Fired up by Stimulus Money & Debt Deferrals, Americans Went Shopping. But Where? How Life Changed During the Pandemic

In 12 Whiplash-Inducing Charts.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

Retail sales by category of retailer show how Americans have adjusted to the Pandemic and to a very peculiar financial situation. Spending was supported by stimulus money that included the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits. A study by the Becker Friedman Institute for Economics at the University of Chicago found that two-thirds of the people who received  unemployment insurance made more from UI than from working, with about 20% of them doubling their pay.

This scenario of cash coming into the house is further supported by cash not flowing out the house to make debt or rent payments. Millions of people have entered into debt-payment deferral or forbearance programs and skipped making payments on their mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and student loans. Others, protected temporarily by eviction bans, skipped making rent payments. This money not-spent on debt and rent was then spent elsewhere.

Retail sales show how this panned out – and there are large differences by category, reflecting big shifts in how and on what Americans spent their money. According to Census Bureau data this morning, total retail sales in July ticked up by 1.2% from June, to $536 billion (seasonally adjusted) after some big bounces in May and June, from the collapse in March and April. Compared to July last year, total retail sales were up 2.7%:

Sales at “Non-Store Retailers” – mostly ecommerce sales – spiked during the lockdowns and then remained about level over the past two months. In July, they were up 25% compared to July last year. At $84 billion, they now account for 17.4% of retail sales (without restaurants and bars).

This category overlaps with much of ecommerce but also includes other non-store retailers such as mail-order operations, door-to-door sales, and sales at stalls and vending machines, which have gotten crushed. Proper ecommerce sales for Q2 will be released in a few days.

Sales at Food and Beverage Stores unwound part of the 18% spike in March during the beginning of the lockdowns when everyone rushed to the grocery store to load up – triggering the national “empty shelves era” that many people will never forget. But in April, sales fell back and have remained stable since then, but still 11% above the Old Normal last year. The recent months reflect a dramatic shift from eating out and eating at work and school, to eating at home:

Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores went wild. They’d already been dragging for the past three-plus years, then came the Pandemic, and the bottom fell out in March and April. But then people figured out that it would be nice to have a bicycle to ride for exercise or transportation, and bike shops anecdotally reported booming sales and customers reported depleted choices and long wait times.

Others, stuck at home, decided to pick up their long-lost passion for playing an instrument in between Zoom calls with their boss. Camping suddenly became a hot vacation option, and sales of camping gear took off. Stories like these were everywhere.

And it shows up in the numbers. In June, sales at these stores hit an all-time high. In July, sales ticked down some but were still up nearly 18% from a year ago. But in the overall retail-scheme of things, the dollar amounts are small: less than $8 billion:

Sales at building materials, garden supply and equipment stores (including neighborhood hardware stores and big-box stores like Home Depot) had spiked 13% in May from April, ticked up further in June, but fell off some in July.

There have been innumerable stories from friends, our commenters, and in the media about homeowners sprucing up their homes, patios, and backyards, now that they’re going to hang out there and relish their staycations, with long wait-times reported for things like Jacuzzis. This is where part of the money went that people didn’t spend with airlines and hotels. Compared to July last year, sales were up nearly 15%:

Sales at general merchandise stores without department stores had spiked by 14% in March but since then given up nearly all of that spike. In July, sales ticked down further, but at $50.7 billion were still up 4.4% from a year ago. Walmart and Costco are in this category:

Sales at new & used auto dealers and parts stores bounced off sharply and in July were up by 6% from July last year. At $109 billion, this is the largest retail category, accounting for nearly one-quarter of retail sales (without restaurants and bars).

But this dollar-sales growth data contradicts the unit-sales decline data coming from the auto industry. According to Cox Automotive and its auto-auction division Manheim, new-vehicle retail sales in July, in terms of number of vehicles sold by dealers to their customers, were still down 8% year-over-year; and used-vehicle retail sales were down 2% year-over-year.

One reason for this discrepancy could be – and I mean could be because I’m just grasping at straws here – that the mix has changed, skewing upscale, as those folks with high incomes and working from home and benefiting from the blistering run-up in their stock portfolios splurged on more expensive vehicles, thus pumping up dollars sales, while unit sales still fell. We have seen some evidence of that in strong sales of high-end pickups and SUVs even in April:

Sales at furniture and home furnishing stores had totally collapsed in March and April but bounced back in May and June, and in July was essentially unchanged from June, at $9.8 billion. This left sales down 0.7% from July last year. So we can call this a complete recovery.

But from the store-owner’s point of view, you see three months of totally crushed sales, and then sales get kind of back to normal, but you’re still out those lost sales during those three months, and unless you run way ahead on a year-over-year basis for the rest of the year, your sales for the year will be down by the amount lost during those three months. What they need is a strong overshoot to end up the year where they were last year. And that’s not happening:

Sales at department stores – not counting the online sales of department stores – had been declining relentlessly for the past 20 years, and the Pandemic accelerated that process, and pushed a growing list of department stores into bankruptcy, and some into liquidation. Announcement of store closings, even after they were reopened, have been everywhere. This is a way of shopping that has been abandoned by Americans.

From the peak in 2001 through February 2020, sales declined from $20 billion a month to $11 billion a month, despite 20 years of inflation and population growth. Then came the lockdowns. There has been some recovery, but sales in July, at just $9.9 billion, were still down 13% year-over-year.

Back in 2003, sales at department stores accounted for about 7% of retail sales (without restaurants and bars). In July, they accounted for 2%! Landlords who still think that this will somehow turn around over the next few years are engaging in wishful thinking:

Sales at Restaurants & Bars bounced off sharply from the catastrophic low of April, as many restaurants have reopened, even if it’s only with outdoor seating. Sales in July, at $52.5 billion, are down 19% year-over-year:

Sales at clothing and accessory stores had already stagnated for years. When the Pandemic hit, sales collapsed by 86% to just $3 billion in April, then bounced off. But in July, at $17.7 billion, sales remain 21% below a year ago, and right back where they’d first been in July 2006. People buy lots of clothes and accessories, but they discovered how to buy them online:

Sales at gas stations, which includes the junk food, beer, motor oil, and other stuff people buy at gas stations, bounced off the April low, driven in part by the bounce in gasoline prices. But at $35.6 billion, sales were still 16% below July last year:

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  195 comments for “Fired up by Stimulus Money & Debt Deferrals, Americans Went Shopping. But Where? How Life Changed During the Pandemic

  1. Paulo says:

    I mentioned this before about a previous WS article. When many people in poverty receive a sudden windfall they quickly go out and spend it because they know darn well any wealth increase is only fleeting and they’ll be back to where they were before. Broke.

    I know lots of west coast fisherman and have known them for decades. When many deckhands have a banner year they spend spend spend, and during the next down turn they moan about their house repairs and relatives drop off food because the kids look like scarecrows. Same with First Nations land claim settlements. The cheques go out and the local atv and car dealerships start rubbing their hands together knowing full well they’ll soon have their money in hand. I’m not saying it is always this way, but the windfalls get recycled back into the economy pretty darn fast.

    I would imagine this will be the same. It’s not like the money gets burned in a fire pit out behind the house. The money goes back into the economy even if much of it is spent foolishly by many reader’s standards.

    • MiTurn says:

      ” Same with First Nations land claim settlements. The cheques go out and the local atv and car dealerships start rubbing their hands together knowing full well they’ll soon have their money in hand. ‘

      Same phenomenon when I lived in Southeast Alaska. The native villages are littered with broken, relatively late-model cars. Just waiting for the next check to go get another one — no fixing, just replacing.

      • sierra7 says:

        MiTurn….(and others)
        Kinda like what Western capitalism does…..the country is littered with the rusting detritus of companies/corporations who have abandoned money making enterprises for whatever reason, leaving behind the mounting garbage heap of spent capital…..and leaving the cleanup to the taxpayers. And in “modern” times in many cases they just sit back until the system itself expurgates low cost to no cost tons more cash for them to use for their next “jobs creating adventures”.
        It’s the American Way!

        • Scottmc says:

          At least they arent paid for by Govt, Ive seen the same when I worked in the north, abandoned skidoos in the summer and abandoned aluminum boats in the winter……easier to buy a new one than properly store the old one…

    • lenert says:

      “Take the annuity!”

      • M says:

        I predict there will be hyperinflation sometime in the coming years. I am not sure how long it will take to start but that is the direction in which we are heading. Thus, any annuities (and social security, which will not be adjusted for hyperinflation but only perfunctorily for part of the hyperinflation) will be worthless.

        That is how the ultra-rich (who have avoided paying US taxes with foreign shell companies used as tax shelters for decades) plan on dealing with the looming $211 trillion+ in US liabilities, which do not include the hundreds of trillions in state and local liabilities, which the federal government will be asked to shoulder. Pity the “Federal” Reserve banking cartel banksters: they have to steal as much money as they can steal now, before the ship sinks and they have to do it discreetly.

        I wonder what new tactic has been discovered and used now. I heard that the “Federal” Reserve bought their real estate, bad debts, so the tax payers will bear the banksters’ accrued losses. It is also buying corporate bonds to help cronies and junk bonds to get the garbage off the banksters’ books.

        It must be tough being financial parasites. They may fear that they will face the guillotines as in the French revolution if their stealing becomes too well known, which punishment is humane and quick, almost too good for them.

    • Xabier says:

      This is historically a traditional working-class pattern of expenditure: in many ways, one has to be rich to save – bourgeois, in other words (the aristocracy never saved, as they had masses of people to live off and the security of land.)

      It also goes back to Neolithic patterns of behaviour: eat that big kill now!

      It also made sense when life-expectancy was much shorter, and life much more dangerous (that big kill might well turn the tables on you and have you for dinner, and you will likely die of that little scratch.)

      Poorer people would do well, though, to buy at least some long-term storeable food stuffs with any windfall, although it’s not much fun.

      If we can be sure of one thing, the cost of living will rise dramatically, and the food banks are not doing well so it is unwise to plan on falling back on them.

      • Nicko2 says:

        Of course, yea…..the American economy (and most western economies) are consumer driven; society is constructed from the ground up to make you want to spend your hard earned money. I live in an emerging/developing economy; the perspective is different. The poor are still poor, for they have no savings; but the middle class strives to save, usually in the form of a piece of property or dowry. – a few gilded elite at the top enjoy stock returns and more complex investments.

        But what do we see infiltrating these fast growing economies? ….new kinds of banking and lending institutions, credit cards, e-money, debt instruments…the global mega-corps are fostering the next generation of debt-slaves.

      • Old School says:

        From what I have seen that is an over generalization. I think by nature people are savers or spenders. I know some people with very low incomes that save a very high percentage of it and the $1200 will go right into a savings account.

        • sierra7 says:

          Old School:

        • Wisdom Seeker says:

          Paulo’s right that it’s partly nurture and Life-experience, and not all nature when it comes to the saver/spender divide.

          Even on the generic side it can be psychological rather than DNA-based: if your parent died young, are you going to try to save for a retirement that may never happen, or to live while you can?

      • scottmc says:

        I bet that if gas stations gave out free gas there would be lineups too..

    • Brant Lee says:

      It’s obvious a lot (most?) people don’t handle large lumps of money or extra cash very well. So many people simply spend money before it burns a hole in their pocket without looking ahead. That’s just the way it is.

      Social Security, with it’s ups and downs, has kept most older people fed through the years with its monthly payouts. If federal retirement were more like a 401k, the lump amount paid at retirement would be blown off way too quickly, leaving a lot of homeless and hungry elders, like in the great depression.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Correct BL, and your quote, ”…leaving a lot of homeless and hungry elders, like in the great depression.” is actually beginning to appear likely going forward once again, to our shame once again.
        A neighbor in one past life, (16 years in the heart of ”flyover” land) told me of her parents eating their leather shoes and getting sick, before Mr Roosevelt sent trucks with 100 pound sacks of food grains back into the hills and hollars and saved many lives. And to be sure, those folks were not near any sort of soup kitchen or bread line and probably would not have gone there if they had been…
        That was the main reason folks around there voted straight democrat ticket until LBJ’s Great Society turned many of them into republicans.

    • Dave Chapman says:


      Sounds right to me.

  2. Yort says:

    Wolf – Note that the $600/week stimulus was $75 billion in July alone, so would have been $900 Billion per year if the unemployed numbers stayed even at July rates. So with $300/week, we get a $450 Billion/ year reduction. Half a Trillion less per year matters to Wall Street, and I’d suspect we get a spike in the markets if we get back to $600/week somehow later this year (and the opposite if there is no deal by end of September).

    Personally I beieve we are in a non-linear situation with the economy this time around, and thus linear charting will not prove as accurate as during the last recession. Wall Street is treating the economy and thus the market in a linear fashion, as if there is no long term psychological damage to consumers and the virus will be eliminated very soon. (Google thehill article “Coronavirus pandemic leading to depression and drinking, CDC says” as 41% of Americans are suffering from mental health issues right now!). I think this is a huge mistake to assume, yet that is what is happening. For example, in the last recession it took about 33 months for retail to get back to previous levels (June 2008-March 2011), and it took SP500 about 31 months to get back to the same level (August 2008-March 2011). Note that the markets fell for about 7 months straight. In 2020, it took retail 5 months to recover (March 2020 – August 2020) and it took SP500 5 months to recover (March 2020 – August 2020). Note the markets fell for about 1 month straight. Ironically, the retail and SP500 recovered approximately 7x faster in 2020 than 2008. Ironically the SP500 fell 7x more months in 2008 than 2020. Humans love “linear”, yet non-linear is more likely the situation this time around…

    Thanks for giving your data to us for free Wolf! I hope everyone supports you so you can continue your work.

  3. Petunia says:

    This past week I stopped by Lululemon, a high end athletic wear store, because I was early for a nearby appointment. There was a waiting list to get into the store which was estimated to be 30 minutes when I got there. They were asking people to wait in their cars, they would message you when it was your turn. The parking lot was fairly full.

    A pair of stretchy exercise pants there costs $100. Guy’s wear cost more.

    • Ying says:

      This scene always puzzled me. It might due to polarization of society as I do believe long line outside of food bank and also booming equity market.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        ALOT of people in my city say that many of the people going to the local food banks have pretty nice cars, often better than their own, for needing to use the food bank (not entirely sure that’s it’s THAT common, but, there is at least some people in expensive cars in my city, using the food banks). Not all of them as low income as you think. Some people actually think that those who grew up poor (or that ever used them) get used to using the food banks and other freebies, and will continue to, no matter how much money they actually have.

        The top comment above by Paulo about how many people blow their windfalls of cash quickly and then need assistance is very true. I know of many people like this in my own city, however, many of them will get used to using freebies even when they have the money. Also, alot of these people who are renters, didn’t pay their rents during the eviction free period and a 1 bedroom apartment after utilities is 600 a month in my city, they could have easily afforded it, with the extra 600 a week for unemployment.

        It’s worth noting, even many of the well-off (upper middle class to lower upper class) have little to nothing saved, they do however get their money much more consistently and have less trouble, because of that.

        I know some of the richest and many of the poorest and the people in-between in my city and I can tell you that American society greatly encourages entitled behavior. The people in the very middle are the least entitled (but still substantially entitled) and it gets far worse at both the richest and poorest ends. Exceptions always apply, of course.

        • Petunia says:

          The line of cars in Texas yesterday, for a food give away, stretched for miles. People would not be doing this if they didn’t have to do it to survive a few more days.

          Regarding your comment about the nice cars or other nice things these needy people may have. Remember these people were working when they got those nice things, before the govt put them on the unemployment line.

          You also have no idea what they may have already sold to survive long enough to get to today. And what may have to go tomorrow to make it a few more days.

          Try to keep in mind that if you are well off in America today, you have only managed to be lucky.

        • My roomie who is semi-unemployed goes to the various food banks, and brings home things I would never buy, or cannot afford. She even gets things from Trader Joes. Great way to promo their line, I try them and buy them myself later. No longer the days when you get a brick of government cheese and a bag of lentils. She gets organic meat, and the new meatless products. Eating better now than I was.

        • Old School says:

          I think there is paradox with new cars too. I always buy used for $6000 or so. A lot of people never are able to save that much so it’s easier to buy a no money down new.

        • Ed says:

          I’ve volunteered probably a little more than a dozen times at the local Food Bank here in Central Texas. I’ve also helped make the meals several times at Caritas, for the local homeless.

          I wouldn’t be buying what they are providing, generally speaking. At home, we eat well but home cooked, nothing extravagant. Lots of soup and pasta and mac & cheese.

          I guess the food banks vary depending on where you live!

  4. Just Some Random Guy says:

    Home prices set a record, nationally, in July as well.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      As did the Nasdaq the other day. All is well. Asset price inflation out the wazoo. February 2000? Except back then, the economy was hopping. And now we have the shittiest economy in my lifetime. The only thing that keeps it afloat is printed and borrowed money.

      • Ying says:

        Will all asset price go up with printed money including housing?

        • Ruthless Gangbuster says:

          Believe what ya want, I watch zero TV or media, if ya have a thesis to debunk what I say speak up, from ya comment it’s obvious ya the one watching the media, some may pay down credit cards, those with credit cards have them for a reason, good credit ratings, ya don’t have to have a credit card to get unemployment or $600, ya don’t know what ya talking about, I don’t hope it will collapse I know it will, I called the GFC & the Feb crash, soon enough you will see for yourself, why ask a question if ya know enough to tell me I’m wrong, like I said the Fed does not print money, the are forbidden from doing so, property will collapse, all assets will collapse in price, ya correct me like ya know then have to ask a question like that, the QE game you seem to think works has been done in Japan for 30 years, go ask them if it worked & why is the Yen still considered a safe haven?? Before you correct others make sure ya have ya own thesis and it’s bullet proof :/

      • Ying says:

        It might be you watched too much media coverage. People is not dumb. They pay down credit card debt and saving rate went way up. Also the QE game has been played multiple times for last decade and hoping it collapse soon sound more like Mr. hassman.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        Wolf Richter,

        As far as the stock market valuation goes, the biggest reason, I think it keeps going up, is that if you have money to save up, you gotta put it somewhere and somehow the stock market still seems like the safest place. The possibly of new crazy property taxes or rules (I won’t be surprised at the idea, that anyone, who owns any type of land in certain states being forced to pay income taxes there, gets suggested soon enough) and eviction free periods, definitely reinforces this trend. If you had 5 million saved, the question is, where do you put the money? RE/land, risky and complicated (for many). Physical metals, you might get stuck with paper gold. Overseas, they don’t understand it. There’s a class of well-off and pension/401k managers, who don’t know where else to stick money besides bonds and stocks. The stock market will continue to skyrocket until, enough people start to pull more money out than is being put in and the price collapses. Warren Buffett’s plan of just sitting a pile of cash in a bank works for him, but, not the 5 million in savings guy or the pension managers, who need returns. Too many people are saving too much, I guess, would be another angle to look at it from.

        As for the rest they either actually believe the stock market is a magical piggy bank or that they specifically believe, they are smart enough to pull out in time when it starts to fall (some will be, most won’t be).

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Stock buybacks and other financial shenanigans as well of course.

        • RightNYer says:

          I see your point, but I don’t see a market that can drop 35% in a few weeks, recover it all in 5 months, and have day to day swings of 4% to be a “safe place.”

          The markets right now are propped up on this illusion. They’re the safe place of the past, but the modern “unsafe” aspect hasn’t yet sunk in.

          I’ve also been getting involved in many more P/E deals with college friends, which I think are going to become more and more common. Just like banking bonuses couldn’t exceed what was reasonable forever, neither can valuations.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          “As far as the stock market valuation goes, the biggest reason, I think it keeps going up, is that if you have money to save up, you gotta put it somewhere and somehow the stock market still seems like the safest place.”

          Well no. It was crashing and was down very hard, until the Fed threw $3 trillion at it. Did you already forget that? That was just a few months ago. Funny how memory works. What saved the stock market was the Fed.

        • Old School says:

          I think most people on this sight know the stock market is extremely high, but in reality you have to look around and say compared to what. The right way to figure it out for the sp500 is with discounted cash flows of the dividend and give a personal hurdle rate to see if it is acceptable.

          You can over simplify and look at PE. The main thing that strikes me is that the ‘e’ has been growing slowly for 20 years, the majority of the growth is in the ‘p’ which is I suppose is mainly the Feds wealth affect. I think like nearly PhD economists the Fed thought they were smart enough to improve the economy, but it didn’t work out like they thought.

        • cb says:

          @ Wolf: you said “Well no. It was crashing and was down very hard, until the Fed threw $3 trillion at it. Did you already forget that? That was just a few months ago. Funny how memory works. What saved the stock market was the Fed.”

          I agree the FED bailed out the stock market, but indirectly.
          I have been following your reports and I don’t remember direct stock buys. I would like to know how and why the monies they traded for bonds ended up supporting stocks.
          The stimulous payments made by the treasury, (and signed by Trump) have also been reported to have driven the market through robinhood accounts.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Wolf Richter,

          I do remember that, but, there are still other people throwing money in as well (as far as I’m aware), I’m largely referring to how we got as far as it did, before the Fed intervention. And if the market can propel itself for some time, when Fed is at that moment not fueling it.

          I’m trying to figure out where all the money goes when the stock market does crash (obviously a lot of that money only exists on paper, but, the money that does get pulled out and future savings) where will the 5 million in savings and pension/401k managers try to shovel money. I’m wondering if the Fed really does intend on pumping the stock market for years to come, or will they have to stop at some point (prior to it losing effectiveness). Most people saving/”investing” money are 2 trick ponies, stock and bonds.

          I coming to the conclusion, that there just isn’t enough places to save money in the World and anyone who wants to save up a substantial amount of money that can’t figure out a clever way for themselves that can’t scale (I.e. Not enough people can copy them to devalue their way “would mainly be local business stuff”) will have to face a loss or be subject to wild up and down valuations (on masse still lose some, but, is safe from inflation). While, there are many potential investment opportunities available in the developing world, only so much of those gains and savings can be transferred back. I think the world might have reached “peak savings”. I’m wondering if the stock market is simply the easiest safest place to stash money despite everything. Say the Fed does stop pumping it, and many pull out, will they stash it somewhere else? There could be backlash against causing RE to keep rising in price or commodities other than gold.

          As crazily overvalued as it is. If the stock market crashes and all the available bonds were bought up, and some banks went OB losing the depositers “uninvested piles of money”. There might be no better place to stash money, so the stock market may go higher yet (especially, because, foreigners, pulling their money out of countries like China and other developing places doing poorly). If all this is true, ideally, America should switch to pay as you go social security and all national debt should pay negative interest rates, this would be the new reality and as the interest paying national debt is phased out, would help balance the budget and reduce concerns over the national debt without defaulting. The government and Fed should never give negative interest loans to others (US Corps and banks included), unless, it’s decided they actually should be subsidized this way or the US will itself borrow that money in even more negative interest paying bonds from others (could still be U.S. Citizens and corps). Future bonds for US debt, could be auctioned off, starting at the face value and then be bid on in reverse. Alternative ways to save money such as non masses RE (land and properties that the 99% wouldn’t inhabit or use, could be subject to ever increasing property taxes and things like gold would go up and down.

          The more ominous way to create more investment opportunities would be to force privatization (such as what’s going on with the post office), but, hopefully the backlash would prevent that.

          If all this is true, it would explain why so many are just throwing money at unicorns and other tech companies, they aren’t simply hoping they pick the winner, they would be hoping tech would create more investment possibilities in the future.

      • Mike says:

        Maybe that’s why Buffett dumped bank stocks and bought into Barrick Gold – he sees the handwriting on the wall?

      • sierra7 says:

        Mr. Richter:
        “…. the shittiest economy in my lifetime.”
        In Sillycon Valley relative has been in the mortgage business for decades….talked to his wife other day and she states they have never had a better year since the hey-days of 2007…..mostly refis. They literally can’t keep up.
        These are couples that do good job of managing their money in that field…ups and downs….some severe.
        Don’t think the real economic “fallout” will be glimpsed until the “protective” legislation expires……then, watch out!

        • Wolf Richter says:


          I was talking about the US economy and not a single profession. Yeah, refis have been red-hot, as has been ecommerce and some other sectors. But many sectors are near zero. And sum-total, the US economy is the shittiest economy in my lifetime, including 28 million people on unemployment insurance.

        • Ed says:

          Everyone is still employed in high tech. Everyone. There is still a shortage of employees.

          And of course the interest rates are as low as they have ever been, which matters if you own a two or three bedroom $1 million dollar house, which is not so uncommon there in the valley.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I personally know several people that are no longer employed in high tech. They’re now on UI. There have been lots of layoffs in tech.

        • Ed says:

          (I say this knowing no one that has been let go because of the economy. My old company and my very new company are both short of staff they really could use to make profitable products.

          The only big layoff in Austin tech recently was Samsung which decided to do some chip development in Korea only. They had a team in Austin and another one, directly competing, in S. Korea. The writing was on the wall for that Austin team long before the virus.)

        • Ed says:

          That’s right, Wolf.

          My bad. Lots of software and consumer-facing high tech has suffered.

          I pay a lot of attention to hardware companies, especially silicon chip companies. In my mind, I suppose I view the app and social engineering software startups as something different, but they are surely high tech.

  5. Chimpy says:

    The irony is that well respected economists are looking at these charts and calling it V-shaped recovery for some of the sectors. This is where the entire stimulus and extra UI money can distort the picture and also drive undesirable spending patterns (like spending money on a new iphone rather than pay down your mortgage)…which in a normal situation may mean robust customer confidence but in this case are really a distortion

    • Ying says:

      Maybe the ppl buying the new iphone is not the same ppl in mortgage forebearing.

    • Xabier says:

      It’s amusing to read the prattle of economists , as it’s still far too soon to call it a recovery, V-shaped or otherwise.

      We have all the real, probably more or less permanent lay-offs still to come, as things settle down, companies and sectors adjust, and the real picture emerges.

      Give it a year or so for the new reality, whatever it is, to take shape fully.

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      Instead of buying iStuff or paying down your mortgage it might not be a bad idea to hold it in cash. You know, just in case the $600/week stops.

  6. MiTurn says:

    Whiplash is right! Kids today will be telling their grandchildren about those pandemic days…

    Compellingly, there are help wanted signs at many of the restaurants and grocery stores where I live. Minimum wage service jobs (which around here is well above the federal level, about $10.50 to start). I don’t know the dynamic of why there is a sudden need to hire new employees, what happened to the former employees that got waylaid when the drop in sales went over the cliff?

    • Petunia says:

      If they hire new people they can cut the benefits. With the old employees it’s harder to do.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Petunia: I believe that most places who hire those $10.50/hr folks don’t offer much. if anything, in the way of benefits. And most are working less than 32 hours per week, essentially part time labor.

        • Petunia says:

          When companies replace low wage workers with new workers it’s usually not about the wages, it’s about the benefits. Older workers cost more to insure. This is a problem among the H1Bs as well. They keep getting replaced with newer younger cheaper labor. The cheaper part is the benefits.

        • Old School says:

          Some maybe most big companies self insure the medical costs, but pay to have a health insurance company administer the plan. Although it is illegal I am pretty sure I have seen the purging of older workers for this reason. It’s done in a way you can’t prove, but I think IBM got caught a few years ago.

    • lenert says:

      My grandparents were teens and twentysomethings in 1918 but never mentioned the flu pandemic to me.

      • Bobby Dents says:

        Really???? Wow………

      • MiTurn says:

        Yeah, probably overshadowed by the war.

      • You have no idea. Morbidity in all age groups by all causes, was perceived as simply a fact of life.

        • Bobby Dents says:

          Maybe, but Spanish flu estimated killed 550-750 mostly young people in the U.S. With population of 110 million. That leaves a mark doubled by so many young men dying from the war.

          My grandparents brought it up a few times, yet they were only babied.

        • Lee says:

          If any of you ever get a chance to visit Australia, one thing that may surprise you is the huge number of monuments in small villages, towns, and cities around the country to people who died in the various wars Australia participated in.

          The ones with names from WWI are in particular quite sad with a huge number of names and people with the same last surname.

          We have one really big area with monuments on the main street park area, another near a former school (now gone) with the names of the dead on them, and numerous ‘Avenues of Honour” with trees (usually some type of oak tree) planted in 1918/1919 to honour prople that died in WWI.

      • My great grandfather died in this period but it was never mentioned as flu, but cholera. Most of the stories were about my grandmother and great-grandmother burying my grandmother’s sister because of cat scratch fever and working in sweatshop laundries to make enough to eat – people didn’t have the time to wonder why loved ones were dead – they only had time to try to keep the rest of the family alive.

      • Lots says:

        C’mon now your children won’t want to hear your history story they want it told and transformed on the screen like history channel.

        • My great aunt in Ohio I only knew her when she was older. She had been married, around 1920, and her husband and daughter died in a typhoid epidemic? She never remarried, lived alone, until in her 90’s. She became ill, they took her to the hospital, she pulled out all the lines and tubes, and refused treatment. Died a few days later. I have some of the bulbs from her house in my garden, in Ca. Being from Ohio they don’t really know when to bloom.

      • Xabier says:

        The Great Depression no doubt outweighed the 1918 Spanish Flu, which was a transient phenomenon.

        There are many 30 yr olds today who have simply no idea at all what happened in 2008, which – together with the consequences of the lock-downs and sector-destruction of 2020 – will be a defining influence on their lives.

      • E Coli says:

        Same here. I never heard any of my relatives talk about the Spanish Flu. They talked about WWI, typhoid and cholera outbreaks, polio, and long lost relatives dying from heart attacks, industrial accidents, child birth, and small pox. My grand parents and great aunts and uncles were either in their late teens or early twenties during the Spanish Flu outbreak. Many were studying medicine or pharmacy.

    • Just Some Random Guy says:

      “what happened to the former employees that got waylaid when the drop in sales went over the cliff?”

      The $600/week federal bonus us what happened. 2/3 of people on UE make more NOT working than they did at their old jobs. It’s in Wolf’s post.

    • MarkB says:

      Many of my employees when recalled from layoff elected not to return to work, citing covid fears in working with the public.

      In Ontario, the emergency benefit pays more than minimum wage and UI rules have adjusted temporarily so as not to cut funding to an employee that refuses a recall.

      Once in a lifetime opportunity for some, i guess – free money for not doing much.

  7. Bobby Dents says:

    Real sales were only up .6%. August is going to be a decline. Good for movers!!!!

  8. Just Some Random Guy says:

    I can’t say I have changed my spending habits one way or the other. Then again I’m not locked down so there was no need to change anything. It boggles my mind that there are still places where people are not allowed to leave the house, 5 months later. At what point do people stop accepting this brutality?I bought two cars in the past 6 months, but I buy and sell cars all the time so nothing new there.

    I guess the one area that has been somewhat impacted is travel. My family cancelled a week trip this summer, which we plan to make up for sometime in the fall.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Just Some Random Guy,

      “It boggles my mind that there are still places where people are not allowed to leave the house, 5 months later.”

      In the US? Where do you go to pick up this extraordinarily beautifully crafted BS? There is no place in the US where people cannot leave their house. It just “boggles my mind” — to purloin your term — how you can fabricate BS like that.

      • Lee says:

        Must be talking about Melbourne, Australia……………………..

      • Bet says:

        My mother has not been allowed to leave her assisted living for 5 1/2 months. For her safety, yes. But it’s been hellish on her and on us as we are helpless to fix it. If we take her out she will be quarantined in her room for 14 days. Not being able to touch her is a real physical ache She cries when we leave her. Visits are 30 minutes with a heavy clear vinyl curtain between us and masks She will ask us ,implore us. “ what have I done to be in here”. Then we spend our time showing her virus and death headlines on our iPhones
        So she will understand ,again
        I will do whatever it takes to help mitigate this virus. Masks and more testing Civic responsibility

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Sorry to hear about your mother. This is a terrible ordeal.

          People in the hospital can’t just leave either — whether it’s from a heart attack or Covid. But these are very special situation.

        • Paulo says:

          Sounds terrible, Bet.

          My father-in-law just died a few months ago and we were not allowed to see him while he was in hospital. It broke my wife’s heart. Her sister was allowed in at the final stages of life, but not my wife as she has had type 1 diabetes since she was a young child and is now 60. It is a sad situation that we were thankful our mothers died before Covid hit.

          This has been one shitty year. The guilt of having a loved one in a care home is beyond belief, in normal times. All the best for you and the burden you carry.

          We all seem to be at the age around here.

      • RightNYer says:

        Wolf, in my opinion, it’s a defense mechanism for people who pretend that we are going to have a V-shaped recovery. I keep seeing things like “We just need to open up the economy and protect those who are vulnerable,” as though it’s the evil, meanie government imposing these rules and without those rules, everything would be sunny again.

        But the fact remains, outside of bars, indoor dining at restaurants (in some places), theaters and the like, the economy IS reopened, everywhere, and has been for months. To the extent that there is a drop off in demand, it’s because people are scared, and are voluntarily reducing their consumption. In other words, it’s a demand problem based on people’s real fears of COVID-19, not a supply problem artificially created by government.

        Where I live, indoor dining is open. The restaurants cannot even fill the reduced capacity they are allowed to have. I will say however that outdoor dining seems fairly robust at the places that have the ability.

      • Dave says:

        Possibly relevant, but my Mom is in a Nursing Home and can’t leave. I have not been inside since maybe April. She can’t go out.
        For her birthday, the staff brought her out onto the second floor balcony and we waved (from a safe distance).
        Meanwhile, there are still “you must stay in your house until further notice” lock-downs in various parts of China, Australia, etc.

        Given that we are likely to see this disease peak a few months from now, the stories are not completely crazy. . .

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Dave & Bet,

          Sorry about your mom.

          You used your mom, who is in a nursing home, as an example in support of Just Some Random Guy’s statement that in the US “there are still places where people are not allowed to leave the house, 5 months later.”

          So I have a question: Right before the pandemic, was your mom able to leave the nursing home by herself and go shopping at Macy’s or go buy a used car, or Uber across town to a restaurant or fly to Florida for vacation by herself? (probably not, the way I understand nursing homes)

    • Seneca's cliff says:

      I get a laugh out of these people who spread the idea that people are locked in to their houses in some locals. Who exactly would enforce these “lockdowns” if they were real: The cops, It is lucky if I catch a sight of the local police or Sheriff driving by once a week or so. The army of public health officials, In most states they have admitted that they have failed at contact tracing because they have been able to put way to few people on the streets to find the source of most infection spread. I think the people who spread these rumors need to get out beyond the city limits of Hooterville or Dogpatch and see the world is not the same as it is portrayed on John Birch Society Blogs and The Alex Jones Podcast.

      • Brant Lee says:

        I’m surprised there is not yet an app for the virus contact tracing. We’re already traced apparently everywhere we go via cell phones. Perhaps we need more advice from China on how to do this. I bet they already know more about the spread and hotspots of COVID in the U.S. than officials here.

    • Argus says:

      I think you’ll be deferring your travel plans a lot longer than that (if you’re wise). The next wave of covid will be upon us combined with the start of the usual flu season.
      In B.C., we had stringent measures at one stage and were encouraged to stay home as much as possible, limit shopping to once a week, etc., but were also urged to go for daily walks for physical and mental health.

  9. MonkeyBusiness says:

    I said this in the past #BestRecessionEva, and I was excoriated for it.

    Nintendo profits up 6 times. That says it all. A console is 300 bucks + tax. One game could be between 19.95 to 59.95 + tax.

    The Republicans are right this time. This party can NOT continue. If we want to give everyone new cellphones, the government should procure them at a discounted basis and give it to people. It will be cheaper.

    I support the following:
    1. Zero defense spending till we recover all the jobs. Don’t worry. No one would want to come and take over this pandemic infested land. Too much headache.
    2. Help people who are really in need.

    The rest have gotten new phones, new consoles, etc. What’s next? A new car? A new mansion? GTHO.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Try some other companies that now have near-zero revenues, though you wouldn’t know it from their stock prices.

      • MonkeyBusiness says:

        Wolf, I NEVER said anything about every company doing well. Certain sections of the economy are decimated. No doubt about that. When it comes to ridiculous stock prices, I criticized Uber among others. I am short Uber + the S&P.

        But we can NOT continue this transfer to the tech sector. Some of those money should have been funneled directly to landlords, bypassing the people altogether.

        • MonkeyBusiness says:

          And no, it’s not because I just LOVE LANDLORDS. But small landlords are not guilty either, and people entered a contract no?

          What does it say about a person when he/she skips an obligation to splurge. I mean why not talk to the landlord and ask for half rent, etc and then splurge or even better, save the rest for tougher times.

        • RightNYer says:

          MonkeyBusiness, on this, I agree. To the extent that the stimulus was intended to increase demand during the downturn, it should have been way more targeted. For example, subsidies to restaurants and bars would have been way better. As it is, the businesses most affected are still in a lot of trouble, and Apple and Amazon scored windfalls.

      • Some guy says:

        Wolf, from your comment, obviously you have never looked at a biotech IPO: high valuation, no revenue and a promise to spend billions with greater than even odds of complete failure.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Was talking about big established companies such as airlines, casinos, and cruise ship operators, whose revenues have collapsed, not startups.

    • c1ue says:

      @Monkey Business
      What a wonderfully neoliberal comment. Fire all of the soldiers, sailors, pilots, marines and what not. They can, what?
      All that equipment – maintenance unnecessary. Nobody needs to monitor radar returns. What about all the people abroad in foreign bases? Make their own way home?
      And then there’s things like military dependents living on base or near base.
      The Veteran’s Administration.
      I’m no fan of the huge US defense budget, but you’re clearly talking out of a secondary orifice.

  10. Augusto says:

    People not doing anything, not being productive, but getting free printed money and spending it (not to leave out the bankers and brokers getting lots of free money to trade stocks in)……Savers look like the fools or will be the fools when the world figures out all this printed confetti or script isn’t worth the paper it is printed on…..Of course maybe the sellers are fools too….a car, ipad or stuff for paper or digits on a screen…..

    • leanFIRE_Queen says:

      > Savers look like the fools or will be the fools when the world figures out all this printed confetti or script isn’t worth the paper it is printed on

      Nah, all a saver needs to do is to keep on saving and spending the dollars abroad, far from where other Americans are spending.
      The only pockets of inflation had been strictly local: housing, healthcare, and high ed.

      If you don’t consume, or barely consume, those 3 items in the US, you will be doing fine.

    • Old School says:

      The way I look at it is the government has over promised and some are not going to get what they thought. One of the first ones under the bus are individual savers. Who is next is probably being fought over between Mnuchen and Pelosi now? Are cities and states going to have to do big lay offs, yes if Pelosi doesn’t get her way.

      Politicians get to spend during a crisis. Good or bad can be debated.

  11. Two of my neighbors are doing major home upgrades. I talked to the contractor on the roof, says he has more business than he can handle. Congress is working overtime to bail out the president on the economy, and to keep Covid from getting into the social fabric. Crazy world.

    • MiTurn says:

      “I talked to the contractor on the roof, says he has more business than he can handle”

      My son is an electrical contractor. Same problem. He’s being crushed by demand for wiring new construction. Mostly people fleeing Portland, Oregon, and Seattle.

      Must be something about ‘issues’ in the streets of these communities…

      • People wait for a recession in order to put money to work. One of the projects was already in progress. The other is much smaller. Congress which hates the other part is doing their 3 trillion dollar best to see he is reelected, while the party of the other part attempts to lose. Like the scene in Blazing Saddles, where the sheriff takes himself hostage.

      • Dave Chapman says:


        Prices in the outer suburbs of Seattle (Auburn) have spiked in the last three months. A starter house has gone from $240k to maybe $300k. It sure looks like a whole bunch of people who live in Seattle proper have decided to get out NOW.

        Repairs and upgrades are happening, but this is more complicated. For example, I know a woman who decided to put up a new fence, etc., because the neighbors (construction type people) were not working, and she had the money to do the job right now. Some of this is “help out the neighbors” and some of it is “might as well do the work today”.

        I suspect that there is something else: A lot of people figure that a new fence is a better asset than the US Dollar. Anyone who remembers the 1970s figures that inflation is going to come back. (Of course, we _always_ think that. It’s called PTSD.)

    • RightNYer says:

      Ambrose, but again, based on your posting on this site, I assume you’re solidly in the upper middle class? The impression I get regarding home upgrades is that it’s just a further illustration of the gap between the haves and the have nots (which the government and central banks have helped propagate). Those who still have their jobs, but are working from home, are doing great. The rest of America, not so much.

      • Anyone who owns a home mortgage free in Ca is probably at least middle class by default. More people would be if they didn’t trade debt freedom for a REFI. The gap here is ethnic; immigrant Latinos, who catch up in a gen or two. They stay close to their family even when they make it out. Blacks are a permanent subclass. You can escape the same way they do it in redneck America. You go to college and you never look back.

  12. Michael Gorback says:

    Try finding 9 mm ammo.

    • MiTurn says:

      Time to switch calibers?

    • Anthony A. says:

      CheaperThanDirt…..(website), I just bought a box of 50 hollow points.

    • Lee says:

      Reload your own: its cheaper and better quality control.

      You can also tailor the loads you want for the type of shooting you are doing…………….

      • Anthony A. says:

        Great to do if you have the reloading equipment, but many of us don’t. I have enough 9 mm and 12 gauge shells to last quite a while. Everything is in short supply right now, but I have noticed ammunition is becoming more available.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        @Lee – try finding bullets, or powder, or primers. New rule at the range: you can buy 1 box of cartridges, if they have any, only when you buy range time.

  13. Cas127 says:


    Alt interpretation of run up in building material spend (rather than “stuck at home, might as well fix up”)…panicked, overleveraged home owners are temporarily locked down…but know they want to get out of current home ownership…and panicked about potential sale prices.

    So trying to “add value” via sweat labor “improvements” (of which 90% will be cash negative).

    How to tell which motivation prevails?

    Gotta believe that huge SFH industry has a regular “intent to sell” survey buried somewhere…

    • Petunia says:

      Some of this money might be coming from retirement accounts. The CARES act eliminated the penalty for early withdrawals, you only pay the taxes, and this year may be a low income year for many. I know I would be taking the money out of any retirement account.

      • Zantetsu says:

        I looked it up. You can only withdraw early if you can prove you’ve been affected financially by COVID-19, including having lost your job, had reduced hours, etc. And you can only withdraw up to $100,000.

        Just trying to provide some more details as the way you described it, all 401k was now completely up for grabs. It’s not.

        • Old School says:

          I think they gave wink and a nod that the trustees were to take your word for it, no paperwork required. We all have been affected in some way, but I still wouldn’t push the limits myself.

      • Brant Lee says:

        Yes, a lot of lands here in the Ozarks and Okla that sat around with for-sale signs for years have sold in the last four months. There is still a lot of scared cash out there looking to roost.

        • Anthony A. says:

          I’ve noticed that in some areas of Texas too. I think people that have the money are deciding that the market is not a solid asset like land and houses are and are putting the cash there instead of on Tesla. Plus, you can live in a house too.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          @Anthony – and with land you get deductions for the annual property taxes you must pay into perpetuity, no matter if you’re making money or not. An added benefit is the tax rates index up every few years.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Agree with you re the scaredy cat money BL, and the same with the red hot RVs of all types selling these days; So, I am keeping our powder dry for the time in a few years when folks who are not country folks already realize they have made a big mistake, and similar with the new gen Tin Canners,,,
          Also to Lisa, you are exactly correct, and until we have some kind of total exemption from the property taxes all together after some age such as 70 or even 75, and sure, with a means test, there is going to be ever more old folks giving up than already are doing so, just another shame on our greedy guv mint puppets, etc…
          Makes my granddad living on a tax free home made sailboat ”on the hook” (Dinner Key, Nassau, Out Islands, etc.) look pretty damn smart – he claimed almost 20 years with no taxes other than sales taxes.

    • Seneca's cliff says:

      I like this “fix it up and try to break even” theory. The ironic thing is that a lot of home remodelers do more harm than good. Around here (Portland OR) the most valuable used houses per square foot are mid century moderns or craftsmans that are in original condition with excellent upkeep. Pull up the rugs and polish those oak floors, strip the paint off that classic woodwork, but for gosh sakes don’t put in one of those rolling barn door things, build a home theatre room, or turn a perfectly good closet in to a tacky wine cellar. If you are under water, dump the house now before things get worse and don’t throw good money after bad.

      • leanFIRE_Queen says:

        > build a home theatre room

        Is that still a thing given that projectors had improved a lot and are pretty cheap? You would think a screen and a projector in a room that doesn’t have to be fully dedicated to just one thing would be optimal.

        • Zantetsu says:

          Obviously there is much more to it than just the screen size. There is furniture location optimized for theatre viewing, type of furniture optimized for same, sound system positioning and optimization, no windows or blacked out windows, etc, etc. There are reasons for dedicated media rooms.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          @Zantetsu – that’s why we put the wine cellar in the media room with the fallout shelter and the exercise machines.

      • Old School says:

        I know one person who bought a less expensive property near a beach and is working from there some and if all goes well will sell the primary property at some point.

        Second person I know is in process of selling home and moving to a lake home they are purchasing for less money.

        Both these people are in their late forties and trying to get an exit plan before it is thrust upon them.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          “less expensive property near a beach” == jumbo shrimp == military intelligence

  14. More fictitious data put out by Washington before election time. You’d think by now the American public would figure it out. Hopefully we’ll get the true figures for the previous month after the 2020 election is over.

    • David G LA says:

      @The real tony
      I agree. It makes no sense at all. Half the stores I drive by are boarded up. what exactly are “u.s. sales” (I realize that Wolf broke this all down for us, I just can’t believe the numbers.)

  15. tom20 says:

    We will do our part to help the bar & restaurant industry. Getting ready to head out for friday fish fry & a few old fashions at the local watering hole. Saturday night will be prime rib.

    Need a couple of days kicking back and relaxing. Actually more than a couple of days. The flight to our redneck haven has not slowed. We have never been this backlogged in august. And yes Wolf, there is no shortage of help wanted signs. I keep telling them to try out that on line thing….

    • patrick helmick says:

      sounds like you reside in my home state of wisconsin – friday fish fry/sat prime rib – brandy or whiskey old fashioned – bartender always would ask – fruit or olives?

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        Yup, works in Iowa too!

      • tom20 says:

        That would be correct! A great weekend.
        Now its time to get office work done & equipment ready to roll
        for all that reckless spending going on.

  16. ThePetabyte says:

    Wolf I am seeing an interesting metric developing. Lots of higher end used car listings are beginning to pop up. I am beginning to wonder if the upper class is beginning to feel the effects of the shrinking GDP and we are seeing the first signs of a possible liquidity crisis if not the rapid downsizing of all wealth classes.

    I am biased as I’ve been eyeing a more affordable Porsche Cayman S for quite some time now as I grow further into my career :)

    • Lisa_Hooker says:

      If you live where it’s sunny get a Boxster instead while you’re still young. You’ll have more fun.

  17. Trinacria says:

    Wow, the charts are incredible! This pandemic has proven what many have been said all along, which is, that a large percentage of the population simply can’t make it two months without pay. So, now the “goobermint” (who has had a big hand in this mess) gives people money directly !!! And, the “sheeple” shop !!! This is illness on a grand scale !!! So, I continue to try and shield myself and family from this and what is coming in the best ways I possibly can by being an “ant” and not a “grasshopper”….please don’t misunderstand, I am well taken care. This is largely the result of living simply as my parents taught me. This depression will be worst than the last (1930’s) because it is evident from this article and all the other examples we see, that most people simply are NOT made of the same character that people were made of in the 1930’s. And, in the 1940’s they had to fight a world war to boot !!! Wow…really makes me admire more and more what my parent’s generation went through. Today, instead, when the going gets tough, the “tough” (read soft) really do go shopping. What a lack of shame. Sorry folks, but I really am disgusted as so many of the wounds out there are self inflicted. We have an out of control situation, and out of control “goobermint” because the people (read sheeple) simply refuse to lead. You teach what you accept!!! Only when the people get it through their thick heads that THEY need to lead by the choices they make… only then will the phony leaders we have follow.

    • Bob Jones says:

      yes; people now are sorry sacks.

      posted on a gun forum about women being more concerned with their feelings than facts and a moderator messaged me and told me my misogyny was not welcome on that forum. these are the “right wingers” who are hoarding guns…for what? All they ever talk about is running away from and avoiding trouble.

      all the women are in the streets next to the guys who are fighting for something even if what they’re fighting for is idiotic. who knew that antifa had higher T levels than all these gun owners? they sure look pretty weak but action matters, talk doesn’t.

    • Jos Oskam says:


      “…when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping…”

      I like it. Seems like a nice motto for the next edition of the famous Wolf Street Mug.

  18. Lee says:

    “Vending machine sales……………”

    Are there still vending machines in the USA? Bet there aren’t many left in the big cities especially with the crap going on there.

    The only ones I know of in the suburb I live in here in Australia are at the local train station.

    Now, Japan is quite different

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They’re generally not out on the sidewalk as in Japan. They’re mostly inside, such as ice rinks (my wife figure-skates so I know), other sports venues, office buildings, hotels, schools, and the like.

    • Petunia says:

      Vending machines in Japan are not just vending machines. They can have facial recognition, surveil their area, and inform the public in times of crisis.

      • MonkeyBusiness says:

        I’ve been to Japan a couple of times and never saw one of those. Not saying they don’t exist, but they are very rare. Most of the times, vending machines in Japan are just … vending machines. What’s nice however is that they often have hot drinks. Very convenient during winter times.

        • RightNYer says:

          Yep, I often found they had hot coffee (more like Americano, but did the job) for under one American dollar. I loved Japan.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        Maybe you’re thinking about vending machines in China?

        • MCH says:

          Those would have built in gas mechanisms and tasers. ?

        • Sir.PiratePapirus says:

          There are no vending machines in China as there are elsewhere. You can buy metro tickets from a vending machine or long distance train and bus tickets, or buy water at a residential area and that’s it. Besides Wolf the US collects far more data on their citizens than any country on earth from a variety of sources, in terms of surveillance nobody outdoes the US.

        • Sea Creature says:

          I’ve seen the visual recognition vending machines often in JR stations. There’s one at Ebisu station on the Yamanote line platform in Tokyo.

          It looks at you and if you are old, suggests a health drink, fat, a diet drink.. etc. Its cool though I’m not sure how accurate it actually is ;-)

        • Petunia says:

          No, I mean Japan.

          Vending machine technology in Japan is cutting edge. They can have facial recognition that asks you if you want the same product you bought last time, and do you want to charge it to the same account. The can have information crawlers that provide critical local information on disasters, like phone #’s or websites. They also have cameras that can surveil anyone passing by and transmit all the data to anyone that wants to buy it.

          Sea Creature’s comment below is also correct. They can look up your profile from other sources and make suggestions. Hopefully, it won’t ask you why you need more condoms when you just bought some.

        • I understand you can buy gold in Europe from vending machines? At the time they were allowing credit card purchases, which the US was not. The attractiveness of that is that the sale isn’t registered, unless of course it is one of these smart machines. The US money laundering laws might catch you on a purchase of 5K or more, not sure.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          I await a vending machine with facial recognition that identifies me as unhappy and suggests an alcoholic beverage. Based on my retrieved preferences of course.

      • Lee says:

        Never seen one of those all the years I lived in Japan and the trips I took there.

        Japan is vending machine heaven. There are between four and five million of the things there.

        They sell or rent everything from drinks to mobile telphones and a few other weird things as well.

        When I lived there anyone could buy booze or smokes from the machines, but that has changed now. To buy smokes you need a special card. Never saw young kids buying those kind of items though.

        Unlike here in Oz prices at the vending machines were/are about he same as in combini like 7-11 and even sometimes there are items ‘on sale’ in the machines. I recall buying a big 500ml cans of Coke there for 90 Yen.

        The usual price of a bottle/can of Coke was around 120 – 150 yen depending on the size. Here that same bottle will run at least A$4.00 so much higher than in Japan.

  19. Marc 60 says:

    The only boost in shopping that makes any sense to me is the sale of camping equipment. As possibly those that know once the evictions are allowed to start they are going to need somewhere to live and are preparing to at least have some shelter.
    Everything else is just beyond logic or belief as this spend it all and to hell with tomorrow looks certain to bite a whole lot of people really badly soon.
    As I think Shakespeare once wrote in a play we are now heading for a “Now is the winter of our discontent”

    • S.C. HEEL says:

      I am fully prepared to shelter any family member or friend that needs it. God’s grace shines through the in the small gestures. They can have my bed. I will take the tent in the back yard. We are all getting soft anyway. Time for something to snap us out of our complacency.

    • Chris says:

      “Now is the winter of our discontent” refers to the ending of the period of discontent–the bloom of the period of contentment.

      • Son of an Engineer says:

        Nonsense. The winter of our discontent is the opening speech of the character that will murder his way into becoming Richard III.

  20. The Bob who cried Wolf says:

    It’s 100% true. I call it pandemic projects. bought the wife an old classic and fixed it for her birthday (can’t go to Hawaii or on a cruise). fixed one of my old cars. Did a bunch of work around the house that I probably wouldn’t have finished for years.
    Pandemic project. Have you seen Home Dump lately? It’s all homeowners doing all sorts of projects.

    • Kurtismayfield says:

      My pandemic projects have been painting, gardening, and getting laptops for my kids for remote schooling.

      I might need to buy stuff for canning for all the veggies.

  21. S.C. HEEL says:

    I can say from first hand experience that the swimming pool business has gone absolutely WILD. Builders booked out over a year. IF they can get materials to build. Wait time for vinyl liner inground pool kits over 12 weeks. Thats for the big boys. The small dealers looking at months longer than that. Above ground pools impossible to find since May. Big time slow down (shortage) on shipments of product. ESPECIALLY from California. I have not seen anything remotely close to these shortages in my 25 years of doing it.
    Shelter in place and enjoy your pool…… if you can get one.

    • Xabier says:

      My cousins build swimming pools in Spain, in Catalonia: very good business recovery after some difficulty with supplies.

      Most money comes, of course, from maintenance: fortunately, most people are too lazy to do that for themselves and will pay others to do it until they are truly broke.

      There is simply no point in a villa with a pool you can’t use.

    • polecat says:

      Think of all that wasted water one (or several ..!!) could use to sustain some garden (food growing included) space. It’s All about priorities … of which many people lack, where common sense is concerned.

      • Old School says:

        I used to design swimming pool pumps. Water doesn’t move through a filtration system for free. Very typical for a normal pool pump to use 2000 watts X 12 or 24 hours per day. Seen high end pools with five pumps doing different things. Add a heater and you have about the most environmentally unfriendly thing. I always get sick at the Al Gore types living in a mansion with a giant pool preaching to the common folks about global warming. Even the environmental cost of building a 15000 sq ft mansion must be huge. Takes some energy to make it all last I checked.

  22. yoopar15 says:

    Just my story,,, I live in an area where it’s called fun land…. It’s been the busiest season ever. When the people recieved the extra 600 bucks.. it was really nice to see the fun being played out… for them not me. I frequently run in the national forests and now am inundated with wow…. people everywhere. I had to go to my boys place in the city for a month to get some peace…. and quiet…… it was beautiful!

  23. Pawnguy says:

    It’s great to hear from everyone about the experiences they’re having especially the small business owners. I own small pawn/gun/tourist trinket shop in the southwest. We’ve done almost a years worth of sales since April. I attribute this to the fact that we are 12 hours drive from many large metros. Lots of people that would fly to A+ resort towns are driving to B- resort towns. These people have way more money than I’m used to, its awesome. Our gun and ammo sales are insane. I’m paying three times more than usual on ammo and passing it on to the customer. I can’t keep my shelves stocked. My pawn loan balance is down 50% which means I’m losing money in interest payments but its awesome to see the lowest rung of society get out of debt, if only for a moment.
    Every hospitality owner I know has been killing it since lock down ended. We are extremely remote and the majority of our covid cases have been tourists. Not sure what to make of this. Thank you everyone for contributing. Hearing about life in the cities is especially interesting to me.

    • Anthony A. says:

      Here in our 55+ age community and area north of Houston, Texas, gun and ammunition sales are gone into the stratosphere. Our local shooting range is packed every day (except Sunday) from morning to night. Getting in a class to get a concealed carry license is a two month wait. Crazy. Three of my widowed (females) neighbors who are all over 70 are getting pistols and a CC lic. Yeah….!

      Of course, this is Texas….

      • MiTurn says:

        In Idaho any adult can conceal carry…no permit needed.

        Or open carry, anywhere, anytime.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          This will change as the Californians bail out, take up residence in Idaho, and vote.

  24. Josap says:

    Those who are still employed can’t go too far for a vacation, so lots of projects around the house getting done, raised bed gardens put in out in the back yard. New patio furniture.

    People are buying motorhomes, campers and tents to get out of the house but stay away from people. A lot of things are needed, to be comfortable in the great outdoors.

    The unemployed are spending more because they simply have more to spend. More clothes for the kids, new bikes for everyone.

    • Xabier says:

      It’s true, the size and complexity of the modern ‘outdoors’ market is amusing: my ancestors somehow got through life in the Pyrenees wearing a short wool tunic, woven shoes, and a sheepskin cloak and leggings.

      How did they do it ,without micro-this and wicking-that?

      Of course, woven wool and sheepskins are the finest possible materials for survival.

      And when hot you just went nearly naked I suppose.

      Which makes me think of Paulo’s shocking cargo shorts. I need a strong drink…..

      • Josap says:

        Wool will keep you warm even when it it wet. Going over the Pyrenees in the rain, wind and fog with a lot of mud – I almost froze to death. My wool socks were the best items in my pack.

  25. Andy Fanter says:

    I agree, much of the stimulus money was used for “purchases”. The difference from the the 2008/2009 recession is the type of jobs lost—last recession banking/finance and housing took a beating—many great jobs lost. Fast forward to 2020, the energy, restaurant and travel industry jobs take a beating–many jobs with poor benefits. I would guess that too many people took the benefits and bought new phones and gambled on penny stocks.
    The people who held on to great jobs in 2020, have less commute and travel, watched stock portfolios grow and spent money. I agree with many comments, it is tough to estimate where we go now. The virus in the US has hit a small lull since the mid-July increases from July 4 holiday. We will have to wait for next event–Labor Day Weekend, schools, and football. Mid-September will present more virus, jobs, and retail data. I read some estimates that retailer TJ Maxx is back to around 90% foot traffic of pre-virus levels.
    My small town of 3000 has a mask ordinance. I sat in the grocery parking lot yesterday afternoon for 10 minutes—watched 25 people in and out–no masks. I went around the corner to pick up my kitten from the vet—no masks three employess, two customers. Yes, I wore a mask and most of my shopping is first one in the door when it opens and first to leave.

  26. Oz says:

    Does it make sense that there is a wage problem when the unemployment check and bonus is more than they made working? Maybe the problem is with wages in general rather than the USG handout during a crisis. Just trying to look at it with different eyes. Some or many minimum wage workers work more than one job yet do they collect only one unemployment check? Any statistics on that?

    • Petunia says:

      People with multiple jobs usually get screwed out of unemployment. Let’s say you have a main job and another part time job. You can apply if you lose your main job but if your part time job exceeds your benefit on a weekly basis, you don’t get it for that week.

      Under the Cares Act most people who lost their full time job stop working the part time job because it would cost them the extra benefits.

      Joe loses main job $700 wk, pt job $250 wk –
      qualifies for $250 unemployment + $600 extended

      If Joe keeps the pt job he loses all benefits $250 + $600 because his pt job wages are deducted from benefit and sum is zero. He needs at least $1 in benefits to qualify for the extended benefit.

      If Joe quits his pt job he get $850 instead of working for $250 pt. But he is still getting less than if fully employed.

      • Oz says:


        Thank you for the example. Your example is interesting. Not everworker did work 2 jobs. But many i cross paths with did work 2 jobs so that kind of blows up the idea they are getting “rich”on unemployment.

        I am not sure how i would view the world if I was a miimum wage worker. I doubt i would do the smart thing with extra money.

        If a person believes its not getting better for them in the near future then why pay the rent during forbearance. Wait and see if maybe the Fed bails out common people this fall. Will the USG really let property owners evict 30 million people? Probably not. How long will it take court systems to process the evictions. The sheercost will be astronomical for cities already short on funds.

        There has to be a better path between the two options. Forbearance and total evictions. It is going to be an interesting fall.

    • OutsideTheBox says:


      Bravo !

      You get it…..the problem IS with wages.

      Frontline workers who produce the wealth are paid way TOO LITTLE !

      C suite types are paid way TOO MUCH !

  27. The Original Colorado Kid says:

    “Don’t judge people who are more educated than you are.”

    Orwellian speak at its best. Read the following study and educate YOURSELF, carla.

    Our four-person team compiled and read over 115 scientific studies on COVID-19. These studies were done by independent groups from all around the U.S. and the world.

    There is now convincing evidence from multiple controlled experiments and field observations that wearing masks reduces the transmission of COVID-19 for healthcare workers and the public. Most of this evidence is COVID-19 specific and has emerged in the past few months.

    Masks prevent infected people from spreading the virus to others by trapping the respiratory droplets (tiny moisture particles) that are produced when we cough, speak, and breathe. Cloth masks can stop 90% or more of the dispersal of droplets carrying the virus. There is some evidence that cloth masks also protect the wearer from infection, though this is less certain.

    Researchers from hospitals, universities, the private sector, and government agencies have concluded that masks could be one of the most powerful and cost-effective tools to stop COVID-19 and accelerate the economic recovery. There is universal agreement, however, that masking alone will not be enough to stop the pandemic. Masking is most effective when combined with physical distancing, frequent handwashing, rapid testing, and coordinated contact tracing.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The Original Colorado Kid,

      I deleted the comment (for obvious reasons) at about the same time you replied to it, so your comment is now dangling there by itself. My apologies for not having deleted that comment a little earlier (I was sleeping).

      • The Original Colorado Kid says:

        LOL I just couldn’t let that one stand. Thanks for deleting the nonsense.

    • MonkeyBusiness says:

      If only this country is less obese. Had it been the 1960s, wearing masks alone would probably be very effective already and we would have pretty much a normal life. We could have shutdown for a month and yes there will be economic costs, but most people would have plenty of savings to get through one month of closure.

    • Lee says:

      “There is universal agreement, however, that masking alone will not be enough to stop the pandemic. Masking is most effective when combined with physical distancing, frequent handwashing, rapid testing, and coordinated contact tracing.”

      And the numbers of deaths around the world could have been effectively cut in half by protecting people in long term and aged care facilties.

      I really think that when putting up numbers and deaths that there has to be a distinction made between teh general population that has freedom of movement and normal acticity compared to people in these facilties that are basically trapped there.

      The trend here in Victoria continues with a majority or more the daily deaths from long term care facilities.

      And I once in a while check what is going on in Hawai’i as well. The have limited movement in and out of the state, but even there the number of cases is soaring.

      (New data out shows that only 1 in 4 applications to leave Australia are being approved. So much for people leaving to take up jobs or even scholarships!!!)

      Even New Zealand which was supposed to be the darling among the success countries is now having an outbreak, but there they do one thing really well that most other places don’t: contact tracing.

      In Victoria our tracing is pathetic and so far behind that it is basically worthless.

      Masks, yes. Sensible mask policy: even better. Wearing a mask during a Zoom meeting: ridiculous and stupid.

    • Root Farmer says:

      The Original Colorado Kid,

      Thank you for your rebuttal.

      “A cynical young person is almost the saddest sight to see, because it means that he or she has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing.”
      -Maya Angelou

      As these people age, they become ever more toxic to our culture as their words are seen as “wisdom” by others. Usual markings; paranoia, dislike for “others”, we just continue to pull part. Our country did not become the powerhouse it is (was?) through this poison but rather through the dreams of what could be. Many say it is too late, but that is nonsense. Go join the millenialists and prepare to meet your maker. We cannot go backwards now to a re-dramatized past. Fight the nonsense, all things in time pass on to new times. Better days are ahead if we keep striving. There are still far more good people in this country than the current crop of gangsters that have acquired leadership positions.

      I have witnessed beautiful acts during this pandemic. To quote another blog that I love (this isn’t the only one!), “If you want a better country, become a better citizen.’
      -Jim Wright

  28. Bobber says:

    I don’t know if my experience is typical, but my household is definitely spending less as part of the pandemic. Our dining at restaurants has dropped about 70%, and we haven’t spend the usual $5000 on airfare, hotel, etc. during Spring and Summer. Also, we’re saving $500/month on cancelled gym memberships and kids’ summer camps/activities.

    I figure we’ll reduce spending by about $12,000 in 2020.

    I can’t think of any part of our budget that has increased materially.

    Groceries are about the same given we aren’t big meat eaters.

    Where are the savings going? It’s going 30% into value stocks, 10% into gold, and 60% into cash.

    • Old School says:

      I took retirement at 62 and it is more than I need to be happy. I have modest portfolio that I use a simple formula to determine spending down of that. Reciprical of life expectancy which is 4%. Subtract out inflation this year say 1.5%. expected return on portfolio over 10 years I get from Hussman is roughly zero. So that means 2.5% of portfolio to spend as income. Redo the calculation including life expectancy every year.

      I show that to show the wealth affect the Fed did pumped up asset prices, but expected returns over next 10 years fall and so I am not sure it does much other than maybe decieves people into feeling wealthier at the moment with big asset value, but most of us know they are a little phony.

  29. Young says:

    There is this shiny object called “V-shaped recovery”

    When do we know we had it or missed it?

  30. VintageVNvet says:

    Thanks for this Kid!!
    Wanted to bash”carla”, but know Wolf does not approve/allow such, so your informed and spot on comment is very very welcome from this old dude who has been masking up in public and mostly staying home since reading about this particular virus situation in the south china morning post back in late January.
    Retired and loving it, and although not a MD or epidemiologist, kinda sorta did all the hard science in college to qualify for both, and been doing my best to keep up with the science for this virus — mostly sadly lacking still, but getting better for sure,,, as well as keeping up with the economic situation though this wonder full site.
    Please keep us informed with your latest when you can.

    Thanks again,

    • VintageVNvet says:

      The Original Colorado Kid,
      My comment above was for you, and, once again, Kudos for chiming in here with actual science based information as do others on here to complement the work Wolf does for us…
      There have been MDs, and many others who if not formally educated to the doctorate level, are at least that educated on an ”auto-didact” type of approach as clearly demonstrated by their applied wisdom..
      If it were not for the now clear long term damage and subsequent demand on our medical services delivery system, I would be prone to saying, ”let those who choose not to wear masks do so and experience the results, etc.,” but, unfortunately, it is now clear that besides their personal experiences, We the Peedons will suffer individually as well as collectively by the costs to take care of them long term.

      • The Original Colorado Kid says:

        I don’t usually take it upon myself to educate others, but that comment about masks being only for the uneducated got my somewhat educated goat.

  31. Mike S says:

    These numbers make absolutely no sense to me. Anecdotally, here in Toronto, a place hit far less-severe than the U.S. in general, it seems my family and other families have really paired back spending during the pandemic. Furthermore, there are several areas of the economy that have been offline STILL after months (indoor restaurants, sporting events/stadiums, cruises, etc. etc etc.). How on Earth could spending be at record levels right now and up YoY?? It makes no sense to me. I get that people are being paid more in unemployment in the U.S., but are they really increasing their normal spending during this time without a job and without certainty they will get a job anytime soon?

    Side but related tangent – why hasn’t there been any articles or headlines about possible corruption within data collection/publishing or even with the stock market. It seems everyone on trading boards, even bulls, think the only explanation for the ‘buy-every-single-micro-dip and especially on low volume’ phenomenon that has been inexplicable to witness, only makes sense with a corrupted backdrop. Stock market falls are being magically saved and saved quickly, V’d back up to top within minutes or hours. All during the worst headlines and economic statistics we’ve maybe ever seen.

    It makes little sense and it’s hard to believe it has continued unabated.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Mike S,

      There have been quite a few commenters here, including business operators, confirming the data of certain types of retail sales. You might want to check them out.

      • Old School says:

        Thought about you and your short and Fed balance. Read article that Goldman Sachs Kostin raised his base case to SP3600. Thing that caught my eye was he was expecting Fed to add 2 more trillion onto balance sheet by end of 2021.

        We know those things are tainted just like Abby Joseph Cohen was a saint until she missed a crash.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Old School,

          One thing for sure, the Fed isn’t going to allow the US government to default. The Treasury Dept is issuing a HUGE amount of new debt into a bond market that is now very eager to buy it. If that changes, the Fed will step back in — but that money won’t go into assets, it will go into consumption by indirectly funding the stimulus packages. This is an entirely different scenario for asset prices. The Bank of Japan has done this for years, and stock prices are still down something like 45% from 1989.

    • sunny129 says:

      @Mike S

      Just read and study the charts of XLY ( Consumer discretionary) and XRT (consumer essentials) andbtheir holdings Company – stocks and their stock charts) since March’20!

      Fed’s 3+ Trillions shower did the trick!
      The power of EASY-PEASY $ created out of thin air!

      Also look at the charts of online E-commerce software ETFs like EBIZ, ONLN, Xbuy, Ibuy and CLIX ++, since March!

    • tommy runner says:

      if I may assume the dubs/tubs for the hi income wfh, the rest looks like a family prep list to me.
      if this is the first time anybody’s ever lied to you, I promise it will never happen again.

  32. c1ue says:

    Eyeballing the overall retail graph: we’re looking at roughly $190 billion shortfall vs. “no coronavirus”.
    That some categories have done well is irrelevant; the overall economy has taken at least a $190 billion hit.
    This $190 billion represents roughly a 3% drop in full year sales. That’s the minimum we are looking at in terms of US GDP.
    In reality, I suspect the “pop-up” is significantly due to pent-up demand as opposed to a return to normal.

  33. Engin-ear says:

    I wonder why “seasonally adjust” the (monthly?) data of 2020 which is by no means a year of normal cycle/seasons.

    Was it because the original programmer was outsourced many years ago so no one can produce the same graphs but “unadjusted”?

    Irony, of course.

    Few people pay attention to the reasons of seasonal adjustments..

    • Wolf Richter says:


      Retail sales are extremely seasonal, with a huge surge in Nov and Dec, and a collapse in January (when sales plunge and returns are booked as negative sales). Not-seasonally adjusted, the charts look crazy. But there is not a big seasonal variation from March through July, and the seasonal adjustments are small, so I don’t think they have a big impact here.

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        That’s why I don’t like someone else deciding on just how to “adjust” for seasonality. (Think of how they “adjust” the CPIs.) I look at unadjusted charts and they look — wait for it — seasonal. Does require some thought and vision. If you want a different picture pour the data into a spreadsheet and chart to your hearts content. With DIY charts you can even combine different datasets. Whoda thunk.

  34. John says:

    Look at all those V shaped recoveries.

    • sunny129 says:

      V shaped ‘recoveries’ with EASY-PEASY bucks spigot from Fed, right?

      • John says:

        Whatever it takes to get the V. It’s just ironic that there it is and surprising that it hasn’t been claimed by the powers that be. Stimulus stimulates. Duh.

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