchers are working on materials meant to kill the virus through low-level electric fields and UV light. Industry experts say that it’s unclear how much these fabrics, even if they do kill the novel coronavirus, will actually reduce wearers’ risk of contracting COVID-19. They note, however that the strong demand potential has caused product developers to partner with popular apparel brands like North Face, which plan to apply the treatments to their products.
  • The global fabrics market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 7% from 2021 and reach $218.8 billion in 2023. The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 53% of the global market in 2019. Western Europe was the second largest region, accounting for 13% of the global fabrics market.

February 21, 2021

  • The US Supreme Court will review a Trump-era policy barring provision of federal family planning funds to abortion clinics. The Court will hear a challenge to restrictions placed on the Title X family planning program, which gives grants to health care providers so that people who are uninsured or underinsured can access free and low-cost birth control, contraception education, STD tests, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and other preventive reproductive care. The restrictions prohibited Title X grants from going to programs where clinicians tell their patients how they can legally access abortion. They also severely restricted grants for health centers that separately provide abortion. The Biden administration has indicated that it is preparing to roll back the policy.
  • The weekly number of new unemployment claims, considered a bellwether for the health of the labor market, rose during the first half of February and remain above the pre-pandemic record of 695,000. First-time jobless claims totaled 861,000 for the week ending February 13. New weekly claims were typically a little over 200,000 before the pandemic. The unemployment rate has dropped from its peak in April 2020 but was 6.3% in January compared with 3.5% before the pandemic. The number of people with health insurance, which may provide coverage for contraceptives, is likely to have declined as a result.
  • The president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund called the $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the US Congress in December 2020 "a step in the right direction, but it's still severely inadequate and long overdue." Alexis McGill Johnson said that the legislation includes largely flat funding for both domestic ($286.4 million for Title X) and international family planning programs ($575 million) and for the United Nations Population Fund ($32.5 million) but fails to include critical language to permanently repeal the harmful global gag rule, or language from the House Labor-HHS-Education bill to block the Title X domestic gag rule.
  • A rule finalized in late January by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) would prohibit the largest US banks from refusing to lend to entire business sectors. The proposal follows years of complaints by Republican lawmakers about what they say are increasingly partisan and discriminatory lending practices by big banks that are under pressure from investors and staff to curb lending to industries including family planning services, fossil-fuel companies, private prisons, and firearms makers. The rule applies to banks that may exert significant pricing power or influence over sectors of the national economy.
  • A spike in birth control requests may reduce the size of an expected coronavirus baby boom. Digital health clinic Nurx, which serves more than 250,000 patients, said that it's seen a 50% increase in patient requests for birth control and a 40% increase in emergency contraception requests. Industry experts say that health-related uncertainties brought on by the coronavirus pandemic may be causing people to refrain from having a child. A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared with non-pregnant women.
  • All fifty states and DC are expanding telehealth access to family planning services for Medicaid beneficiaries. North Carolina is allowing both traditional Medicaid beneficiaries and beneficiaries of its family planning Medicaid program to receive select family planning services via telehealth. State officials have also expanded Medicaid-covered telehealth service delivery to include perinatal care, maternal support services, and postpartum depression screening. Alaska has begun allowing direct entry midwives to provide some services using telehealth. Many state Medicaid programs are waiving potential penalties for HIPAA violations for the duration of the emergency.

February 22, 2021

  • Coronavirus has disrupted the agriculture sector by affecting demand for food, food exports, and biofuels. The US food supply chain had to quickly adapt as commercial demand (restaurants and schools) disappeared and consumer demand increased. Quarantines also hurt demand for corn-derived ethanol.
  • US net cash farm income, a demand indicator for farm and garden machinery, is estimated to have risen by $27.3 billion (24.7%) to $137.8 billion in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a February 2021 USDA forecast. Net cash farm income is forecast to decline $7.9 billion (5.8%) to $128.3 billion in 2021. Net cash farm income includes cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income, such as US government payments. Cash receipts for animals and animal products in 2021 are expected to rise $8.6 billion (5.2%), while crop receipts are projected to increase $11.8 billion (5.8%). Direct government payments are forecast to fall $21 billion to $25.3 billion, a drop of more than 45%. Farm supports are expected to decline in 2021 amid less supplemental and ad hock COVID-19 relief payments compared to 2020.
  • Various US government stimulus programs designed to aid farmers and ranchers – including provisions of the CARES Act and direct aid by the USDA – might help boost investments in farm machinery. Payments under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) totaled more than $23 billion, according to the USDA. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provided nearly $6 billion, according to the University of Missouri’s Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute (FAPRI). Farmers also received assistance from Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments. In late-December, Congress passed the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act which provides $284 billion in additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The bill also included $13 billion in additional direct agricultural assistance.
  • Total US farm tractor sales increased 24.7% in January 2021 compared to the same month a year earlier, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). Four-wheel-drive tractors saw the strongest gain with a sales increase of 33.7%, followed by tractors with less than 40 horsepower, which increased 32.9%. Sales of farm tractors between 40 and 100 horsepower grew 16%. Farm tractors with 100 horsepower or more experienced a rise of 1.2%. Sales of self-propelled combines jumped 76.8%. For most of 2020, tractor sales gains were led by smaller units, but improved crop prices and business conditions are helping to drive demand for harvesters and larger row crop machinery, according to the AEM.
  • Farm and construction equipment manufacturer Deere’s worldwide sales of agricultural and turf equipment fell 6% in fiscal 2020 compared to the prior year. In the US and Canada, Deere projects agricultural equipment sales in fiscal 2021 will range between flat to up 5% on improving demand for larger models. European demand is expected to be about the same as in North America. Deere forecasts its fiscal 2021 South American tractor and combine sales will be up about 5%, but revenue in Asia will be down slightly compared to fiscal 2020. Some industry watchers expect Deere’s fortunes to improve as farmers spend their COVID-19-related government payments on new machinery. Higher commodity prices and increased animal feed exports to China have also helped to boost farmers’ buying power.

February 4, 2021

  • The Biden administration has former president Donald Trump’s Phase One trade deal with China “under review”. Beijing agreed to escalate purchases of US agricultural goods and other products in exchange for relief from US tariffs as part of the deal. Asked whether the deal was still in effect, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “I would not assume that things are moving forward.” China failed to meet its “phase one” target for imports of US food and agriculture products in 2020 despite a surge in purchases that began late last summer, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • China bought about 64% of the US agricultural goods agreed to for 2020 in the Phase One trade deal in 2020, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Several experts say that it was unrealistic to expect China to buy the targeted amount of US goods. Meeting that obligation was made even more difficult as the Covid-19 pandemic caused Chinese import demand to plunge. The target rises to $43.5 billion in 2021.
  • China is forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a record $27 billion worth of farm products in fiscal 2021 (started on October 1) and regain its rank as the top foreign market for American farm products.
  • Net farm income is expected to have risen 43% year over year in 2020 to nearly $120 billion, the second-highest yearly total of all time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales are expected to have declined 0.9% year over year to $3 billion in 2020, the lowest since 2016. Growth in farm income was being driven by $46.5 billion in federal payments including those provided through farm bill and conservation programs, ad hoc support related to Chinese retaliatory tariffs, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and coronavirus pandemic relief funding. Federal support as a percentage of net farm income in 2020 is now projected at 39%. Federal support as a percentage of gross farm income is now projected at a record 10%.
  • President Trump announced an additional $13 billion in coronavirus relief for US farmers and ranchers in mid-September 2020. The funding will more than double assistance to the sector. The aid is expected to cover losses since April 15, the cutoff date for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had paid $9.9 billion in cash to producers by mid-September out of the $16 billion that was offered in CFAP. The new aid also follows $23 billion in payments made since 2018 to mitigate the impact on agriculture of US trade disputes with China.
  • Deere & Co, the world’s largest farm equipment maker, Deere & Co, the world’s largest farm equipment maker, forecast a 10% to 15% year-over-year worldwide increase in agriculture and turf equipment sales in 2021. “Higher crop prices and improved fundamentals are leading to renewed optimism in the agricultural sector and improving demand for farm equipment,” said CEO John May.
  • Corn planted acres are expected to remain relatively flat over the next 10 years, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Planted acres were at 89.7 million in 2019-’20, are expected to reach 91 million in 2020-’21, fall to 90 million from 2021-’22 through 2025-’26, fall to 89 million in 2026-’27 and remain at that level through 2030-’31. Corn yields are expected to increase steady over the next decade, from 167.5 bushels per acre in 2019-’20 to 198.5 bushels per acre in 2030-’31.
  • Tractor sales increased 33% year over year in December 2020, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). Self-propelled combine sales decreased 1.9%. Sales of tractors rated 40 horsepower (HP) and below increased 37.1% year over year in December. About 59% of all tractors sold in November were 40 HP and below. Sales of tractors rated from 40 to 100 HP rose 33% year over year December. Sales of tractors in the 100-plus HP range increased 21.8%. Sales of all farm tractors rose 17.7% year over year for all of 2020, while combine sales rose 5.5%.
  • Farm machinery manufacturing employment increased 4.3% year over year in November 2020 and was up 14.8% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Census Bureau.

February 4, 2021

  • The US Supreme Court has agreed to review a US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency wrongly exempted three refineries from renewable fuel requirements. The ruling also narrowed down the number of refiners that would qualify for future exemptions. Farm raw product wholesalers may benefit if the ruling stands, as almost a third of the US corn crop is used to make the ethanol that is used by refiners to meet renewable fuel requirements.
  • China bought about 64% of the US agricultural goods agreed to for 2020 in the Phase One trade deal in 2020, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Several experts say that it was unrealistic to expect China to buy the targeted amount of US goods. Meeting that obligation was made even more difficult as the Covid-19 pandemic caused Chinese import demand to plunge. The target rises to $43.5 billion in 2021.
  • China is forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a record $27 billion worth of farm products in fiscal 2021 (started on October 1) and regain its rank as the top foreign market for American farm products.
  • Wholesale farm product sales increased 19.5% in value year over year in November 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • The Energy Information Administration (EIA) slightly increased its forecast for 2021 fuel ethanol production in its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, released on December 8. The forecast for 2021 is now at 980,000 barrels per day, up from the 970,000 barrel per day estimate made in November 2020. Production averaged 1.03 million barrels per day in 2019. Almost a third of the US corn crop is used to make ethanol and its byproducts.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal.

February 12, 2021

  • President Biden issued an executive order to review 48 actions by the Trump-era Environmental Protection Agency, including several controversial actions on agricultural chemicals. The review list includes the pesticide chlorpyrifos, whose 2017 ban was reversed by the Trump administration; a rule that weakened pesticide application safety standards; and another rule narrowing which scientific studies could be used in pesticide evaluations. Of the roughly 100 environmental rollbacks during Trump’s tenure, the reinstatement of previously banned toxic pesticides, including the neonicotinoid sulfoxaflor and the herbicide isoxaflutole, are among the most controversial and the ones industry critics are most eager to see reversed.
  • The $900 billion federal stimulus package passed in late December 2020 includes $13 billion for agricultural programs, representing approximately 1.4% of total funding amount. The bill provides approximately $11.2 billion of direct financial assistance to commodity producers.
  • The volatility of crop prices has been exacerbated by the coronavirus and changes in demand. Spot prices for corn were as low as $3.08 per bushel on August 3, 2020, and as high as $5.42 on February 12.
  • Farm supplies wholesaler employment increased 1% year over year in December 2020.
  • The global fertilizer market is forecast to grow 4.4% annually through 2025 to reach $3 billion, according to Markets and Markets. The global herbicide market is forecast to grow 6% annually to reach $43 billion by 2024, according to Market Research Future.
  • The prices that wholesalers paid for pesticides, fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals increased 4.7% year over year in December 2020 and were up 4.6% from the start of the year. Prices hit a 3-year low in April.

February 4, 2021

  • Federal aid payments were estimated to account for 40% of total net farm income in 2020, but the record payments of last year may not continue. The Food & Agriculture Research Institute (FAPRI) of the University of Missouri finds that baseline updates for US agriculture markets estimate federal farm payments will fall from $32 billion in 2020 to $16 billion in 2021. The analysis also estimates that without a strong economic recovery, farm income, a driver of demand for animal feed, will decrease by more than $10 billion.
  • Net farm income is expected to have risen 40% year over year in 2020 to nearly $120 billion, the second-highest yearly total of all time, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Farm cash receipts from crop and livestock sales are expected to have declined 0.9% year over year to $3 billion in 2020, the lowest since 2016. Growth in farm income was being driven by $46.5 billion in federal payments including those provided through farm bill and conservation programs, ad hoc support related to Chinese retaliatory tariffs, natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes, and coronavirus pandemic relief funding. Federal support as a percentage of net farm income in 2020 is now projected at 39%. Federal support as a percentage of gross farm income is now projected at a record 10%.
  • The Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer dropped 7 points to a reading of 167 in January, and is now down from its all-time high of 183 set in October 2020. The barometer’s decline over the last three months is all attributable to weaker expectations for the future, as the Index of Future Expectations has fallen 35 points or about 19% since October. The decline in future expectations stands in contrast to the Index of Current Conditions which in January was 21 points, or about 12%, higher than in October. The ongoing strength in the Current Conditions Index appears to be driven by the ongoing rally in crop prices, while the deterioration in the Futures Expectations Index seems to be motivated by longer-run concerns about policies that could impact U.S. agriculture in the future.
  • President Trump announced an additional $13 billion in coronavirus relief for US farmers and ranchers in mid-September 2020. The funding will more than double assistance to the sector. The aid is expected to cover losses since April 15, the cutoff date for the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP). The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had paid $9.9 billion in cash to producers by mid-September out of the $16 billion that was offered in CFAP. The new aid also follows $23 billion in payments made since 2018 to mitigate the impact on agriculture of US trade disputes with China.
  • China is forecast by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to import a record $27 billion worth of farm products in fiscal 2021 (started on October 1) and regain its rank as the top foreign market for American farm products.

January 29, 2021

  • Many investors are trying to balance their long- and short-term strategies amid COVID-19-related news that is both good and bad. In November there were two major vaccine breakthroughs. Pfizer and Germany-based BioNTech announced their vaccine proved about 95% effective in clinical trials. US-based Moderna said its vaccine was 94.5% effective. Both vaccines received fast-tracked FDA approval and vaccinations began in the US in mid-December. At the same time, COVID-19 cases in the US and abroad soared and some countries and local governments imposed new restrictions to reduce the spread and the pressure on health systems. Other issues contributing to market volatility include slower consumer spending in the fourth quarter and a stubbornly weak labor market. However, a $900 billion round of fresh stimulus relief was passed in December, and the Biden administration has called for further stimulus spending. Negotiations over the cost and structure of any new stimulus are ongoing. This mix of ongoing uncertainty may drive some investors to lean on their financial planners for advice.
  • The pandemic-fueled market volatility in 2020 attracted a wave of new investors and day trading activity on free stock trading apps such as Robinhood. Some Wall Street watchers felt the rise in rookie day trading and robo-advisor investment tools boded ill for the financial planning and advice industry. However, the rise in retail investing may actually drive demand for active planning and advice services as investors realize they may need help in building wealth long-term, according to Financial Planning. A recent research report by wealth management firm Cerulli Associates showed that 40% of investors surveyed said they needed more advice. More than 55% said they were willing to pay for professional advice, and more than 80% who already had paid advisors said it was worth the cost.
  • With the new year, advisors may try to schedule client meetings to tweak investment strategies, according to asset management technology provider AssetMark. Some clients may be cash-heavy if they sold off earlier in the pandemic. Advisors may try to convince such clients of the potential long-term negative impact of staying out of the market too long. Clients who are in or near retirement may need a strategy refresh if low interest rates are weighing on their fixed-income investments. For business and high wealth clients, advisors may set up joint meetings with clients’ attorneys and CPAs to adjust tax planning to account for the possible effects of the Biden administration and any additional stimulus.
  • The CARES Act makes changes to financial planning and investment vehicles including 401(k)s. Advisors may see cash-strapped clients act on 401(k) loans and withdrawals, which decreases their investment ability and changes their long-term planning. Coronavirus-related distributions (CRD) are not subject to the 10% penalty and may be repaid over three years. Distributions can’t exceed $100,000 per eligible participant.
  • Some advisors are recording podcasts or conducting periodic live meeting sessions via Zoom to stay in touch with clients and keep them informed about COVID-19-related updates, according to Financial Planning. Many financial technology firms are providing free access to online tools for planners and investment advisors that are working remotely. Thanks to webinars and other online resources, many certified financial planners (CFP) have had no problem keeping up with continuing education (CE) requirements during the pandemic, according to Financial Planning. CFPs are required to get 30 CE credits every two years.
  • Most financial advisors were able to seamlessly make the transition to working from home during the pandemic, according to a recent survey by Redtail Technology, a provider of relationship management tools for financial services companies. More than 85% of financial advisory workers surveyed said they had the necessary technology in place to transition to work-from-home (WFH). As they shifted to WFH, 60% of advisors said improving engagement with existing clients was their top priority, and nearly 75% said revenue hasn’t been negatively affected. More than two-thirds of respondents said they plan to continue to work from home at least one day a week once the pandemic subsides. Nearly 75% said they plan to return to the office in some capacity.
  • Advisors may experience an increase in clients moving investments into Roth IRA accounts. Some investors believe coronavirus-related government debt eventually will lead to higher taxes. Assuming taxes may rise, a Roth is attractive because taxes are collected on the front end – while taxes are low – and is tax-free when the money is spent in retirement. Industry insiders also expect the Biden Administration could prompt wealthy clients to seek fresh estate planning advice. Some industry watchers say wealthy investors are concerned the power shift in Washington could lead to higher taxes.
  • The combination of working from home and virtual meetings is prompting more advisors to go independent or switch to another firm, according to Financial Planning. According to a recent TD Ameritrade survey, 40% of advisors said they were more likely to break away from their current firm than they were six months ago. Virtual working revealed that moving clients over is easier with tech-enabled tools like e-signing and smartphone document photos. Taking a recruiter’s call is also easier when working from home.
  • Despite the pandemic, investors continued to pour money into their investment accounts in the third quarter of 2020, according to analysis of retirement savings trends by Fidelity Investments. The average IRA balance was $117,700 in the third quarter, a 6% increase over the previous quarter and up 7% over the same period in 2019. More investors are saving in an IRA in addition to their employer’s 401(k) plan. In Q3 2020, more than 2 million people on Fidelity’s platform saved in both an IRA and a 401(k), a 12% increase over Q3 2019. The rise in investment activity may signal increased demand for financial planning and investment advice.
  • As the pandemic has increased participation in investing, brokerages have enjoyed strong growth as new investors opened accounts. In October, Fidelity Investments said it planned to hire 4,000 people in the US over six months to meet the needs new and existing investors. Many of the new hires will be financial advisors and customer service agents, representing a 15% increase in associates who are focused on clients.

February 22, 2021

  • At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, music, visual art, dance and other fine art schools had to quickly adapt to distance learning technologies to continue operations. Visual arts schools face unique challenges with moving to online learning environments because students may lack supplies, materials, or equipment. Some schools plan to focus on research and learning digital skills for online presentation early in the fall with the hope of more in-person learning later in the school year. Some fine arts students may question the value of a virtual arts education and take time off or switch educational paths as the future of performing is unknown.
  • Some fine arts schools may qualify for relief under the stimulus package that passed in December of 2020. The $900 billion stimulus includes $22.7 billion for colleges and universities. Higher education has been hit hard as the pandemic reduced enrollment. Meanwhile, schools’ have had to bear higher costs related to the pandemic including testing, protective equipment, health support, and financial aid for students.
  • Fine arts programs – including those in public schools – are exploring ways to continue arts education amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis. Music programs that include singing or brass and wind instruments pose unique challenges as singing and forcefully blowing air are thought to be highly efficient methods of spreading coronavirus through airborne droplets. However, preliminary research at the University of Maryland and a number of national music organizations indicates wearing a mask while singing significantly reduced the number of particles. Particles were also reduced by placing bags or bell covers over wind and brass instruments. Other arts education strategies include distancing while playing and singing outside, minimal sharing of materials and equipment in the visual and physical arts, and conducting lessons and performances on digital tools such as Zoom.
  • Some larger fine arts schools, including Julliard and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, are enhancing their online programs with virtual master class presentations with world-class performers, according to the Washington Post. The practice could present a unique opportunity for young arts students, as major artists are only available because their own performing careers have been postponed due to the pandemic.
  • Some fine art schools have a high percentage of foreign students who left the US when the outbreak began. If foreign students leave, such schools could face revenue shortfalls. Foreign students tend to pay higher tuition than US citizens.
  • The Music Business Association has set up a series of educational webinars, online career development workshops, and regular check-in meetings via Zoom so industry professionals and educators can stay informed about current trends and networking opportunities.
  • New cases of COVID-19 rose dramatically in the fall and winter, on some days reaching more than 250,000 per day. However, by mid-February the 7-day average for daily new cases was down to about 75,000, and hospitalizations and deaths were also down significantly. Rigorous testing protocols may be a key to allowing fine arts students to rehearse together in smaller groups. University of Iowa (UI) researchers have developed a saliva test for COVID-19 which the university’s arts departments are using to test students prior to scheduling rehearsals. The test can be self-administered and results are returned within a few hours. The test is 95% accurate and is awaiting FDA approval. Some fine art schools may seek to resume some level of in-person instruction as local and state regulations allow. Some schools are embracing hybrid models that supplement less frequent and smaller live classes with online ones. Some dance studios located in mild climate areas, such as Los Angeles, have moved classes outdoors.
  • Dance instructors may use pandemic-related downtime to further their dance educations. The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO), through its Online Professional Development Institute (OPDI), offers online coursework in teaching methods, dance history, and assessments for dance teachers in private dance studio, higher education, and K-12 education settings.
  • Some schools hope to bring back live performances by limiting audience sizes in auditoriums and concert halls. Performances are also being recorded and made available online or performed live via Zoom. While live performances are seen as an integral part of fine arts education, instructors stress that the most important thing for group performers is being able to rehearse together – even if it’s in smaller groups.

February 7, 2021

  • Lumber prices are rising in early 2021 after falling to $496 per thousand board feet on October 26, 2020, from a peak of $941 on September 7. Lumber closed at $916 per thousand board feet on February 1, according to Business Insider. Reduced mill production coupled with rising demand from DIY projects and ongoing construction projects is contributing to the substantial rise in lumber prices.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.
  • The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) revised its annual outlook because of COVID-19. The NKBA expects that residential kitchen and bath spending will have declined in 2020, decreasing from $148.1 billion in 2019 to $130.8 billion, or 11.7%. Spending for medium and large-scale kitchen and bath projects are projected to decline by 22%, considerably more than the 14% for smaller projects. At the pandemic’s mid-April peak, 81% of projects were cancelled or postponed, with 70% of respondents to the NKBA survey planned to resume their projects later in the year.

February 21, 2021

  • President Biden called on Congress in mid-February to pass stronger gun control legislation. Biden called for requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers in lawsuits related to gun violence.
  • Roundhill Group, the firm that now owns the rights to produce all Remington firearms and holds the patents, with the exception of Marlin’s assets, plans to resume manufacturing Remington guns in early 2021 under its RemArms label. Remington Arms was auctioned off in bankruptcy court in late September 2020.
  • The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) finalized in late January a rule banning large banks from rejecting businesses based on their industry. The rule makes it illegal for any bank regulated by the OCC with more than $100 billion in assets to reject a customer for reasons other than financial risk. Supporters and critics of the rule both say it is intended to prevent more banks from joining those who’ve stopped serving firearm companies and financing oil and gas drilling projects. Many industry experts say that the rule, which was finalized during the last days of the Trump Administration, is unlikely to survive during the Biden administration.
  • Q3 2020 firearms imports exceeded those for the whole of 2019, according to Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (SAAF). Imports through September were estimated to have increased 36% year over year. Top countries of origin for imports were Turkey, Austria, Brazil, Croatia, and Italy. Imports have played an increasingly important role in the domestic handgun market, according to SAAF chief economist Jurgen Brauer.
  • Thousands of people barred from purchasing firearms have tried to buy them since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the FBI. Gun-control advocates say that more people can slip through the cracks and buy guns when they’re not supposed to because the spike in background checks has resulted in a significantly increased workload. If a background check cannot be completed within three days, the purchase can go through, so a strained system that causes delays would not be able to effectively enforce the law. The US Department of Justice has asked Congress for more resources so it could confiscate guns from people who never should have been able to buy them in the first place.

February 26, 2021

  • About 72% of gyms now offer some type of on-demand or livestream workout, up from the 25% of gyms that offered a comparable service in 2019, according to fitness research firm ClubIntel. Some gyms are offering a hybrid model through which classes can be attended in person or online. Some gyms offer live hybrid classes only, but others offer greater flexibility for those who prefer the remote option by offering prerecorded workouts that customers can follow according to their own schedules.
  • About 60% of Americans don’t plan to return to their gym after the pandemic, according to a TD Ameritrade survey.
  • A survey of 3,500 Americans by The New Consumer and Coefficient Capital found that 76% of people have tried working out at home during the pandemic and 66% of those who did prefer it. Among millennials, the number is even higher: 82% made the switch and 81% of those who did like it more.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the owner of three Sacramento-area gyms against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Joaquin County officials, and Lodi, CA, officials. The plaintiff claimed that pandemic-related shutdown orders put in place during the spring violated the US Constitution and resulted in significant loss of revenue and memberships. Pandemic-related lawsuits filed by fitness centers, churches, and businesses against public and health officials who created and/or implemented shutdown orders have largely been unsuccessful, although some are pending.
  • Requirements for reopening vary dramatically by state and include temperature checks and masks for workers; limited occupancy; and mandatory distancing between machines/exercisers. State restrictions also vary on allowing access to pools, locker rooms, saunas, showers, and group classes. State-specific mandates create problems for fitness chains with multiple locations in different states.
  • Gyms and fitness centers are not considered essential businesses by federal, state, and local governments.

February 7, 2021

  • Industrial facility construction completions will increase 29% year over year in 2021, according to commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group. Big boxes in the 500,000-square-foot range will account for the majority of new product. Demand growth that began in 2020 will continue in intermodal hubs like the Inland Empire, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and Atlanta markets. Demand for local infill space will also continue, spurred by the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Costco.
  • The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University projects annual growth in renovation and repair spending of 4.1% by the first quarter of 2021 with gains softening to 1.7% by the third quarter. “The surge in DIY and small project activity is lifting the remodeling market, but it remains to be seen if the strong sales market this summer translates into larger improvements that would drive even stronger growth in the coming quarters,” said Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies.
  • A transparent stretchable PVC film developed for use as packaging can inactivate the coronavirus, according to science news site Phys.org. The material contains silver and silica nanoparticles, and has obtained good responses in studies to appraise the application of the solution in raw materials used by the construction industry, such as MDF in laminate flooring or paints, according to Nanox, the company that developed the film.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • The Pending Home Sales Index, which represents homes that have a signed contract but have yet to close, decreased 0.3% month over month to 125.5 in December 2020, the fourth straight month of decline, according to the National Association of Realtors. The figure was the highest ever recorded in the month of December, however. An index of 100 is equal to the level of contract activity in 2001. The index had risen for four consecutive months through August. Contract signings decreased 0.3% month over month but increased 21.4% year over year in December.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 25, 2021

  • It may take up to five years for retailers to absorb and integrate the acceleration of e-commerce into a new operating model that matches pre-pandemic retail profitability, according to management consulting firm Kearney. Many brick-and-mortar retailers layered more expensive e-commerce offerings and new customer service options, from curbside pickup to home delivery, on top of normal business operations, putting pressure on their already-stressed profit margins. Firms must now create sustainable business and operational models that can hold or increase margins once COVID-driven artificial demand vanishes, as the cost of added digital platforms will not vanish.
  • Social distancing, masking, and other measures should remain in place until late July, “and that may be optimistic,” according to Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia University. Vaccines alone are not enough to end the pandemic, according to a new model by created by Dr. Shaman and his associates at Columbia University. Some areas of the country have let the pandemic rage so uncontrollably that it is too late for the vaccine to have a major impact, Dr. Shaman said.
  • Florists have begun placing orders months in advance due to pandemic-related supply chain delays. “During the shutdowns lot of growers were actually going out of business. We couldn’t get the transportation of the flowers here, just because the flights weren’t coming in,” said flower shop co-owner Jennifer Barnard. Bard says that her shop finalized their Valentine's Day orders in mid-December.
  • In a survey by The Wedding Report, 41.5% of couples moved their weddings to 2021. The survey also revealed that 7.0% of couples canceled altogether, while 30.5% of hopefuls held on to their dates. In addition, 46% of couples are cutting their wedding budget by an average of 31%; 58% of couples are cutting their budget by an average of 41%.
  • Social distancing has initiated the development of the “microwedding,” according to Catersource. Different from eloping, microweddings include the elements of a traditional ceremony and reception on a much smaller scale. Guest lists that average about 25 to 30 individuals allow the bride and groom to celebrate for a few thousand dollars, a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding. Scaled-down weddings still involve flowers, but budgets are considerably smaller.
  • In the absence of big events that account for a sizable percentage of business, a few New York floral designers have innovated and leveraged the DIY movement. New York floral designer Lewis Miller and other firms ship boxes of 50 to 100 loose stems directly from Dutch suppliers to customers and provide access to online videos that show how to arrange them.
  • “Designer’s Choice” arrangements have become the norm, as florists learn to work with whatever is available. COVID-19 has affected the supply chain, leaving florists unable to procure a variety of popular flowers from South America, Africa, and Holland. Many operators are only open for curbside pick-up and delivery.
  • Florists are generally considered nonessential businesses although in some states, the ability to serve funeral homes and cemeteries allowed some to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to an article in the Taunton Gazette.

February 4, 2021

  • Food distributors continue to be heavily reliant on sales to grocery stores. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion. About 72% of restaurant owners who closed for good told the NRA that it’s unlikely that they’ll open another restaurant concept in the months or years ahead.
  • Increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines may not immediately result in the reopening of restaurants. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 cases have risen to record levels in late 2020, but the food industry is now “better equipped to handle supply chain stress” than earlier this year, according to Heather Garlich, senior vice president at FMI, the food industry association formerly known as the Food Marketing Institute. Major grocers including Kroger, H-E-B, and Publix are bringing back per-customer limits on high-demand items like toilet paper and household cleaners. Grocers say that the limits are proactive measures this time, rather than a sign of looming shortages. Shoppers are also buying far more of their food over the internet. Low-income families can now use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits online in most states, as the Agriculture Department rapidly expanded its online SNAP pilot program.
  • The reopening of restaurants, gyms, and hotels carries the highest danger of spreading Covid-19, according to a Stanford University and Northwestern University study. Researchers who conducted the study say that that full-blown lockdowns may not be necessary to reduce infections. Masks, social distancing, and reduced capacity at places where people congregate all can play a major role in reducing infections.
  • An analysis by case investigators involved with contact tracing in Mecklenburg County, NC, showed that 36% of people infected with COVID-19 had frequented restaurants and breweries and 38% went to gatherings with family and friends. Less than 10% of people reported going to weddings, funerals and places of worship. Industry experts say that the data revealed in detail what health officials have been cautioning: The risk of getting sick or getting others sick from the coronavirus is highest in group settings and in places where long lengths of time are spent near strangers. The results may have negative implications for the brewing industry, as consumption of alcoholic beverages often occurs in these settings.
  • The food supply chain is facing another pandemic-induced hurdle in the form of a can shortage. Wholesale manufacturers and distributors are running out of empty cans to pack nonperishable foods that so many consumers are buying in bulk. “Especially in ready-to-eat meals, like chili, soups and prepared meats,” said James Kwon, CEO of technology and logistics firm ePallet. “The cans are in short supply.” Canned items that normally may be unavailable for just a week or two are now delayed for months, according to National Public Radio. Can manufacturers have announced plans to build at least three new factories within the next 18 months. Can maker Ball Corp. will open two new US plants and is adding two new production lines to existing US facilities.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a blueprint that the agency said outlines the approach it will take over the next decade to improve food safety. Core sections of the New Era of Smarter Food Safety Blueprint address enhanced traceability, smarter tools and approaches for prevention and outbreak response, new business models, and a culture of food safety. The FDA says that enhanced traceability, coupled with advanced analytical tools, may help the FDA spot potential problems in advance and prevent or lessen the impact of recurring outbreaks of illnesses associated with the consumption of certain foods.
  • Wholesale grocery sales were unchanged in value year over year in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • Grocery store sales rose 11.2% year over year in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.

February 25, 2021

  • President Biden said in late February that he wants many elementary and middle schools to reopen full-time by May. Food service contractors serving schools are likely to benefit if the goal can be met. The statement is a shift from an earlier one indicating that some schools may initially open just one day a week. Biden also raised the idea of keeping schools open over the summer.
  • Some public interest groups want a significant portion of the rapidly expanding COVID-19 testing capacity to be used on school children to aid in the reopening of schools. The Rockefeller Foundation calls for allocating $42.5 billion to create 300 million tests a month for students and staff to enable public schools to reopen and stay open until the end of the school year. The plan calls for testing all students at least once a week and teacher and staff twice a week. Elementary schools would open first in February, according to the Rockefeller Foundation plan, as the youngest children are least vulnerable to infection, then middle schools two weeks later and high schools in March.
  • A University of Chicago study published in January concluded that “22 percent of all full work days will be supplied from home after the pandemic ends, compared with just 5 percent before.” Corporate demand for food service may not rebound to pre-pandemic levels as a result. “The pandemic drove a mass social experiment in which half of all paid hours were provided from home,” according to the study. By most accounts, the authors concluded, that experiment was successful.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance to give food industry workers space in the line, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Adults who contract COVID-19 are twice as likely as the general population to have eaten at a restaurant in the two weeks prior, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Both indoor and outdoor dining pose a risk of infection because patrons cannot eat or drink with a mask on, the CDC noted.
  • College dining services have been forced to overhaul operations to accommodate social distancing and safety and health regulations because of COVID-19. Customized meals have been replaced by grab-and-go, self-serve is disappearing, and condiment and coffee stations replaced by single-serving packets and paper cups. Some colleges have invested in robots for food prep and delivery.
  • A survey by the School Nutrition Association (SNA) revealed that 68% of responding school meal program directors anticipated a financial loss this school year, with 23% reporting that they were uncertain. The median estimated loss per district was $200,000, although for districts with more than 25,000 students, the median estimated loss was $2.35 million. The SNA is pushing for passage of the Heroes Act, which includes $3 billion in emergency funding for school foodservice programs, according to Foodservice Director.
  • K-12 schools have played a key role in providing meals to students who are part of the National School Lunch Program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many districts continued to feed students by working with food banks and non-profits, reconfiguring meal distribution plans, and offering workers hazard pay when schools shut down. Almost every school program in the country transitioned to curbside pick-up, according to the School Nutrition Association. According to a survey by Hunger Free America, more than one-third of parents reported skipping meals for their children or reducing serving sizes because they lacked the funds to buy food.

February 21, 2020

  • Consumer spending decreased 0.2% month over month in December 2020, the second decline since April. The decline followed a 0.7% month-over-month drop in November. Personal income increased 0.6% in December after two months of declines. Disposable personal income also increased 0.6%. The government estimated that the economy grew at a 4% annual rate in the final three months of 2020 but shrank for the full year by the largest amount in 74 years.  Hiring has slowed for six straight months, and employers shed jobs in December for the first time since April. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost to the pandemic, which began 10 months ago.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Fashion and performance footwear will boost dollar sales for the overall industry in 2021, though sales will remain below 2019 levels, according to The NPD Group’s Future of Footwear report. “A return to the office and store re-openings will likely reignite some demand for fashion footwear, although the focus will remain on casual and comfort-oriented styles. The pandemic has only amplified the importance of these attributes, as the blending of work-from-home and remote learning has led consumers to favor comfort to wear any time of the day,” said Beth Goldstein, NPD’s fashion footwear and accessories analyst. Performance footwear growth will be driven by demand for road running shoes.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package passed by the US Congress on December 22 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans. Footwear manufacturers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire on January 31, 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."

February 13, 2021

  • The $200 million allocated for logging and log hauling businesses in the COVID-19 relief package that was signed into law in late 2020 will go to timber harvesting and hauling businesses that have, because of the COVID–19 pandemic, experienced a loss of 10% or more in gross revenue during the period beginning on January 1, 2020, and ending on December 1, 2020, compared to the same period a year earlier.
  • The forestry sector—landowners, logging companies, and sawmills — lost an estimated $1.1 billion in 2020, according to the Trump administration.
  • Low timber prices are likely to linger for five to seven years, according to Pete Stewart, president and founder of industry consulting firm Farm2Market. Prices are low despite recent record-high lumber prices because of the vast oversupply of timber, which far outstrips demand for lumber, said Stewart.
  • Logging companies are seeing strong demand from some customers and weak demand from others, due to COVID-19. Customers that make sanitary paper products (toilet paper, paper towels, wipes) are driving sales of wood chips which are used to make pulp, a raw material of paper products. Conversely, demand from commercial paper manufacturers for pulp is lower.
  • Logging production dropped 6.6% year over year in December 2020 from a year ago, but was up nearly 33% from the low of April.
  • Employment in the logging industry declined 3.5% year over year in January. The logging segment has an aging workforce and chronic labor shortages. Loss of labor due to coronavirus illness and quarantines is hurting the industry.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is leading forestry and logging companies to automate paperwork in order to limit person-to-person exposure and make data remotely accessible and shareable.

February 20, 2021

  • President Biden signed an executive order in January aimed at closing loopholes in existing “Buy American” provisions, which, according to Reuters news service, apply to about a third of the $600 billion in goods and services the federal government buys each year. The order will make any waivers more transparent and create a senior White House role to oversee the process. Biden’s order also directs federal agencies to reevaluate the threshold used to determine US content, a move intended to prevent companies that sell to the government from importing largely foreign-made goods and selling them as US-made. New percentages for required US content will be determined as a result of the process. Industry experts say that the order is part of Biden's plan to revitalize the manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy. It is also a key part of Biden’s broader push to drive up wages, create more union jobs, support minority-owned businesses and strengthen US supply chains. A Biden administration official said that updated Buy American provisions would be fully consistent with US commitments under the World Trade Organization, and Washington would work with trade partners to modernize global rules.
  • Biden’s Buy American executive order also calls for a review of the “Non-available Articles” list, with particular attention paid to items that the government says Americans do not produce enough of to meet government purchases: beef extract, canned corned beef, goat skin, olive oil, Alaskan yellow cedar lumber, and “sugars, raw,” for example. Many industry experts say that the list needs to be reviewed not only for what currently meets the “not available” criteria, but also for which American industries might benefit from additional government purchases.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes another $15 billion in aid to airlines that would bring back workers, guarantee pay, and delay talk of payroll cutbacks until at least the end of March. Forging and stamping firms serving the air transportation industry may benefit if the funding encourages investment in aircraft by stabilizing the industry. Major and secondary US airlines warned in October 2020 of layoffs that will impact more than 80,000 people when the CARES Act payroll support program for the industry expires.
  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980.
  • New orders for durable goods increased 1.1% year over year in December 2020 but were down 6.6% year over year for the full year, according to the US Census Bureau. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 3.8% during 2020. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 6.6% year over year during 2020. New orders increased 1.1% month over month in December 2020, marking the eighth consecutive month-over-month increase.
  • Forging and stamping industry employment declined 9.3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 4.8% from the low of April 2020, according to the US Department of Labor.
  • The University of Michigan’s (UM) consumer sentiment index, a measure of consumer confidence, fell to 79 in January from 80.7 in December 2020. Higher consumer confidence may boost demand for . The Current Economic Conditions Index decreased to 86.7 from 90 in December and the Index of Consumer Expectations decreased to 74 from 74.6. The index remains almost 20 points below its pre-pandemic level.

February 7, 2021

  • The value of commercial and multifamily construction starts in the US decreased 20% year over year in 2020 to $193.4 billion, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. The value of starts in the top 20 metropolitan areas decreased 23% in 2020, falling to $111.1 billion. The New York metropolitan area continued to be the largest market for commercial and multifamily starts at $23.5 billion but suffered a 25% decline from 2019. The Washington DC metro area managed to maintain its second place standing despite an identical decline in 2020 that cut commercial and multifamily starts to $8.9 billion. The Los Angeles, CA, metro area, which fell 21% to $7.4 billion, ranked third.
  • Lumber prices are rising in early 2021 after falling to $496 per thousand board feet on October 26, 2020, from a peak of $941 on September 7. Lumber closed at $916 per thousand board feet on February 1, according to Business Insider. Reduced mill production coupled with rising demand from DIY projects and ongoing construction projects is contributing to the substantial rise in lumber prices.
  • Attorneys at Atlanta-based law firm Fisher Phillips told contractors that it is within their legal rights to compel workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Requiring construction workers to get a coronavirus vaccination is comparable to existing rules for healthcare workers that make flu shots mandatory in order to protect all patients and staff and keep the workplace safe, the attorneys said. The attorneys also recommended that contractors set up programs to administer vaccines on jobsites, during work hours, and free of charge, in order to get the highest participation possible while ensuring projects continue to move forward.
  • A US District Judge upheld in late September a preliminary injunction that halts implementation of President Trump's June executive order suspending the issuance of new H-1B visas and H-2B visas for certain seasonal workers, including construction workers, through the end of the year. The Trump administration said that the order was issued to give American workers the best chance to secure open positions. The judge ruled that the president had likely exceeded his authority with the order.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 3, 2021

  • The pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of far-flung, complicated global supply chains. Some manufacturing industry experts suggest supply chains need to be shorter to be more resilient. Simpler supply chains could reduce global freight demand and shrink the freight forwarding market. However, a recent survey by China-based banking firm HSBC suggests some companies are planning to maintain or even expand their presence in China. The HSBC Navigator report surveyed 1,100 companies with revenue of at least $5 million in 11 countries. About 75% of companies said they plan to increase their China-based supply chains over the next two years, and about 40% plan to increase the proportion of their operations in China by 10% or more. The vast size of China’s domestic market and its manufacturing capabilities are key benefits that outweigh many of the drawbacks. China’s quick economic recovery from the pandemic is also a factor in some companies choosing to expand their supply chains there.
  • Air freight volumes continued their gradual recovery in November, according to a January report by the International Air Transport Association. Worldwide air cargo demand, as measured by cargo tonne-kilometers (CTKs), was down 6.6% in November compared to the same month in 2019. However, volumes were up 1.6% on a month-over-month basis. Global capacity was down 20% compared to November 2019, nearly three times the pullback in demand which indicates a drastic drop in capacity. As passenger flights have been drastically reduced due to COVID-19, freight capacity dropped as about half of global air freight volumes are transported in the bellies of passenger flights.
  • In an economic outlook released in December, The Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) estimates global GDP declined 4.2% in 2020. China, with GDP growth of 1.8%, was the only major economy that saw a gain in GDP in 2020. Looking to 2021, the OECD expects worldwide GDP growth of 4.2%, led by China, which is projected to experience an 8% rise in GDP. India’s economic output is forecast to increase 7.9. The US economy should grow 3.5% in 2021 after contracting by 3.7% in 2020. The OECD believes more widespread distribution of vaccines bodes well for economic recovery in 2021. However, while infection rates generally have trended downward in early 2021, recurring spikes in new cases or disruptions in vaccine distribution pose continued downside risk.
  • At the end of December air freight rates from China to the US were up compared to a year ago, according to The Air Freight Index Company (TAC Index). Rates hit $7.57 per kilogram in the last week of December, up more than double compared to the same period in 2019. Industry watchers expect air freight rates out of China to remain elevated amid tight capacity and rising demand. However, gradual increases in capacity have stabilized rates somewhat compared to the highs seen earlier in the pandemic. Industry watchers expect air freight rates to remain high in 2021. By the second half of the year, rising vaccination rates may spur an increase in passenger flights which would improve freight capacity.
  • Transportation and warehousing capacity are still tight even after the holidays, according to the January Logistics Manager’s Index (LMI) report. The LMI was 67.2 in January, up from 66.7 the prior month. A reading above 50 indicates logistics expansion while a reading below 50 suggests a contraction. The January LMI report indicated the warehousing capacity strains seen leading up to the holidays have backed off a bit, but tight capacity is still expected to keep warehousing utilization and prices high until more capacity can be brought online.  Transportation capacity is also down and companies are struggling to find enough truck, ship, and aircraft space to meet higher consumer demand, which has driven up prices. Even as more transportation capacity is anticipated to come online over the coming year, LMI survey respondents expect transportation costs to remain elevated in 2021. The LPI is compiled monthly by logistics researchers at five universities and the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).
  • After shutdowns severely curtailed port traffic in the first half of 2020, it rebounded strongly in the second half, breaking records along the way. The Port of Long Beach saw its busiest year ever as it moved more than 8.1 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of cargo, an increase of 6.3% over 2019. In December, Port of Long Beach volumes increased 22.6% over the same time a year earlier. The Port of Los Angeles posted its fourth-busiest year on record in 2020, moving 9.2 million TEUs. The port of Los Angeles’ volume was down 1.5% in December compared to the prior year. Container volumes at the Port of New York and New Jersey in November were up 23.2% from a year ago.
  • Ports in Los Angeles and Long Beach suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 in late January. About 700 dockworkers contracted the coronavirus and hundreds more took COVID-19-related time away from work. The outbreak made an existing cargo congestion issue on the US West Coast worse. An earlier-than-expected rebound in global goods consumption in the second half of 2020 has driven strong US import volume from China. As China’s exports have risen, it paid a premium for empty shipping containers, which led to shortages, including at the Port of LA. China’s demand is causing a spike in the number of containers that are returning to China empty. Industry watchers expect the global imbalance of containers to resolve itself in the first or second quarter of 2021.

February 4, 2021

  • Fruit and vegetable manufacturers continue to be heavily reliant on sales to grocery stores. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA). Restaurant and foodservice industry sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion. About 72% of restaurant owners who closed for good told the NRA that it’s unlikely that they’ll open another restaurant concept in the months or years ahead.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance to give meat and food processing industry workers space in the line, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who now advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Health experts have determined that the risk of coming in contact with the coronavirus by handing grocery items like packages of fruits and vegetables is extremely small. Information on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that “because of the poor survivability of these coronaviruses on surfaces, there is likely a very low risk of spread from food products or packaging.” The site also notes that no cases of COVID-19 have been linked to people touching food or food packaging and then touching their faces. There is now wide agreement among health experts that the coronavirus is spread primarily through droplets in the air, according to USA Today.
  • Canned vegetables remain among the products that are difficult to find in grocery stores, according to The Food Institute. One reason for out of stocks is that manufacturers and retailers are focusing on making, delivering, and stocking their top-selling items, which can lead to less niche or seasonal items. Additionally, other aisles have less stock because the sector cannot make enough. B&G Foods, which produces Green Giant canned and frozen vegetables, said that it is making as much as possible but hasn’t been able to stock up on extras to prepare for another wave of shutdowns. Other manufacturers such as Kimberly-Clark, and General Mills also said that they haven’t been able to rebuild inventories because of the strong demand.
  • Fruit and vegetable manufacturers may need to upgrade cooling systems in cold storage rooms due to concerns that the coronavirus can spread via HVAC systems. Specialists are evaluating how well heavy-duty filters block microbes and considering whether to install systems that use ultraviolet light or electrically charged particles in the ductwork to kill the virus. Many of the methods to reduce pathogens have been around for years, but were geared more to hospitals than commercial buildings.
  • US Senator Debbie Stabenow has introduced the Food Supply Protection Act to provide produce packing plants and farms with grant and loan financing to clean facilities, upgrade machinery, purchase protective equipment, and ensure adequate COVID-19 tests are available for employees.

February 10, 2021

  • “Most propane retailers have done very well in the pandemic, particularly if they have barbecue tank exchange cylinders – the business is just through the roof,” says Steve Abbate, managing director of Cetane Associates, a mergers and acquisitions advisory firm. Retailers whose gallon sales rely on restaurants have faced some financial stress, he added. More than 110,000 eating and drinking places were closed for business temporarily or for good as of December 1, 2020, according to the National Restaurant Association.
  • The rise in recreational vehicle activity has driven demand for propane. Most RV appliances, including cooktops, furnaces, grills, refrigerators, hot water heaters, and generators, run on propane. U-Haul, which entered the propane market when it rented RVs, kept its propane business when it exited the RV rental market. The company continues to serve RVers with propane, according to LP Gas.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Fuel and LP gas dealers are likely to benefit if the plan helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire on January 31, 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • West Texas Intermediate crude futures are expected to average $46.40 per barrel in 2021, according to a Reuters news service poll of 40 economists. The figure is up from the October 2020 consensus forecast of $46.03 for 2021.
  • Heating oil users may see lower bills throughout the winter while households that heat with gas, electricity, and propane are expected to pay more on average for fuel, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). EIA expects higher energy consumption due to telecommuting and online education, but home heating oil expenditures are forecast to fall by 10%, due primarily to a combination of low crude oil prices and high distillate fuel oil supplies heading into the winter.
  • Industry experts are warning that relying on the spot market could put LP gas retailers in a tight spot should a period of high demand take hold this winter. “All of the advance signals” are suggesting the possibility of looming supply uncertainties, according to Tucker Perkins, president and CEO of the Propane Education & Research Council. These can take the form of inventory shortages in a particular area of demand, reduced availability of spot product, an all-around tightness of credit regarding financial transactions, and an assortment of pandemic-induced impacts on retailers’ ability to schedule deliveries.
  • Goldman Sachs believes that global crude demand will not be back to pre-pandemic levels until 2022. Demand is expected to have declined 8% in 2020, to decline 6% in 2021, and fully recover in 2022. Propane supply is driven by economics for crude and natural gas production

February 22, 2021

  • Unadjusted wholesale furniture sales rose nearly 6% in December 2020 compared to November but were down more than 5% year-over-year. Furniture and home furnishing store sales increased 9.3% in January compared to the same month in 2019; sales were up 5.7% over December levels. Furniture manufacturing industry employment was down 8% compared to prior-year levels in January 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • All states are in various phases of reopening, and furniture manufacturing firms and major furniture retailers have begun to reopen. While new cases of COVID-19 rose dramatically in the fall and winter, by mid-February the 7-day average for daily new cases was down to about 75,000, and hospitalizations and deaths were also down significantly. Industry insiders note that furniture retail is a tactile business where consumers have traditionally wanted to “try out” products such as sofas, chairs, and beds for comfort – a practice that can be problematic amid concerns about COVID-19.
  • US new home sales in December 2020 were up 1.6% compared to November, and rose 15.2% year-over-year, according to the Census Bureau. Homebuilder confidence remained strong in February, rising one point to 84, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Consumers are showing improved interest in new housing amid low interest rates and lean housing inventory. While the National Association of Home Builders said housing demand remained strong, affordability is an increasingly concerning issue as tight inventories and rising construction costs push new homes out of reach for some. A healthy housing market is a strong demand driver for furniture sales.
  • During periods of high unemployment, consumers typically postpone large purchases, such as furniture. For the week ending February 13, 2020, more than 4.4 million workers were receiving unemployment assistance. The unemployment rate in January was 6.3%. However, jobless claims and the unemployment rate generally have been on the decline since peaking in April.
  • Makers and distributors of office furniture may have some short-term opportunities but face long-term challenges. In the near-term, some companies may invest in new furniture with features that make workers feel safer – like desks that are further apart and have clear barriers. Schools may invest in acoustic partitions that can help create a barrier between students. The CDC has recommended partitions when social distancing in schools is difficult. Longer term, companies may look to save money on furniture and office space by letting employees work from home.
  • Americans who transitioned to working remotely have tended to spend out-of-pocket to set up comfortable and functional work spaces at home, according to a recent survey of full-time remote employees by discount coupon code company CouponFollow. On average, respondents spent $572 in setting up work spaces in their homes. Among items purchased that are in the moderate-cost range, some of the most popular included sitting desks, office chairs, and stand-up desks. The survey data tended to suggest that people were willing to spend to make their work-from-home spaces comfortable even amid tightening household budgets and economic uncertainty.
  • Stay-at-home orders, working from home, and retail closures created a boom in online furniture sales. Online home furnishings retailer Wayfair reported a 66% increase in sales in the third quarter compared to the same period in 2019. The company said its sales improved as consumers shifted their focus to spending on their homes instead of entertainment and travel. Wayfair’s full-year 2020 revenue is projected to rise 56% to $14.2 billion, according to an average of analysts estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Industry watchers expect the shift to ecommerce to remain even after the pandemic passes. Furniture wholesalers may seek to establish relationships with customers outside traditional brick and mortar furniture retail.

February 5, 2021

  • Many experts say that telecommuting has been normalized, and furniture manufacturers are likely to benefit as telecommuting plays an integral role in future employee work patterns. About 17% of employees were telecommuting full time before the pandemic, according to Forbes Magazine. That increased to 51% In April 2020, after the nationwide lockdowns forced employees from their offices. If part-time employees are included during the April time frame, the percentage of employees working remotely jumps to 66. Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford University, says that while the percentage of telecommuters is likely to drop somewhat immediately after the pandemic, the stigma surrounding from working at home is gone. Bloom noted that a number of corporations are developing work-from-home plans beyond the pandemic.
  • Steelcase, the nation's largest office furniture maker, reported in December 2020 that sales dropped 31% year over year in the past nine months and 35% year over year in the past three months. Herman Miller, the nation's second-largest office furniture maker, saw sales drop 7% year over year in the past six months and orders slip 12%.
  • IBM expects home furnishings and furniture store sales to have decreased 14% year over year in 2020. Home furnishings stores suffered a major blow through the retail shutdowns, which leaves a “very deep hole to dig out of,” said Karl Haller, who leads the Consumer Center of Competency, a consultancy group within IBM.
  • A survey done by Global Workplace Analytics and Iometrics found that only 6% of employees do not want to work from home at all while 76% want to be in the office an average of 2.5 days a week. "Our forecast is that once the dust settles, 25%-30% of the workforce will continue to work from home at least one day a week, with the sweet spot being about 2.5 days," said Kate Lister, president of Global Workplace Analytics.
  • Furniture and home furnishings retail sales increased 5.3% in value year over year in December 2020 but decreased 5.4% for all of 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Sales decreased 0.6% in December compared to the prior month.
  • Household and institutional furniture manufacturing industry employment decreased 5.8% year over year in December but was up 22.2% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Office furniture and fixtures manufacturing industry employment decreased 15% during December but was up 4.2% compared to April.
  • Construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.

February 23, 2021

  • Demand for furniture will remain at or near record levels through the end of 2021 since sheltering at home will continue in many areas until the vaccines are given to most who want them, said Robert Klaben, vice president of communications at Morris Furniture Company. Shoppers should plan ahead for their furniture shopping needs, at least 120 days before furniture is needed in the home, he added.
  • The US Congress is negotiating a new coronavirus relief bill that includes direct payments for some Americans of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 for both child and adult dependents. Furniture stores may benefit if the proposed funding helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing.
  • Real disposable income, an indicator of demand for discretionary purchases, increased 0.2% in December 2020. Consumer spending decreased 0.2% in December.
  • Furniture and home furnishings sales increased 6.2% during the expanded 2020 holiday shopping season that ran from October 11 to December 24, according to Mastercard (MA) SpendingPulse. Total holiday sales rose just 3% during the period.
  • The University of Michigan’s (UM) consumer sentiment index, a measure of consumer confidence, fell to 79 in January from 80.7 in December 2020. Higher consumer confidence may boost demand for . The Current Economic Conditions Index decreased to 86.7 from 90 in December and the Index of Consumer Expectations decreased to 74 from 74.6. The index remains almost 20 points below its pre-pandemic level.
  • Some furniture retailers have been able to capitalize on rising consumer demand for refurbished office furniture. Chicago firm Rework has seen noncorporate walk-in and online orders increase to about $100,000 per month from a pre-pandemic monthly average of $3,000, said co-owner Mark Knepper. Business has picked up significantly since August. “It took that long for people’s backs to hurt, and for people to realize they could be sitting in the kitchen for a long time to come,” Knepper said. “That’s when a lot of companies started offering stipends.”
  • Retail sales for the furniture and home furnishings industry increased 9.3% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the furniture store industry decreased 7.1% year over year in December 2020 but was up 52% compared to the low of April.

February 13, 2021

  • Spikes of new COVID-19 cases in the US and Europe - and the emergence of a new, more contagious variant of the coronavirus – led Goldman Sachs to dampen its outlook for global fuel demand in the first quarter 2021. However, in early January, Saudi Arabia announced it would cut production by 1 million barrels per month in February and March in an effort to stabilize prices. Higher oil prices are expected to boost US production, mostly in the second half of the year. The US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Short Term Energy Outlook in early February forecasts US crude production will drop slightly in the first half of 2021. However, in the second half of the year production from new wells will exceed production declines from legacy wells.
  • The number of oil rigs in operation has fallen drastically since the onset of the pandemic. The US rig count as of February 5, 2021 was 392, up 8 from the prior week but down 398 from a year ago, according to Baker Hughes Rig Count. While the rig count was down year-over-year, it rose for the eleventh straight week for a total gain of 82. Higher oil prices and rising rig counts may slow the rate of bankruptcies among exploration and production firms. In 2020, 45 US oil exploration and production companies filed for bankruptcy, according to Texas-based corporate law firm Haynes and Boone. Earlier in the pandemic, low oil prices made it difficult for producers to secure additional credit to stay afloat.
  • Exploration and production (E&P) companies slashed capital expenditures in 2020. Among the supermajor E&P companies, capital expenditure cuts were typically between 20-25%, according to GlobalData. Together, 2020 writedowns by BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Exxon totaled $51.4 billion, according to Bloomberg. In January, the International Energy Agency (IEA) downwardly revised its forecast for 2021 oil consumption by 0.3 million barrels per day from its projection the prior month. The emergence of new COVID-19 variants and the mobility-curbing efforts by governments to contain them dampened the IEA’s outlook. However, the agency said global vaccine distribution should have a positive effect on both oil demand and supply.
  • Despite a weak energy outlook, some oil and gas firms are planning to increase capital spending in 2021, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in late-December. About half of 146 energy company executives surveyed said they planned to increase investments in 2021; 25% expected their companies’ capital spending to remain flat. Some energy executives reported being optimistic about the possibility of stricter energy industry regulations from the Biden administration if they help tighten US supply and buoy oil prices.
  • E&P companies are facing a future funding crisis as investors have moved to other industries amid poor returns by oil and gas companies, according to analysts attending a virtual S&P Global Platts petroleum conference in September. While the S&P 500 has posted 70% gains since 2015, returns on E&P firms have declined 70% during the same period. However, some industry watchers note that distress in the E&P sector may attract investors who view the reduced valuations as a long-term opportunity. The World Economic Forum has suggested E&P firms that make firm commitments to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues – and back them with measurable metrics – are more likely to be attractive to investors.
  • The pandemic and resulting drop in oil consumption is fueling consolidation in the US shale oil industry, according to the New York Times. In January, Conoco Phillips finalized its acquisition of Texas-based Concho Resources In October, Chevron completed its purchase of Nobel Energy. Smaller shale players will continue to shake out as shale investment drops; US shale investments in 2020 were an estimated $45 billion compared to about $100 billion in both 2018 and 2019, according to the EIA.
  • US natural gas consumption is forecast to fall 1.9% in 2021 due to higher prices reducing the use of natural gas by electric power plants. The ongoing economic recovery is expected to drive an increase in industrial natural gas consumption in 2021. Residential and commercial consumption are also projected to increase.

February 19, 2021

  • It may take more time than initially expected for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures. Gift and souvenir stores may be negatively impacted, as travel may not begin recovering to pre-pandemic levels quickly. Health officials have stressed that even with effective vaccines, many of the same safety protocols will have to remain in place until there is clear herd immunity. There are growing concerns that virus mutations will slow the process. President Biden said in early February that wearing masks "though the next year" can save a significant number of lives. According to some epidemiological estimates, as many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread.
  • A coalition of health and technology organizations are working to develop a digital COVID-19 vaccination passport. The Vaccination Credential Initiative, which includes members like Microsoft, Oracle, and healthcare nonprofit Mayo Clinic, is using the work from coalition member Commons Project’s international digital document which verifies that a person has tested negative for COVID-19. Gift and souvenir stores may benefit if travel and business activity increases due in part to widespread use of a passport that confirms vaccinations have been received.
  • The number of visitors to New York City will total about 23 million in 2020, an “unmatched drop” from over 66 million last year, according to City tourism agency NYC & Co. The agency expects visits to rebound to record levels by 2024.
  • Weekly travel spending, a driver of gift and souvenir store sales, dropped almost 90% in March and April, and was still down 48% in December, according to Tourism Economics.

February 18, 2021

  • Schott AG, the world’s biggest supplier of specialty glass for medical bottles and syringes, said that it doesn't expect a shortage of vials for bottling COVID-19 vaccines. Drug makers had warned of limited supplies in 2020. Schott said at the time that their rush to secure supplies early risked making matters worse. “Customers are ordering only to the extent that they actually build up their own production capacities,” a company spokesperson said in late January. “We seek reassurance that orders are not placed to build early reserves, so that all firms that really need (vials) for filling can be served,” he added.
  • The recycling industry has not returned to pre-pandemic glass-recycling levels, according to Randy Burns, Chief Sustainability Officer for O-I Glass. Bars and restaurants — large, centralized sources of glass scrap — are still subject to closures and remain at reduced capacity. About 80% of glass collection quantities have returned.
  • SiO2 Materials Science's Auburn, AL, facility went from manufacturing 10 million vials per year to over 10 million vials per month and their local workforce grew from 100 employees to over 500. Each vial manufactured by SiO2 is multi-dose and can hold anywhere from 8-10 doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The vast majority — 70% to 90% — of medical glass is made overseas, according to Chandra Brown, CEO of digital manufacturing institute MxD.
  • Industry experts say that the pharmaceutical industry has settled on 10-milliliter vials, capable of holding eight to 15 doses, as the most common standard for a coronavirus vaccine. A key reason for multi-dose vials is to conserve glass supply. Single-dose vials and single-dose, pre-filled syringes have become commonplace for many vaccines, although multi-dose vials are available as well, according to the CDC.
  • Glass manufacturing has continued largely unimpeded during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Nicole Harris, president of the National Glass Association (NGA). Glass operations were declared essential and run continuously, largely because the large glass-making furnaces are extremely difficult and expensive to shut down and restart. Raw materials used to make glass run 24/7 through ovens that can be as long as three football fields. Demand for glass is currently being driven mainly by hospitals, medical centers, testing laboratories, and manufacturers of medical supplies and equipment.

February 7, 2021

  • Nonresidential construction is expected to decrease 5.7% year over year in 2021, according to a consensus forecast from the American Institute of Architects. Health care and public safety are the only two major sectors in the AIA Consensus Construction Forecast projected to see slight increases — up 1.2% and 1%, respectively— in 2021. Overall nonresidential construction spending is projected to increase 3.1% year over year in 2022.
  • Pandemic-induced material shortages will continue into 2021, according to the Q4 2020 US Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index. About 83% of construction contractors surveyed by the Chamber of commerce are experiencing product delays and 71% are struggling to meet schedule requirements. Some 58% are putting in higher bids on projects and 39% are turning down work opportunities.
  • Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. “In the spring or perhaps even sooner, if it were the case that infections and hospitalizations were declining and we were back to a point that the U.S. was at in July or August, there could be a little more of a push to get back to the office, but it doesn’t seem likely considering where we are today,” MetLife Investment Management Head of Real Estate Research and Strategy William Pattison said.
  • Glass and glazing contractors may benefit as COVID-19 outbreaks on college campuses help boost interest in trade schools. A current Siegemedia survey of 1,500 Americans shows that about 30% of respondents view trade schools as a more favorable option than going to college. Only 9% viewed vocational schools as a worse option, while 58% found the two to be about equal. A similar survey conducted in 2019 found that only 25% of young Americans thought that trade school offers a better future than college. Other benefits cited by those now favoring trade school were less debt (cited by 35%) and better chances at finding a job (30%). About 16% of respondents said they felt trade schools lead to better paying jobs than those facilitated by college.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020 Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.
  • Pella and Infinity from Marvin offered virtual appointments to remain connected to customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both companies reported an increase in demand for virtual appointments.

February 26, 2021

  • US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on February 19 that the US saw a five-week decline in COVID-19 cases, with the seven-day average of cases declining 69% since peaking on January 11. Health officials have stressed, however, that even with effective vaccines, many of the same safety protocols will have to remain in place until there is clear herd immunity. There are growing concerns that virus mutations will slow the process. President Biden said in early February that wearing masks "though the next year" can save a significant number of lives. According to some epidemiological estimates, as many as 85% of Americans must become immune to COVID-19 – either by recovering from the disease or by getting vaccinated – to halt the virus’s spread.
  • Total rounds of golf played increased 13.9% year over year in 2020, according to Golf Datatech. The percentage increase was the highest since Golf Datatech started tracking rounds played in 1998. The only time the industry saw a bigger spike in rounds played was in 1997, the breakout year for Tiger Woods, according to the National Golf Federation.
  • Increases in rounds played varied greatly by region in 2020. The area defined as West North Central by Golf Datatech – Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota – saw a 23.1% year-over-year increase in rounds played in 2020. That compares to only a 4.8% annual rise – the smallest of any region in the US – in the Pacific Region of California, Oregon and Washington. Resorts that depend heavily on travel – especially those to which players typically fly – have not seen a strong rebound as travel overall has diminished during the pandemic.
  • The pandemic-induced respite from competition with other recreational activities that golf courses are receiving may continue for some time despite increasing availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • While no states have restricted play, a limited number of courses remain closed in areas hit hard by COVID-19 (New York, Chicago). Some golf courses affiliated with resort properties remain closed.

February 22, 2021

  • The CARES Act provision that reimburses federal contractors who extend coronavirus-related paid leave to their employees and subcontractors was set to expire on September 30, 2020. The provision – Section 3610 – funds contractor employees’ paid leave when COVID-19 has prevented access to government worksites and workers’ jobs could not be performed remotely. President Trump signed a continuing resolution September 30 that continued to fund the government – including Section 3610 - through December 11, 2020. Section 3610 was again extended as part of the $900 billion stimulus bill passed in December 2020. The extension runs to March 31,2021.
  • Legal experts suggest the large sums of COVID-19-related money flowing to contractors from the Small Business Administration will further the trend of tighter DOJ enforcement under the False Claims Act. Contractors are urged to make certain of eligibility when applying for contracts and when subcontracting or providing contract support for partner companies.
  • In the early days of the pandemic, the US government scrambled to get enough emergency supplies where they were most needed, and contract awards were expedited. Under the CARES Act, government contractors also qualified for loans through the Small Business Administration by the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). About 700 vendors that received government contracts also received PPP aid, according to USA Today. Some legal experts – including federal auditors - worry the haste in awarding contracts and relief aid may have created a potential for fraudulent “double dipping.” Some federal contractors repaid their loans over the summer, with interest, to avoid any regulatory or oversight complications, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • A third round of PPP funding was part of the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act that was built into a larger fiscal 2021 spending package passed in December. The new round of PPP extends the lending program aimed at helping small businesses retain their workers. The new funding includes $284 billion for additional PPP loans (that can be forgiven) which are administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). Amid concerns that the first rounds of PPP loans were inequitably awarded, the latest round prioritizes funding for loans by community lenders serving underserved borrowers, including businesses led by women, minorities, and veterans. The SBA has noted that while it is redoubling its efforts to prevent fraud and ensure only eligible recipients receive loans, the potential for abuse remains. Government contractors are eligible for PPP loans, but the Office of Management and Budget notes that contractors must provide the government with credits or reductions in billing for costs paid with PPP dollars, especially if the contractor hopes to have their loan forgiven.
  • The US response to the COVID-19 pandemic drove a large jump in spending on government contracts. Civilian agency contract spending for fiscal 2020, which ended on September 30, rose 17% from the prior year to reach $228 billion. The rise in spending was about two or three times the amount of the usual annual increase in spending, according to Bloomberg Government. About 44% of the increase was due to Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) spending for COVID-19-related vaccine development, biomedical research, and personal protection equipment and ventilator purchases. In addition to spending tied to the $900 billion stimulus bill passed at the end of 2020, spending would increase further under a $1.9 trillion plan proposed by the Biden Administration and the US House. The plan calls for $7.5 billion in additional PPP funding, and allocates $10 billion under the Defense Production Act for emergency production of COVID-19-related supplies, including PPE, vaccines, and testing supplies.
  • In late January, President Biden signed an executive order aimed at protecting workers and on-site government contractors in government agency offices during the pandemic. The order created the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force which, in cooperation with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), has issued initial guidance for heads of government agencies to implement COVID-19 workplace safety plans. Some key requirements include an maximizing remote work for federal workers and contractors, a 25% capacity cap on federal office spaces, and a mandate that masks must be worn at all times in federal offices.

February 20, 2021

  • Total wheat flour production by US flour mills increased 0.7% year over year in 2020 according to the US Department of Agriculture. It was the third largest yearly total on record. Whole wheat flour production decreased 10% year over year in 2020. Whole wheat flour production has now fallen three consecutive years and four of the last five. The trend is at odds with the advice of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which suggests at least 50% of grains intake should be in the form of whole grains. The share of total flour production accounted for by whole wheat flour in 2020 was 4.7%, down from 5.3% in 2019 and 5.2% in 2018.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 explicitly states that small businesses which received Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans and used those funds to incur otherwise deductible eligible expenses can deduct the expenses even if they reasonably expect to receive forgiveness of the PPP loan. The relief package deductibility rule is a reversal of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) position that taxpayers cannot claim such a deduction because it would be an impermissible double tax benefit to have income on debt forgiveness not taxed as income, and then to also allow tax deductions for the expenses paid with the forgiven loan money.
  • Home baking exploded when the coronavirus reached the US, but the approval of vaccines in December 2020 may not slow the trend. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • US flour production increased 1.6% year over year during Q3 2020 and 6.4% compared to the prior quarter, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Production had declined to a nine-year low during Q2, a major reversal from the 3.5% year-over-year growth in Q1. Third-quarter production exceeded any quarter since October-December 2017. Capacity utilization was up sharply during the third quarter. Operating rates have swung wildly from one quarter to the next since the start of the pandemic.
  • Global ethanol production may fall to 2013 levels and may not recover until 2022, according to Brian Healy, director of global ethanol market development at the US Grains Council. Production will decline due to demand destruction caused by coronavirus pandemic quarantine measures. “About half of the US industry is offline or under capacity,” Healy said. “There’s some recovery in China and a few states in the US are opening up, but demand for gasoline and ethanol is still falling in major gasoline markets, including the US, the EU, and India.”
  • Flour milling giant Ardent Mills is pushing more broadly into direct sales and making investments to package flour for sale to meet demand created by changing consumer behavior, the company said. The largest US miller of grain into flours has established a dedicated a team of employees to its growing retail flour efforts and has been adding warehousing and packing lines at sites around the country. Adding retail capabilities is both a response to make its flours more easily available during the Covid-19 pandemic and a longer-term growth strategy, company officials said.

February 2, 2021

  • Private foundations have stepped into the battle against coronavirus by providing millions in funding for outbreak-related research, food insecurity, and other emergency relief needs. Candid, a non-profit that collects data on philanthropies, has identified more than 36,000 grants totaling nearly $23 billion in response to the coronavirus to date.
  • In the first half of 2020, nearly $12 billion in COVID-19 relief was awarded globally, according to the Center on Disaster Philanthropy (CDP). Corporations accounted for almost two-thirds of funding in the first half, but community foundations awarded the most grants of any grantmaking type, and made up nearly half of the grants awarded. The CDP noted that vulnerable populations in the US – such as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities – continue to disproportionately suffer from the health and economic effects of the pandemic. The CDP says grantmaking organizations need to do more to ensure BIPOC-led and BIPOC-serving organizations receive a greater proportion of aid.
  • About one in four charitable organizations says they may have to shut down in the next 12 months for lack of funding, according to a global survey of charities conducted in late-August and early-September by CFA America. Another quarter reported not knowing how long they would survive under current conditions. Nearly 10% of charitable organizations reported not receiving any donations between July and August. More than 80% reported having to adapt and innovate new fundraising strategies to meet administrative and operational costs. Unable to hold traditional in-person events, about half of respondents report having online fundraising campaigns. Nearly 35% are reaching out to new donors, and nearly 40% have developed new products or services to help drive revenue.
  • Nearly 72% of corporations and corporate foundations increased their giving amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a CAF America survey conducted between June 25 and July 10. About 45% of corporations said they had increased their number of grants, and more than half provided funding for new grantees. More the three-quarters of survey respondents provided immediate COVID-19 relief funding, and about one-third said their giving strategies involved increasing employee engagement. Two-thirds of corporations said they plan to maintain current levels of giving or increase giving in the next fiscal year.
  • Foundations are required by law to annually pay out 5% of their endowment. Some have suggested if Congress doubled the payout requirement to 10%, billions of dollars could be raised for charities battling the effects of the pandemic with no expense to taxpayers. A group of five large foundations – including the Ford Foundation and the Catherine T. McArthur Foundation – jointly announced they would increase their payouts above 5% for the next two or three years. Three of the foundations plan to finance the increases by issuing bonds. Another 775 foundations have pledged to loosen restrictions on how the charities they support use funds to give them more flexibility in response to the pandemic.
  • Nonprofit organizations are finding their budgets squeezed as demand for services remains but staffing and donations have waned. A fresh round of stimulus relief was passed in December. The $900 billion spending bill included more than $284 billion for first and second forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, and expanded eligibility for nonprofit organizations. However, the bill did not include aid for state and local governments. Typical nonprofits get four times as much funding from state and local governments as they do from private foundations, according to Nonprofit Quarterly.
  • The Biden administration has outlined a plan for $1.9 trillion in additional stimulus. Under the plan, nonprofits would be included in a $35 billion loan fund and a $3 billion economic development grant program. The grant program would provide nonprofits, and state and local governments funding for initiatives that support “bottom’s up economic development and enable good-paying jobs.” The proposed stimulus plan would also provide $350 billion in aid for state and local governments. Negotiations over the cost and structure of any further stimulus are ongoing.
  • Grantmaking organizations are uniquely positioned to aid governments as they battle the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Through their giving, non-profit organizations can work with governments in three key ways: improving transparency and accountability to weed out corruption, providing resources that enhance data-driven policymaking, and promoting civic engagement through public health advocacy and grassroots organization.
  • Despite the economic turmoil and other hardships brought on by the pandemic, more Americans say they gave to charitable causes in 2020 than those who say they did so in 2019, according to a recent survey by DealAid.com, an ecommerce site that donates a portion of sales to nonprofit organizations. More than 70% of survey respondents said they gave to charity in 2020, compared to 62% who said they gave in 2019. While the percentage of people saying they gave went up for 2020, the average overall amount given fell about 8% to $348. Nearly 72% of those surveyed said they planned to give to charity in 2021 and they plan to increase their giving amount by 14%. Causes related to health were the most popular recipients of charitable giving in 2020.

February 5, 2021

  • Demand for graphic design services may decline as businesses encounter greater financial difficulties. Corporate bankruptcies rose 9% year over year in 2020 to the highest level since 2010, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. A total of 630 companies declared bankruptcy during 2020. In 2019, 578 companies declared bankruptcy, while 513 declared bankruptcy in 2018. High-profile bankruptcies included Neiman Marcus Group Inc., J. C. Penney Co. Inc., Ascena Retail Group Inc., Tailored Brands Inc., Fieldwood Energy Inc. and Chesapeake Energy Corp, according to S&P.
  • Consumer spending decreased 0.2% month over month in December 2020, the second decline since April. The decline followed a 0.7% month-over-month drop in November. Personal income increased 0.6% in December after two months of declines. Disposable personal income also increased 0.6%. The government estimated that the economy grew at a 4% annual rate in the final three months of 2020 but shrank for the full year by the largest amount in 74 years.  Hiring has slowed for six straight months, and employers shed jobs in December for the first time since April. Nearly 10 million jobs have been lost to the pandemic, which began 10 months ago.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes a $300 weekly unemployment supplement, $600 direct payments, and $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. Graphic design services are likely to benefit if the plan helps boost consumer spending by stabilizing consumer finances. The aid to consumers comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing, and face the loss of eviction protections that expire at the end of January 2021. Many of the lenders that took part in the PPP program during the spring said that they were ready to make more loans, but no timetable was offered for how quickly loans will be made available. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the legislation "a good bill" but said it "cannot be the end of the story."
  • Employment at graphic design services decreased 6.3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 9% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 23, 2021

  • The response to laws passed in some jurisdictions requiring the provision of hazard pay to frontline essential workers has not been uniform. Trader Joe’s has boosted pandemic pay for its hourly and non-management employees by $2 an hour at stores nationwide. Two grocery industry trade groups – Northwest Grocery Association and the Washington Food Industry Association – filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle over a new law that mandates $4 an hour pay raises for grocery store workers. Kroger announced it will close two grocery stores, a Ralphs and a Food 4 Less, both in Long Beach, CA, in response to a local ordinance requiring extra pay for certain grocery employees working during the pandemic.
  • Some grocers are paying employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The Aldi grocery chain is providing hourly workers with two hours of pay for each of the two necessary vaccine shots. Aldi, which has 2,000 stores in the US, also said it would help employees pay for the shots. Trader Joe’s and Dollar General are also offering financial incentives while the Instacart grocery delivery service is offering grocery deliverers a $25 stipend, according to National Public Radio.
  • State coronavirus vaccine distribution plans reviewed by Reuters news service showed broad discrepancies regarding who would be considered essential, with some states clearly outlining specific worker groups and others not providing any clarity. Many states have so far followed federal guidance, but some are slowly moving away from it, according to Mark Lauritsen, who advocates on behalf of about 250,000 meatpacking and food processing workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. Sources that Reuters spoke to said that it is not clear whether the federal government could overwrite state distribution plans.
  • Harvard University researchers found that 20% of 104 grocery workers tested positive for COVID-19 at a store in Massachusetts. Most of them had no symptoms when tested. The infection rate was “significantly higher than the surrounding communities,” study authors wrote.
  • Consumers are making fewer trips to the grocery store to avoid exposure to infection. “People now go to the store with purpose,” said John Owen, the associate director for food and retail with Mintel, the market analysis group. “The number of trips went way down, and the size of the basket went way up in April 2020. We have eased back on that, but not by much.” Before the coronavirus, 19% of Americans shopped for food more than three times a week, according to McKinsey & Company. That number had dropped to 10% by June 2020, as reported by the New York Times.
  • Employment at grocery stores increased 3.8% year over year in December 2020 and was up 4.3% from the beginning of the year.
  • Retail sales in the grocery store industry increased 11.3% in value year over year in January.
  • Food prices are expected to rise 2% to 3% in 2021, according to the US Department of Agriculture The expected increase is slightly higher than the 1.9% increase in 2019 but in line with the 20-year historical average of 2.3%.

January 27, 2021

  • All states have taken steps toward reopening. However, daily new COVID-19 cases began rising rapidly in the fall and winter. By late January the 7-day average for new cases was more than 170,000, but new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths were falling. As of January 26, there were no statewide restrictions in place for salons and barbershops, according to The New York Times.
  • Upon reopening, some salons were confused by conflicting guidelines provided by state governments and state boards of cosmetology. Guidelines for opening may include wearing gloves and masks, only one person allowed in per appointment (including children), temperature checks, limiting services to brief ones like haircuts, spacing work stations six feet apart, sanitizing stations and equipment after each customer, and providing hand sanitizer or alcohol wipes. Blow drying may also be limited or eliminated. Some worry blow dryers could spread droplets that carry coronavirus. Salons and shops may temporarily discontinue high-touch services such as scalp, neck and shoulder massages.
  • Reopening safely increased salon and barbershop costs as they invested in automated trash receptacles, sterilizing equipment, additional soap and hand sanitizer dispensers, and thermometers. Adhering to new distancing guidelines can decrease salon capacity. Time-consuming sanitizing efforts between clients can also reduce the potential volume of business.
  • Salons may need to renegotiate rent/lease terms with landlords. Some salons pay rent based on a percentage of their profit. Some experienced stylists have opted not to return to their pre-pandemic salon workplaces and instead have rented private salon suites to make their customers, and themselves, feel more comfortable.
  • In January, the Professional Beauty Association (PBA) released a study suggesting there’s limited evidence that the salon industry contributes to the spread of COVID-19. In a survey of more than 2,500 salons that have served more than two million clients since reopening, only 0.07% of clients reported testing positive for COVID-19 within 14 days of visiting a salon. The PBA and its members are publicizing the study to help assuage customers’ fears so they return to salons. The industry is hopeful business will rebound more strongly when vaccines are more widely available.
  • In November, salon firm Regis Corporation announced the company lost $35.3 million in its fiscal first quarter 2021 ended September 30, 2020. Regis’ first quarter revenue declined about 55% as it struggled with the ongoing challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company’s revenue declined $75 million in its fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30, 2020. Regis’ brands include Cost Cutters, SuperCuts, and MasterCuts. The company is continuing with its strategy of selling off company-owned stores to franchisees, a process it believes will be ongoing through mid-2021.
  • Salons and barbershops that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.

February 17, 2021

  • Several industry analysts expect new auto sales to increase about 6.9% in 2021. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) expects 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Forecasters at car-shopping web site Edmunds also predicted 2021 sales of 15.5 million. Charlie Chesbrough, senior economist for Cox Automotive, said that Cox expects 2021 sales of 15.7 million. US auto sales in 2020 were 14.5 million, down 15% from 2019. It was the fourth-largest annual decline since at least 1980. Sales in 2019 were 17.1 million. Patrick Manzi, chief economist for NADA, said 2020 was the first time since 2014 that US auto sales failed to top 17 million.
  • Democratic control of both the US Congress and the presidency may boost the chances that a federal infrastructure spending bill will be passed. "A $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion package — somewhere in that zone — could get through," according to Gautam Khanna, senior portfolio manager with Insight Investment. Hardware manufacturers are likely to benefit from projects that include new or upgraded buildings.
  • President Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes investment in airports, ports, roads, and highways, as well as digital infrastructure and clean tech.
  • Experts note, however, that achieving even a fraction of the infrastructure proposal will require Biden to secure new funding streams or expand debt-fueled spending, potentially upend the way infrastructure policy typically works, and ensure hundreds of Democratic lawmakers in a closely divided Congress remain in lockstep, with no room for error.
  • House Democrats have sketched out a similarly ambitious plan that includes weatherizing homes, shuttering old mines, and boosting clean energy innovations like battery storage and electric vehicles.

February 8, 2021

  • Demand for HVACR equipment is likely to increase as architecture firms get more requests to upgrade HVAC systems in commercial buildings. High-density filtration is a common request from office building owners, as are ion technology and UV lighting in HVAC systems. Landlords are asking for  Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values air filters rated between 11 to 13. The higher the number, the greater the ability for filters to capture small particles. Ion technology in HVACR systems use an ion rod that spins in the ductwork. The rod ionizes the molecules in the air and neutralizes viruses and bacteria. Much of the work on HVACR equipment is being done when building leases turn, which happens every 5, 7, or 10 years, depending on the contract.
  • Colleges and K-12 schools will receive $82 billion from the federal stimulus package signed into law in late December 2020 to help cover HVAC repair and replacement work intended to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections so schools can reopen.
  • Recent guidance issued by The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that employers work with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals to look at ways to improve building ventilation as a way to address the potential hazard of exposure to COVID-19. Specific recommendations include Using HVAC system filters with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating of 13 or higher where feasible and considering the use of portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) fan/filtration systems to increase clean air, especially in higher-risk areas. Distributors are likely to benefit from increased demand for HVAC services.
  • Increasing interest in filtration, disinfection and other tools for improving the quality of indoor air may create new revenue opportunities across the HVAC industry. Carrier Global Corporation, which estimates the total market for indoor air-quality improvements at about $10 billion, has identified $150 million of potential business opportunities for itself. Honeywell International cited a more than $600 million sales pipeline for its “healthy buildings” offerings.
  • HVAC distributors may benefit from increasing use of heavy-duty filters to block microbes and the installation of systems that use ultraviolet light or electrically charged particles in the ductwork to kill the virus. Many of the methods to reduce pathogens have been around for years, but were geared more to hospitals than commercial buildings. What we’ve learned is that our previous standards of air purification didn’t hold up to the test of the pandemic and those need to evolve accordingly, George Oliver of Johnson Controls said.
  • Revised guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may benefit the HVAC industry. The CDC acknowledged that the coronavirus can sometimes spread through airborne particles that can "linger in the air for minutes to hours" and among people who are more than 6 feet apart. The CDC cited published reports that demonstrated "limited, uncommon circumstances" in which people with the virus infected others who were more than 6 feet away.
  • Businesses, educational institutions, and municipalities are evaluating new procedures and products for restroom facilities to address concerns over COVID-19. No-touch fixtures, voice-operated hand-washing systems, and automatic door openers have become increasingly popular, according to PHCP Pros. Clients are also considering more robust HVAC systems because ventilating with outdoor air is vital to diluting airborne contaminants. Solid surface sinks that prevent bacteria and mold accumulation and grab bars with antimicrobial finishes can also help control infection transmission.

February 16, 2021

  • Researchers from the Cleveland Clinic who examined the effects of vitamin C and zinc on 214 people who were recovering from COVID-19 found that even at high doses, the supplements didn't help reduce the duration of COVID-19 symptoms. Many Americans rushed to buy supplements when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the US. Vitamin C sales increased 146% during the first week of March, according to the New York Times. Zinc sales increased 255%.
  • Vitamin D, which is known to boost the immune system by fighting off infection, is being tested to see if it can lessen the severity of coronavirus symptoms and reduce the chance of becoming infected with the illness. Brigham and Women’s Hospital is conducting a nationwide, placebo-controlled study that will include people age 30 and older who have gotten a positive coronavirus test result within the previous five days. The 2,700 participants will take either high-dose vitamin D or a placebo pill for four weeks to see whether taking the supplement reduces the severity of symptoms and risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19.
  • Health supplement stores may struggle to maintain adequate inventory because product manufacturers are having difficulty acquiring packaging materials. Shortages are occurring due to increasing demand for supplements during the COVID-19 pandemic and to competition for packaging coming from the healthcare industry, according to panelists who participated in a webcast by industry news site Nutritional Outlook. Packaging costs have also increased. "...what we’re seeing is that manufacturers are beyond capacity. It’s going to take some time for these manufacturers to be able to build their capacity. Just to give some perspective, for a common round packer, we’re seeing delays out to February 2021,” said Jeohvan Montoya, director of supply chain management for contract manufacturer Lief Labs.
  • A survey by the Council for Responsible Nutrition revealed that more than two in five (43%) of dietary supplement users changed their supplement routines since the start of the pandemic. Among those who altered their regimens due to COVID-19, 91% reported increasing their supplement intake, which included adding new supplements to their existing routines (46%); taking the same supplements more regularly (25%); or increasing dose(s) (22%).
  • Senator Kevin Cramer introduced legislation that would expand health savings accounts (HSA), health reimbursement arrangements, and flexible spending accounts (FSA) to cover dietary supplements. “The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that we need to be giving people more avenues and opportunities to save money in preventative health care costs. This is a commonsense solution that will save patients and taxpayers money,” said Daniel Fabricant, PhD, president and CEO of the Natural Products Association (NPA).
  • GNC Holdings filed for bankruptcy and accelerated plans to close between 800 and 1,200 of the company’s 7,300 stores. The company had worked with creditors when it was unable to make debt payments, after realizing a $200 million loss and a 10.1% drop in 1Q sales due to COVID-19. Approximately 1,100 or 30% of US and Canadian stores were closed due to the virus. GNC furloughed a significant number of store and corporate associates. E-commerce revenue rose 25% versus year-ago, and the company launched curbside pick-up operations to comply with state restrictions.
  • The FTC continues to warn companies about making claims that their products and/or therapies can treat or prevent COVID-19. The agency has received hundreds of reports of consumers purchasing products that lack scientific evidence showing that they have any impact on human health outcomes related to the virus. An estimated $15 million has been lost on such products.

February 22, 2021

  • US private equity (PE) deal transactions fell 7.3% to $708.4 billion in 2020 compared to 2019, according to PitchBook. The number of deals fell 3.4% to 5,309. The drop in deal value and the number of deals marked the first time since 2009 that both metrics saw a year-over-year decline. Growth equity deals stood out as a top performer for deal value in 2020. Exit transactions – selling private equity assets – were up 6% in value, reaching a combined $378 billion. With a total of 952, the number of exits was down 14% compared to 2019. Public listings were the primary exit route; eight of the 10 largest exits were public listings. US PE firms also saw fundraising fall more than 36% to $203 billion in 2020.
  • While 2020 was a challenging year for PE, the sector is sitting on more than half a trillion dollars in dry powder, and firms are eager to leverage that capital as the US economy regains the path to growth, according to Pitchbook. In its outlook for 2021, Pitchbook expects PE carveouts – deals where companies sell an equity stake in noncore business segments to outside inventors – to hit a record high in 2021. Pitchbook also forecasts US PE fundraising will be more than $330 billion, surpassing the record set in 2019. The increase will be led by institutional investors increasing allocations to alternative investments and PE firms’ general partners offering additional PE strategies.
  • Another pandemic-related trend is increased interest in special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs). SPACs raise money through an IPO then use it to buy other companies. In 2020 there were 248 SPAC IPO transactions compared to 59 in all of 2019, according to SPAC Insider. The gross proceeds of SPAC IPOs in 2020 was $83 billion – more than six times the $13.6 billion in gross proceeds in 2019. The average SPAC IPO size was nearly $335 million in 2020 compared to $230.5 million in 2019. The trend only got hotter in early 2021. By February 18, the number of SPAC IPOs was already 154 – well over half the full-year total for 2020. Several high-profile PE firms have invested in SPACs in recent years. The investments are less vulnerable to market timing than traditional IPOs and allow investors to invest now and pick a good candidate later after volatility has waned. However, the spike in SPACs in 2020 has created more competition for merger target companies, which gives the target companies negotiation leverage.
  • Early in the pandemic when credit markets tightened up, some PE firms turned to net-asset-value (NAV) facility lending to fund bolt-on deals, refinance debt, or prop up floundering companies in their portfolios, according to Bloomberg. In NAV loans, PE firms use stakes in their funds as collateral for financing. NAV loans are typically secured against the entire PE fund so lending rates are usually below the debt taken on to finance the original acquisitions. Such loans are also attractive because they can leverage the strength of a PE firm’s best-performing companies to spread capital across the entire portfolio. As the global economy continues to recover, industry watchers suggest PE firms will continue to need more cash, possibly fueling demand for more NAV lending.
  • As the world economy continues to recover, hedge fund and private equity fund insiders suggest private debt will be a fast-growing asset class. In a recent report by Preqin, assets under management in private debt will see a compound annual growth rate of more than 11% over the next five years, growing from $848 billion to more than $1.4 trillion. The growth is expected to be fueled by investors seeking alternative sources of yield, and tighter lending standards among banks. Direct lending funds are well-positioned to help businesses during the recovery because they have a stockpile of $1.5 trillion in cash, according to Preqin estimates. In a recent Preqin survey of private fund managers, more than 60% expect private debt funds to play a bigger role in the debt lending arena.
  • The pandemic has exacerbated the overall weakness of the retail sector as consumers have stayed home and more sales moved online. In 2020, about two dozen PE-backed retailers – including Neiman Marcus and J. Crew – filed for bankruptcy, according to PitchBook. Some insiders suggest PE firms may have learned their lesson and are wary to make many investments in the retail sector. However, some industry watchers note that amid low interest rates and very distressed – and therefore cheap – assets can make some deals in the retail sector profitable. Some industry watchers suggest the continued distribution of vaccines and a growing economy bodes well for retail. PE firms’ investments in retail may rise as traditional lenders become more conservative in their underwriting criteria.
  • One area of opportunity during the COVID-19 crisis has been private-investment-in-public-equity (PIPE) transactions. Listed firms whose shares were driven down by the pandemic made for some attractive deals for some PE firms. In some deals, PE firms purchase newly issued equity of public companies that need quick cash at a time when banks have tightened lending. Some PE firms have also negotiated preferred stock deals. The value of PIPE deals in 2020 hit about $185 billion, almost double the amount seen in 2019, according to Pitchbook.

February 8, 2021

  • Pete Buttigieg, US Secretary of Transportation, has said that new gas tax revenue could fund transportation infrastructure spending proposed by the Biden administration. Congress has not increased the 18.4-cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax since 1993. The tax is now worth just 10.2 cents after adjusting for inflation. Options under consideration by Buttigieg include adjusting the tax, tying it to inflation, and raising revenue based on vehicle miles traveled.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $10 billion for state highways. Industry experts say that the funding is intended to help offset severe losses in state transportation revenues due to reduced vehicle travel during the pandemic.
  • A National League of Cities survey found that 65% of cities were delaying or canceling transportation-related expenditures and infrastructure projects.
  • Receipts for the Highway Trust Fund decreased just 2.1% year over year during fiscal 2020, which ended on September 30, 2020. Gross gasoline tax receipts were down 2.7%, gross diesel fuel receipts were down 1.7%, and the total receipts from the three trucking excise taxes were down 3.2%. Some industry experts note that gasoline production decreased 11% during fiscal 2020, and they expect a downward revision to gasoline tax receipts in the future. More than 80% of the Fund comes from the gasoline tax.
  • Employment in the highway, street, and bridge construction industry decreased 2% year over year in December 2020.
  • Construction spending on highway and street projects increased 9% year over year in December 2020 and 1.6% for all of 2020.
  • A one-year extension of the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act was signed into law on October 1, the day after it expired. Transportation policymakers argued that they simply ran out of time to reauthorize the FAST Act. The yearlong extension ensures temporary funding for highway and transit programs. “The extension will give Congress more time to finish a long-term, bipartisan highway bill to rebuild our roads and bridges,” said Sen. John Barrasso, chairman of the committee on highways.
  • Several states have increased gas taxes to make up for sudden shortfalls in revenue. New Jersey raised its gas tax from 30.9 cents to 40.2 cents for gasoline and from 34.9 cents to 44.2 cents for diesel fuel. Other recent increases have included Virginia (5 cents), Nebraska (3.9 cents), California (3.2 cents), South Carolina (2 cents) and Illinois (0.7 cents), and Alabama (2 cents).
  • The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials expect pandemic-related state transportation revenue losses to be recovered by 2025.

February 16, 2021

  • Sales at toy and hobby stores declined 26% year over year between mid-March of 2020, when coronavirus-related restrictions were first implemented, and late October, according to Womply, a software platform for small businesses. Industry experts say that independent toy and hobby stores have been struggling to compete against big-box stores and online retail giants like Amazon for some time, but the coronavirus pandemic has made the problem exponentially worse.
  • Financial and investing advice company The Motley Fool says that the pandemic has largely killed the in-store experience for independent bricks-and mortar toy shops. Many don't have enough square footage to allow for normal capacity, so they've been forced to limit customers, and bringing a child into a store is too risky for some parents. Many Americans who have seen their income decline during the pandemic can't afford to pay more for toys and games that may be cheaper online.
  • Real disposable income, an indicator of demand for discretionary purchases, increased 0.2% in December 2020. Consumer spending decreased 0.2% in December.
  • Sales at sporting goods, hobby, musical instrument, and book stores increased 5.7% year over year in 2020, decreased 0.7% month over month in December, but increased 17.2% year over year in December.
  • Fisher Price recently introduced a “My Home Office” playset featuring a pretend laptop, headset, and a to-go coffee cup to align with the work-from-home trend, according to Retail Wire.
  • Wild Hair Creations introduced Virus Smasher, a squishy stress relief toy that is “the perfect gift for anyone tired of hearing phrases like ‘social distancing, ‘a new normal,’ and more, according to Toy Book. The toy is based on the familiar shape of the coronavirus and features a “beat-up” face that encourages consumers to “smash the virus.”

February 23, 2021

  • Home Depot officials say that sales may be unchanged year over year in 2021 but declined to offer more specific guidance, saying there was still too much uncertainty. Profit margin will continue to be pressured this year by rising transportation costs, Chief Financial Officer Richard McPhail said on a call with analysts. Increased spending on infrastructure and more shoplifting will also weigh on profitability. The cost of sales has been increasing faster than revenue growth due to pandemic-related safety precautions.
  • A coalition of independent retail hardware stores in Maryland asked state officials to reinstate the “essential” classification for store employees, who would then qualify for COVID-19 vaccinations in upcoming Phase 1 C of the state’s rollout plan. Hardware store employees were designated for Phase 2 access under the Governor’s vaccine rollout plans, meaning that they would not have access to the vaccine until April or May at the earliest.
  • Elevated home improvement activity may continue into 2021 despite the availability of COVID-19 vaccines. Current coronavirus pandemic models project a months-long gap between when the majority of the population will be allowed to receive a vaccine and when its distribution will be widespread enough for people to gather without social distancing or enhanced hygiene measures, according to BISNOW. Studies of the COVID-19 vaccines only measured whether vaccinated people developed symptoms, not whether they got infected, according to the Philadelphia Enquirer. It is possible to become infected with the coronavirus and be asymptomatic, meaning you never develop symptoms. Asymptomatic people can still spread COVID-19.
  • Sales of previously-owned homes increased 22.2% year over year and 0.7% month over month in December 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. Home sales in 2020 reached their highest level since 2006. The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $309,800, up 12.9% year over year as prices increased in every region. December's national price increase marks 106 straight months of year-over-year gains. Total housing inventory at the end of December totaled 1.07 million units, down 16.4% from November and down 23% year over year. Unsold inventory sits at an all-time low 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 2.3 months in November and down from the 3.0-month figure recorded in December 2019.
  • Retail sales for building material, garden equipment, and supplies dealers increased 13.7% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the home center and hardware store industry increased 17.3% year over year in December 2020 and was up 18.7% from the beginning of the year.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 5, 2021

  • Home healthcare industry employment decreased 1.8% month over month and 2.8% year over year in January, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The industry had consistently posted gains until January and was up 3.8% compared to the pandemic-related low of April 2020. Home healthcare services saw a surge in demand in the wake of COVID-19 due to concerns about outpatient visits and rising infections and deaths in nursing homes.
  • Most states have placed home healthcare workers in the top priority group for vaccinations, known as 1a, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Hospitals and nursing homes are relatively easy places to vaccinate large groups, but vaccinating home healthcare workers, who are tied to smaller offices and spend most of their time in homes spread throughout communities, presents tougher logistical challenges that states are apparently still working through. Stephanie Kulak, corporate clinical director for Preferred Home Health Care Nursing Services, said New Jersey’s vaccination plan for the home healthcare industry is “fairly well organized” while Pennsylvania’s is not. Her agency has about 4,000 employees that work with clients in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
  • Nancy Fitterer, president and CEO of the Home Care and Hospice Association of New Jersey, said home care agencies are likely to get the Moderna vaccine because of the more flexible handling requirements.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • A bill introduced in in the US Congress in October would provide Medicare coverage for home health care services provided via telehealth during a public health emergency. The Home Health Emergency Access to Telehealth (HEAT) Act would expand telehealth coverage during a public health emergency for home health services via “visual or audio telecommunication systems.” The use of telehealth must be deemed appropriate, must be approved by the beneficiary prior to use, and would be reimbursed only if those telehealth visits don’t make up more than half of all billable visits during a 30-day payment period.

February 23, 2021

  • Investment bank and financial services company UBS expects 11,280 home furnishing stores to close by 2025, ranking it third in total number of closures after clothing and accessories stores and consumer electronics stores.
  • The US Congress is negotiating a new coronavirus relief bill that includes direct payments for some Americans of $1,400 per individual, or $2,800 per married couple, plus $1,400 for both child and adult dependents. Home furnishings stores may benefit if the proposed funding helps stabilize consumer finances. The aid comes as millions of Americans struggle to pay for food and housing.
  • Real disposable income, an indicator of demand for discretionary purchases, increased 0.2% in December 2020. Consumer spending decreased 0.2% in December.
  • Furniture and home furnishings sales increased 6.2% during the expanded 2020 holiday shopping season that ran from October 11 to December 24, according to Mastercard (MA) SpendingPulse. Total holiday sales rose just 3% during the period.
  • Home-furnishing stores saw online sales surge by 66% year over year through November 2020, according to market research firm 1010data.
  • The University of Michigan’s (UM) consumer sentiment index, a measure of consumer confidence, fell to 79 in January from 80.7 in December 2020. Higher consumer confidence may boost demand for . The Current Economic Conditions Index decreased to 86.7 from 90 in December and the Index of Consumer Expectations decreased to 74 from 74.6. The index remains almost 20 points below its pre-pandemic level.
  • Retail sales for the furniture and home furnishings industry increased 9.3% in value year over year in January.
  • Employment in the home furnishings store industry declined 8.5% year over year in December 2020 but was up 117% compared to the low of April.
  • High-end kitchen supply retailer Sur La Table filed for bankruptcy, a move that allows the company to walk away from costly or unwanted leases. Sur La Table intends to sell 70 stores to Fortress Investment Group and close the remaining 51 stores. Tuesday Morning filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as well.

February 5, 2021

  • More than 260 hospitals and health systems furloughed workers in 2020 and dozens of others have implemented layoffs, according to Becker's Healthcare. Nine hospitals and health systems have announced layoffs since November, some of which were attributed to financial strain caused by the pandemic. Lower patient volumes, canceled elective procedures, and higher expenses tied to the pandemic have created a cash crunch for hospitals, Becker's said.
  • Employment at hospitals decreased 1.2% year over year in January, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The governors of New York and Florida vowed to penalize hospitals that fail to dispense COVID-19 shots quickly enough, according to Reuters news service. More than two-thirds of the 15 million coronavirus vaccines shipped within the US have so far gone unused, federal health officials said on January 4.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved a plan for who will be included in the first phase of coronavirus immunizations. The Phase 1A group will include people who work in “hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient home health care, pharmacies, emergency medical personnel, and public health workers.” Phase 1B includes “essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions, and adults 65 years and older. Essential workers include people who work in food and agriculture, food service, transportation, education, energy, police, firefighters, manufacturing, IT, communication, water and wastewater.
  • COVID-19 patients in hospitals with less than 50 intensive care unit beds had a more than threefold higher risk of death compared to patients admitted to hospitals with more than 100 ICU beds, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study assessed 2,215 adults with COVID-19 who were admitted to ICUs at 65 hospitals across the US from March 4 to April 4, 2020. The patients had at least one underlying condition. After 28 days of ICU admission, 784 patients had died, 824 had been discharged and 607 remained hospitalized.
  • Hospitals will be stretched to the limit by the oncoming surge of rescheduled surgeries, according to Johns Hopkins University researchers. "Even if patient demand was diminished by 50 percent, which is a tremendous number, then there's still going to be a backlog of almost 400,000 cases in orthopedics" alone, said Dr. Amit Jain, a spinal surgeon at Hopkins. New COVID-19 safety protocols are also likely to over-extend hospitals, the researchers said. Waiting rooms will have to be kept at a lower capacity to ensure social distancing.

February 26, 2021

  • The hotel industry reported all-time lows in occupancy and revenue per available room (RevPAR) in 2020, according to industry analytics firm STR. Occupancy averaged 44% during 2020, down 33.3% from the prior year. Average daily rate decreased 21.3% year over year to $103.25 while RevPAR decreased 47.5% to $45.48. The industry surpassed 1 billion unsold room nights for the first time in history, eclipsing the 786 million unsold room nights during the great recession in 2009.
  • Half of US hotel rooms will remain empty in 2021, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association's State of the Hotel Industry 2021 report. A full recovery to 2019 occupancy levels is not expected until 2024 at the earliest.
  • Travel bookings are increasing along with COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Tripadvisor. A survey conducted from December 28, 2020, through January 10 by the online travel platform found that 80% of US consumers planned to take at least one overnight domestic leisure trip in 2021, with just over one-third of respondents planning at least three domestic trips this year. Popular destinations such as Orlando are already seeing a booking rebound.
  • Employment in the hotels and motels industry decreased 33.5% year over year in December 2020 but was up 29.7% from the low of May.

February 5, 2021

  • An executive order issued by President Biden directs agencies to “immediately review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies, and other similar agency actions” issued during the Trump administration. Industry experts say that one decision likely to be reviewed is a “midnight” rule finalized in December 2020 that gives residential and commercial appliance and equipment manufacturers an opportunity to write their own tests for measuring how much energy their products consume. The rule creates a huge potential loophole, whereby an industry request to use an alternative test procedure would be automatically granted after 45 business days.
  • The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in late December 2020 that employees may be barred from the workplace if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccine. "Requiring a vaccine is a health and safety work rule, and employers can do that," said Dorit Reiss, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law. There are, however, some exceptions to a blanket requirement. A collective bargaining agreement may require negotiating with a union before mandating a vaccine. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows workers who don't want to be vaccinated for medical reasons to request an exemption.
  • Appliance manufacturers are putting more focus on hygiene since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Manufacturers including LG Electronics Whirlpool claim that some of their products actively remove germs and allergens from their surfaces. Some of LG’s new refrigerators, for example, come with sterilizing ultraviolet lights fitted inside them. Whirlpool has launched a new line of washing machines that come with built-in heating units that are designed to kill germs in laundry, according to The Wall Street Journal. “All of our product development now is being done through the lens of hygiene,” Mark Choe, a senior vice president at Samsung’s digital appliances business division, told The Wall Street Journal.
  • Sales at electronics and appliance stores decreased 4.9% in value month over month and 15.6% in value year over year in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Sales decreased 14.6% year over year for all of 2020.
  • New single-family home sales increased 15.2% year over year and 1.6% month over month in December 2020, according to the US Department of Commerce. Sales had increased month over month for four straight months until September before declining in October and November. Sales of previously-owned homes increased 22.2% year over year and 0.7% month over month in December 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. Home sales in 2020 reaching their highest level since 2006. The median existing-home price for all housing types in December was $309,800, up 12.9% year over year as prices increased in every region. December's national price increase marks 106 straight months of year-over-year gains. Total housing inventory at the end of December totaled 1.07 million units, down 16.4% from November and down 23% year over year. Unsold inventory sits at an all-time low 1.9-month supply at the current sales pace, down from 2.3 months in November and down from the 3.0-month figure recorded in December 2019.
  • Household appliance manufacturing industry employment decreased 1% year over year in December 2020 but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of May, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Shipments of electrical equipment, appliances, and components decreased 2% in value year over year in 2020 while new orders decreased 1.3%, according to the US Department of Congress. Unfilled orders increased 9.2% during the period, while total inventories increased 1.1%.
  • Coffee brewing equipment sales are rising as people continue to observe stay-at-home guidelines. Keurig has noted a “spike in brewer sales,” and an increase in the amount of coffee people have been drinking at home since the crisis began. Home appliance manufacturer Breville says it’s seen a “steady increase” in sales of its drip and espresso machines. People were consuming on average 2.45 cups of coffee a day before the coronavirus outbreak, according to the results of a survey conducted by coffee industry website Sprudge. That number has since gone up to 2.77 cups, roughly a third cup extra a day, for an increase over 13%.
  • Consumers are opting to replace many appliances rather than have them repaired, according to consumer technology news site TWICE. Industry experts cite wariness or the outright fear of inviting strangers into a home due to the coronavirus outbreak as a key driver of increasing appliance replacements.
  • Increasing use of appliances due to shelter-at-home orders may also be boosting appliance replacement as wear-and-tear increases and as consumers seek to address issues that may not have been noticed before. Consumers may be opting for replacement because repair frequently requires two visits to a home while installation requires one, according to TWICE.

February 8, 2021

  • Construction industry experts expect a surge in commercial renovations in 2021 due to tax changes included in the 2020 CARES Act. Facility upgrades qualified for tax deductions before the passage of the CARES Act, but to reap the full benefits, facility managers would have to claim a 2.5% write-off each year for up to 39 years. With the passing of the 2020 CARES Act, facility managers can write off 100% of qualifying facility improvement costs in the first year. A few improvements that qualify for the tax deduction are the installation of airflow management accessories, HVAC devices, and physical security and access control solutions.
  • Colleges and K-12 schools will receive $82 billion from the federal stimulus package signed into law in late December 2020 to help cover HVAC repair and replacement work intended to reduce the risk of coronavirus infections so schools can reopen.
  • HVAC contractors may benefit from attempts by businesses to improve ventilation systems. Major chains, including MGM Resorts International and the Four Seasons, have advertised that they are enhancing ventilation systems. A-Lodge Adventure Hotel in Boulder, CO, says that one of its selling points is that its rooms and suites have no shared ventilation between them.
  • Industry experts are uncertain about the likely benefits of improved ventilation systems. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that most transmission is occurring as a result of close interpersonal contact. “The key question when going to hotels is not so much the ventilation, but who you’re interacting with there and where you’re interacting with people,” he said. Brian Castrucci, president and chief executive of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public health philanthropy, said that there has not been evidence of room-to-room transmission but he believes the potential is there.
  • Revised guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may benefit the HVAC industry. The CDC acknowledged that the coronavirus can sometimes spread through airborne particles that can "linger in the air for minutes to hours" and among people who are more than 6 feet apart.
  • HVAC contractors may benefit from increasing use of heavy-duty filters to block microbes and the installation of systems that use ultraviolet light or electrically charged particles in the ductwork to kill the virus. Many of the methods to reduce pathogens have been around for years, but were geared more to hospitals than commercial buildings.
  • Employment in the specialty trade contracting industry declined 2.5% year over year in January but was up 11.4% from the pandemic-related low of April.
  • Total construction spending increased 1% month over month on an adjusted basis and 6% year over year on an unadjusted basis in December 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. Spending rose 4.7% year over year for all of 2020. Residential construction spending increased 3.1% month over month and 23.1% year over year in December, and increased 11.8% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential construction spending decreased 0.8% month over month and 5.1% year over year in December and decreased 0.1% year over year for all of 2020. Nonresidential spending had decreased for five of the past six months.
  • The number of building permits issued increased 4.5% month over month and 17.3% year over year in December 2020. Housing starts increased 5.8% month over month and 5.2% year over year in December 2020. Housing completions increased 15.9% month over month and 8% year over year in December 2020.
  • Homebuilder sentiment, as measured by the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, decreased to 83 in January from 86 in December 2020 and a record 90 in November 2020. A reading of more than 50 indicates a positive outlook; a reading under 50 indicates a negative outlook. It marks the second time since April 2020 that the index’s reading has seen a month-over-month decline. Homebuilder sentiment was also lower in January for single-family sales, with a reading of 90 compared to 92 a month earlier. The outlook for home sales in six months dropped to 83 from 85, while the outlook for buyer traffic fell to 68 from 73.

February 27, 2021

  • Industry experts expect a surge in commercial renovations in 2021 due to tax changes included in the 2020 CARES Act. Facility upgrades qualified for tax deductions before the passage of the CARES Act, but to reap the full benefits, facility managers would have to claim a 2.5% write-off each year for up to 39 years. With the passing of the 2020 CARES Act, facility managers can write off 100% of qualifying facility improvement costs in the first year. A few improvements that qualify for the tax deduction are the installation of airflow management accessories, HVAC devices, and physical security and access control solutions.
  • The coronavirus pandemic is changing demand patterns for HVACR equipment. The residential and commercial construction sectors saw major declines in the late winter/early spring 2020 as states shut down most construction projects. Both sectors bounced back going into the summer as those restrictions were lifted. Then in the mid-summer, the sectors started to diverge, with residential construction spending continuing to increase while the commercial sector lagged. Lodging construction, for example, decreased 23% from February to November 2020, according to the US Census Bureau. General contractors are mostly pessimistic about the outlook for the commercial sector, according to the 2021 AGC-Sage Construction Hiring and Business Outlook Survey. They are most negative about retail construction, followed by lodging and private office, higher education, and public building.
  • Total construction starts will increase 4% in 2021, according to Dodge Data & Analytics. "The dollar value of starts for residential buildings will increase 5% in 2021, nonresidential buildings will gain 3%, and nonbuilding construction will improve 7%. Only the residential sector, however, will exceed its 2019 level of starts thanks to historically low mortgage rates that boost single family housing,” said Richard Branch, Chief Economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.
  • Increasing interest in filtration, disinfection, and other tools for improving the quality of indoor air may create new revenue opportunities across the HVAC industry. Carrier Global Corporation, which estimates the total market for indoor air-quality improvements at about $10 billion, has identified $150 million of potential business opportunities for itself. Honeywell International cited a more than $600 million sales pipeline for its “healthy buildings” offerings. HVACR equipment manufacturers are seeing greater interest in systems that use UV light to kill pathogens as a result of COVID-19. Firms are also helping to educate contractors and dealers on how to sell add-on UV equipment for existing systems.
  • Inadequate ventilation can potentially contribute to an environment where COVID-19 is more easily spread by airborne transmission, according to guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exposure to respiratory droplets carrying the virus is the main way people contract COVID-19, according to the CDC. Updated guidance says the virus can spread through airborne particles that can linger in the air for minutes or hours, even among people who are more than 6 feet apart under certain circumstances.
  • Dry air and air-conditioned rooms can help spread the coronavirus, according to researchers who reviewed 10 international studies of swine flu and other infectious diseases. “The role of humidity seems to be extremely important to the airborne spread of COVID-19 in indoor environments,” the researchers reported. In more humid rooms, virus droplets become heavier and fall faster, “providing less chances for other people to breathe in infectious viral droplets.” Dry air makes the droplets shrink and remain suspended in air, becoming what the scientists describe as an “optimal route” for transmission.
  • US production of ventilation, heating, air-conditioning and refrigeration equipment was up 21.9% year over year in January but was 10.6% below the March 2020 production value.
  • Employment in the US HVAC and commercial refrigeration equipment manufacturing industry decreased 1.4% year over year in December 2020 but was up 8% from the start of low of April.
  • US shipment volume of residential electric water heaters rose 15.2% year over year in December 2020, according to the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute. Shipment volume also increased for residential gas water heaters (4%), commercial gas water heaters (9.4%), and commercial electric water heaters (6.2%) . Shipment volume increased for gas furnaces (22.8%) but decreased for oil furnaces (-7%). Shipment volumes increased for central air conditioners and air-source heat pumps (10.9%) compared to a year ago.
  • Imports of HVACR equipment increased 2.3% year over year in 2020 while exports decreased 12.1%.

February 5, 2021

  • Individual and family services offering online programs may benefit from a proposed $20 billion investment in a variety of programs intended to increase the availability of wired and wireless internet access. The plan proposed by the Biden administration would increase funding for Community Connect grants and would direct the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to support areas that want to build municipally-owned networks. This is in addition to a $20 billion broadband initiative that was begun under the Trump administration that would spend $2 billion per year over 10 years to improve broadband in the US.
  • A survey of 165 substance abuse treatment centers by the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers found that 43% had to reduce patient capacity, nearly a third saw a decrease in patient retention, and 10% had to shut down because of the pandemic.
  • Services are likely to be negatively impacted by declining tax revenue at the state level. The National Governors Association and Moody's Analytics have cited a need for about $500 billion in additional aid to states and local governments to avoid major damage to the economy. At least three-quarters of states have lowered their 2021 revenue projections, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The California budget signed into law in June includes $11.1 billion in automatic spending cuts and deferrals that will begin on October 15 unless the US Congress sends the state $14 billion in additional aid. Nearly all new funding that was approved during Utah's 2020 general legislative session was eventually cut. Congress approved $150 billion for states and local governments in March but that money was allocated to cover coronavirus-related costs, not to compensate for declining revenue.
  • The $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 lacks new money for state and local governments. Negotiators are extending the deadline for states and cities to use unspent money approved for them by the Cares Act, giving governments until year’s end before the money must be returned.
  • Local funding sources for individual and family services may be cut as well: The city of Capitola, CA, eliminates funding for all community-based social service providers in its proposed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
  • Family service providers are cutting staff as revenue declines during the coronavirus outbreak. YMCA affiliates were typically operating on margins of 3% or less before the pandemic, according to The New York Times. Revenues are down 30% to 50% nationwide, and most affiliates have furloughed 70% to 95% of their workers. The YMCA is not the only provider impacted by the pandemic: Tens of thousands of nonprofits are likely to close without some kind of rescue package, the research group Candid concluded from an analysis of tax filings.
  • Some services that switched to televisits during the lockdown hope to continue with them until more consistent approaches to in-person visits are developed.

February 17, 2021

  • Gross domestic product (GDP) decreased 3.5% year over year in 2020, according to the US Department of Commerce. It was the largest decrease since 1946, and the first time that GDP declined since 2009, when it fell 2.5% during the financial crisis.
  • About 50% of middle-market manufacturers plan to identify alternate or backup suppliers this year to overcome disruptions wrought by the pandemic, according to the 2021 BDO Manufacturing CFO Outlook Survey. About 22% reported plans to address supply chain weakness by reshoring to the US in 2021. Some 24% of those surveyed plan to relocate their supply chains to another country in 2021. Europe was listed as the most stable market outside of the US to source materials over the long term. Only 10% said that China was a stable location outside the US for long-term sourcing.
  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021, compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion.
  • Wells Fargo analysts say that the manufacturing sector should be relatively insulated from the latest wave of coronavirus cases as restrictions have been targeted toward the service sector.
  • Manufacturing optimism, as measured in The National Association of Manufacturers' Q3 “Manufacturers’ Outlook Survey," has rebounded to 66% since Q2 2020, when it had the worst reading since the Great Depression. The outlook remains below the historical average of 74.4%, however, and 62% of manufacturers expect their firms’ revenues will not get back to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2021 or later.
  • New orders for durable goods increased 1.1% year over year in December 2020 but were down 6.6% year over year for the full year, according to the US Census Bureau. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 3.8% during 2020. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 6.6% year over year during 2020. New orders increased 1.1% month over month in December 2020, marking the eighth consecutive month-over-month increase.
  • The Institute for Supply Management’s monthly Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) fell to 58.7% in January from 60.5% in December 2020. The decrease indicates a slower rate of expansion compared to the prior month. Any reading above 50% indicates expansion compared to the prior month, while anything under 50% indicates contraction. The New Orders Index registered 61.1%, down from the December reading of 67.5%. The production index fell to 60.7% from 64.7%. The backlog of orders increased to 59.7% from 59.1%.  The Employment Index increased to 52.6% in January from 51.7.
  • Manufacturing employment decreased 4.3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 6.9% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 18, 2021

  • President Biden signed an executive order in January aimed at closing loopholes in existing “Buy American” provisions, which, according to Reuters news service, apply to about a third of the $600 billion in goods and services the federal government buys each year. The order will make any waivers more transparent and create a senior White House role to oversee the process. Biden’s order also directs federal agencies to reevaluate the threshold used to determine US content, a move intended to prevent companies that sell to the government from importing largely foreign-made goods and selling them as US-made. New percentages for required US content will be determined as a result of the process. Industry experts say that the order is part of Biden's plan to revitalize the manufacturing sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy. It is also a key part of Biden’s broader push to drive up wages, create more union jobs, support minority-owned businesses and strengthen US supply chains. A Biden administration official said that updated Buy American provisions would be fully consistent with US commitments under the World Trade Organization, and Washington would work with trade partners to modernize global rules.
  • About 50% of middle-market manufacturers plan to identify alternate or backup suppliers this year to overcome disruptions wrought by the pandemic, according to the 2021 BDO Manufacturing CFO Outlook Survey. About 22% reported plans to address supply chain weakness by reshoring to the US in 2021. Some 24% of those surveyed plan to relocate their supply chains to another country in 2021. Europe was listed as the most stable market outside of the U.S. to source materials long term. Only 10% said China was a stable location outside the US for long-term sourcing.
  • A new supply chain model based on quick recovery in the event of threats to a business’ supply chain stability will require more warehouse and distribution space in last-mile markets, according to REBusiness Online. Industrial supply distributors may soon be paying more for space in last-mile markets where space to develop new facilities is limited.
  • Industrial supply distributors may benefit from attempts to reduce US reliance on rare earths imports from China. Rare earth metals are used in the production of high-tech goods, including smartphones, electric vehicles, and modern defense systems. The RARE Act introduced in the US Congress would provide tax incentives through deductions on property used for the mining and on the purchase of materials extracted within the US. It would also create a $50 million yearly grant program through the Secretary of the Interior for the next four fiscal years. China produces over 85% of the world’s rare earth materials, and most US imports of them come from China, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
  • New orders for durable goods increased 1.1% year over year in December 2020 but were down 6.6% year over year for the full year, according to the US Census Bureau. Excluding transportation, new orders decreased 3.8% during 2020. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 6.6% year over year during 2020. New orders increased 1.1% month over month in December 2020, marking the eighth consecutive month-over-month increase.
  • Analysts at investment bank and financial services company Goldman Sachs Group raised their gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast in February, and predict economic growth of 6.8% in 2021, compared with a previous forecast of 6.6%. The increase came after economists raised their COVID-19 relief-package estimate to $1.5 trillion from $1.1 trillion.
  • Manufacturing employment decreased 4.3% year over year in December 2020 but was up 6.9% from the pandemic-related low of April, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

February 17, 2021

  • President Joseph Biden signed an executive order formally confirming his administration’s policy to strongly support US maritime workers and businesses serving domestic trades under the Jones Act. The order reiterates the requirement for transportation of merchandise between two US points is carried on US built, owned, and crewed vessels.
  • Pete Buttigieg, President Biden’s nominee for secretary of transportation, affirmed his support to the Jones Act. Buttigieg said that the Jones Act was “so important to a maritime industry that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs and the shipbuilding industry”. He also pledged to carry out the administration’s ambitious plans to rebuild US transportation infrastructure, including its waterways, which require billions of dollars of upgrades.
  • The US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) made $19.6 million in federal funding available to support US shipyards. This small shipyard grant program will support many yards building tugs, inland waterway towboats and push boats, workboats, and articulated tug-barge units. It is for shipyards with fewer than 1,200 production employees and is limited to no more than 75% of the estimated improvement costs. Shipyards have until 25 February 2021 to apply to MARAD for these grants, which will be awarded by 26 April.
  • The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2020 includes  language to strengthen Jones Act provisions in the construction and operation of offshore wind farms in the United States. The new language eliminates ambiguity about the extent to which Jones Act vessels will be required, and will support growth of American mariner jobs in the construction of offshore wind farms, according to Jennifer Carpenter, president of the American Waterways Operators.

February 12, 2021

  • As coronavirus-related losses pile up, small business owners who thought they would be covered by business disruption insurance are discovering otherwise. A few years after the SARS outbreak, some insurers inserted clauses excluding coverage for “loss due to virus or bacteria,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In January 2021, state legislatures in New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington introduced legislation to prevent insurers from denying business interruption claims resulting from COVID-19-related losses. Standard & Poor’s (S&P) does not believe states will succeed in efforts to retroactively change policy language to allow for claims related to COVID-19 business disruptions. Insurers are expected to vigorously fight such efforts in court.
  • As of late January, nearly 1,500 business interruption lawsuits have been filed against insurers, according to a litigation tracker maintained by the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School. Of cases where courts have ruled, about 75% have been dismissed. However, in August a judge in Missouri ruled a group of hair salons and restaurants could sue their insurance carrier based on the notion that coronavirus particles are a “physical substance” that attached to and damaged plaintiffs’ property. In two cases in New Jersey and North Carolina, judges ruled in favor of the insured. In New Jersey, the Judge ruled physical loss or damage wasn’t required under state law. The North Carolina court ruled that physical damage wasn’t required under the policy at issue. The Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) rejected plaintiff proposals to consolidate lawsuit cases against multiple insurers, according to Insurance Journal. In September, the MDL left open the possibility of consolidating cases according to insurer. The following month the MDL ruled against consolidation of hundreds of cases against major national firms Cincinnati Insurance, Travelers, The Hartford, and certain underwriters of Lloyd’s. The MDL panel concluded that letting the cases be decided in the various courts in which they were filed will result in “quicker and more efficient resolution of this litigation.” However, the MDL panel ruled that cases involving regional insurer Society Insurance could be consolidated because the laws of only six states are involved. In December, the MDL allowed for the consolidation of 13 business interruption cases across five US court districts that are filed against Pittsburgh-based Erie Insurance Group. Lawsuit filings came a fast clip between April and August, then tapered off as 2020 wound down. Some legal experts suggest that if higher courts across the country begin to rule in favor of insurers, that would undermine the potential of many policyholder suits to continue. However, if higher courts tend to find for the policyholder, insurers may move to negotiate settlements.
  • As business interruption lawsuits progress through the courts, businesses and their attorneys are adopting new strategies including class action suits as well as allegations that insurers acted in bad faith in their denying of claims coverage, according to Property Casualty 360. Bad faith laws vary from state to state, but they generally require insurers to provide timely and thorough investigations and offer reasonable justifications for coverage decisions. Industry insiders suggest insurance companies can minimize the effects of any bad faith litigation by ensuring investigations and facts are sound, and anticipating policyholder arguments for coverage and being prepared to address them.
  • Some insurance companies are creating new products that offer protection from future pandemics or a worsening of the COVID-19 outbreak. Insurers are also developing price-by-mile commercial auto liability products to cover gig workers amid the spike in e-commerce and food deliveries. Insurtechs (online insurance brokers) have benefited from more consumers buying life insurance online during the coronavirus outbreak. Coverage is faster than with traditional life insurance providers and no meeting with an agent or doctor is required.
  • Early in the pandemic, some auto insurers offered customers rebates and discounts as the number of miles driven in the US – and therefore the number of accident claims – declined. While miles driven have since crept upward, they are generally below normal, according to Federal Highway Administration Statistics. Some consumer advocacy groups suggest consumers are due for another round of refund relief as some insurers continue to report high profits from auto insurance operations. The Consumer Federation of America and the Center for Economic Justice have sent letters to state insurance commissioners urging them to require insurers to issue additional refunds, according to The New York Times.
  • Analytics may be the key to ensuring small business insurers effectively adapt to the myriad of challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic, according Property Casualty 360. In 2020, the number of companies that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reached their highest level since 2013, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI). About half of Chapter 11 filings were for subsidiaries or larger corporate entities. The rise in business failures is likely to disrupt insurance carrier operating models, marketing strategies, and expense ratios. Analytics tools can help business insurers assess their portfolios using natural language processing (NLP) engines which can identify policies that are likely to require a payout. Portfolio analysis can also identify COVID-19-related changes in customer segmentation- such as industry type – that can aid in recalibrating marketing mix. Analytics also can be used to identify claims where “no/low-touch” claims adjustment automation tools are the most efficient claims processing option.
  • Even before the pandemic, in-person meetings between insurance agents and clients were on the decline. The pandemic hastened the use of web-based meeting tools as agents worked from home. As insurance companies move to reduce fixed costs, some firms are rethinking their real estate footprints. Nationwide has said it will close some of its offices as its shift to more remote work increased efficiency.
  • The ongoing effects of the pandemic continue to put economic pressure on consumers and businesses which could affect insurance carrier profitability. In a recent survey by credit bureau TransUnion, respondents expressed concern about being able to afford their car insurance, car and mortgage payments, and their life insurance bill. Among respondents who own a car, more than 70% said they use their car less or not at all since the onset of the pandemic. As they drive less, more consumers are becoming open to usage-based insurance. More than 60% of those surveyed said they would allow an insurance carrier to use telematics systems to collect real-time data about their driving habits if it would lower their premium.
  • Net income for the US property/casualty insurance industry fell 27.5% in the first three months of 2020 compared to a year earlier as the industry dealt with the effects of COVID-19 and a high number of catastrophic events, according to a recent report by data firm Verisk and the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA). In 2020 there were 19 catastrophes with at least $1 billion in direct insured losses. The report said the full impact of COVID-19 will take more time to discern, but pandemic-related consumer and business purchase deferrals and cancellations reduced premium activity. Written direct premium growth in the first three months of 2020 was 2.3% compared to growth of 4.8% in the same period in 2019.

February 13, 2021

  • Some industry watchers expect the pandemic to accelerate the insurance industry’s leveraging of digital technology – including artificial intelligence (AI) – to reduce in-person interactions, including claims adjusting. The pandemic is also likely to reshape the insurance industry, according to Forbes. Companies’ balance sheet losses are likely to mount, which will likely reduce industry-wide appetite for risk and affect the types of coverage that’s offered and increase prices.
  • Prior to the pandemic, some insurance companies were reluctant to have clients use apps to upload photos and perform other tasks typically done by an adjuster. Insurers didn’t want clients to feel as if they were doing the adjuster’s work for them and have a bad claims experience, a leading cause of losing business. However, industry insiders say clients like using apps that help them feel more in control of some claims tasks like uploading photos and documents, claims progress tracking, and repair scheduling. Such apps not only cut down on physical interactions between adjusters and clients, they can also reduce insurer costs.
  • Adopting AI might also help claims adjusters overcome a shortage of new entrants to the field that the COVID-19 pandemic made worse, according to Property Casualty 360. COVID-19-related workers’ comp and business interruption claims have put extra pressure on claims teams at a time when the industry has trouble attracting younger workers even amid high unemployment. Only 4% of millennials are interested in an insurance career, according to a survey by The Hartford. Applying AI like machine learning to some of the more rote, repetitive claims tasks – such as cost tracking – claims personnel can focus on more interesting duties that involve nuanced problem solving.
  • While the number of accidents and auto claims are expected to gradually increase, the pandemic’s effect on driving frequency and claims is projected to reduce auto insurance rates for 2021 for the first time in 10 years, according to ValuePenguin. Rates are expected to go back up in 2022 amid normalizing driving routines, and as claims get more expensive due to the rising technology content in automobiles.
  • Although traffic and accidents were down in 2020 due to the pandemic, traffic fatalities rose, according to recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The number of people killed relative to the number of overall miles driven was up nearly 18% in 2020 compared to the prior year. Data from the NHTSA suggest that driving while intoxicated increased during the pandemic. With less congestion and open roads, motorists may also be less caution when they drive, including speeding and not wearing seatbelts. A continued rise in serious accidents could drive instances of costly insurance claims.
  • As coronavirus-related losses pile up, small business owners who thought they would be covered by business disruption insurance are discovering otherwise. A few years after the SARS outbreak, some insurers inserted clauses excluding coverage for “loss due to virus or bacteria,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Some state officials are developing bills that would force insurers to cover business losses, a move that could put the insurance industry’s solvency at risk. Standard & Poor’s (S&P) does not believe states will succeed in efforts to retroactively change policy language to allow for claims related to COVID-19 business disruptions. Insurers are expected to vigorously fight such efforts in court.
  • As of late January, nearly 1,500 business interruption lawsuits have been filed against insurers, according to a litigation tracker maintained by the University of Pennsylvania’s Carey Law School. Of cases where courts have ruled, about 75% have been dismissed. However, in August a judge in Missouri ruled a group of hair salons and restaurants could sue their insurance carrier based on the notion that coronavirus particles are a “physical substance” that attached to and damaged plaintiffs’ property. In two cases in New Jersey and North Carolina, judges ruled in favor of the insured. In New Jersey, the Judge ruled physical loss or damage wasn’t required under state law. The North Carolina court ruled that physical damage wasn’t required under the policy at issue. The Judicial Panel of Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) rejected plaintiff proposals to consolidate lawsuit cases against multiple insurers, according to Insurance Journal. In September, the MDL left open the possibility of consolidating cases according to insurer. The following month the MDL ruled against consolidation of hundreds of cases against major national firms Cincinnati Insurance, Travelers, The Hartford, and certain underwriters of Lloyd’s. The MDL panel concluded that letting the cases be decided in the various courts in which they were filed will result in “quicker and more efficient resolution of this litigation.” However, the MDL panel ruled that cases involving regional insurer Society Insurance could be consolidated because the laws of only six states are involved. In December, the MDL allowed for the consolidation of 13 business interruption cases across five US court districts that are filed against Pittsburgh-based Erie Insurance Group. Lawsuit filings came a fast clip between April and August, then tapered off as 2020 wound down. Some legal experts suggest that if higher courts across the country begin to rule in favor of insurers, that would undermine the potential of many policyholder suits to continue. However, if higher courts tend to find for the policyholder, insurers may move to negotiate settlements.
  • As the number of business interruption lawsuits progress through the courts, businesses and their attorneys are adopting new strategies including class action suits as well as allegations that insurers acted in bad faith in their denying of claims coverage, according to Property Casualty 360. Bad faith laws vary from state to state, but they generally require insurers to provide timely and thorough investigations and offer reasonable justifications for coverage decisions. Industry insiders suggest insurance companies can minimize the effects of any bad faith litigation by ensuring investigations and facts are sound, and anticipating policyholder arguments for coverage and being prepared to address them.
  • Some insurance companies are creating new products that offer protection from COVID-19-related claims, future pandemics, or a worsening of the COVID-19 outbreak. Insurers are also developing new coverage for industries with specific COVID-19-related risks. For example, many cleaning and restoration companies that are performing COVID-19 decontamination services are finding their insurance doesn’t cover them in the event that a customer or employee makes a COVID-19-related claim. Some insurance companies have created new biohazard coverage or added it to existing policies. Recent spikes in the spread of coronavirus and the addition of these new insurance products could lead to an increase in COVID-19 claims.

February 9, 2021

  • Home and apartment layouts are being redesigned to better accommodate the pandemic lifestyle, according to John Hunt, principal at MarketNsight. What was formerly designed as a living room or a second bedroom, for example, could be transformed into a home office or flex space. The pandemic has also been a catalyst for a sharp demarcation between work and relaxation spaces. That can mean leaving tech in the home office. Enrique Vela, the director of interiors at Olson Kundig Architects in Seattle, hasn’t seen his homebound clients clamoring for more technology.
  • A $900 billion coronavirus relief package signed into law in late December 2020 includes $248 billion for the Small Business Administration, the agency overseeing the Paycheck Protection Program. The Bipartisan Emergency COVID Relief Act of 2020 would make small businesses with up to 300 employees and that have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020 eligible for a second round of PPP funding. Business expenses paid for with PPP funding would be tax deductible, according to a summary of the proposal.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has bolstered corporate interest in redesigning work spaces to simulate nature, have better air filtration systems, and use more sustainable materials, according to Business Insider. Companies are embracing biophilic design — the concept of bringing the health benefits of the outdoors inside. Biophilic concepts include incorporating green walls with plants that help clean the air; using natural materials like wood; creating indoor water features like ponds and waterfalls; and installing circadian lights that provide different color temperatures to keep the body's internal clock in line, such as lighter white lighting to mimic daylight.
  • The Interior Design Billing Index (IDBI) increased to 53.4 in December 2020 from 50.2 in November 2020. Billings continued their positive trajectory as reflected in the three-month moving average of 52.7. The inquiry index, an indicator of future work, surged 14.3 points to 64.2, the highest score since August 2019 (70.1). The three-month moving average of the new projects inquiry index recorded a score of 57.1. December’s survey results indicated that the business climate is favorable, and panelists appear to expect this sentiment to continue into the first half of 2021. The six-month outlook index has remained well above 50 mark for the past five months, posting a December score of 54.8.

February 27, 2021

  • Furniture, appliance, and home furnishings manufacturer and retailer Ikea has discontinued catalog sales after 70 years. “Consumption and customer behaviors have changed,” Konrad Grüss, managing director for Inter Ikea Systems, said in a statement in December 2020, “and Ikea is already increasing digital investments while volumes and interest in the catalog have decreased.” Industry experts cite a pandemic-driven 45% increase in online sales for Ikea during 2020 as a likely driver of increasing investment at the expense of other channels.
  • Retailers send around half as many catalogs as they did 15 years ago, according to the Data and Marketing Association, but that’s still about nine billion a year. The popularity of catalogs declined before some companies reignited them, remaking them as creative pieces of print work primarily intended to inspire consumers, said Jonathan D. Zhang, an assistant professor of marketing at Colorado State University. “The future of catalogs is not going to be a product catalog almost like Sears or Ikea” Zhang said. Consumers were less likely to be drawn into bland product books that listed home appliances, for example, compared to catalogs that showed an elegantly furnished kitchen featuring a state-of-the-art dishwasher, or highlighted beautiful or luxurious items, he added.
  • Global retail e-commerce sales increased 27.6% year over year in 2020, with sales reaching well over $4 trillion, according to eMarketer. Total worldwide retail sales decreased 3% during the period. Ethan Cramer-Flood, analyst at Insider Intelligence, expects the e-commerce sales growth rate to decelerate to some degree in 2021 despite enduring consumer enthusiasm.
  • US e-commerce sales increased 62.1% year over year in January, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.
  • Non-store retail sales, which includes internet and mail-order retailers, increased 11% in value month over month and 22.1% year over year in January.
  • Employment in the internet and mail-order retail industry increased 9.7% year over year in December 2020 and was up 20.9% compared to the low of April.

March 1, 2021

  • The pandemic drove huge consumer demand for online entertainment, news, and other content. After seeing some slowdown in new subscribers in Q3 2020, Netflix regained momentum in Q4. In Q3 2020, Netflix added 2.2 million new subscribers compared to the 10 million who signed up in the previous quarter. Subscriptions rebounded in Q4 to 8.51 million, outpacing the company’s own forecast. Growth has been fueled by new customers outside the US; more than 80% of Netflix’s new subscriptions in 2020 came from abroad. About 64% of US households had a Netflix subscription in Q4 2020, up slightly from 62% in Q1, according to market intelligence firm Civic Science. Nearly half of US households had Amazon Prime Video in Q4 2020. Hulu and Disney+ were tied at 31% of US households.
  • Media conglomerates entering the streaming space through M&A activity was underway prior to the pandemic, but industry watchers expect coronavirus to accelerate the trend. As more content aggregators emerge (Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max) and vie for more viewers - and the lines between content, distribution, and tech continue to blur - consolidation becomes more likely. In January, ViacomCBS said it was rebranding its CBS All Access streaming service as Paramount+. With a planned launch for March 4, 2021, Paramount+ will offer CBS programming as well as several ViacomCBS channels, and Paramount’s film library. The move is an attempt to better compete with rivals like Peacock, Disney+, and HBO Max. Industry watchers also expect many smaller niche streaming services and channels to consolidate in order to survive as the field of services becomes more crowded.
  • The quarantine accelerated the growth of e-commerce and industry watchers expect the shift in consumer behaviors to have long-lasting effects which will spur the need for further investment in the online sales channel. As more sales move online, businesses are expected to increase investments in their search engine optimization (SEO) and other digital marketing strategies to gauge the effectiveness of marketing campaigns in real time.
  • The coronavirus pandemic drove down advertising budgets, a key revenue stream for internet publishers and web portals. However, global digital ad spending is expected to rebound in 2021. After falling 4.1% in 2020 due to COVID-19-related pullbacks on marketing and advertising spending, global advertising is expected to rise 10.2% in 2021, reaching a value of $651 billion, according to Ad Age. In 2020, internet ads accounted for 54% of all ad spending, crossing the 50% threshold for the first time, according to Publicis Group’s Zenith. By 2023, Zenith expects internet ads to account for more than 62% of all ad spending. Digital ad spending in 2021 is projected to rise 18% in over 2020 levels, according to investment bank Cowen’s 9th Annual Ad Outlook Report. Of ad buyers surveyed by Cowen, 60% said their ad spending was below normal in 2020; about half said spending would normalize by mid-2021.
  • As the pandemic has slashed advertising budgets, tech companies that aggregate news came under increasing pressure to pay news publishers for using headlines and story snippets. Amid calls among antitrust regulators in France and Australia, Google has launched Google News Showcase which pays publishers to license their content. Since its debut, Google News Showcase has gradually rolled out to more countries, including the UK, Australia, and Argentina. It is available in Google News, Android devices, and iOS. During the pandemic, the Google News Initiative waived ad fees for small and medium sized news outlets and provided $15 million to the Support Local News Campaign.
  • With movie theaters closed during the pandemic, some movie studios experimented with releasing new films straight to premium video-on-demand (PVOD) or through their streaming services. US spending on transactional video-on-demand (VOD) increased to $459 million in the third quarter of 2020 compared to $447.6 million in the third quarter of 2019, according to DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group. Hollywood studios are expected to continue the trend even after the pandemic passes and moviegoers return to theaters. In late 2020, AT&T (owner of Warner Bros. and HBO Max) announced it would release all of its 2021 films on HBO Max the same day as they debut in theaters.
  • The pandemic helped fuel massive growth in consumer spending on digital home entertainment in 2020, according DEG’s preliminary year-end Home Entertainment Report. Spending for electronic sell-though (EST), video-on-demand (VOD), and subscription streaming (SVOD) increased to $26 billion, a rise of more than 32% compared to 2019. The category was helped by theatres being mostly closed so consumers turned to VOD services for fresh content.
  • As the COVID-19 pandemic has shrunk many consumers’ budgets and increased concerns about the economy, more households are choosing to eliminate their pay TV in favor of streaming services. In 2020, about 6 million pay TV subscribers in North America cut the cord, according to Digital TV Research. However, the rate of cord-cutting is expected to slow in the coming years. Between, 2020 and 2026 pay TV services are expected to lose about 16 million North America subscribers. Satellite will fare the worst with a loss of 7.5 million, followed by digital cable TV which is expected to shed about 5 million. Internet protocol (IPTV) TV subscriptions are to drop by about 3.4 million.

February 5, 2021

  • The recent global rally in steel prices will be short-lived, according to Fitch Ratings. Prices will start declining towards the end of Q1 as steelmaking production continues to be restarted. Steelmaking capacity idled during the heights of the pandemic could not be brought online quickly enough to meet recovering steel demand and restocking, leading to the rapid rise in prices. Up to 30% of global steelmaking capacity (excluding China) was idled or production at steel mills was significantly reduced in response to a pandemic-induced drop in demand.
  • The US steel market is expected to remain undersupplied through the first quarter of 2021 despite mill restarts, according to Argus Media. US Steel has restarted three of its four idled blast furnaces, but these and other capacity restarts are not expected to help alleviate supply strains that are being intensified by a lack of imports.
  • The World Steel Association expects global steel demand to increase 4.1% year over year in 2021. Growth in Asia will drive the bulk of the world’s total consumption.
  • Steel imports decreased 28.4% year over year in 2020, according to the US Census Bureau.
  • The transition to electric-arc-furnace-based (EAF) steelmaking in the US has been accelerated as a result of the coronavirus, according to Mark Millet, CEO of Steel Dynamics. Because EAF steelmaking relies on mostly recycled materials, the environmental factors alone are considered a major advantage over alternatives. Using 100% recycled steel, electric arc furnaces help contribute less waste material and save on primary resources and energy, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. "It's a new era for American steel and you could actually see if coming to fruition prior to [COVID-19], I just think COVID is catalyzing it," Millet said. "...We're rationalizing and consolidating our industry."
  • Employment at iron and steel mills decreased 6.5% year over year in December 2020 but was unchanged compared to the prior month, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment was down 6.8% from the start of the year.
  • US steel shipments increased 0.1% in November 2020 compared to the prior month but decreased 11.9% year over year, according to the American Iron & Steel Institute. Shipments decreased 16.1% year over year for the first 11 months of 2020.

January 27, 2021

  • Cleaning services providers saw strong year-over-year growth in December 2020, according to the Home Service Economic Report: 2020 Review released in January 2021 by Jobber, a job tracking and customer management software firm. Median revenue for cleaning firms in December was 13% higher than year-ago levels. New cleaning work scheduled was up 2% during the same period, but fell from 7% growth seen in November. The commercial segment of the market fared better in 2020 than residential, as consumers cleaned their own homes more often.
  • The pandemic has raised awareness of cleaning budgets. Sanitizing surfaces will become much more of a priority. As more office buildings reopen, some may use staggered schedules to facilitate social distancing among employees. This may create the need for more routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces. Workers returning to offices may also require cleaning crews to adapt to new solid waste collection issues including discarded single-use personal protection equipment.
  • If reopening offices and other business require additional cleaning tasks, more frequent cleaning, or sanitizing of surfaces, pricing adjustments will likely be necessary, according to the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI). The BSCAI recommends cleaning firms be as specific as possible in contracts to describe services requirements and products used.
  • As offices reopen, tech companies are introducing cleaning scheduling apps to help office managers gather bids from qualified cleaning firms. The Onedesk Office Cleaning Platform allows cleaning firms to do a virtual walkthrough of an office space and bid on the job without having to visit the location. Carpet and upholstery cleaning firms may seek to become pre-vetted vendors for such apps.
  • Janitorial and restoration firms are adding new disinfecting services. Some use disinfecting fogs and mists that can be efficiently applied with no wiping. Such services could become long-term revenue streams if consumers come to expect commercial spaces to be regularly disinfected. The industry is also looking into how ozone can fight coronavirus. Ozone (over-oxygenated air) breaks the virus’ outer membrane, like topical cleaners, and destroys it. An ozone machine is turned on in the space and the technician leaves, providing lower risk of exposure to the ozone technician than a technician that applies disinfectant to a surface. Industry watchers believe more offices will be cleaned electrostatically using charged solutions that kill germs in hard-to-reach spots, according to The Los Angeles Times.
  • Industry insiders suggest companies that offer coronavirus-related cleaning and disinfecting services check to ensure their insurance policies cover them in the event of a COVID-19-related claim by a customer or employee. Many cleaning and restoration companies that are performing COVID-19 decontamination services are finding their insurance doesn’t provide adequate coverage. Some insurance companies have created new biohazard coverage or added it to existing policies.
  • Residential cleaning firms need to reassure customers that cleaning practices and equipment are safe to bring into their homes. Firms are encouraged to outline infection prevention in their proposals, assess their equipment performance, look professional, be transparent with clients, communicate cleaning protocols, and re-brand with language around infection prevention.
  • Industry experts believe third-party cleanliness certifications – from companies such as Fitwel and Well Building Standard – posted at entryways will be in higher demand as employees and customers will want assurances that the spaces they enter are safe and meet cleanliness standards, according to Fortune. The Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) has developed a COVID-19 protection training and certification course for cleaning professionals. The course covers proper cleaning procedures, infection control, worksite safety precautions, and documentation and communication protocols. It also follows all CDC, OSHA, and EPA guidelines. Janitorial services firms may want their employees to complete third-party certifications to assure customers the company’s services follow accepted best practices. However, some industry watchers suggest a patchwork of certifications is inadequate. The Service Employees International Union is calling for cleanliness standards and regulation at the city and state level that’s on par with health department certifications for restaurants.
  • As the pandemic has worn on, building and property managers have become more educated about the differences between cleaning and disinfecting. They are also becoming more aware of remediation firms that may unfairly increase the price if the job requires disinfecting a space where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19. Janitorial firms that offer disinfecting services should offer price transparency and ensure their products, equipment, and certifications are appropriate for viral mitigation.
  • Janitorial firms that have seen business drop off during the pandemic may seek relief via the reauthorization of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The PPP was revived with the December passage of the $900 billion COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Relief Act. The legislation includes $300 billion in funding for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans. The most recent round of PPP lets eligible borrowers get a second draw loan. It also simplifies loan forgiveness for loans under $150,000 and makes forgiven loans tax deductible.

February 20, 2021

  • Rough diamond prices generally have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, while polished prices are slightly higher, according to the Business Standard news site. A pandemic-induced shift of discretionary expenditures from travel to jewelry is cited as a key driver of the rebound.
  • About 60% of the independent jewelers who responded to an INSTORE 2020 Holiday Season Mini Survey said that holiday sales increased year over year in 2020. More than two-thirds described their store’s performance as either “better than expected” or “terrific.” Some 27% of stores did worse year over year and the remainder said that sales were unchanged year over year.
  • Jewelry e-commerce sales were up 44.6% during the expanded holiday season, running from October 11 through December 24, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.
  • De Beers, the world's biggest diamond producer, said in mid-December 2020 that it had provisionally sold $2.7 billion of rough diamonds during the year, down a third from 2019’s sales of more than $4 billion. Diamond production at some of the company’s southern African sites declined by 27% as coronavirus restrictions hampered operations.
  • Scientists in Australia say that they have sped up the diamond manufacturing process, reducing it to just minutes. Synthetic diamonds have been created in labs since the 1940s, but the ability to create them in minutes at room temperature may be a significant breakthrough to creating cheaper, ethically-sourced, environmentally friendly stones. The researchers said they were able to create two types of structurally distinct diamonds -- one similar to those typically worn in jewelry, and another type called Lonsdaleite, which is harder than most diamonds and is most suitable for industrial uses.
  • Online fashion platform Moda Operandi found in its research that fine jewelry represents an "investment" category that retains long-term value, so people are shopping for it even in an uncertain economy. The Last Line founder Shelley Sanders, however, suggests that shoppers may be turning to her bright, joyful designs for a mood boost.
  • Jewelry store closures caused by the pandemic outbreak have resulted in a surplus of diamonds. Industry experts say that leading diamond producers De Beers and Alrosa PJSC have sold very few rough diamonds since February2020. The five biggest producers are estimated to hold excess inventories worth about $3.5 billion, according to industry advisory firm Gemdax. The excess inventories could reach $4.5 billion by the end of 2020, or about one-third of annual rough-diamond production. De Beers and Alrosa refused to cut prices until August, but have allowed buyers unprecedented freedom to cancel purchase contracts. They've also reduced production to control stock levels.

February 19, 2021

  • US demand for gold jewelry decreased 1% in volume year-over-year in Q4 2020 but hit a quarterly value record of $2.9 billion due to high gold prices, according to the World Gold Council. The price of gold averaged $1,769.64 in 2020 and remains high, hovering around $1,800 per ounce in mid-February. Gold jewelry demand decreased 10% in volume for all of 2020, driven by the impact that COVID-19 had on consumer income and sentiment.
  • About 60% of the independent jewelers who responded to an INSTORE 2020 Holiday Season Mini Survey said that holiday sales increased year over year in 2020. More than two-thirds described their store’s performance as either “better than expected” or “terrific.” Some 27% of stores did worse year over year and the remainder said that sales were unchanged year over year.
  • Jewelry e-commerce sales were up 44.6% during the expanded holiday season, running from October 11 through December 24, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse.
  • De Beers, the world's biggest diamond producer, said in mid-December 2020 that it had provisionally sold $2.7 billion of rough diamonds during 2020, down a third on 2019’s sales of more than $4 billion. Diamond production at some of the company’s southern African sites declined by 27% as coronavirus restrictions hampered operations.
  • Some jewelers say that reduced opportunity to travel is driving increasing jewelry sales. "In every market in the world, the number one competition to our industry is travel," said Stephen Lussier, executive vice president with De Beers, the world's largest diamond mining firm. Diamond jewelry has been capturing some of the unspent travel budget, Lussier said.

February 5, 2021

  • People undergoing long-term dialysis are almost 4 times more likely to die from COVID-19 according to a study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal. Top risk factors for COVID-19 infection in people on dialysis include hemodialysis at a hospital facility as compared to home dialysis and living in a long-term care facility.
  • Dialysis centers began administering Covid-19 antibody treatments in late December 2020. Timely use of the treatments could help reduce hospital admissions, said Mary Dittrich, chief medical officer at dialysis provider U.S. Renal Care. Nearly half a million doses of the treatments, manufactured copies of proteins the body produces to combat the virus, have been allocated, but only about 21% of those have been administered, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services. Some doctors have questioned the efficacy of the treatments, which are complicated to use, taking two hours to infuse and monitor a patient. “Hospitals aren’t always set up for outpatient infusions. When they are it is typically in environments where compromised patients might be,” said Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.
  • The National Renal Administrators Association sent letters to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early December 2020 urging the agencies to prioritize issuance of the COVID-19 vaccine to patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and the dialysis clinic staff who provide their care. The association wrote in the letters that the heightened risk of COVID-19 exposure that patients with ESRD face “has led to Medicare beneficiaries with ESRD having a more than four times greater likelihood of contracting the virus than aged and disabled beneficiaries. ESRD beneficiaries who have contracted COVID-19 have had a hospitalization rate more than seven times higher than that of either aged or disabled beneficiaries.”
  • The CDC has approved a plan for who will be included in the first phase of coronavirus immunizations. The Phase 1A group will include people who work in “hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient home health care, pharmacies, emergency medical personnel, and public health workers.” Phase 1B includes “essential workers, people with high-risk medical conditions, and adults 65 years and older. Essential workers include people who work in food and agriculture, food service, transportation, education, energy, police, firefighters, manufacturing, IT, communication, water and wastewater.
  • Many industry leaders say that use of home dialysis is increasing due to the coronavirus pandemic. “People recognized it would be better if they did it at home,” said Dr. Susan Quaggin, president-elect of the American Society of Nephrology. “And certainly, from a health provider’s perspective, we feel it’s a great option.” Nearly half a million people in the US are on dialysis, according to the