Wednesday Briefs – 28 July 2021

THIS WEEK: Mini Baby Boom; Unmeasured Inflation; Hotel Rebound.

MINI BABY BOOM

In the Briefs of 10 February and of 28 April 2021, we projected that the decline in births during the pandemic could be followed by an offsetting mini baby boom after the pandemic, in particular as household bank accounts have been padded by several rounds of government checks. There is early evidence that this scenario is now unfolding.

The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) headlines that “births are back” and explains that:

“Academic research has found that switches to remote work led to higher fertility… [and] that child benefits (like the new expanded Child Tax Credit) and direct cash transfers (like the stimulus payments) boost fertility, if they’re big enough. Nor is this the first time that recession-fighting measures might have boosted births: when the UK arbitrarily slashed monthly mortgage payments for some families during the 2008 recession, those families’ fertility rates jumped upwards despite the ongoing recession. [In the present case], the financial transfers provided to families really were enormous, plenty large enough to matter.”

IFS Chart: Note the increases vs. 2019 in New Hampshire, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii etc.

In other words, the combination of work-from-home and government stimulus has encouraged couples to have children.

The CDC natality numbers that are available through March 2021 do show a recovery. More recently, several states have released data (chart) that show births to have recovered, or in some cases to have exceeded, their comparable levels of 2019. On the theory that there were deferred births during the pandemic, nationwide births in 2021 would have to exceed the 2019 total by 300,000 – 500,000 births (and the 2020 total by 600,000 to 1 million) in order to offset the decline seen in 2020.

The general US demographic trajectory remains one of falling population growth. If the surge of 2021 sustains itself for several years, there may be a longer-term reversal of this general trend.

UNMEASURED INFLATION

The current spike in inflation is said to be transitory and confined to some sub-sectors of the economy such as used and new cars or lumber or… It is also said however that the Fed’s willingness to be wrong is not symmetrical, meaning that it prefers the risk of being too lax for too long to the risk of tightening too early, at a time when the economy is still convalescing. The latter risk seems remote for now. With 10-year yields below 1.3%, conditions remain extremely lax.

The shock of discovering that this inflation is not transitory would be painful. Treasuries would sell off hard, dragging stocks down with them. Frothy sectors such as technology would be hit hard, but so would cyclicals and industrials in the initial downdraft. In the second stage, reopening plays would outperform again if inflation seems containable and the economy continues to grow.

For now rising prices are found in many places and manifest themselves in ways that are not captured in the official figures. Anecdotally, here are a few:

  • a day camp that charges the same weekly price as in 2019 but for four days (no camp on Friday) instead of five.
  • a two to three week wait (due to staff shortage) for a service that was available in 2019 in less than three days.
  • Walmart’s offer to pay the college tuitions and books of its associates/employees.
  • Uber’s surprising new high prices.

It is possible that a return to normality will ease staff shortages and supply bottlenecks but we will still be left with plenty of capital in the system looking for more forms of consumption and more investable assets.

HOTEL REBOUND

Surviving a downturn in business can be hugely beneficial. After the weaker players leave the scene, the survivors can enjoy the recovery with fewer competitors and therefore greater pricing power and higher market share. This seems to be happening now in the hotel industry, not everywhere but at some destinations inside the United States.

In such places, surviving hotels have been able to raise prices because foreign competition for the traveler’s dollar has greatly diminished due to the pandemic, and because domestic competition has been reduced by many hotels shuttering their doors for good.

A measure of hotel performance is the TRI RevPAR or Total Room Inventory Revenue Per Available Room. According to research and data firm STR, the RevPAR in several cities now exceeds the comparable period in 2019. STR notes in this 10 July report:

“On a 28-day moving average, which smooths out holiday shifts, 52% (87) of markets were well past their 2019 levels, which we categorize as being at “Peak” (TRI RevPAR indexed to 2019 greater than 100). The percentage of markets at “Peak” is the highest we have seen since we began the Market Recovery Monitor. Another 31% of markets (51) were in “Recovery” (TRI RevPAR indexed to 2019 between 80 and 100). Five markets (San Francisco, New York, San Jose, Boston, and Washington, DC) remained in “Depression” (TRI RevPAR indexed to 2019 below 50) with 14% (23) in “Recession” (TRI RevPAR indexed to 2019 between 50 and 80). TRI RevPAR in San Francisco was only 39% of what it was two years ago.

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You Are What You Risk, With Michele Wucker, 19 April 2021

“For some people, risk is scary and dangerous, and means peril and loss. For others, it means risk assets and they have to pile on because they just see the upside. But risk is actually value-neutral. It is important to be aware of the bias that you bring to things. Do you see both sides and do you weigh them? Or are you likely to overweigh the downside or overweigh the upside?” ________ Michele Wucker

We all have an ambivalent attitude towards risk. In 1850, a young Emily Dickinson wrote to her friend Abiah Root “the shore is safer, Abiah, but I love to buffet the sea. I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I love the danger!”

In her new book You Are What You Risk, author and strategist Michele Wucker codifies this ambivalence to risk. In this podcast with Sami, Michele explains the concepts of “risk fingerprint” and “personal risk portfolio”, among others.

Topics include:

  • 0:00 Introduction of Michele Wucker
  • 2:13 Thesis of ‘You Are What You Risk’
  • 5:20 Attitude towards risk: innate vs. acquired through experience
  • 10:40 Taking a risk vs. following a path; Risk and entrepreneurship
  • 14:10 About each person’s risk fingerprint
  • 19:45 Taking risk as the only woman in the room
  • 24:40 “Risk is value-neutral”
  • 33:00 Matching risk fingerprints in interactions; Measuring risk
  • 38:20 The personal risk portfolio
  • 42:25 Remembering the onset of the pandemic as a gray rhino

TO HEAR THE PODCAST, CLICK HERE OR ON THE TIMELINE BELOW:

(photo of Michele Wucker by Hal Shipman)