A Year of Pandemic, by the Numbers

Mass shutdowns began in earnest around this time a year ago.Credit…Marie Eriel Hobro for The New York Times

Counting the cost

Today marks one year since the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. The scale of the upheaval since then is difficult to capture, but some extraordinary numbers tell the tale…

The most important figures of all: More than 118 million cases of Covid-19 have been reported worldwide, and more than 2.6 million deaths. Around 316 million vaccine doses have been administered so far.

  • In the U.S. alone, there have been more than 29 million cases, nearly 530,000 deaths and around 94 million doses administered.

The U.S. government is set to spend over $5 trillion on rescue programs.

  • President Donald Trump signed the $2.2 trillion CARES Act into law in late March 2020.

  • A follow-up bill worth $900 billion was enacted in December.

  • Congress approved a $1.9 trillion package last night, and President Biden is expected to sign it into law tomorrow. Here’s what’s in the plan.

  • In addition to the fiscal stimulus, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates and revved its money-printing powers to stabilize markets and support businesses. That nearly doubled its balance sheet, to more than $7.5 trillion.

The economic impact of the pandemic has been severe, most notably on the labor market: Despite recent gains, there are still 9.5 million fewer jobs in the U.S. than a year ago.

  • Over all, the economy has regained three-quarters of the sharp drop in output at the start of the pandemic, with forecasters expecting a full recovery later this year.

  • Rescue spending has blown out the deficit, which reached a record $3.1 trillion last fiscal year and is already running at more than $1 trillion five months into the current fiscal year.

  • All that spending has stoked fears about inflation, with a mountain of consumer savings bolstered by stimulus checks ready to be spent when businesses and travel reopens.

  • Expectations for a potential economic boom reflect the uneven impact of the pandemic, with some people and business prospering greatly and others seeing their incomes and revenue vanish overnight.

There were more than 600 big corporate bankruptcies last year, fewer than were recorded after the relatively milder 2008 financial crisis, according to S&P. Businesses already on the brink fell early on, like J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and Hertz, while others managed to hold on thanks largely to the Fed keeping debt markets open and propping up asset prices.

  • Take the airlines. Despite a near standstill in travel, no major U.S. carrier went bankrupt. Three rounds of aid gave the airlines a cushion worth tens of billions of dollars, and they raised even more in the private markets.

Stocks whipsawed early on during the pandemic — and then largely climbed, raising increasingly pointed questions about whether the markets were divorced from economic reality. (Bonds have turned jittery for their own reasons.) The S&P 500 is up 42 percent from where it closed a year ago, while the Nasdaq is up 62 percent. The past year also saw some unexpected booms:

  • SPACs became the hottest trend on Wall Street, since blank-check funds can be raised quickly and remotely. Nearly 500 SPACs have raised approximately $156 billion over the past year, according to SPAC Research.

  • Bitcoin went on a roller-coaster ride, though investors eventually latched onto it as a hedge against inflation — or just a speculative bet. Its price is up more than 600 percent from a year ago.

  • Retail traders became a formidable force, piling into the markets through apps like Robinhood and collaborating on internet forums like Reddit. They helped propel the rise of so-called göğüs stocks like GameStop: The görüntü game store chain’s shares are up over 6,000 percent since last year, with wrenching day-to-day volatility.

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

Roblox soars in its trading debut. The görüntü game platform’s shares jumped more than 50 percent yesterday in New York, giving it a market cap of $45 billion, up from $4 billion in fundraising rounds a year ago. (The Information has a sharp take on what that says about direct listings like Roblox’s, which supposedly help companies leave less money on the table — except when they don’t.)

The Senate confirms more Biden cabinet members. Lawmakers approved the appointments of Merrick Garland as attorney general, Marcia Fudge as housing secretary and Michael Regan as head of the E.P.A. And the Senate Banking Committee cleared Gary Gensler as President Biden’s nominee to lead the S.E.C.

McKinsey elects a new leader as it tries to repair its damaged reputation. The consulting giant’s partners chose Bob Sternfels as its new top executive, after they effectively ousted Kevin Sneader from the role. Mr. Sternfels was elected weeks after the firm agreed to settle investigations into its role advising opioid makers on how to “turbocharge” sales.

The U.S. will buy 100 million more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine. The order could help inoculate children or provide booster shots, Mr. Biden said at an event highlighting J.&J.’s partnership with a rival, Merck, to produce the vaccine.

Ken Feinberg is hired to oversee the 737 Max victims fund. The Justice Department hired the law firm of Mr. Feinberg — known for overseeing compensation funds for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill — to disburse the $500 million fund, which is earmarked for families of those killed in two crashes involving the Boeing jet.

The end of GE Capital is nigh

With G.E.’s $30 billion deal to sell its aircraft-leasing business, the industrial conglomerate is effectively bidding farewell to the division that for decades had been its biggest profit engine — and then became one of its biggest liabilities.

GE Capital was supercharged under Jack Welch, who turned the financing unit into a lending colossus that helped power years of enviable earnings. But GE Capital nearly capsized its parent with its bets on risky home mortgages and its dependence on short-term funding that dried up after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

  • Overhauling the business became a costly distraction, leading the conglomerate to begin scaling back the unit under Jeff Immelt six years ago.

GE Capital isn’t quite gone yet. The division will still own an insurance business with $50 billion in assets and a small equipment-leasing operation. But following the close of the aircraft-leasing deal, G.E. will no longer report it as a separate operating unit, putting the focus on G.E.’s remaining manufacturing businesses.

Wall Street is of two minds about the move. Shares in G.E. fell 6 percent yesterday, while S&P downgraded the conglomerate’s credit rating one notch. But Moody’s said the transaction wouldn’t hurt G.E.’s creditworthiness, and some investors praised the deal: “It feels like a smart move strategically,” said Daniel Babkes of Pzena Investment Management.


A new player at Dick’s Sporting Goods

Lauren Hobart took over as C.E.O. of Dick’s last month, becoming only the third leader in the retailer’s 70-plus-year history. Ms. Hobart took over from Ed Stack, the son of its founder, who is now executive chairman. DealBook caught up with Ms. Hobart in her first interview since taking the top job.

“The pandemic changed us radically and I think for the better,” Ms. Hobart said. The company had already moved its digital operations in-house, which allowed it to shift quickly as its stores were forced to close. “The team spun up curbside pickup for the first time in two days,” she said. “It was a project that would have taken 12 to 18 months before.” An uptick in demand for golf equipment and at-home fitness gear has bolstered the company’s earnings, with sales last year up 10 percent.

Women are a focus for the retailer, and a growing part of the sportswear business in general. Dick’s launched a campaign this week featuring women in sports — and in business. As part of the campaign, Dick’s is donating 100,000 sports bras to female athletes in need. Ms. Hobart and other women who serve as managers at the company are featured in the campaign.

  • “We really wanted to celebrate women,” Ms. Hobart said, “and talk about the fact the leadership team at Dick’s really is passionate about improving sports for girls and women — and that we represent the people that we’re advocating.”

Predicting the path ahead is difficult. “Forecasting for 2021, I think, for all business, is very challenging,” Ms. Hobart said. The company issued somewhat muted sales guidance to investors this week, but Ms. Hobart expects that some pandemic trends, like the rising interest in golf, will stick. “It’s so uncertain to know how the consumer is going to respond,” she said. “We’re just taking one day at a time.”


Birth of an asset class, on the blockchain

Later today, Christie’s will close a two-week auction for a work of digital arka by Mike Winkelmann, the artist known as Beeple. Bidding on the piece, a 319-megabyte image file, began at $100 and had reached $13.25 million at the time of writing. What makes this unique — digital images are easily copied, after all — is that it’s the auction house’s first sale of a nonfungible token, or NFT, a blockchain-enabled way to authenticate one instance of a digital file as the genuine original.

Blockchain technology turns ephemera into valuable, tradable assets. NFTs are digital collectibles that permanently link a file to its creator via an entry on the blockchain, the immutable ledger that underlies cryptocurrencies. NFT technology solves the sorun of proving the provenance of digital files, a major issue in the arka world that wasn’t easily solved pre-blockchain. The NFT market grew to $250 million last year, four times larger than the previous year, and that was before the mania really kicked off this year, as instances of artworks, famous tweets, digital sports trading cards and music albums have been authenticated and sold as NFTs.

“It’s a bit surreal,” Beeple told DealBook. He discovered the NFT space a few months ago and soon became the hottest phenomenon in the arka world. The experience has forced him to consider value, what people will hisse for and why, and whether future generations may choose to invest in NFTs instead of the stock market. The tokens “could be an alternate store of value that speaks to them on an emotional level,” he said.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

  • BuzzFeed is reportedly in talks to go public by merging with 890 Fifth Avenue, a SPAC named after the fictional address of the Avengers’ New York City mansion. (Bloomberg)

  • The Korean e-commerce giant Coupang raised $4.6 billion in its U.S. initial public offering, valuing it at $60 billion. (Reuters)

  • American Airlines sold $6.5 billion worth of bonds, part of a $10 billion package that is the largest debt package ever issued by a U.S. carrier. (FT)

Politics and policy

  • Top Biden administration officials will meet with their Chinese counterparts in Alaska next week, the first in-person meeting between the White House and its chief foreign rival. (NYT)

  • Mexico’s lower house approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana, which if signed into law would make the country the world’s largest cannabis market. (NYT)

Tech

  • Soaring electric-vehicle demand has revived fears of shortages of lithium, a key component of batteries. (WSJ)

  • E.U. regulators are reportedly struggling to put together an antitrust case against Amazon, despite working on the case for two years. (FT)

Best of the rest

  • Fukushima’s eerie landscapes, 10 years after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. (NYT)

  • The financiers who left New York for Florida may be having second thoughts. (Bloomberg)

  • Inside the turmoil at the podcasting company Gimlet, which Spotify bought for $230 million, centered on its flagship show “Reply All.” (Vulture, NYT)

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