The slow reopen: Retail visits edge up, broader economic measures still unmoved

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. continued its cautious reemergence from a coronavirus-linked shutdown over the past week, with measures of retail foot traffic slowly increasing but broader indexes of economic activity still stalled.

Data from cellphone location firms Unacast and SafeGraph through last weekend both showed a continued slow rise in visits to retail stores. Data on around 55,000 small businesses from time management firm Homebase showed a few more firms open and more workers on the job.

The latest numbers are in line with both the gradual lifting of coronavirus-related restrictions across the country, and what many analysts expect to be a measured response among households and entrepreneurs until it is clear the virus is controlled.

In some cases, businesses are being allowed to open, but with capacity limits or other regulations to keep the virus in check.

A handful of major retailers have said sales recently have been helped by government emergency relief payments to U.S. households and those who have lost work.

Walmart Inc (WMT.N) executives said on a conference call on Tuesday that stimulus checks have helped deliver a good start to the second quarter, but they did not expect spending to continue at the same pace.

Broader real-time measures of the economy showed little evidence yet of a macroeconomic rebound.

Another 2.4 million people filed for unemployment benefits, though the number dropped from last week.

Consumer and industrial activity measures from Goldman Sachs were unchanged. A New York Fed index tracking growth in gross domestic fell slightly. An Atlanta Fed rolling estimate of current-quarter gross domestic product remained at what’s hoped to be its bottom, showing an annualized drop of more than 40%.

Any good news remained narrowly focused. Unacast data showed foot traffic among home improvement stores recently crept above 2019 levels, and pet stores were attracting more visitors.

Estimated activity moved up faster in the midwest and south – Wyoming and South Dakota saw retail traffic above 2019 levels recently — while coastal states, some still under relatively tight restrictions, remained far below last year.

For more on the real time data referenced here, see:

Unacast here here Safegraph www.safegraph.com/dashboard, NYFed here ATLFed here

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Some childminders in England told they can reopen

Childminders in England can reopen from Wednesday if they are caring for children from the same household, the government announced late on Tuesday.

The move follows confusion about when childminders could reopen.

“Childminders have been told three different things about plans to reopen in a matter of days,” said Neil Leitch of the Early Years Alliance (EYA).

The EYA said it received news of the change to government guidance in an email just after 18:30 BST on Tuesday.

During lockdown, registered childminders have either been closed or providing care for vulnerable children or children of key workers.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to reopen the sector as part of his “conditional plan” to gradually end the lockdown.

However, organisations representing childminders later sought clarification as separate documents issued by the government suggested both 13 May and 1 June as dates for when this could happen.

In a meeting on Tuesday, the Department for Education appeared to confirm the 1 June date for all childminders, according to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY).

But in an email to childcare organisations, sent a few hours later, an official issued an update on childminder policy “effective from tomorrow”.

“The government has amended its guidance to clarify that paid childcare can be provided to the children of one household in any circumstance,” said the email.

“This would include nannies, for example, and childminders may also choose to provide childcare on this basis if not already providing care for vulnerable children and children of critical workers.

“This should enable more working parents to return to work.”

Infection fears

PACEY chief executive Liz Bayram welcomed the clarification, saying the organisation had heard from thousands of its members who were unclear when they could reopen.

“It is up to you as an individual to decide whether you want to open now or take time to prepare to open to all children on 1 June,” PACEY advised its members on its web page.

Ms Bayram however warned that not all childminders could consider opening in June because of ongoing worries about infection.

“We also know many childminders are worried about reopening and placing their family at risk.”

She called for better financial support from government for childminders whose businesses have been hit by the lockdown.

Mr Leitch said childminders had “frankly had enough of last-minute, contradictory guidance from this government”.

He urged ministers to stop treating them as an “afterthought” and to recognise that they needed better support and guidance in meeting the challenge of providing childcare safely in their own homes.

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