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April 15, 2020

COVID-19’s Economic Impact #4

In this week’s newsletter we look at urban mobility in China, Japan, the UK and the USA: subway, bus, light rail and road traffic.  Specifically, we ask questions about small business resilience: how many firms have closed, and how long can the remaining firms survive? Finally, we observe hiring activity at large companies: which firms and sectors are aggressively expanding their workforces?

Abraham Thomas
Chief Data Officer, Quandl

1 — Commuter Traffic

Primary data on commuter traffic reveals the effect of shelter-in-place directives in different major metros.  New York and London are largely locked down, but Japanese cities are far less so, despite the declaration of emergencies in Tokyo, Osaka and Fukuoka. In most locations, subway and light rail commuter volumes have declined more than bus passenger volumes while road traffic has declined the least of all.

Source: Public data, collated by Quandl from local transit authorities, rail operators, telecom networks and government briefings.  Although not used in this graphic, we also recommend TomTom and CityMapper for comparative statistics on traffic and transit, respectively.

2 — Subways: New York versus China

Subway passenger volume is steadily rebounding in Shanghai, Beijing and Wuhan, but has a long way to go before matching 2019.

Meanwhile, passenger volume in New York City has dropped sharply in recent weeks and shows no sign of rebounding.

Source: Public information. NYC transit data from MTA via Todd Schneider, shared with permission. China data manually transcribed from Sina Weibo accounts of local transit authorities by Quandl.

3 — Small Business Closures Over Time

Over 50% of local businesses nationwide have closed since January, with the decline almost entirely concentrated in the third week of March. New York is, not unexpectedly, the worst hit. Other major states saw business closures occur at different rates, but all have converged to very similar final levels.

Source: Time-tracking data for hourly workers captured by Homebase, a software company that serves 100,000+ local businesses nationwide. Shared with permission.

4 — Small Business Closures By State

Local business data at a state level shows slightly more variation, particularly among smaller states.  States in the northeast and midwest have been hit hard, while states in the west and south have been relatively better off thus far.

Source: same as above.

5 — Small Business Prospects

A critical question is how long the firms that currently remain open can survive the crisis and its accompanying challenges (lockdowns, mandatory closures, supply disruption, customer demand and so on). A just-released nationally representative NBER survey of small businesses reveals that 70% of restaurants, 65% of retailers (excluding groceries), and 57% of small construction firms think they will not survive if the crisis lasts another 4 months. The same survey found that only 25% of small businesses can cover more than 2 months of expenses with the cash they have on hand.

Source: Bartik, Betrand et al, NBER working paper 26989, April 2020 — a survey of ~5,000 small businesses via the Alignable network.

6 — Large Company Hiring

Moving from small business to a few of the largest employers in the country, we find divergent behaviour. General merchandise and grocery retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Kroger are hiring aggressively. So are a few specialty retailers such as CVS and Walgreens (not graphed). Other specialty retailers have slowed down their hiring. Firms that provide non-essential or discretionary services have also slowed hiring. Overall hiring is significantly lower compared to January and February of this year.

Source: Quandl proprietary data on US job listings.

* All year-over-year comparisons are versus the same day of the corresponding week for 2019. Certain daily datasets have been intentionally lagged for contractual reasons.  If you would like access to the latest data, please contact us.

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