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COVID-19 Delta variant may threaten consumer spending

·Anchor, Editor-at-Large
·3 min read

Concerns about the fast-spreading COVID-19 Delta variant may be causing consumers to rethink that visit to a summer party, a long-awaited vacation adventure, a walk to the local bar or some new threads for a day back in the office.

"Survey data point to increased concern over being in physical locations because of the virus," said Bank of America economists Michelle Meyer and Stephen Juneau in a new piece of research.

Thus far, consumer spending has hung tough amidst the surge. BofA's tracking of Google mobility data, air passenger traffic, OpenTable reservations, gasoline demand and box office receipts have continued to post gains.

But, cracks in that trend have emerged.

"While the hard data do not indicate consumers' are pulling back on service spending or spending at physical storefronts, survey data suggests concerns are rising. The share of respondents who are not concerned about being in a public space has fallen from 50% to 41% in the past two weeks, according to a weekly survey from Civic Science. If this trend continues, we are likely to see it in the hard data," points out BofA.

Consumers are getting a bit more cautious as COVID-19 worries resurface.
Consumers are getting a bit more cautious as COVID-19 worries resurface with the Delta variant.

To be sure, the COVID-19 data tracked by BofA underscore why consumers would be feeling uneasy again.

The seven-day moving average of COVID-19 cases increased by 58.4% to 28,900 during the week ending July 16, according to BofA. This is the highest level of cases since the week ending May 16. The positive COVID rate has surpassed 5% for the first time since April.

Meanwhile, new admissions to hospitals surged by 23.5% over the week "and should continue to climb given that they lag cases."

"We are in the midst of another wave of the virus. While there have been limited responses to mitigate the spread thus far, if cases continue to grow at its current rate it wouldn't be shocking to see restrictions on activity reinstated in parts of the country. Los Angeles has already announced a mask mandate for indoor activities, others are likely to follow. In short, the downside risk from the virus is growing," BofA's economics team says.

Investors are expressing their concerns on consumer discretionary stocks as COVID-19 cases surge across many states.

While the S&P 500 has powered to new highs over the last month, shares of major hotel chains Marriott, Hilton, Choice Hotels, and Host Hotels have all declined. The worst-performing hotel stock over the last month has been Host Hotels, which has shed 10.5% per Yahoo Finance Premium data.

Consumers starting to avoid public spaces again?
Consumers starting to avoid public spaces again?

The weak trading has extended to the airline space, too, despite promising second quarter earnings this month from Delta Air Lines and SouthWest Airlines. Shares of Delta, Southwest, American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines have all shed more than 5% in the past month. United Airlines has sunk 12.5%, making it the worst-performing airline stock in the past four weeks.

Retailers that sell more discretionary apparel have also been hit during the COVID-19 resurgence this summer. For instance, Macy's stock is down 14.3% in the last month while American Eagle Outfitters has lot 8%. Gap is down 12%.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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