Member Briefing February 9, 2022
Hochul Could End Masks for Businesses, But Not Schools
The rule requiring masks or vaccination proof at New York businesses is expected to expire Thursday and not be renewed, according to the Times Union in Albany. But the regulation being used to enforce the mask mandate in schools is expected to remain in place beyond February, the paper said.
Covid cases and hospitalizations have been dropping rapidly in New York since peaking in early January. Hochul has said the trends have reached the point where the state can begin considering what post-surge life will look like. But she has also said she wants to see vaccination rates higher, especially among kids. It’s a metric she said she’s watching carefully when making decisions about masks in schools. Governors in four states, including New Jersey, announced plans Monday to lift school mask mandates in the weeks ahead.
U.S. Trade Deficit Hit Record in 2021 as Americans Spent on Computers, Games, Furniture
The full-year trade deficit in goods and services for 2021 increased 27% to $859.1 billion, larger than the previous record of $763.53 billion in 2006, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Annual trade balance records date to 1960. Trade figures aren’t adjusted for inflation, so growth in exports and imports partly reflect higher prices. Trade deficit with China grew 14.5% for the full year to $355.3 billion, as U.S. demand for Chinese goods surged amid the post-pandemic economic recovery. The level was still well below the record trade deficit of $418.2 billion the U.S. set with China in 2018.
The sharp increase in the trade deficit comes as the U.S. economy continues to recover strongly from the pandemic-induced slump during 2020. American consumers have spent heavily on imported goods such as computers, game machines and furniture, flush with stimulus money while less willing to splurge on travels and dining out due to health concerns. Robust demand for capital goods from businesses, as well as higher prices of energy and food items, have also added to U.S. import bills.
Supply Chain Constraints Raise Industrial Metals Prices
Ongoing pandemic-triggered snarls are boosting the cost of trucks and rail cars to move things around, causing delays in shipping materials to consumers. Manufacturers of products are paying a record price to get hold of copper and aluminum, key metals used in everything from wires to electronics to automobiles. The benchmark price to ship copper in the U.S. is at the highest in data going back to 2003, while the cost to transport aluminum now accounts for 20% of the metal’s total price.
Prices of industrial metals cooled off toward the end of the year, but staged another rally since late December as energy prices, geopolitical concerns and the omicron variant put even more pressure on an already broken supply chain. A gauge of industrial metals hit a record high in late January.
Lawmakers Say Spending Deal up to Leaders
Lawmakers in both parties say it’s time for Congress’s top four leaders to meet face to face to negotiate a yearlong spending deal as talks among the senior members of the Senate and House Appropriations committees have dragged on and government funding will soon lapse. The four players had central roles in negotiating the last two major budget deals in 2018 and 2019.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) rarely meet in person, and their relationship took another beating last month when Schumer made an all-out push to change the Senate’s filibuster rule. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D) relationship with fellow Californian and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) is even worse.
US COVID- What’s the Poop?
The US CDC has added wastewater surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 RNA to its COVID Data Tracker, as virus levels in sewage water may be capable of providing an early warning signal for transmission surges. The tool comprises data from more than 400 testing sites in 37 states, with more than 34,000 samples representing 53 million US residents collected so far.
An additional benefit of the COVID wastewater tracking system is the identification of novel and “cryptic” variants of SARS-CoV-2. Cryptic variants are lineages of SARS-CoV-2 that contain mutations never before observed in humans. A number of cryptic lineages have been detected in the New York City sewer system. The origin of these out-of-the-ordinary lineages, which also have been detected in Missouri and California, has not yet been determined, but the most popular hypothesis is the mutations arose simultaneously in similar animal hosts, such as rodents that live in the sewer systems. Whatever the source, the new surveillance system could be critical in identifying and tracking the next major variant of concern.
NYS Vaccine and COVID Update –
Vaccine Stats as of February 8:
One Vaccine Dose
- 88.0% of all New Yorkers – 16,258,086 (plus 7,608 from a day earlier).
- In the Hudson Valley 1,689,609 (plus 1,018).
- 74.6% of all New Yorkers – 14,474,318 (plus 7.969).
- In the Hudson Valley – 1,475,348 (plus 1,116).
- All New Yorkers – 6,642,407
- In the Hudson Valley – 795,753
The Governor updated COVID data through February 8. There were 77 COVID related deaths for a total reported of 67,553.
- Patients Currently in Hospital statewide: 5,019.
- Patients Currently in ICU Statewide: 790
7 Day Average Positivity Rate – Cases per 100K population
- Statewide 4.36% – 34.74 positive cases per 100,00 population
- Mid-Hudson: 4.23% – 29.48 positive cases per 100,00 population
Novavax Expands Trials
Novavax on January 7 said it has received expanded US government funding to support late-stage clinical trials for its 2-dose SARS-CoV-2 vaccine among adolescents aged 12 to 17, including a booster component.
The company has filed with the US FDA for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of its vaccine among adults, and the vaccine has received clearances for use in adults in Great Britain and Germany, as well as endorsement in New Zealand. Israel recently signed a deal to purchase 5 million doses of the protein-based vaccine, and Australia this week received its first shipment of a total order of 51 million doses. Some experts hope that Novavax’s use of protein-based technology will help win over individuals who are reluctant to be vaccinated with shots using newer mRNA technology.
Pfizer Forecasts $54 Billion in 2022 Sales From Its Covid-19 Vaccine, Treatment
Pfizer Inc. said Tuesday that surging sales of its Covid-19 treatment and continued demand for its shots will likely boost the company’s revenue to around $100 billion this year. The pharmaceutical company estimated that sales of Paxlovid, a pill aimed at reducing severe outcomes from the virus, will reach about $22 billion in 2022. Pfizer’s vaccine for the virus will likely add $32 billion in revenue, Pfizer said, an increase from Pfizer’s most recent guidance.
Pfizer forecast $98 billion to $102 billion in revenue for 2022 that, if achieved, would represent significant gains from development of America’s most widely used vaccine for Covid-19 and a pill that has become a promising treatment for the coronavirus as it has mutated into new dominant variants.
NYC Workers Protest Vaccine Mandate Ahead of Friday Termination Deadline
Over 300 city workers and others marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Monday protesting the city’s announcement that municipal employees without a COVID-19 vaccination would be fired by week’s end.
Gathering in front of FDNY headquarters in Brooklyn, protesters chanted, “No medical tyranny, no vaccine mandates” and “My body, my choice. The vaccine you will not force,” before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.
New Robots—Smarter and Faster—Are Taking Over Warehouses
Advances in warehouse robotics, coupled with increasing labor costs and difficulty in finding workers, has created a watershed moment in the logistics industry. With covid-19 lockdowns causing supply-chain disruptions and a boom in home deliveries that looks likely to endure, fulfilment centers have been working at full tilt. Despite the bots, many firms have to bring in temporary workers to cope during busy periods. Competition for staff is fierce. In the run-up to the holiday shopping season in December, Amazon brought in some 150,000 extra workers in America alone, offering sign-on bonuses of up to $3,000.
The long-term implications of such a high reliance on increasingly hard-to-find labour in distribution is clear, according to a new study by McKinsey, a consultancy: “Automation in warehousing is no longer just nice to have but an imperative for sustainable growth.”
How Employers Can Help as Workers’ Mental Health Bottoms Out
According to the latest data from Total Brain’s Mental Health Index, mental health has hit an all-time low, primarily due to the Omicron surge as the third year of an unpredictable pandemic begins. Most notably, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and addiction have soared.
Amid all-time lows in mental health, employers are finding a new mandate to step up efforts to help struggling employees. In addition to tried and true standards, like employee assistance programs, many company leaders are realizing they need to go further as they see scores of employees struggle. Some organizations are enhancing benefits and embracing shorter workweeks, flexible schedules, financial health efforts and mental health days.
U.S. 30-Year Real Yield Turns Positive as Fed Hike Bets Increase
The inflation-adjusted yield on Treasuries maturing in three decades’ time climbed above zero for the first time since June after stronger-than-anticipated U.S. jobs data added fuel to the argument for faster tightening of Federal Reserve policy.
The so-called 30-year real yield, as measured by Treasury inflation-protected securities, jumped 7 basis points to 0.08%, a level unseen since May. The last time the benchmark was above zero was in June. Nominal Treasuries slid to their lows of the day following the employment data, with the front-end and belly of the curve leading declines.
Oil Prices Near Seven-Year Highs
Oil prices eased on Tuesday ahead of the resumption of indirect talks between the United States and Iran which may revive a nuclear deal that could lead to the removal of sanctions on Iranian oil sales, increasing global supplies. Brent crude Tuesday was at $91.38 per barrel, after hitting a seven-year high of $94 on Monday. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude was at $90.16 per barrel.
Both oil contracts have touched recent seven-year tops, supported by strong global demand, ongoing tensions in Eastern Europe and potential supply disruptions due to cold U.S. weather conditions. “More bullish signals continue to emerge for oil,” ANZ Research analysts said in a note on Tuesday, they added, pointing to Saudi Arabia raising its oil prices and the unexpected shutdown of a U.S. refinery.
As Oil Nears $100 a Barrel, U.S. Drillers Get Busy in Costly Shale Basins
As U.S. oil rises toward $100 a barrel, producers in some high-cost shale basins are buying properties and adding rigs and frack crews in places that fell silent when prices crashed early in the pandemic two years ago.
Benchmark U.S. prices last week topped $93 a barrel, up around 65% in the last 52 weeks and the highest since 2014. U.S. producers are cranking up spending at double-digit rates as fuel demand has soared and fears have waned that OPEC will again punish them by flooding the market with crude that is cheaper to produce.
U.S. Emissions Up in 2021
A surge of 17% in coal-fired power generation helped propel U.S. emissions to a year-over-year increase of 6.2% in 2021. Analysts blame high natural gas prices and a rebound in driving. The New York Times reports that the U.S. had its hottest summer on record and that the seven warmest years globally have occurred within the past seven years.
Transportation, particularly for moving freight to meet high demand for consumer products, saw the steepest increase in climate-warming emissions in 2021, though it dropped off in the second half of the year as breakthrough COVID-19 cases rose and new variants spread.