Data drives home life changes for Americans amid pandemic

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Apparently, right now is a good time to take a walk or drive around that new house you’ve bought.

Well, maybe not you or I, but a lot of Americans seem to be doing that according to the data. CNBC compiled into a short post five charts that tell a fascinating story about our behaviours amid the coronavirus pandemic. Two of most interesting to this blog have to do with choice of transportation and home-buying.

With lockdowns and safer-at-home edicts abating, Americans tired of being cooped up inside have indeed started to travel, but in a measured, contained manner. Direction request data from the Apple Maps application shows that its users are driving and walking more than they did a year ago but are using mass transit much less. By driving or walking, a person can better control their physical distance from others, while mass transit such as subways and buses do not afford that ability. With so many unknowns still about Covid-19 surrounding infectivity, asymptomatic carriers and immunity for those who have recovered, the last place many of us want to be is standing or sitting elbow to elbow with strangers in an enclosed environment. The airline industry has been afflicted in the same way.

Increased driving and walking as summer takes hold in the US bodes well for a renaissance in outdoor recreation and living, something written about previously in this blog. Bicycle sales continue to be robust, with shortages reported across the nation and one analyst saying that people are “buying bikes like toilet paper”. Demand is also up for kayaks, and foot traffic is up at recreational vehicle lots. That is great news for upstream resins markets such as polypropylene (PP), nylon, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and polycarbonate (PC), and those who explore the great outdoors tend to get thirsty for drinks packaged in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and hungry for snacks packaged in polyethylene (PE).

Last year the Outdoor Foundation released a report in which it said just under half of Americans did not participate in outdoor recreation. The blog thinks that Covid-19 will help shrink that number of outdoor non-participants by a significant number for 2020.

While enjoying the outdoors can cost anywhere from zilch to where-did-my-paycheck-go, the other trend of interest highlighted by CNBC is consistently sizably greater in financial investment – home-buying. With record unemployment and continued worries about the health of a US economy riddled with literal and figurative worries about the health of its consumers, it is on the surface a bit jarring to see US mortgage applications for purchasing a single-family home up sharply year-on-year since mid-May.

Part of the reason are interest rates, which have fallen to around 3.0% on a 30-year mortgage. The other reason is a story of haves and worried-about-having-not: Those feeling secure in their employment and/or their financial situations are able to buy homes in a market that due to economic conditions is in need of buyers, while those who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic or downturn in US energy production are either unable to do the same or worse – they are financially forced to sell their home. Taking that into account leaves this blog with an uneasy feeling about a trend that in general should be good for producers and converters of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the paints and coatings sector, engineered plastics, etc.

Think I’ll go take a walk like a lot of other Americans and be thankful I can still write this blog, from which I will be on hiatus from until 14 July due to a long holiday. And like a lot of other Americans, it will be outdoors dominated, with lots of socially distanced hiking and sightseeing. See you back here in July.

 

Disclaimer: The views in this blogpost should in no shape or form be taken as actual forecasts and are my personal views only.

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