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London (CNN Business)Economists and investors had been bracing for dismal economic data for this month. But the latest readings of the closely-watched Purchasing Managers’ Index, which surveys senior executives at private sector companies, are gut-wrenchingly awful.
The numbers: The eurozone composite PMI, which tracks activity in the manufacturing and services sectors, hit 13.5 in April, down from 29.7 in March — easily the worst reading since the survey started in 1998.
It’s a sign of the extent to which Europe’s economy has imploded as shutdowns to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus hit citizens from Berlin to Paris and Amsterdam. The lowest reading during the global financial crisis was 36.2 in February 2009. Readings below 50 indicate that activity is shrinking.
“Welcome to the house of horror,” Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a note to clients.
PMI data from the United Kingdom and Japan on Thursday also turned up the worst declines in business output on record. Data from the United States is due later in the day.
The bad news doesn’t end there. South Korea, which moved quickly to contain coronavirus infections, just suffered its most severe contraction since 2008 as the pandemic weighed on consumer demand and exports, my CNN Business colleague Laura He reports. Trade is expected to remain under pressure as lockdowns around the world continue.
Up next: The US government will release data shortly on the number of people who filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week. Economists on average think that an additional 4.2 million people filed initial claims, on top of the 22 million people who filed in the four weeks prior.
“Claims have moved past the peak more visibly now, but the cumulative number is still rising significantly,” Morgan Stanley economists said in a note to clients this week. They project that the US unemployment rate will rise above 15% in April, the highest on record.
Unemployment will surpass that record in May, peaking at 16.4%, Morgan Stanley predicted.
Europe’s leaders debate how to fund the region’s recovery
Europe’s leaders are gathering by videoconference on Thursday to tackle a difficult question: how to fund the bloc’s recovery, an initiative some have described as a new version of the post-World War II Marshall Plan.
The challenge is protecting against an uneven aftermath wherein northern states such as Germany and the Netherlands bounce back much faster than southern countries including Italy and Spain, an outcome that could bolster anti-EU sentiment.
Ahead of the meeting, EU leaders seem to agree that they need to go beyond the €500 billion ($539 billion) package that finance ministers endorsed on April 9, according to Berenberg Bank’s Holger Schmieding.
But they still disagree on how to finance a larger package, including whether Europe should issue joint debt or jointly-guaranteed debt, dubbed “corona bonds.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her opposition to such bonds on Thursday, saying they would require all 27 countries to agree to change the EU treaty.
“This would be a long and difficult process and not one that could help in the current situation because right now it is about helping fast,” Merkel told the German parliament.
Leaders aren’t expected to solve all their problems this week, but investors will look for signs of compromise and some progress on the major principles of a large recovery fund.
“It is easier to impair than to repair trust,” Schmieding said in a note to clients. “The longer the dispute rages, the bigger and the more generous would a future package have to be in order to achieve its political purpose.”
Whatever it takes: Meanwhile, the European Central Bank continues to pull out all the stops within its mandate to ease economic pain and financial market distress. The central bank said Wednesday that it will allow banks to post bonds that were recently downgraded to junk status as collateral.
This will help prevent a credit crunch should Italy’s sovereign debt and a growing number of companies face downgrades.
Big Business is bracing for a long-term slowdown
In some parts of the world, government leaders are projecting optimism that citizens will be allowed to return to work before long. But companies are taking a much more cautious stance, warning that they’re digging in for long-term disruptions.
See here: Luxury group Kering (PPRUF) said this week that it doesn’t expect to see a recovery in the United States or Europe before June or July. Unilever CEO Alan Jope said Thursday that the company is “preparing for lasting changes in consumer behavior.”
And here’s AT&T (T) CEO Randall Stephenson on the company’s earnings call: “The range of possible outcomes just for the second quarter of 2020 is unbelievably wide. And then you begin to push that out for what the full year 2020 looks like, and it remains as wide.” (AT&T owns CNN.)
Companies including Chipotle (CMG) and Heineken (HEINY) also continue to withdraw their guidance for sales and earnings in 2020, indicating they’re struggling to forecast a return to normalcy.
Domino’s Pizza (DMPZF), Hershey Foods (HSY), Credit Suisse (CS) and Unilever (UL) report results before US markets open. Intel (INTC) follows after the close.
- US initial unemployment claims for last week arrive at 8:30 a.m. ET.
- The meeting of Europe’s leaders kicks off at 9 a.m. ET. It will be followed by a press conference.
Coming tomorrow: S&P is set to make a decision on Italy’s credit rating as the country looks to fund its recovery from the coronavirus.
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