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Monday, April 06, 2020

Returning to "normal" after COVID-19

So, "when this is over" how rapidly will things "return to normal"?

Some feel there is a lot of pent-up demand in the economy. I certainly feel that way about this week's spring bike trip moving indefinitely to the future.

But some things are lost forever. I'm not going to be eating more restaurant meals to make up for the ones I missed [tonight's substitute: noodles with cottage cheese; a poor man's perogi].

Retail is going to be a mess. Let's take Macy's, for example, the largest department store group in the U.S. with 775 stores. They've laid off most of their 125,000 employees and closed their stores. Their stock has dropped so much they are no longer in the S&P 500. My Macy's bond, investment grade when I bought it some years ago, is now worth 67 cents on the dollar -- and it's now a relatively short term bond, since it matures in less than 2 years. This means nobody wants to loan them more money.

Will they re-open all 775 stores at once? They are more likely to start with the ones projected to be most profitable, especially since they have already been closing stores.

Will those stores go back to business as usual? No. They are going to be awash in spring inventory when people are buying for summer. They aren't going to want to / be able to keep all that spring merchandise for next year, so they are going to heavily discount it. The same is true of sportswear, sporting goods, and other similar retailers.

As Macy's goes, so goes mall traffic.

People also aren't going to have as much money to spend. If they are behind on their rent or mortgage payment, these required bills will cut down on clothing, restaurant, travel and other more discretionary purchases.

Plus, it's not as though there will be some switch to turn things back to "normal". Restrictions are likely to be gradually lifted, and not necessarily in all places at the same time.

I'd love to take an auto trip out to Yellowstone this summer, but the areas between here are there seem to be on a slower virus trajectory than New York, New Orleans and Chicago, so rural Wyoming may be no country for an old man.

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