An airport security screening process on Thanksgiving eve

Despite a plea from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid travel and large gatherings over Thanksgiving, millions of Americans opted to ignore the warnings to be with family and friends for the holiday. The busiest air travel day of the coronavirus pandemic came last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, with over one million passengers clearing airport security.

It was the third time in one week that the Transportation Security Administration reported screening more than 1 million passengers in a day – a milestone that the country’s airports have rarely seen since the pandemic crushed air travel in March.

The number of travelers flying Wednesday was half of what it was on the same day last year, before the coronavirus was a threat. Last year, 2.6 million people were screened on Thanksgiving eve.

The Markets

On Friday, the major US stock market indices closed higher. The S&P 500 Index added 9 points to close at a record 3,638, the technology-heavy Nasdaq added 111 points to reach a record high of 12,206 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 38 points to close at 29,910. Shares of retailers were among the top performers on expectations of strong Black Friday sales.

Gold dropped 1.3% to $1,787 an ounce on Friday, falling to a level not seen since early July, and lost 4.5% on the week, as investors became less risk averse on risk increasing optimism that a coronavirus vaccine could be used soon and the economic recovery would accelerate in 2021.

US domestic (WTI) oil futures declined slightly to $45.50 a barrel on Friday, but still rose 8% for the week. Traders are betting that a coronavirus vaccine will be rolled out soon, and on a possible delay in OPEC+’s planned production increase in January. However, concerns remail about near-term fuel demand as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise worldwide.

The Economy

The lame-duck Congress and Trump White House remain unwilling to agree on a new Covid-relief package, despite both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill acknowledging its necessity. Without action before year-end, millions of Americans face expiring unemployment benefits, eviction from their homes and business failures.

The inexcusable stalemate doesn’t bode well for the passage of major new economic stimulus once President-Elect Biden and the new Congress take office in 2021.

The biggest economic news of the past week is that Janet Yellen is likely to be President-Elect Joe Biden’s selection as Treasury Secretary.

Her appointment would be a welcome signal for investors, not least because it would show that Biden is committed to a centrist or moderately liberal economic program. Yellen is seen as someone who would work well with the Federal Reserve and be market-friendly. Given her history as chair of the Federal Open Markets Committee (which is the monetary policymaking body of the Federal Reserve), the US economy is likely to see close coordination of fiscal and monetary policy. Yellen is likely to reopen the Fed’s lending programs established to counter the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which have been allowed to expire under current Secretary Mnuchin.

The Labor Market

The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose to 778,000 in the week ended November 21st, from the previous week’s revised level of 748,000. It’s the highest number in five weeks amid rising COVID-19 cases and new lockdowns across the country. Also, more than 312,000 people applied for help from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which covers workers that do not qualify for initial claims.

Trading Economics Jobless Claims 2020 11 22

Source: Trading Economics

The Public Health

Hospitalizations in the US hit a record for the seventeenth straight day on Saturday, with over 91,000 people hospitalized for Covid-19. The country reported over 205,000 new cases on Friday, following consecutive days of over 2,000 deaths. The numbers are widely expected to get worse because of large gatherings over the holiday weekend and traditional Black Friday shopping.

AstraZeneca is being forced to conduct an additional trial of its Covid-19 vaccine following questions about its efficacy.

COVID Tracking Metrics 2020 11 28

Source: COVID Tracking Project

COVID 19 Numbers

Across 191 countries and regions, over 62.5 million have contracted the virus and nearly 1.5 million have died. In the US, over 13.3 million have been infected and nearly 270,000 have died.

The virus is not unlike a runaway freight train, accelerating and with no apparent means to slow it down. We are now consistently averaging about 160-170,000 new cases per day. It has been nearly a month since we recorded fewer than 100,000 cases in a single day. Over 4 million cases were recorded this month alone – more than double the total in October.

The positivity rate has leveled off only slightly, and may well begin rising again as new cases are recorded after the holiday weekend:

JHU Testing and Positivity Chart 2020 11 28

Source: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Closing Thoughts

As we head into the cold and dark winter months, it’s easy to become melancholy or depressed. Since the pandemic began, millions of Americans have followed the advice and guidelines from our country’s medical experts and public health officials to physically distance when possible, wear masks, and practice smart hygiene. Many have not seen loved ones or close friends for many months. “Covid fatigue” is real, and the isolation that comes with distancing can impact your mental health.

Because the virus is so contagious, the best efforts of many can be rendered ineffective by the actions of a few. If we can’t come together, depoliticize wearing masks, and make smart choices, we may face what Dr. Fauci has called a “surge upon surge” in the weeks to come, with truly horrifying consequences.

Be safe, stay healthy and keep the faith.


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