JPMorgan Sees Restaurant Spending as Predictor of Virus’s Spread

Business

Americans trying to predict where the next wave of virus outbreaks will hit may want to look at where local shoppers get their food.

That’s according to JPMorgan Chase & Co., which found the level of in-person spending in restaurants three weeks ago was the strongest predictor of where new cases would emerge. Similarly, higher spending in supermarkets indicated a slower spread, suggesting shoppers in those regions may be living more cautiously.

The bank collects the data by tracking the spending of 30 million Chase credit and debit cardholders.

“We recognize that the interplay among the many factors that could drive the spread of the virus could be quite complex, and the states now seeing rapid spreading share other characteristics beyond their restaurant spending. But we still find it useful to see these relationships between economic activity and subsequent spread of the virus,” economist Jesse Edgerton wrote in a Thursday afternoon note to clients.

Many states have moved to reopen their economies, including bars and dining rooms at a limited capacity. At the same time, a second surge in Covid-19 cases in states like Texas, Florida, Arizona and California is raising alarms and threatening to undo the small gains the reeling restaurant industry has seen in recent weeks.

Government figures out Friday are projected to show reopenings helped consumer spending surge in May by a record 9.1% from the prior month. However, purchases likely remained well below pre-pandemic levels.

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