Down-to-Earth View of the “Recovery” in Near-Real Time, Eight Months into the Pandemic

Down-to-Earth View of the “Recovery” in Near-Real Time, Eight Months into the Pandemic

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As seen by indicators that have sprung up as a result of the Pandemic.

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET.

The US economy has turned into the weirdest concoction ever. Some aspects are booming, such as anything related to online shopping and entertainment, while other aspects are in the worst depression ever, such as airlines and hotels. So now eight months into the Pandemic, here’s my monthly update on the recovery in cities, in terms of what people are doing and where they’re going, if anywhere, as seen by the near-real-time indicators that have sprung up as a result of the Pandemic.

These raw unadjusted indicators compare daily or weekly data this year to how it was just before the Pandemic, or how it was at the same time last year. Since the data is not adjusted, it stumbled over the shift in the calendar of Labor Day, which this year fell on September 7, while last year, it fell on September 2. Independence Day was similar. But that’s the beauty of raw data.

People going to “Places of Commerce.”

How many people are going to stores, malls, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, airports, hospitals, offices, other places of commerce and other points of interest in the 40 largest metro areas in the US? The AEI’s weekly Index tracks this based on cellphone GPS data from Safegraph.com (everyone tracks cellphone GPS data, including Google for its traffic indications on its maps).

It doesn’t track how much money they spent, but how many people visited places of commerce, and it compares the number of visits on a weekly basis to the number of visits in the pre-Covid week ended January 15. A value of 100% would mean that visits are back to the January “old normal.” But note that January is always kind of slow in many parts of the country, given the post-holiday hangover. Nevertheless, that’s the point of reference.

The chart shows the AEI’s data through the week ended October 18, released today. The top bold blue Line is Kansas City (80% of January level). The bottom bold red line is San Francisco (45% of January level). The bold lines in between represent Dallas (69%), Philadelphia (60%), New York (55%), and Los Angeles (49%). Click on the chart to enlarge it.

Restaurants as measured by “seated diners.”

OpenTable provides daily data on “seated diners,” tracking how many people – walk-ins and those who made reservations online or by phone – actually sat down in restaurants to eat and drink, compared to the same weekday in the same week last year, based on thousands of restaurants in the US that shared this data with OpenTable. I converted daily numbers to a 7-day moving average to smoothen out the day-to-day fluctuation.

These are the types of restaurants where diners can make reservations. They exclude cafés, fast-food places, delis, and the like. Currently, into the eighth month of the Pandemic, “seated diners” are still down 41.1% from where they’d been last year at this time:

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Wolf Richter

In his cynical, tongue-in-cheek manner, he muses on WOLF STREET about economic, business, and financial issues, Wall Street shenanigans, complex entanglements, and other things, debacles, and opportunities that catch his eye in the US, Europe, Japan, and occasionally China. WOLF STREET is the successor to his first platform… TP-Title-7-small-200px …whose ghastly name he finally abandoned in July 2014. Here’s the story on that. Wolf lives in San Francisco. He has over twenty years of C-level operations experience, including turnarounds and a VC-funded startup. He earned his BA and MBA in Texas and his MA in Oklahoma, worked in both states for years, including a decade as General Manager and COO of a large Ford dealership and its subsidiaries. But one day, he quit and went to France for seven weeks to open himself up to new possibilities, which degenerated into a life-altering three-year journey across 100 countries on all continents, much of it overland. And it almost swallowed him up.