Trend watch and what's new this week
Key virus trends in the U.S. continue to slide (slide 3). Global vaccination trends appear to be tapering off (slide 4), including the pace of U.S. vaccinations (slide 5).
Incoming activity-based data has strengthened (slides 2 and 6). For instance, weekly air passenger counts rose 0.9% week over week and hit 15.0 million for the first time since the week of Christmas/New Year’s ending January 1, 2020. Similarly, other data—such as staffing and restaurant reservations—remain solid.
This week, we highlight hotel occupancy (slide 7). While some of the improvement in travel-related data is related to spring break, hotel occupancy has risen in 8 of the 11 weeks this year, which counters the notion that the strength is “just due to spring break.”
Lastly, we show U.S. lumber prices (slide 8), which have dropped 30% in recent weeks. The reasons for the price decline appear to be two-sided, sawmills catching up in supply and demand softening, which we expect will continue.
On the virus front, trends are improving despite very relaxed social distancing and increased activity. The exception is vaccinations, though this should be expected given roughly 75% of Americans over 12 years old are fully vaccinated and almost half have received a booster.
We are encouraged by the continued strength of the activity-based data. Yet, we are growing concerned that inflation dynamics have shifted upward due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, especially for food and energy commodities, which will squeeze U.S. growth.
Given higher inflation, we now foresee broader impact to the U.S. economy, including higher interest rates generally, and mortgage rates specifically.
That said, there are upside offsets, including substantially more U.S. travel, particularly for businesses (think meetings, conferences, etc.), along with solid consumer demand. Importantly, most of our energy and food is sourced domestically, which means those higher prices drive additional U.S. growth and supports jobs.
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