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Stocks fall on scale of hit to the US economy

Largest contraction in 73 years as stimulus package is set to expire

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Tough questions: Donald Trump’s campaign has claimed that the US economy is “rebounding”, despite a GDP slump

Tough questions: Donald Trump’s campaign has claimed that the US economy is “rebounding”, despite a GDP slump

Bloomberg

Tough questions: Donald Trump’s campaign has claimed that the US economy is “rebounding”, despite a GDP slump

The US economy suffered its biggest blow since the Great Depression in the second quarter as the Covid-19 pandemic shattered consumer and business spending, and a nascent recovery is under threat from a resurgence in new cases of coronavirus.

The bulk of the deepest contraction in at least 73 years reported by the US Commerce Department yesterday occurred in April when activity ground to an abrupt halt after restaurants, bars and factories among others were shuttered in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

More than five years of growth have been wiped out. With the recovery faltering, pressure is mounting for the White House and Congress to agree on a second stimulus package. President Donald Trump, who is trailing Democratic challenger and former Vice President Joe Biden in opinion polls, said on Wednesday he was in no hurry.

Mr Trump yesterday raised the possibility of delaying the presidential election.

"This is hard to swallow," said Jason Reed, finance professor at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

"Right now, the American economy is speeding toward a fiscal cliff. Not only do we need Americans to take serious action preventing the spread of the disease, but we also need Congress to agree on another stimulus package and quickly."

Gross domestic product (GDP) collapsed at a 32.9pc annualised rate last quarter, the deepest decline in output since the US government started keeping records in 1947. The drop in GDP was more than triple the previous all-time decline of 10pc in the second quarter of 1958.

The economy contracted at a 5pc in the first quarter. It fell into recession in February.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP slumping at a 34.1pc rate in the April-June quarter.

Though activity picked up starting in May, momentum has slowed amid the explosion of Covid-19 infections, especially in the densely populated South and West regions where authorities in hard-hit areas are closing businesses again and pausing reopenings. That has tempered hopes of a sharp rebound in growth in the third quarter.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Wednesday acknowledged the slowdown in activity. The US central bank kept interest rates near zero and pledged to continue pumping money into the economy.

Mr Trump's administration shrugged off the GDP slump, saying the economy was "rebounding", while Mr Biden blamed a leadership "failure," and urged "a massive public health response to save lives and get our economy back up to speed".

Stocks on Wall Street fell and the dollar dipped against a basket of currencies. US Treasury prices rose.

Economists say without the historic fiscal package of nearly $3 trillion (€2.5 trillion), the economic contraction would have been deeper. The package offered companies help paying wages and gave millions of unemployed Americans a weekly $600 supplement. But that package expires today and many firms have exhausted their loans.

Along with the sky-rocketing coronavirus infections, this is keeping layoffs elevated.

In a separate report yesterday, the US Labour Department said initial claims for unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 1.434 million in the week ending July 25.

A total of 30.2 million Americans were receiving unemployment cheques in the week ending July 11.

Reuters