Day: July 17, 2020

Coronavirus cold comfort: the top 1% lost more wealth in Q1 than the rest of us

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Anecdotes, studies, and surveys tell a grim story about the coronavirus pandemic: it’s disproportionately hurting the least well-off in America, and it may deepen income inequality.

That’s in large part because white-collar workers are more likely to be able to work from home, while lower-paid service workers like delivery couriers, transportation workers, retail clerks, and so on, have to be physically on the job. And that’s assuming there are jobs to be had: the most drastic job losses have come in industries like travel and hospitality, retail, and food service.

See:These small-business owners made their dreams come true — and then the coronavirus hit

It may, therefore, make some people feel just a little better to see one small equalizer wrought by the pandemic. As shown in the chart above, net worth for all Americans decreased in the first quarter, but at a much steeper rate for the wealthiest, shown in blue. Those are percent changes to net worth, not the levels of dollars.

The chart comes from the St. Louis Fed’s FRED blog. As economist Diego Mendez-Carbajo explains, net worth is the difference between the value of a household’s assets and its liabilities. Changes in household net worth are typically driven by changes in the value of financial assets.

“These types of assets differ across classes of household wealth,” Mendez-Carbajo wrote. “The least wealthy hold assets mostly in the form of housing and consumer durables, while the wealthiest hold assets through financial vehicles or stakes in businesses.” Because financial markets were so volatile — mostly to the downside — in late February and into March, higher-net worth households got disproportionately hit.

There’s just one caveat. The chart shown in Mendez-Carbajo’s blog covers five quarters — all of 2019 when household net worth increased for all four “wealth classes” — and the first quarter of 2020, as noted above. Zoom out a little further, and you see how stark the impact of the Great Recession was on the bottom 50%, shown in purple.

Net worth losses by wealth percentile, 2007-2020. Source: St. Louis Fed

The recession that started in late 2007 and lasted until mid-2009 was accompanied by a long — but agonizingly tepid — economic recovery. It was caused by the bursting of the subprime mortgage bubble, which started to show its cracks long before the recession officially started. Over the coming decade, nearly ten million homes would be lost to foreclosure, home equity would be wiped out, and many Americans would be locked out of homeownership.

And while it makes sense that the nation’s housing wealth would be dented after a housing shock, it’s also important to note that the labor market took years to recover, and by some metrics, hadn’t regained its pre-financial crisis highs when the pandemic hit.

Some economists think the economy may rebound from the coronavirus shellacking nearly as quickly as it plunged downward. But it’s worth remembering how long a tail the last cycle had, and how deep the scars have been.

See: What’s holding back the housing market — the nearly 7 million homeowners barely treading water on their mortgage

Brett Arends's ROI: The hidden risk in your S&P 500 index fund

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How much of your retirement savings are you now gambling on the fortunes of just six companies?

If you’re holding them in an S&P 500 SPX, -0.06% stock market index fund, the answer is: About a quarter.

That’s how much the so-called “FANMAGs”—Facebook FB, -1.00%, Apple AAPL, -0.28%, Netflix NFLX, -7.78%, Microsoft MSFT, -0.86%, Amazon AMZN, -0.74% and Google (“Alphabet”) GOOG, -0.74% — now account of the blue chip U.S. index by value. And that’s how much of each $1 you hold in an S&P 500 index fund, like the State Street SPDR S&P 500 Trust SPY, -0.07%, you are investing in just this half dozen enterprises.

(Just Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google account for 21% of the index.)

Yes, these companies are gigantic and global. But this nonetheless raises serious questions over the claims that the S&P 500 alone gives you a broad diversification of your investment risk. It also throws doubt on whether the index somehow represents the entire U.S. economy, and explains why the index has levitated so far this spring, even while the economic rebound has flatlined (or worse).

“The performance of stock markets, especially in the United States, during the coronavirus pandemic seems to defy logic,” notes Yale’s Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller. “With cratering demand dragging down investment and employment, what could possibly be keeping share prices afloat? The more economic fundamentals and market outcomes diverge, the deeper the mystery becomes…”

And as he points out elsewhere, the index right now is valued at 30 times average per-share earnings of the past decade. Prior to this year, it has only matched or exceeded that level twice since records began in the 1880s: In 2000, and 1929.

Ah yes, good times.

Yet a lot of this is driven by just those six stocks, plus some other growth-oriented companies.

This is why the total dividend yield on the S&P 500 is just 1.8% — but according to a FactSet screen, the average company in the index is yielding 3%.

Of the index’s gains since the March 23 low, no less than 30% has come from just those six stocks. Most of the rest of the blue-chip index—the S&P 494?—has still been singing the blues. Since the brief market euphoria peaked early last month, for example, casino stocks have fallen 18% on average, department stores 19%, hotels, resorts and cruise lines 25%, and airlines 28%, according to market data provider FactSet. American Airlines AAL, -2.41% has fallen 40%, United UAL, -1.08% 35% and Southwest LUV, -0.52% 18%. MGM Resorts MGM, -3.81% has lost a third of its value. Carnival CCL, -1.14%, another 40%. Macy’s M, -1.81% is down another 30%.

And note: Those aren’t the stock falls since the crisis began in late February. These are the declines just since the early June “recovery” rally. Measured from the start of the year their declines in many cases are catastrophic.

Small-company stocks and midsize stocks, which are often seen as a better indicator of Main Street economic health than the mega caps, have also been lagging the S&P 500, and badly. (Adding to the broader sense of gloom about the rebound has been the plunge in long-term interest rates as well. A 10-year Treasury note now pays just 0.63% a year—a third less than it did early last month. All this, even after Uncle Sam and the Fed have flooded the economy with about $5 trillion in “free” money.)

Where does this leave the ordinary index fund investor? In a nutshell: Possibly exposed to fundamental index risks that they may not realize. They’re betting heavily on the FANMAGs. (If skyrocketing Tesla TSLA, -0.12%, now valued at nearly $300 billion, joins them maybe we can call them the FATMANGs)

“The notion that equity indexes are somehow risk-free states has to my mind always been a dangerous fallacy which has been amplified by the rise of passive investing,” comments Mark Urquhart, money manager at Baillie Gifford in Edinburgh, Scotland. “Actually, all three of the significant market crises which my career has contained—technology, media and telecoms (TMT), the financial crisis and now the coronavirus—have been linked by so much damage being done to particular parts of the index that it demolishes the thesis that index investing can diversify away such risk.”

There are two possible risks. The first is that we see an economic rebound in the coming quarters, and index fund owners miss out, because these big super-stocks have already had their rally. We saw something of that on Wednesday, when news of a possible vaccine sent “Main Street” stocks booming 10% or more, while the overall index rose less than 1%. The second risk is that we don’t see an economic rebound…and investors decide that these gigantic boom stocks are overvalued in a downturn.

That’s what happened after the dot-com bubble of 1999-2000. The big indexes, like the S&P 500 (and the Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.22% ) tanked. But those who had shunned the fashionable names, and held cheap and unloved value stocks, made out like bandits.

The poster child for the dot-com mania in many ways was telecom equipment giant Cisco CSCO, +1.40% At the peak of the madness it was valued at triple-digit forecast earnings, peaking at around 130 times. Afterward people wondered what they’d been thinking.

Amazon stock this week? Oh, 103 times forecast earnings.

Weekend Sip: You can sip a canned cocktail and save the bees at the same time

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The can:Siponey Royale, $27.99 for a four-pack

The back story: Years ago, canned cocktails or similarly packaged alcoholic beverages — think wine coolers — were considered poor excuses for sips. But these days, they are suddenly gaining a newfound respectability, with a host of craft-style companies entering the market. Sales are up as well: Market researcher Nielsen says spirits-based ready-to-drink products — that’s the industry term for such beverages — saw a 40.7% annual sales spike in 2019.

Siponey is a new brand to enter the market, offering a sweet twist on the canned cocktail — it’s all about honey (as in sip honey, or Siponey for short). The company plans to make all its products with honey as a key ingredient, in part to draw attention to efforts to keep the honeybee population strong at a time when concerns are growing about its future stability. But Amanda Victoria, a veteran New York City spirits professional and former bartender who founded the brand with her husband, horticultaralist Joseph Mintz, also asserts that honey is a more natural and healthier sweetener than white sugar.

See also: When booze meets a bite of the apple: Jack Daniel’s launches a new flavor

The brand’s first offering, a carbonated sip called Siponey Royale, combines New York-sourced honey, lemon juice and a four-year-old rye whiskey. Victoria says she was just as fussy about the rye that goes into the drink as the honey, noting she searched across the U.S. for a whiskey that “would exhibit a complexity that was spicy and a little minty.”

What we think about it: We’re big fans of the new wave of canned cocktails hitting the market. (We told you a few months ago about Cutwater Spirits, another emerging brand.) Siponey fits in nicely with the trend — its Siponey Royale is a fine example of a beverage that balances sweetness and refreshment and delivers a somewhat boozy punch at the same time (you definitely taste the rye and its hints of mint). It seems tailor-made for a summer day.

How to enjoy it: Obviously, you don’t need to do anything more than pop open a chilled can and sip away. By virtue of its bubbly nature, the drink also goes well with lots of food — Victoria suggests everything from cheese plates to potato chips.

Economic Report: Housing starts gain steam as builders ramp up construction despite pandemic

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The numbers: Housing starts occurred at a 1.19 million seasonally adjusted annual rate in June, the Commerce Department said Friday, representing a 17% increase from May.

Permitting activity for newly-built homes rose 2.1% between May and June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.24 million.

Housing starts nearly met the consensus forecast of economists polled by MarketWatch — they estimated new home construction to take place at a 1.2 million-unit annual rate. Building permits fell slightly short of economists’ consensus forecast of 1.3 million.

What happened: Compared with a year ago, housing starts were still down 4%. However, on a monthly basis, construction activity rose for both single-family properties (up 17.2%) and multifamily buildings (up 18.6%).

The Northeast saw the biggest pick-up in activity by far, with housing starts rising 114%. Construction activity increased by smaller amounts in the Midwest and the South and dropped slightly in the West.

On the permitting side, the number of single-family units authorized rose by nearly 12% between May and June. For building with five or more units, permits fell 14% on a monthly basis.

Compared with a year ago, permits were down 2.5% overall.

Big picture: The home-building sector has marked a big turnaround from just a few months ago, when construction activity dropped to the lowest level in five years.

A couple of factors are driving the rise in home building. Mortgage rates are at all-time lows — just this week, the average rate on the 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage fell below 3% for the first time since Freddie Mac FMCC, -1.39% began tracking the data in the 1970s.

Low mortgage rates are encouraging buyers to come off the sidelines and re-enter the housing market. However, the supply of existing homes remains extremely constrained. Even before the pandemic there was a shortage of homes available for sale — but many sellers have refrained from listing their property out of fear of the coronavirus-fueled economic turmoil. As a result, home builders have a captive audience of interested buyers.

“Builders are clearly reading the market and understand the need for new homes to match overwhelming demand,” said Bill Banfield, executive vice president of capital markets at Quicken Loans RKT, . “Today’s report indicates builders are confident consumers will purchase new homes in this era of rock-bottom mortgage rates, despite the high unemployment numbers and other negative economic reports.”

There are some headwinds facing home builders and buyers, though. The price of lumber has jumped significantly in recent months because of supply shortages, which is squeezing builders’ margins and threatening to push prices up. And the surge in COVID-19 cases in many parts of the country has led states to consider scaling back their economic reopenings, which could lead to buyers staying home again.

What they’re saying: “The housing market is proving to be one of the more resilient sectors of the economy,” Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, wrote in a research note.

“The features home buyers are seeking after the pandemic quarantine — bigger homes, new kitchens, home offices and access to the outdoors — are more readily available in the suburbs, as well as mid- and small-sized cities within commuting distance of downtown centers,” said George Ratiu, senior economist at Realtor.com. “Home builders are in a solid position to respond to these shifting preferences, especially when considering the shrinking inventory of existing homes for sale.”

Metals Stocks: Gold edges higher as investors await additional fiscal stimulus

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Gold futures edged higher, buoyed by a combination of rising expectations for additional fiscal stimulus in Europe and the U.S. as well as uncertainty over the global economic outlook as the COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Gold for August delivery GC00, +0.40% on Comex rose $6.60, or 0.4%, to $1,806.90 an ounce, while September silver SIU20, -0.09% was off 2.3 cents, or 0.1%, at $19.55 an ounce.

“Gold prices are steadily rising as investors start to raise their stimulus expectations on coronavirus second wave fears,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, in a note. “Gold is also starting to benefit from election risk, as Wall Street can’t ignore the polls anymore and is starting to price in the risk of a Biden presidency,” given presumptive Democratic nominee Joseph Biden’s lead over President Donald Trump in the polls,

The White House and lawmakers face increasing pressure to come up with an additional fiscal stimulus plan ahead of the expiration of supplemental unemployment benefits at the end of the month. Meanwhile, European Union leaders on Friday were kicking off a two-day summit aimed at reaching an agreement on a €750 billion recovery fund.

Read:European Union leaders say they are far apart on COVID-19 bailout deal

Gold is on track for a 0.3% weekly rise and is up 18.7% for the year to date after hitting its highest level since 2011 earlier this month and moving within striking distance of its all-time high.

Christopher Louney, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, argued that gold’s gains have been fueled in large part by the “inherent uncertainty” that has accompanied volatility in equity markets.

“Risk overlays are playing a role in the stickiness of recent moves in gold flows and prices, but in our view, it is uncertainty that brought investors to the gold space in size this year and it is likely what is going to keep them there,” he said, in a note.

Next Avenue: Out of work or overworked, here are 5 proven strategies for navigating a career crisis

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This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org. It is part of the Coronavirus Outbreak: What You Need To Know Special Report.

How do you stay hopeful about your career during times like these?

It’s a tall order. Unemployment is near record highs. Hiring is sluggish. And the triple whammy of continued economic volatility, civil unrest and COVID-19 has us all on edge. It’s no wonder that 72% of Americans say this is the lowest point in our country’s history that they can remember, according to the American Psychological Association.

Yet whether you’re out of work, overworked or stuck in a dead-end job, the key to change is to believe that change is possible.

The actual tools of career change, like a polished résumé, robust network and optimized LinkedIn profile, are important, of course. But without hope — an underlying conviction that good opportunities are within reach — you’ll continually struggle to do the hard work needed to move forward.

So, for ideas on how to maintain a positive mindset during challenging times like these, I turned to four career experts with extensive experience coaching clients through career crises. Here are their five proven strategies:

1. Tap the power of group hope

“Trying to navigate your way through any crisis in life alone is very challenging and difficult, says Susan D. Kelly, a Boston-based career coach and director of the free Massachusetts-based 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group. “But there is tremendous value in the collective wisdom found in a group dynamic.”

Kelly says joining a job search support group can provide you with “group hope.” And she notes that the sharing of ideas, strategies and materials with group members can be extremely helpful. Even just marking your calendar for the next scheduled group meeting can become a positive anchor during the current crisis.

Also see: Will COVID-19 force older workers to retire?

And there’s proof that group hope helps. Kelly says that so far this year, over 200 of the 1,000 people participating in the 50+ Job Seekers Networking Group have found jobs, despite the pandemic shutdown.

To find a support group, likely meeting on Zoom ZM, -2.99% due to sheltering-in-place orders, check Meetup.com, do a Google GOOGL, -0.12% search or check LinkedIn for job groups in your area of expertise.

2. Check your inner naysayer

Joanne Waldman, a St. Louis retirement coach who spent 20 years as an outplacement counselor, encourages clients to shift their perspective from defeating beliefs to something more empowering by using a technique she calls “The Perspective Game.”

Here’s how it works: If a client repeatedly uses negative or non-supportive words to describe their perspective, Waldman challenges them to choose another word starting with the same letter to replace that thought.

For example, Waldman coached a single mother who was unemployed and feeling fearful about her job prospects. “I asked her to come up with another word starting with the letter ‘f’ to replace the focus on fear. The client decided that whenever she felt fearful, she would shift the word ‘fear’ in her mind to ‘footwork,’ as a reminder she had work to do to move forward.”

Footwork became the woman’s mantra and helped her move toward a more action-oriented mindset.

Read: How is coronavirus changing us? 12 life lessons we are learning

The Perspective Game is a simple, but effective technique to turn obstacles into opportunities, anxiety into action and roadblocks into results.

3. Upgrade your knowledge and skills

When you learn new skills, that doesn’t just add a new credential to your résumé. It pulls you away from your day-to-day worries, stimulates new pathways in your brain and provides a sense of accomplishment.

Many Americans are finding ways to boost their skill set in the pandemic. According to The Wall Street Journal, downloads of certificate-eligible LinkedIn Learning classes in some professions have increased more than 600% since February. Enrollment in micro-degrees and professional certificates at the online-course platform EdX have risen 6 to 15 times their normal rates.

Even mastering a hobby-related skill, such as scuba diving or oil painting, can prove beneficial.

“Learning takes you out of victim mode and into proactive mode,” says Susan Britton, president of The Academies, a training program for career coaches. That renewed confidence can provide the motivation to investigate opportunities you might not have pursued otherwise.

4. Talk to someone new or who you haven’t spoken with in a while

When we’re down, we tend to withdraw and ruminate on problems. Unfortunately, that tendency often proves counterproductive.

“The brain finds what it looks for,” says Britton. “If you continually tell yourself there are no new opportunities out there, you’ll struggle to find them.”

But it’s possible to reverse the negative feedback loop by talking with interesting and supportive people who can give you fresh ideas and perspectives.

Read next: Mid-career? Your job is at risk — here’s what to do now

How best to do that? “The truth is, we really have no idea who has a hidden connection until we start a dialogue, says Dawn Graham, author of Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success. “In a world where six degrees of separation has narrowed to less than four, our career goals are more within reach than ever. And the simplest thing we can do to uncover opportunities is initiate career conversations with the people we already know.”

Dormant contacts —people you’ve lost touch with or who you know peripherally from social media — can be a great place to start, says Graham. “They have their own circles and contacts, and it’s often these second and third level connections who lead to your next job,” she says.

5. Exercise

If you’ve ever exercised after a stressful day, chances are you felt much better afterward. The benefits of exercise are well-documented: it increases feel-good endorphins, stimulates blood flow to the brain and reduces stress.

“Your biology determines your mood and can dramatically impact your ability to see the bigger picture,” says Britton.

Read next: My retirement income is just $16,600 a year, but I want to retire in a beach town where the sky is blue and the water warm

Exercising on a regular basis won’t just help your body feel better. It fosters a sense of accomplishment and control. And that, in turn, can fuel your desire to tackle career challenges with renewed enthusiasm, vigor and hope.

Here’s to happier — and more hopeful — days ahead.

Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.” You can now download her free workbook, “25 Ways to Help You Identify Your Ideal Second Act” on her website at MyLifestyleCareer.com (and you’ll also receive her free bimonthly newsletter).

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

NerdWallet: Variable rate student loans are near 1%—is this risk right for you?

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Federal student loan interest rates hit record lows on July 1. But those rates are still higher than what some private lenders are offering.

Multiple lenders, including Sallie Mae SLM, +1.81% , SoFi and Citizens Bank CFG, , now advertise minimum variable loan interest rates below 1.5%. At this time last year, the average minimum variable rate for private student loans was 4.89%, according to NerdWallet data.

Rates for online lender College Ave start at 1.24%. The company’s CEO, Joe DePaulo, says it’s their lowest rate ever and that more College Ave borrowers are opting for variable rates this year.

But variable rates change, and that risk isn’t for everyone — even for a rate near 1%. Here’s how to tell if it’s right for you.

You can qualify for the lowest rate

Students should max out federal loans before turning to private options. Interest rates on federal loans are fixed and as low as 2.75% for the upcoming school year.

Also see: Harvard and other elite schools say classes will be mostly remote this fall

All eligible federal borrowers get the same rate, whereas private lenders base rates on credit and other factors. That means you may not actually qualify for 1% interest.

For example, College Ave’s lowest rates are for borrowers who have excellent credit, choose the shortest repayment term (five years) and make full payments immediately, according to DePaulo.

He says 40% of the lender’s borrowers defer payments, making them ineligible for the lowest advertised rate.

Compare offers from multiple lenders before applying to find the lowest rate you can get. Pre-qualifying with lenders won’t affect your credit.

You can afford to potentially pay more

Variable rate student loans are tied to a financial index, typically the London interbank offered rate, or Libor. Variable rates change monthly or quarterly with that index.

Don’t miss: How COVID-19 could spread on college campuses. Will students be safe?

Because a 1% rate is already low, it’s more likely to increase than decrease.

“I don’t see [rates] going down anymore,” DePaulo says.

How much your rate might rise will depend on a loan’s terms. Look in the loan agreement for the rate’s cap and its margin, or how much more than the index your rate is.

For example, if the Libor is 0.30% and your margin is 2%, your rate would be 2.3%. If the Libor rose to 2.3% — roughly where it was a year ago — your interest rate would increase to 4.3%.

For a $10,000 student loan on a 10-year repayment term, that change would lead to twice as much interest accruing on your loan each month and higher bills as a result.

The savings outweigh the risk

Your variable rate may never reach its cap, but you should be prepared if it does.

Using a student loan calculator, figure out what your initial payments would be with a variable rate loan, as well as the maximum possible payment.

Read: Before heading to college, learn these 6 things about student loans

“One of the things I’ve learned is to never guess where rates are going,” says David Klein, CEO of online lender CommonBond, whose lowest advertised variable rates are currently 1.43%.

Compare variable rate payments to payments on a fixed-rate loan. While fixed rates aren’t 1%, Klein says the difference in payments may be “incredibly low” in the current market and make the risk of a variable rate not worth it.

For example, CommonBond advertises fixed rates as low as 5.45%. For a $10,000 loan repaid over 10 years, that would mean monthly payments of roughly $108. At 1.43%, those payments would be about $90.

If you feel the savings are substantial, evaluate a variable rate loan as part of your entire student debt. For example, are you starting school? If so, a variable rate may have years to rise — and accrue interest — before you start repayment.

Also on MarketWatch: The harsh truth about black enrollment at America’s elite colleges

Alternatively, you may be close to graduation and able to start repayment quickly. And once you leave school, you can consider refinancing variable student loans if rates start to rise. Fixed and variable refinance rates are also low currently.

Klein says there’s no blanket advice for borrowers, except to know what you’re getting into with a variable rate product.

“If you are someone who fully understands the market interest rate risk … and is ready, willing and able to take that on eyes wide open,” says Klein, “then you should consider it.”

More from NerdWallet:

Ryan Lane is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: rlane@nerdwallet.com.

Fauci takes aim at Trump administration, state lawmakers and young Americans: ‘You’re propagating the pandemic’

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Despite his broken relationship with President Donald Trump, Anthony Fauci has continued to spread his message: Practice social distancing, put public health above the rush to reopen businesses — or face the consequences.

In an hour-long interview with Facebook FB, +0.27% co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg Thursday evening, Fauci had a warning for young Americans: “You have to have responsibility for yourself, but also a societal responsibility that you’re getting infected is not just you in a vacuum. You’re propagating the pandemic.”

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades appeared to take aim at the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration — which has called for schools to reopen — and state lawmakers — who have enacted a patchwork of policies, including opening up their economies despite a surge in new cases.

Fauci said that easing social-distancing requirements and reopening the economy too soon could ultimately cost even more lives. “You have got to do it correctly,” he said. “You can’t jump over steps, which is very perilous when you think about rebound. The proof of the pudding is, look what has happened.”

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected at least 13.8 million people globally and 3.6 million in the U.S. as of Friday morning. It had killed 589,911 people worldwide and 138,358 in the U.S.

On Thursday, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp filed suit against the Atlanta City Council and Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who issued a mandate to residents to wear face masks in public spaces. “This lawsuit is on behalf of the Atlanta business owners and their hardworking employees who are struggling to survive during these difficult times,” Kemp, a Republican, tweeted TWTR, -1.09%.

The dispute in Georgia illustrates how the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is split along political lines, with most Republican lawmakers pushing businesses to reopen, while Democratic lawmakers, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, take a more conservative approach.

The debacle in Atlanta over face masks, meanwhile, looks set to escalate. “I am not afraid of the city being sued and I’ll put our policies up against anyone’s, any day of the week,” Bottoms, a Democrat, responded, insisting that the city’s mandate still stands.

President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci. Fauci visited the White House on Monday, but has not briefed the president since June 2.

MarketWatch photo illustration/Getty Images

The fractured relationship between President Donald Trump and Anthony Fauci shows no signs of improving. The latest shot: USA Today on Wednesday published an op-ed by White House trade adviser Peter Navarro that took aim at Fauci. Navarro said of Fauci: “He has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on.”

‘I just want to do my job. I’m really good at it. I think I can contribute. And I’m going to keep doing it.’

— Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

“When I warned in late January in a memo of a possibly deadly pandemic, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was telling the news media not to worry,” Navarro added.

The White House said the op-ed was not cleared before publication, and USA Today said Navarro’s op-ed did not meet its standards.

The deterioration in the what was once an appearance of unity — however fragile — is likely far from over, as moves by Trump to fire Fauci would likely be met with a backlash by the public and the medical community, and would also be subject to appeals, experts say. Since February, President Trump said that the coronavirus would “disappear,” “fade away” and/or “go away” more than a dozen times.

On Wednesday, Bill Sternberg, USA Today editorial page editor, wrote in a note at the top of the op-ed: “Several of Navarro’s criticisms of Fauci — on the China travel restrictions, the risk from the coronavirus and falling mortality rates — were misleading or lacked context.

Navarro’s op-ed did not meet USA Today’s fact-checking standards, he said, adding, “We dealt directly with Navarro and do not know whether he spoke to anyone else at the White House about his statement.”

When asked how he can continue to when the government appears to be actively trying to discredit him, this time by a senior White House figure, Fauci replied: “That is a bit bizarre.” He said that such attacks would backfire on the Trump administration: “It doesn’t do anything but reflect poorly on them.”

On Thursday, Fauci told Zuckerberg: “We should be looking at public-health measures as a vehicle, or a gateway, to opening the country, not as the obstacle.”

Related: Here’s one ‘remarkable’ difference between COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish flu

How COVID-19 is transmitted

‘This was avoidable’: U.S. coronavirus cases hit new single-day record of 70,000

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The surge in coronavirus cases has reached a new record.

On Thursday, the U.S. recorded more than 70,000 new cases of COVID-19, up from 20,000 a day in June, according to data aggregated Johns Hopkins University, the COVID Tracking Project, and other independent calculations from the Washington Post and Reuters.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, had infected at least 13.8 million people globally and 3,576,221 in the U.S. as of Friday morning. It had killed 589,978 people worldwide and 138,358 in the U.S., Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

The situation looks particularly bleak in the south and southwest of the country. Texas reported more than 10,000 new cases for the third consecutive day, and 129 deaths, while Florida reported nearly 14,000 new cases and 156 deaths from the virus, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview with Facebook FB, +0.27% CEO Mark Zuckerberg Thursday, Fauci said it was time to regroup. “This was avoidable,” he said, adding, “The citizenry of the state or the city had the impression you went either from lock down to [throwing] caution to the wind.”

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for three decades appeared to take aim at the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the Trump administration — which has called for schools to reopen — and state lawmakers — who have enacted a patchwork of policies.

Related: Here’s one ‘remarkable’ difference between COVID-19 and the 1918 Spanish flu

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As a sizzling July continues, here’s what to know about climate change and weather

This post was originally published on this site

Freakish Siberian heat and a record string of high-temperature days during the already typically soupy Washington, D.C., summer are two of a handful of weather phenomena adding to the public-health stress of COVID-19.

Midweek, the most punishing temperatures began to retreat across the southern U.S., the U.S. Weather Service said, but heat will be on the increase for the eastern U.S. and for the northern High Plains. The warmer lows overnight will not provide much relief, adding to the stress on the body, especially for the elderly, children and those with health issues, factors already impacted by a spiking coronavirus case load for parts of the country.

These events stoke the long-running debate over how weather and climate, particularly man-made climate change, are linked.

It’s true that summer is, yes, warm for much of the northern hemisphere. It’s also true that weather and climate are not interchangeable terms. But the science connecting long-run climate-change impacts to unusual and more frequent short-term weather events is evolving and the pursuit of recording and studying these changes remains a focus at meteorological organizations.

“It’s your choice whom you’d rather trust on whether global warming makes tropical storms stronger, wildfires more severe or heat and rainfall extremes more common. The scientists studying these issues? Or some contrarians trying to tell you stories you might like to hear?” said Stefan Rahmstorf, head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, in a recent Twitter thread. He was addressing the robust number of published and peer-reviewed climate scientists tracked in the database Web of Science.

Since the 1980s, there have been three daily record temperature highs for every two record lows set in the U.S. Using combined NOAA and NASA data, 2020 has been the planet’s second-hottest year on record through June.

But in the case of the U.S. capital, for instance, it’s not the temperature itself in focus, it’s the steady chain of days without a high below 90 degrees since June 25, a streak that can’t be so easily tossed aside as typical. The city had 20 straight days with 90-degree or higher temperatures through Wednesday before a slight break on Thursday. The previous record streaks of 21 days were set in 1980 and 1988. Typically, Washington sees streaks of eight to 10 days of 90-degree heat in a given year.

“This is the time of year when the hottest temperatures are typically recorded in much of the Lower 48, making it more difficult to set records,” writes Linda Lam for The Weather Channel. “The heat’s persistence is the more noteworthy aspect of this pattern.”

Meanwhile this year’s Siberian heat wave is producing climate change’s most flagrant footprint of extreme weather, a new flash study says.

The study, coordinated by World Weather Attribution, was done in two weeks and hasn’t yet been put through the scrutiny of peer review and published in a major scientific journal. But the researchers who specialize in these real-time studies to search for fingerprints of climate change in extreme events usually do get their work later published in a peer-reviewed journal and use methods that outside scientists say are standard and proven. World Weather Attribution’s past work has found some weather extremes were not triggered by climate change, which should also be reported.

This type of real-time, or flash, study is important to tracking the sometimes mystifying changes under way, climate-change scientists say. And those scientists insist that media coverage of such reviews include how the studies are formatted, whether they’ve been reviewed and whether private interests may be financing such work.

Experts at Climate Central say media and public dissection of weather and climate is increasingly relying on important “attribution science,” a growing area that aims to investigate links between climate and extreme weather in part with modeling. An extreme weather event may not be solely “caused” by climate change. Or an event might be considered normal, if rare. But the existence of global warming can make a weather event stronger or last longer, data is increasingly showing. And weather scientists are constructing forecasting and modeling assuming future scenarios with more and less CO2 in the air. The studies may help shape policy that prepares coastal governments or public-health officials for changes to come.

Extreme heat is associated with air stagnation, which traps pollutants and can trigger respiratory illnesses such as asthma. Extreme heat stresses crops and food supplies, worsens drought, and raises the demand for air conditioning — increasing cooling costs and straining the electric grid.

Scorching temperatures over several days are one part of extreme weather that may be more easily tied to global warming, but it’s lazy to directly link all extreme headlines to climate change, at least for now. For instance, a warming world provides more energy for these severe local storms because of a warmer, more moist environment. But the behavior of “shear” in a warming world is still uncertain, and shear is necessary for tornado formation, explains Climate Central.

What about those deadly California wildfires? The annual average wildfire season in the Western U.S. is 105 days longer, burns six times as many acres, and has three times as many large fires (more than 1,000 acres) than it did in the 1970s. Does the maintenance of electrical wires and forest underbrush play a role, too. Yes, say the experts, but worrisome to them is the dismissal of culpable climate-change factors whenever the presence of other contributors exists.

As for the bigger picture, the World Meteorological Organization said forecasts suggest there’s a 20% chance that average global temperatures will be 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) higher than the pre-industrial average in at least one year between 2020 and 2024. The 1.5 C mark is the level countries agreed to cap global warming at in the voluntary Paris accord.

Read:Here’s why carbon emissions at utilities can fall even during a powerful economy

While a new annual high might be followed by several years with lower average temperatures, breaking that threshold would be seen as further evidence that international efforts to curb climate change aren’t working fast enough.

“It shows how close we’re getting to what the Paris Agreement is trying to prevent,” said Maxx Dilley, director of climate services at the World Meteorological Organization, speaking to the Associated Press.

Dilley said it’s not impossible that countries will manage to achieve the target set in Paris, of keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5 C, by the end of the century.

“But any delay just diminishes the window within which there will still be time to reverse these trends and to bring the temperature back down into those limits,” he told the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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