Trend watch and what's new this week
Key virus trends in the U.S. are approaching their mid-2021 lows (slide 3). Meanwhile, global vaccination trends appear to be stabilizing (slide 4), though the pace of U.S. vaccinations continues to drift lower (slide 5). Still, about 75% of Americans over 12 years old are fully vaccinated and almost half have received a booster.
Incoming activity-based data was stronger this past week (slide 2 and slide 6). Indicators, including air travel, staffing, hotel occupancy, and restaurant reservations, remain solid.
In fact, shipping container traffic ebbed slightly at the top two U.S. ports (LA and Long Beach), down 0.7% month over month (MoM) in February, which is seasonally typical. However, container volumes at those two important ports are up an astounding 27.1% compared to February 2019.
This week we highlight hotel occupancy (slide 7). It has risen in eight of the 11 weeks this year.
We also revisited box office trends (slide 8). They’re dramatically improved compared to 2020 and 2021 but remain more than 50% below pre-pandemic levels.
Lastly, we show U.S. gasoline prices (slide 9), which are up roughly 30% in 2022. They have rolled back modestly 1.6% in the past week.
We remain cautiously optimistic the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict will be somewhat muted. This is based on the activity-based data, which had been building strong momentum through February and demand appears to be holding up well in March.
Even the aforementioned surge in U.S. gasoline prices doesn’t seem to be derailing the economic momentum. It is certainly concerning for low-income consumers, who can ill-afford the pain at the pump on top of other inflationary pressures. Still, aside from grumbling, most Americans can manage the price increase. We anticipate crude oil prices should stabilize at lower levels in coming months, though not before continued volatility.
We maintain our view the risk of a U.S. recession in the next year is low, though has increased from very low odds just two months ago. While there may be short-term pain for consumers with hotter inflation, much of the spillover effects from the Ukraine situation into the energy markets is likely to shift spending from discretionary consumption to the energy sector within the U.S. economy.
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