Monday, March 2, 2020

Coronavirus affects travel, trade and supply chains worldwide

Eswar Prasad writes in NYT that there is little hope for a global economic rebound in 2020.  Excerpts:

The spread of the virus is hurting travel, trade and supply chains worldwide. The Baltic Dry Index, a forward-looking indicator of global trade, has fallen by half and oil prices are down by about a quarter so far this year. U.S. stock markets, after initially taking the epidemic’s fallout in stride, are now experiencing a major sell-off.
[...]Financial markets are prone to large, sentiment-driven swings that sometimes seem out of line with economic fundamentals. But the news of the last few days suggests that, rather than coming under control and being confined to China, the outbreak is spreading and could get far worse. Stock markets in the United States and elsewhere are reflecting this reassessment of the epidemic’s future trajectory and the risks it poses.
The notion of this outbreak being a short-lived negative shock to global demand now looks unrealistic. It is not just spending on restaurants and travel that is suffering, but also investment by businesses while they wait for the uncertainty to be resolved. This will have long-term effects on growth even if the outbreak proves short-lived.
The disruption of supply chains, especially those that pass through Asia, is hurting businesses in multiple dimensions. Countries such as China, South Korea and Japan are critical to the supply chains for products ranging from plastic toys to iPhones to high-tech machinery. In these countries, manufacturers can’t get raw materials delivered reliably, are facing worker shortages and are having difficulty shipping out products. Rejiggering supply chains takes months, if not years. If the coronavirus spreads and causes disruptions to other major economies, it could wreak further havoc on supply chains.
[...]There is no easy way out. The Federal Reserve and other central banks could cut interest rates. This might not do much good, as uncertainty will restrain consumer spending and business investment even if cheap loans were available. Government spending might be more potent. Any assistance that reaches small businesses and allows them to stay afloat or goes directly into the hands of low-income consumers will help. But consumers and businesses are as likely to stash away any extra cash as they are to spend it.