Member Briefing February 14, 2022
Member Mask Survey Results
Following Governor Hochul’s lifting of the mask mandate for public buildings The Council of Industry conducted a quick survey of how members might alter their mask policies going forward (Members are aware that the HERO Act remains in effect) In the next month 32% of respondents will either continue to mandate masks for all employees or for all employees unable to maintain social distancing. 42% will make masking optional.
Looking out a month into the future 13% of respondents will either continue to mandate masks for all employees or for all employees unable to maintain social distancing. 66% will make masking optional. Comments ranged from a questioning of the state’s authority (both legal and moral) to impose such mandate, to “time to move on,” to the pragmatic plans to monitor the case numbers and guidance and adjust requirements accordingly.
U.S.-Canada Bridge to Reopen Sunday After Police Clear Protesters
Canadian police made several arrests on Sunday and cleared protesters and vehicles that occupied the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario following a court order on Friday. The bridge carries about $360 million a day in two-way cargoes – 25% of the value of all U.S.-Canada goods trade. The blockade has choked the supply chain for Detroit’s carmakers, forcing Ford Motor Co (F.N), the second-largest U.S. automaker, General Motors Co (GM.N) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) to cut production.
The “Freedom Convoy” protests, started in the national capital Ottawa by Canadian truckers opposing a vaccinate-or-quarantine mandate for cross-border drivers, entered its 17th day on Sunday. But it has now morphed into a rallying point against broader COVID-19 curbs, carbon tax and other issues, with people joining in cars, pick-up trucks and farm vehicles.
7.5% – U.S. Inflation Reached Another Four-Decade High
A relentless surge in U.S. inflation reached another four-decade high last month, accelerating to a 7.5% annual rate. The Labor Department on Thursday said the consumer-price index in January reached its highest level since February 1982, when compared with the same month a year ago. That put inflation above December’s 7% annual rate and well above the 1.8% annual rate for inflation in 2019 ahead of the pandemic. The so-called core price index, which excludes the often-volatile categories of food and energy, climbed 6% in January from a year earlier. That was a sharper rise than December’s 5.5% increase and the highest rate in nearly 40 years.
Prices were up sharply in January for a number of everyday household items, including food, vehicles, shelter and electricity. A sharp uptick in housing rental prices—one of the biggest monthly costs for households—contributed to last month’s increase.
Everyday Items are Rising the Fastest
The costs of everyday items are rising the fastest, affecting everything from your breakfast cereal to your light bill. Groceries rose a seasonally adjusted 1% in January from December, well above overall inflation, which stood at 0.6% on the month.
- The price of electricity rose 4.2% in January from December, as overall energy prices remained volatile. January’s increase was the biggest monthly rise since 2006.
- Rents ticked up in January, rising 0.5% on the month, the fastest pace since 2001. Housing price gains tend to show up with a few months’ delay in inflation statistics, which means further rises are possible this year even as inflation in other categories moderates or declines.
- Used cars – Your car might actually be worth more today than when you bought it, but good luck replacing it.
US COVID- Cases Decline, Deaths Hold Steady
The US CDC is currently reporting 77.0 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 and 906,603 deaths. Daily incidence continues its sharp decline, down from a record high of 806,176 new cases per day on January 15 to 230,602 on February 8, a 71% decrease over only 3 weeks. Daily mortality has largely leveled, holding relatively steady at approximately 2,300-2,400 deaths per day since January 24—with a slight decline since February 1. Daily mortality has not yet exhibited a decrease commensurate with the decline in daily incidence, but if this represents a peak, it would correspond to a lag of approximately 3 weeks behind the daily incidence trend.
The US has administered 674 million cumulative doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. A total of 251 million individuals have received at least 1 vaccine dose, which corresponds to 75.7% of the entire US population. Approximately 74.4% of adults are fully vaccinated, as well as 21.0 million children under the age of 18. Since August 13, 90.5 million individuals have received an additional or booster dose. This corresponds to 42.5% of fully vaccinated individuals.
NYS Vaccine and COVID Update –
Vaccine Stats as of February 13:
One Vaccine Dose
- 88.2% of all New Yorkers – 16,303,381 (plus 7,381 from a day earlier).
- In the Hudson Valley 1,694,719 (plus 914).
- 74.8% of all New Yorkers – 14,534,159 (plus 11,385).
- In the Hudson Valley – 1,481,578 (plus 972).
- All New Yorkers – 6,770,944
- In the Hudson Valley – 811,467
The Governor updated COVID data through February 13. There were 50 COVID related deaths for a total reported of 67,779.
- Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 3,588.
- Patients Currently in ICU Statewide: 608
7 Day Average Positivity Rate – Cases per 100K population
- Statewide 3.19% – 24.95 positive cases per 100,00 population
- Mid-Hudson: 3.01% – 21.83 positive cases per 100,00 population
OSHA Presses on with COVID Vaccine Mandate
When OSHA announced on Jan. 25 that it had withdrawn its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the wake of the Supreme Court defeat, it may have seemed to many that the ruling had settled the vaccine issue—but that assumption couldn’t be more wrong. On Jan. 26, the agency reported that it would continue to press ahead with developing a permanent rule designed to accomplish the same goals as the ETS it was forced to withdraw following the High Court defeat.
In order to issue a General Duty violation, OSHA must prove there is a recognized hazard that poses the risk of death or serious harm, and that a feasible means of protection exists, points out Charles Palmer, a partner with the law firm of Michael Best & Friedrich. The recognition and “feasible” means of protection are generally identified in industry consensus standards or other guidance documents.
NYDOL Clarifies Face Covering Requirements Under NY HERO Act
On Feb. 9, 2022, the NYS Department of Labor updated its Model Airborne Infectious Disease Exposure Prevention Plans again. Earlier on the same day, New York Gov. Hochul announced an end to the statewide mask mandate (commonly referred to as the “vax-or-mask” rule), effective Feb. 10, 2022.
This change indicates that the State is not requiring employers to mandate employees to wear masks, unless the setting is specifically referenced in the language (hospitals, nursing homes, pre-K to grade 12 schools, etc.).. However, the guidance still emphasizes that at this time masking in all indoor settings is still “strongly recommended.” It is also worth noting that despite the changes in the model plans, the regulations have not been changed and still provide, in relevant part, “The employer shall require that employees wear appropriate face coverings when physical distancing cannot be maintained and in accordance with applicable guidance from State Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as applicable.”
Consumer Sentiment Falls Despite Plunging Covid Cases
The Univ. of Michigan consumer sentiment index fell to 61.7 from 67.2, well below the consensus, 67.0. It was hoped that plummeting Covid cases would offset the hit from rising gas prices and the wobbling Nasdaq, but in the event the headline sentiment measure fell to the lowest level since October 2011.
- Expectations index dropped 6.7 points.
- Current conditions measure fell 3.5 points.
- One Year inflation expectations up a tenth to 5.0% on a one-year horizon.
- Five – Ten year inflation expectations were unchanged at 3.1% .
Near-term expectations are heaviliy influenced by food and energy inflation, which is now slowing on a y/y basis, so we expect only a modest further uptick in expectations, at most. Spending and sentiment are not the same, especially when households are sitting on trillions of dollars of pandemic savings, but it’s hard to be very positive about the near-term outlook for retail sales when sentiment has fallen so far, so quickly,
The World is Beginning to Rethink the Handshake
This go-to gesture of peace and accord, used to cinch deals, bless the start of high-level meetings, and congratulate victors, has been a mainstay of the Western world for well over 2,000 years. It’s survived its share of plagues, pandemics, and double-crossers over the years. But since the start of the COVID pandemic, social scientists, public health officials and columnists in the United States and Europe alike have been openly asking the question: In the age of COVID, is it time we did away with the old fist-pump, the poignée di main? Last summer, French journalist David Abiker declared, “The handshake is dead.”
And so it’s high time to pose the question: As we shake off our collective isolation, how will we greet our colleagues, business partners, and fellow conventioneers after al this time? Will physical gestures such as hugs, handshakes, and high fives return to our repertoire of greetings? Or will more socially distanced salutations prevail—the knuckle-to-knuckle fist bump, say, or the humble head nod?
Coffee Mucked-Up ports, Freak Storms, Unfilled Paper-Mill Jobs All Are Making To-Go Cups and Lids Into Precious Commodities
America’s latest shortage is of disposable cups, a potential energy crisis for an up-and-at-’em nation accustomed to caffeine on the go. Restaurateurs and suppliers around the country face the same empty cupboard. Disposable cups imported from China and elsewhere are stuck in ports along the mucked-up supply chain. American paper mills are short workers. And the U.S. hasn’t caught up from the extreme cold snap in Texas last year that suspended production of resins used to make plastic cups and the coating on paper cups.
Some places are fighting shortages and higher costs by selling branded, reusable cups that carry a drink discount. These environmentally friendly options were largely off the table early in the pandemic, restaurant operators said.
The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI in January
The J.P. Morgan Global Manufacturing PMI declined from 54.3 in December to 53.2 in January, the weakest reading since October 2020. New orders (down from 53.4 to 52.2), output (down from 53.3 to 51.4) and employment (down from 51.7 to 51.0) each slowed to begin the new year, with exports (down from 51.2 to 49.7) falling for the first time since August 2020. Encouragingly, the index for future output (up from 63.7 to 65.4) rose to a seven-month high in January, with manufacturers continuing to expect production to increase solidly over the coming months.
Supply chain constraints showed some signs of slight progress, even with still-significant challenges. After falling to a new low in October, the index for delivery times (up from 37.8 to 37.9) inched up for the third straight month while continuing to reflect long wait times related to supply chain bottlenecks and raw material shortages. Similarly, the index for input prices (down from 69.7 to 68.4) decelerated for the third consecutive month from the record growth rate seen in October, even as it remained highly elevated. In contrast, output prices (up from 59.8 to 61.0) accelerated once again.
UK Economy Grew by Fastest Rate Since Second World War in 2021
Britain’s economy grew by 7.5% last year in the fastest annual growth rate since the second world war, despite falling back in December as the Omicron variant dented consumer spending. The Office for National Statistics said output fell by 0.2% in December – a stronger performance than expected – as shortages of goods in the shops in the run-up to Christmas and a record number of job vacancies also slowed the economy after a 0.7% increase in November.
It comes after the UK suffered one of the largest annual economic contractions of any major economy when GDP fell by 9.4% in 2020 amid the fallout from the first wave of the pandemic.
France Announces Plans to Build Up to 14 Nuclear Reactors
Electricité de France, the state-owned electricity provider, announced it would hire 3,000 workers as France prepares to build six nuclear reactors over the coming decades. President Emmanuel Macron said the first would come online by 2035.
Studies will assess the feasibility of building eight additional plants. European countries have taken different approaches to nuclear energy: Germany is shutting down its reactors.
Smaller-Than-Expected Pandemic Baby Bust, New Data Suggests
New data on U.S. births suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a smaller-than-expected baby bust. The U.S. saw about 7,000 fewer births through the first nine months of 2021 compared with the same period the year prior, according to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The numbers reflect conceptions that occurred roughly from April through December 2020, a period that includes the first part of last winter’s Covid-19 case surge, which started in October 2020 and waned by February 2021.
Starting in June 2021, monthly births began to show consistent gains over their year-earlier levels, which reflect pre-pandemic conceptions, and that mostly offset declines in the first two months of 2021, the data show. The 2021 data are national provisional estimates. The federal government will issue a final count later this year, a CDC spokesman said. The provisional data are rounded to the nearest thousand and might differ from the final numbers by as much as 2%, according to the NCHS.
The Economist: Democracy in the Doldrums
Like the first year of the pandemic, 2021 showed the fragile state of global democracy. There was an unprecedented withdrawal of civil liberties last year. Emergency powers were normalised in developed democracies as well as authoritarian regimes. According to the Democracy Index, an annual snapshot published by The Economist’s sister company, EIU, the average global score fell from 5.37 out of 10 in 2020 to 5.28. Less than half of the world’s population now live in a democracy. More than a third live under authoritarian rule.
This year’s index also interrogates China’s claim that it has a superior governance system to Western democracies. Despite such boasts, China is classified as an “authoritarian regime”, with a score of 2.21, down from 2.97 in 2006. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a one-party state, it scored zero on “electoral process and pluralism”. Despite China’s economic ascent, civil liberties remain a distant dream.