Vaccines and stimulus are a powerful cocktail for the US recovery

Vaccines and stimulus are a powerful cocktail for the US recovery

Those betting on an economic boom in the United States this spring and summer just got a dose of very good news.

What’s happening: President Joe Biden has announced that the United States will have enough vaccine supply for every adult by the end of May after Merck agreed to help manufacture a recently authorized vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

That dramatically accelerates the country’s inoculation timeline. The Biden administration previously aimed to procure enough shots for all American adults by the end of July.

“That’s progress,” Biden said in remarks from the White House.

The development comes as the president’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package continues to move through Congress. The legislation could be brought to the floor of the Senate by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as soon as Wednesday.

Big issues remain up for debate, such as whether to pare back federal jobless benefits to $300 per week, from $400 in the bill that was passed by the House. Multiple Democrats say that issue has not yet been resolved.

Party members are preparing for tough days ahead. There’s no room for dissent; every Democrat in the Senate needs to get on board to secure the 50 votes needed so that Vice President Kamala Harris can act as the tiebreaker.

A ruling by the Senate parliamentarian that a provision to raise the federal minimum wage can’t be included in the package may make it easier for more moderate Democratic senators to get on board, however.

Big picture: Risks remain. New variants of Covid-19 are spreading around the world, and Biden reminded Americans on Tuesday that distribution of vaccines remains a crucial part of the picture. But taken together, shots and stimulus could dramatically transform prospects for the US economy this year.

See here: Even before the latest vaccine news, economists had been upgrading their forecasts. Bank of America, for example, recently raised expectations for US economic growth to 6.5% this year, based on expectations of a $1.7 trillion stimulus package, as well as “better news on the virus front and encouraging economic data.” That would be the strongest growth in nearly four decades.

The Congressional Budget Office, for comparison, has estimated that America’s GDP will grow at a pace of 4.6% in 2021. That would put the economy back at its pre-pandemic size by the middle of the year.

The reopening: Already, the governors of Texas and Mississippi have said they will allow businesses to operate at 100% capacity. Health experts warn they may be moving too quickly, but more states could soon follow.

Wall Street and economists have become increasingly jittery about whether an explosion of activity could trigger a boom in prices. If inflation spikes, the Federal Reserve could be pressured into raising interest rates sooner than expected, tightening financial conditions at a delicate moment.

But for now, most believe that policymakers would sit tight unless inflation developed into a truly urgent problem, and that central bankers would be willing to let the economy run a little hotter than usual given the extraordinary circumstances.

“We maintain our view that we will not see ‘troublesome’ inflation that forces the Fed to hike early,” Bank of America US economist Michelle Meyer said when upgrading the bank’s outlook.

Volatility could be good for gold … and bitcoin

Inflation concerns are feeding volatility in the stock and bond markets. If anxiety persists, that could be good for gold — a classic fear trade that’s struggled in recent months.

Breaking it down: Gold prices are down about 9% this year and are trading roughly 16% below the all-time high of more than $2,000 an ounce set last summer, my CNN Business colleague Paul R. La Monica reports.

But gold often performs well when prices are expected to rise, since it’s a tangible asset with limited supply.

Analysts at European asset manager Amundi have told clients to “stay vigilant” about higher inflation as the economic recovery gathers steam, highlighting gold as a possible hedge.

Recently, gold has lost some of its luster as investors eye bitcoin instead.

The thinking: Bitcoin is also a scarce resource. Only 21 million bitcoins can be created, per its source code, and roughly 18.6 million are already in circulation.

“There is a finite number of coins,” said Steve Ehrlich, CEO of Voyager Digital, a cyptocurrency brokerage firm. “That is why bitcoin can replace gold.”

Bitcoin stumbled in late February, swinging wildly as some investors questioned whether the huge rally in recent months was overdone. But prices have risen again in recent days. The cryptocurrency is now trading above $51,000.

Bitcoin vs. gold: Some argue that bitcoin could be a better bet than gold at a time when interest rates are climbing. When rates spike dramatically, it hurts returns on gold. Others believe that comparisons between the two assets fall short, claiming that bitcoin is not a tangible asset and therefore has no inherent value. That debate could intensify in the months ahead — especially if inflation ultimately picks up.

Target is among the biggest pandemic winners

2020 was an extremely difficult year for many retailers across the country. But not for Target.

The pandemic drove the big box chain to a record year of sales growth, my CNN Business colleague Nathaniel Meyersohn reports. Shoppers bought more at stores and online, driving sales up nearly 20% to $93.6 billion from $78.1 billion the previous year.

That increase was larger than total sales growth over the past 11 years combined.

The pandemic changed shopping behaviors “nearly overnight,” chief operating officer John Mulligan said during a presentation to investors Tuesday. “We saw heavy stock-up trips, huge in-store surges and then a quick shift to online shopping.”

Meanwhile, department stores and mall-based retailers that were forced to close last spring have struggled. Target said it gained nearly $9 billion in market share last year from rivals.

Now, the company wants to take advantage of that momentum. Target said it will spend $4 billion a year remodeling stores and opening smaller locations in cities, college campuses and dense suburbs. It will also invest in speeding up the supply chain for online orders.

Investor insight: Big spending comes at a cost, and the plan sent shares down nearly 7% on Tuesday. But analysts remain confident that Target will remain one of a handful of winners in the cutthroat world of retail.

“Target remains well positioned to gain market share,” Telsey Advisory Group analyst Joseph Feldman said in a note to clients.

Up next

Dollar Tree and Stellantis — the company formed by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and PSA — report results before US markets open. American Eagle and Snowflake follow after the close.

Also today:

  • The ADP private payrolls report for February arrives at 8:15 a.m. ET, an important preview of the official government report due Friday.
  • The latest ISM Non-Manufacturing Index, which tracks the US services sector, posts at 10 a.m. ET.

Coming tomorrow: First-time claims for US unemployment benefits may have ticked up to 750,000 last week.

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