UK unemployment rate slips unexpectedly to 4.9% in February, but payroll numbers fall ahead of reopening

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Britain entered a tough new lockdown in January

The UK unemployment rate fell unexpectedly in the three months to the end of February, data showed on Tuesday, ahead of the country’s latest loosening of coronavirus restrictions.

But the number of employees on payrolls fell by 56,000 in March compared to February, painting a mixed picture about the UK jobs market.

Headline unemployment slipped to 4.9% from December to February from 5% in the previous quarter, the Office for National Statistics said.

It beat economists’ expectations of a rise to 5.1%, but analysts said the figure was flattered by a rise in people becoming economically inactive, meaning they had stopped looking for work.

Yet there were some signs of progress in hiring. The number of vacancies for jobs rose nearly 16% in March compared to February, according to experimental data.

The UK economy is gradually reopening from the tough restrictions that were in place from January to March. On April 12, pubs, non-essential stores and hairdressers were allowed to reopen as the vaccine drive picked up speed.

Britain’s government’s furlough scheme currently pays the wages of roughly one in five employees and has been a key reason that the country’s unemployment rate has stayed relatively low, rising only 0.9 percentage points in the year to February 2021.

“The slight fall in the unemployment rate… suggests that the government’s job furlough scheme is still insulating the labor market from the worst effects of the pandemic,” Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics, said.

However, economists expect the UK unemployment rate to climb once the furlough scheme is wound down towards the end of the year.

James Smith, developed market economist at ING, said: “Like most economists, we expect the unemployment rate to rise this year.”

He added: “The end of the furlough scheme, and to a lesser extent, a potential increase in inbound UK migration later this year (partly reversing last year’s population fall) are both likely to trigger a temporary spike in the jobless rate to 6-6.5%.”

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Retail stock traders are 33% less active than last month – and Goldman says the slowdown could continue as the economy reopens

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  • Trading activity among retail investors has dropped by 33% in April from last month, Goldman Sachs said in a note Monday.
  • The reopening of businesses and an increase in COVID-19 vaccinations may have contributed to the slowdown.
  • Stock buying by retail investors is still above pre-pandemic levels.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Retail trading activity has slowed down by more than a third in April, in part as people focus on getting back out after a year of COVID-19 restrictions and businesses restart as millions of Americans receive vaccinations, according to Goldman Sachs.

There’s been a 33% drop in broader volumes in US cash equity trading, or single-stock trading, this month from March, the investment bank said, citing data from retail brokerage Charles Schwab.

“We believe recently mixed equity performance and accelerating re-opening of the economy amid increased vaccination pace could partially explain the recent slowdown in retail activity,” Goldman Sachs equity analyst Alexander Blostein wrote to clients in a note published Monday.

The slowdown by retail investors reconciles with a decline in off-exchange market share by more than 400 basis points quarter-to-date compared with the same period in the first quarter of the year, “drifting to low 40%’s and closer to historical levels after reaching as high as 50% at various points in [the first quarter],” Blostein said.

Other firms that track activity by retail investors in recent weeks have also noted a slowdown. Investors who have received $1,400 stimulus checks in March as part of the US government’s COVID-19 stimulus efforts may have opted to purchase other goods and services, save the cash or pay down debt.

At the same time, the government has ramped up the availability of coronavirus vaccines to the US population, spurring many businesses to reopen their doors after closing them during the worst of the pandemic.

Still, retail trading remains significantly above pre-pandemic levels and features many structural changes such as zero-commission trading, said Blostein.

“While the degree to which retail will normalize is uncertain, further moderation in retail participation is likely to create meaningful headwinds to both US cash equity and option volumes.”

Retail investing has come into focus following the surge in interest in the stock market during pandemic, as well as volatility in so-called meme stocks that were stoked on social media sites such as Reddit. Video game retailer GameStop and movie-theater chain AMC Entertainment have been among the most popular names among retail investors looking to make a profit by squeezing short-sellers in the stocks.

A study by Schwab released last week showed that 15% of all US stock markets investors began investing in 2020. The median age of new investors is 35 years.

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Avocado toast will save the economy

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Millennials are set to drive restaurant spending during the economic reopening.

  • Restaurants are making a comeback.
  • March’s jobs report smashed expectations, adding 916,000 against a 660,000 estimate, and dining led the way.
  • Led by dining, leisure and hospitality added 280,000 jobs, so avocado toast and the like should lead to a lot more hiring.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The economy really began to reopen in March, and restaurants led the way.

The US economy added 916,000 jobs in March, trouncing economic forecasts that predicted that number would look more like 660,000 jobs. The leisure and hospitality industry not only drove nearly all of February’s jobs gains, it accounted for roughly one-third of March’s upswing. With 280,000 payroll additions last month, it added more jobs than any other sector.

Leisure and hospitality consists of arts, entertainment, and recreation, ranging from performing arts and museums to amusement parks. It also includes accommodation and food services, which contributed to 215,000 of the sector’s added payrolls in March. Food services and drinking places fueled most of these additions, with 175,000 new jobs alone. It’s becoming clear that eating out will be very important for the economic recovery.

While restaurants made huge job gains last month, the sector will also need Americans willing to spend on dining out for its recovery – along with that of the wider American economy.

Americans seem to have already started doing that. For the seven days ending March 27, spending on restaurants and bars was up a whopping 200% year-over-year, per Bank of America card data. The more representative two-year change still showed an 11.9% increase. Overall, BofA found total card spending up 82% year-over-year and up 20% over two years for the period, signaling that trillions of federal stimulus are working.

Of course, with restaurants come things like avocado toast, a luxury long used as a metaphorical stick to beat the millennial generation with, perpetuating the narrative that this frivolous generation isn’t focused on the right things financially. While that’s not quite true, it is the case that millennials ate out more and spent more eating out than any other generation prior to the pandemic. They’re on track to be the biggest food and beverage spenders by 2030.

High-earning millennials saw a lot of excess cash build up in their savings accounts during the pandemic. That puts them in prime position to cash out on a favorite experience they’ve been deprived of for a year.

They’ve already begun fueling New York City’s indoor dining scene when restrictions were lifted and splurged while doing so. Millennials shelled out for high-priced items like steak, wine, and tasting menus, sending check averages and tips on the climb, Bloomberg’s Kate Krader reported.

It turns out the economic reopening – and recovery – will taste like avocado.

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The blowout March jobs report was powered by new employment in restaurants, schools, and construction

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People dine at Alessa while pedestrians walk along the Promenade on Forest Ave, a pedestrian-only experience featuring shopping and restaurants, in Laguna Beach Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

  • Sectors with the strongest job gains in March signal reopening will fuel a swift economic rebound.
  • Leisure and hospitality businesses counted for one-third of last month’s gain of 916,000 payrolls.
  • Hiring in the government and construction sectors improved significantly from the prior month.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The sectors that added the most jobs in March hint at just how much the economic reopening might revitalize the US labor market.

Businesses added 916,000 nonfarm payrolls last month, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data published Friday morning. The reading handily beat the median estimate of 660,000 payroll additions from economists surveyed by Bloomberg, and signaled that partial reopening, improved vaccination, and new stimulus fueled a strong uptick in hiring.

Job additions were also more evenly spread in March than in the month prior. While February saw leisure and hospitality businesses drive nearly all of the month’s gains, the sector counted for roughly one-third of the March upswing.

Public-sector hiring served as the second-largest source of job additions with 136,000 new jobs, suggesting state and local governments aren’t facing the same stagnant recoveries they endured after the financial crisis.

Job growth in the construction sector also rebounded after harsh winter storms led payrolls to shrink in February.

The utilities industry saw the smallest gain, while information businesses shed 2,000 payrolls through the month.

Here are the sectors that added the most jobs in March.

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Miami mayor warns Florida is already packed for spring break with too many people on the way: ‘We’ve got a problem’

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Spring breakers at Miami Beach, Florida in March 2016.

  • Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber on Saturday said that Florida has a problem.
  • Too many people are visiting for spring break, he said.
  • In March 2020, the state hosted droves of partying young people before the US saw a major outbreak.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

History may soon repeat itself in Florida, where some beaches are already packed with spring breakers, according to CNN.

“We’re seeing too much spring break activity,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told CNN on Saturday. “We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here. We’ve got a problem with too many people coming here to let loose.”

“We are concerned,” he said. “It’s very challenging.”

Air travel has risen to its highest level in nearly a year, according to The Transportation Security Administration. On Saturday, a spokesperson for the agency said that TSA had screened about 1.4 million people at airport security checkpoints on Friday, the highest number of passengers since March 15, 2020, when about 1.5 million people were screened, Insider reported.

This rise in travel coinciding with the beginning of spring breaks and generally warmer weather, making Florida a popular destination for people who could potentially spread COVID-19.

“We’ve come a long way as a community in slowing the spread of the virus,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said on Twitter. “As you enjoy our city and our wonderful weather this weekend, continue your pandemic precautions.”

In September, Florida lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on all businesses in the state, allowing local governments to enforce stricter protocols however they chose.

Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor, recently said that more lockdowns or travel restrictions “ain’t happening in Florida,” WPTV NewsChannel 5 reported.

The governor has been critical of President Joe Biden’s calls for continued precautions and has generally adopted a more laissez-faire approach to public health restrictions.

Last year, Florida made headlines for the droves of young people that partied there with abandon, then returned to their homes throughout the US and abroad, an analysis by Tectonix GEO X-Mode Social found, based on anonymized cell phone data.

It can’t really be known how widely the spring break parties spread the coronavirus, but by the end of March 2020, Florida cases had more than tripled, from 1,700 on March 1 to 5,473 by March 30. Cases as far away as California and Massachusetts have been linked to a single event, the “Winter Party Festival,” in Miami Beach, The New York Times reported.

DeSantis didn’t order people to stay home until April 1, but little testing was available at the time. The Winter Party Festival ended the day before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the Times reported.

Florida coronavirus cases peaked in January 2021 at about 19,500 new cases per day. Today they’ve leveled off to roughly 5,244 daily cases, according to a Times tracker. Nearly 4 million people have been vaccinated, about 18% of the state’s population.

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4 tips for reopening your workplace safely from a COVID compliance officer for Netflix and Amazon Prime

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Even as vaccines rollout, employers will need to stay vigilant with COVID precautions.

  • Demerie Danielson left her nursing job in fall 2020 to become a COVID compliance officer for VIP StarNetwork.
  • She now ensures the sets of Netflix and Amazon productions comply with COVID safety regulations.
  • Her tips to safely reopen your workplace include planning for rule breakers and staying strict.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Almost a year after COVID-19 shut down offices across America, many physical workplaces remain in stasis. But six months ago, Demerie Danielson was hired to help bring at least one industry back to working in person: the film industry.

Danielson, a registered nurse, left her job at an Albuquerque hospital for a brand-new position: COVID Compliance Officer for VIP StarNetwork, a health care contractor for major local movie and TV sets. It’s a subsidiary of Inverse Medical, a medical equipment supplier. With her medical expertise in her back pocket, Danielson learned how to safely reopen a workplace on the fly – and has since done so for seven Netflix and Amazon Prime productions, including the upcoming film “The Harder They Fall,” starring Jonathan Majors and Idris Elba.

Her experience could prove crucial for America’s business owners, especially those pondering their own return to the office amid the country’s vaccine rollout. Here are Danielson’s top four recommendations.

Tailor your solutions to your company’s specific needs

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution here, Danielson said. Each of her productions have different COVID-19 plans, customized to the number of people involved and the types of locations being used. As New Mexico’s coronavirus guidance shifts month to month, she adjusts each film set accordingly, such as modulating the amount of sanitization on touch points like doorknobs as local cases have risen and fallen.

Start by gauging the risk, particularly around air circulation and ability to socially distance. Then build protocols around personal protective equipment, COVID-19 testing, and surface sanitization. When in doubt, Danielson added, refer to your state’s or city’s local COVID guidance.

“We’re always going to want to make sure we have the proper filtration of air flow if we’re inside of a building,” she said. “We’re going to always make sure we’re keeping people socially distanced.” But employees should know, she said, that your policies could shift at a moment’s notice.

Prioritize quick-turnaround COVID-19 testing

As vaccines are still sparsely available, your testing protocol could make or break your return to the office. Danielson typically divides workers into two categories: People who interact regularly with each other, and people who only visit in-person occasionally. Infrequent visitors need two consecutive negative tests before they show up to work, while regulars get tested every single day – sometimes multiple times per day.

The daily testing only works because VIP StarNetwork’s labs can turn around test results in a matter of hours. Even a 24-hour turnaround, Danielson said, wouldn’t be fast enough. Contracting with a private lab to achieve that goal is a potentially expensive proposition: Johonniuss Chemweno, CEO of both VIP StarNetwork and Inverse Medical, said his company typically spends five to 20% of a film’s overall budget on COVID safety. One of Danielson’s recent projects, Zack Snyder’s upcoming Netflix movie “Army of the Dead,” has an estimated budget of $70 million. 

Still, Danielson stressed that until you can afford to build a truly rigorous same-day testing program, you simply can’t risk bringing your workers back on a daily basis. “If you don’t have the opportunity to get your results in a matter of hours, you could possibly expose all the people within your business and have to shut them down,” she said. “Shutting your business back down for days or weeks again is costly.”

Plan for rule breakers

Most of your employees will probably be just as dedicated as you are to staying safe and healthy, particularly if their ability to work depends on it. Some, however, could push the boundaries on your mask-wearing or testing policies, and you need a plan to deal with them in advance.

Danielson said that most protocol violations she’s seen come from a place of habit – people accidentally behaving like they did pre-pandemic – so she rarely reacts angrily. Rather, she works to gain the offender’s trust through honesty and education, explaining why the policies exist and how they connect to local positivity rates. Repeat offenders get sent home, as they’ve become health hazards for everyone else.

“You don’t really get to say no,” Danielson said. “You’re going to have to do it if you want to work.”

Stay strict, even as vaccines roll out

It’ll be tempting to relax your standards for vaccinated employees, especially as vaccines become more available to the general public this year. Not so fast, Danielson said: Until more is known about how well the vaccines are working, particularly against multiple new and highly contagious virus strains, you’ll need to stay vigilant.

Plus, your employees might be vaccinated, but their families might not – and it’s yet unknown whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus as carriers. “Social distancing is going to be around for a while,” Danielson said. “We’re going to need to keep using the protocols that we’ve implemented for sanitizing high-touch areas. Even the need to test, I feel like that’s still going to be around for a while, until we know how well our vaccines are working.”

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Texas Gov. Abbott has reopened the state ‘100%’ amid a rebound of cases, despite regretting doing the same thing last year

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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

  • Gov. Greg Abbott said last year he regretted reopening bars too soon as Texas saw a surge in COVID-19 cases.
  • On Tuesday, he reopened Texas “100%,” after the CDC recommended against rolling back restrictions.
  • The CDC has warned states not to reopen prematurely as coronavirus variants still spread.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he regretted reopening bars too soon in the early months of the pandemic, which led to spikes of COVID-19 infections in the state.

“If I could’ve done anything differently it would’ve been to delay the opening of bars,” Abbott told local news outlet WFAA last June. “The opening of bars, if I recall correctly, was around the Memorial Day time period.”

“And in hindsight, that should’ve been delayed,” Abbott said, “especially now knowing how rapidly coronavirus could spread in the bar setting.”

Yet even as Texas has seen an average of 8,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last week – an uptick credited to conditions created by the devastating winter storms – the governor announced on Tuesday that he would be lifting the statewide mask mandate and reopening the state “100 percent.” 

The reopening takes effect next Wednesday. It includes restaurants and bars.

“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said in a statement. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent.”

“Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed,” he continued.

In January, Texas was the first state to administer one million doses of the vaccine. The reopening announcement on Tuesday said that the state had reached nearly 5.7 million shots.

However, being the second largest state in the US, Texas is far from enough vaccinations to allow a safe and full reopening, according to Dr. Natasha Kathuria, an emergency medicine physician based in Texas who has expertise in public health and epidemiology.

“This is a very dangerous message that the governor is sending to Texans, that may have dire consequences,” Kathuria told Insider. “Only 7% of Texans have been fully vaccinated as of today, with about 13% receiving one dose.”

“That’s nowhere near the goal of 75%, which would achieve herd immunity.”

Abbott’s announcement comes a day after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned states not to reopen prematurely as coronavirus variants continue to spread in communities.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” Walensky said during a press briefing at the White House on Monday. “These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress.”

“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”

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AMC extends 2-day rally to 36% with NYC movie theaters set for partial reopening in March

AMC kiosks

Shares of AMC Entertainment extend their two-day rally to 36% after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that New York City movie theaters are set for partial reopening on March 5.

Cuomo said theaters are only allowed to operate at 25% capacity, or up to 50 people, per show. The governor also noted that assigned seating, social distancing, and other health precautions would be in place.

“We are excited to announce that AMC, the largest movie theatre exhibitor in New York City, will reopen all 13 of our theatres in New York City beginning March 5,” said Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, in a statement

Aron noted that since reopening their theaters in August 2020, they have welcomed nearly 10 million moviegoers “without a single reported case of COVID-19 transmission.” 

Theaters in New York City have been shut for nearly a year in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. Movie theaters in the state, meanwhile, have been open for some time at limited capacity, as well as in other parts of the country. 

The recent move to welcome back moviegoers comes amidst the governor’s effort in repoening certain parts of the state to revive the economy from opening the doors of Barclays Center to Madison Square Garden.

Not everyone, though, is pleased. An employee at Madison Square told Insider that she was shocked by the swiftness of the governor’s announcement and argued that she would need a couple more weeks for her vaccine to fully take effect.

AMC, the world’s biggest movie-theater company, has seen its stock price skyrocket and plummet in the past weeks as Reddit traders targeted the company, along with GameStop, by buying large volumes in an attempt to squeeze hedge funds shorting these. 

Apart from that, investors have reallocated their portfolio into so-called reopening sectors from travel to leisure and entertainment since signs of success from various COVID-19 vaccines began to appear.

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