How recession fears change spending habits

March 24, 2020, 10:37 AM UTC

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Good morning.

American fears of recession are rising rapidly. When BCG surveyed a cross section of the public March 6-9, only 56% expected coronavirus would lead to a recession. When the survey went back into the field March 13-16, that had risen to 72%. And today? “You have to assume much higher,” says CEO Rich Lesser. U.S. sentiment seems to be running just a week or two behind European sentiment, where 91% of Italians now expect recession.

So how will their spending habits change? Not surprisingly, the BCG study found most people plan to spend substantially less on travel and restaurants. But it also found many expect to spend less on clothing, luxury and household appliances. Areas for more spending: organic food, vitamins and supplements, household care products, packaged food and beverage, and cigarettes.

Lesser believes the big issue for the coming weeks is this: If social distancing succeeds in tamping down the spread of the virus, then what? “We can’t live in this mode forever.” If a vaccine is more than a year away, how do we keep the virus at bay and get the economy going at the same time? “We are going to have to think about how to restart,” he says. “What are the tradeoffs between lives and livelihoods? What are businesses doing to be ready to restart?”

You can read Lesser’s thoughts on the subject on, here. It will soon be a topic every business has to wrestle with.

Markets continued their downward dive on Monday, driven in large part by a Goldman Sachs study showing earnings per share will fall 33% this year. Amazon, faced with a surge of orders, is deprioritizing certain shipments in order to ensure timely delivery of medical supplies and household staples. The company has said it is hiring 100,000 people to work in its distribution facilities and help meet the demand.

Separately, for a case study in how CEOs should communicate in the most dire circumstances, be sure to watch Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson’s message to his employees last week, when announcing the furlough of tens of thousands of employees. Candor, sincerity and empathy go a long way.

News below.

Alan Murray


Markets up

After another depressed day, the Federal Reserve's pledge to back business lending and buy unlimited amounts of government debt seems to have boosted markets around the world. In Asia, the Hang Seng, ASX 200 and BSE Sensex were all up more than 4%, and the Nikkei bounced by over 7%. The Stoxx Europe 600 also rose more than 4% at opening, and U.S. futures look similar. Financial Times

Lockdowns spread

The U.K. has gone into lockdown for at least the next three weeks, with government sources telling The Sun that an extension into May or even June is possible. South Africa has taken similar measures, hoping to stop the outbreak in its early stages there. In both cases, heavy measures were imposed after people continued to congregate in public, flouting recommendations about fighting the spread of the disease. Sun

States isolate

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is to sign an executive order imposing a two-week quarantine on anyone travelling in from New York or New Jersey. The move comes as many New Yorkers flee the coronavirus hotspot for the Sunshine State. DeSantis has been heavily criticized recently for not keeping people off the beaches. The Hill

Airline shutdown

Major airlines in the U.S. are preparing for a voluntary or involuntary shutdown of almost all passenger flights in the country. The airlines are already struggling with near-empty flights, and could also soon be facing staffing emergencies at air-traffic control facilities. Wall Street Journal


African trade

Trade talks ahead of the planned July 1 launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) have been put on hold. The launch of the accord, which the U.N. hopes will boost trade within Africa by more than half, is now likely to be delayed—though officials still aim to push it through this year. Politico

European crash

IHS Markit's latest stats for eurozone private-sector activity are in, and they're the worst they have ever been—the Purchasing Managers' Index measure is down from 51.6 to 31.4 (50 is the dividing line between expansion and contraction). Services are being hit even worse than manufacturing. In the U.K., the PMI is down from 53.0 to 37.1. Bloomberg

AB InBev

The brewing giant AB InBev is the latest corporate giant to scrap its 2020 outlook, due to the coronavirus crisis. At the end of February, it forecast a 2-5% drop in core profits for the full year. Now all bets are off—though the company is still pushing ahead with the sale of its Australian operations to Asahi Group Holdings. Reuters

Evaluating measures

Geoffrey Smith has an interesting Fortune piece looking at the various urgent measures being promised by governments, from bailouts to tax deadline waivers and the state paying people's wages. He writes: "The reflex to keep companies afloat—however natural—inevitably stores up trouble for a later day…However, those who dare to mention such risks at present don’t have a chance of success." Fortune

This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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