• Two indicators of business activity in the New York area fell to the lowest levels on record in early April, according to an analysis released this week from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
  • The analysis highlighted the turmoil that efforts to stem the pandemic’s devastation have inflicted on the New York region and on regions across the US. 
  • John Williams, president of the New York Fed, said Friday in an interview with CNBC that some early second-quarter data that’s coming in is “horrible.” 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Two indicators of business activity in the New York area fell to the lowest levels on record as the pandemic depressed consumer spending and shuttered much of the regional economy, according to an analysis released this week from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The headline indexes in the Empire State Manufacturing Survey, which takes the temperature of New York manufacturing firms, as well as the Business Leaders Survey, which gauges the health of service firms in the New York-Northern New Jersey region, plunged to nearly -80. 

That reading for both surveys is “well below any historical precedent including the depths of the Great Recession,” according to the report by Jaison Abel, Jason Bram, and Richard Deitz. 

“By way of comparison, the lowest level these indexes reached before this month was in the -40 to -50 range during the depths of the Great Recession,” they said.

The analysis highlighted the turmoil that efforts to stem the pandemic’s devastation have inflicted on the region.

New York is considered the pandemic’s global epicenter, with 10% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the world as of April 16. The state of New York had 10% of all reported COVID-19 cases in the world as of April 16.

Here’s a look at the New York Fed’s analysis, examining manufacturing and service firm activity through early April. 

New York Fed business activity indicators



Federal Reserve Bank of New York


More granularly, more than half of manufacturers reported at least a partial shutdown of their operations, the New York Fed said, with “widespread” employee layoffs. 

Elsewhere in the New York Fed’s findings of how businesses in the area are doing:

  • Business activity declined for some 85% of companies, with those in “the leisure and hospitality, transportation, education and health, and retail sectors” hit hardest.
  • Companies in the “information, finance, and wholesale trade sectors” fared better than other industries.
  • Service firms “were nearly universal” in viewing the current business climate as “worse than normal.” 
  • “Well over 80 percent of firms are concerned about maintaining adequate cash flow as the economy has weakened — up sharply from when we first asked this question just a few weeks ago.” 
  • “Overall, the median firm expects the economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic to last another 3 to 4 months.”

Other indicators of business and economic activity released earlier this week reflected a grim state for companies across the US. 

For instance US retail sales fell a record 8.7% in March, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, with the previous record a drop of 3.8% in November, 2008.

The largest US banks have also provided clues into how the economy is doing.

This week, corporate earnings season kicked off as JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley — the six largest banks in the US by customer assets — all reported first-quarter results impacted by plunging markets, billions of dollars set aside for small business loans, or both.

JPMorgan, for instance, reported a 69% decline in profits as it set aside $6.8 billion to cover expected loan losses as part of a federal relief program

On Friday, New York Fed president John Williams said in an interview with CNBC that some early second-quarter data that’s coming in has been particularly brutal.

“We’re seeing horrible data for the second quarter,” he said. “We’re already seeing that data, obviously in regional sales, in unemployment, and other indicators.”

Williams added: “I don’t see the economy being back to full strength by the end of the year. It’s going to take us longer to get us back to where we want to be.”

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