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Economy

Why the coronavirus could have an upside for the WA economy

As the coronavirus epidemic slows down global trade and grinds on economies, there may be an upside for WA according to the head of one of WA's biggest apartment developers.

Fresh after posting a $6.6 million profit from July to December 2019 Finbar managing director Darren Pateman said despite global uncertainty he predicted Perth could benefit in the long-run if governments started spending big to get their economies back on track.

Finbar’s Pelago apartments in Karratha

"It’s incredibly difficult to predict or adequately prepare for possible impacts because this is really uncharted territory. At this stage, we’re undertaking fairly standard scenario planning for the possibility of operating in softer economic conditions," he said.

"In the long-term, however, we see only good things for Perth.

"We’re confident overseas governments will seek to stimulate their economies through infrastructure spending and that will have very real benefits for WA.

"For Perth property, we’re optimistic that any short-term impacts will likely be offset by the longer-term benefits of Australia being seen as an even more attractive destination, particularly among Asian buyers."

Finbar's half-year profit jumped nearly $5 million from the same period in 2018 thanks to revaluations of two properties in its portfolio.

Finbar's Fairlanes tower in East Perth revaluation resulted in a $6.2 million increase to the property.

The company's Pelago residential properties in Karratha added $1 million to its value but the commercial aspect dropped $495,000 in value.

Finbar’s Civic Heart will be its largest ever project. Credit:Finbar

The Karratha property became a focal point for the Pilbara town's tanking property market during the resources downturn but was now worth $56.82 million.

Mr Pateman said commercial remained a tough market in Karratha but that was no different to Perth and other parts of the state.

"That said, in the last six weeks we’ve seen a noticeable increase in commercial leasing activity in the town so we’re hoping this will be reflected in valuations moving forward," he said.

"Despite the downturn that was experienced in Karratha, Pelago remained effectively fully occupied and over the last 12 months we’ve been able to increase rents in line with greater demand."

Mr Pateman said the property would continue to perform strongly and he was optimistic about the Karratha's future over the next five years.

"The outlook suggests Karratha could soon be in a similar position to where it was seven years ago, with high demand but a lag in supply," he said.

"We are very bullish on Pelago moving forwards and feel it’s well-positioned to benefit from the tightening market."

Back in Perth, the company is wasting no time with its Civic Heart property, just weeks after WA Planning Minister Rita Saffioti swooped in and approved the controversial development after years of planning stalemates.

Mr Pateman said the project had already attracted 5000 enquiries and Finbar was hoping to have a soft project launch within weeks.

"Our capital management is focused on ensuring we break ground this calendar year. Civic Heart is a large project with a big basement so we’re expecting it will take some 28 months to complete," he said.

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Economy

Eurozone Economic Confidence At 9-Month High

Eurozone economic confidence strengthened to a nine-month high in February, survey results from the European Commission showed on Thursday.

Rising for the fourth straight month, the economic sentiment index came in at 103.5 in February, versus a revised 102.6 in January. Economists had forecast the reading to fall to 102.6 from January’s initial estimate of 102.8.

Industrial confidence improved for the second straight month as managers’ appraisals of the current order books rose by the highest margin in around two and a half years. The corresponding index climbed to -6.1 from -7.0 a month ago.

Largely due to households’ brighter expectations in respect of the general economic situation, the consumer sentiment index improved to -6.6, in line with estimate, from -8.1.

Reflecting stable demand expectations and views on the past business situation, the services confidence indicator advanced slightly to 11.2 from 11.0.

Meanwhile, the retail trade confidence indicator fell slightly to -0.2 from -0.1 in the previous month, as more cautious views on the present business situation and volume of stocks were counterbalanced by a brighter than expected business situation.

At the same time, the construction sentiment index dropped to 5.3 from 5.8 in January, indicating a combination of grimmer assessments of the level of order books and more optimistic employment expectations.

The new employment expectations indicator eased mildly by 0.3 points to 105.0 in February.

Peter Vanden Houte, an ING economist, said economic sentiment improved showing that the manufacturing sector is set for a recovery.

The business climate indicator improved to -0.04 in February from -0.19 in January. This was the highest score in eight months.

However, the survey was done at a time when Europe considered Covid-19 largely a Chinese problem with some minor negative effects on the rest of the world, the economist noted.

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Economy

Super Tuesday: Democrats fight over huge delegate pool, as hopes could fade fast for moderate rivals to Sanders

The battle to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee looks set to take a sizable step toward its resolution on Tuesday, as a huge number of delegates will get parceled out.

The Super Tuesday voting in 14 states and one U.S. territory is putting in play more than a third of the pledged delegates at July’s Democratic National Convention — 1,357 out of 3,979.

Some pundits are already assuming front-runner Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist, will win the party’s 2020 nomination, and that’s led some investing strategists to pin the stock market’s SPX, -4.42%DJIA, -4.42% recent slide in part on fears of a Sanders presidency.

But there is still a window of opportunity for the more centrist Democrats competing against Vermont’s junior senator, said Height Capital Markets analysts, though they also said it “will close quickly after Super Tuesday.”

“If they can keep Sanders below ~750 delegates and consolidate relatively quickly, a moderate could surpass Sanders,” the analysts wrote in a note.

Ahead of Saturday’s primary voting in South Carolina, Sanders has 43 delegates, according to an NBC News tracker. He’s followed by former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 26, former Vice President Joe Biden with 13, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts with eight and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota with seven.

No other contenders have picked up delegates so far. Billionaire former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg — the last entrant and biggest spender in the Democratic race — won’t be on ballots until Super Tuesday.

Read more: South Carolina primary could ‘change the narrative’ for Biden ahead of Super Tuesday

The most delegate-rich states voting on Super Tuesday are California and Texas. Also holding primaries on March 3 are Virginia, North Carolina, Massachusetts, Minnesota and eight states in the South, West or New England. American Samoa is due to join in the action as well, and voters who reside overseas will begin casting their ballots on Tuesday in the “Democrats Abroad” primary.

Sanders looks like a lock in his home state of Vermont and a solid favorite in California, Colorado, Utah and Maine, but Biden and Bloomberg could notch wins in Super Tuesday’s seven southern states, according to a FiveThirtyEight forecast. Sanders also has a strong chance of victory in Massachusetts and Minnesota, but they are the home states for Warren and Klobuchar, respectively.

“Biden loyalists say he will win enough delegates on Tuesday to stay in the race, and they insist he will do well with African-Americans and blue-collar workers in upcoming primaries in Ohio and Michigan. Maybe. But his window is closing fast,” said Greg Valliere, chief U.S. policy strategist at AGF Investments, in a note. “Perhaps only an enthusiastic endorsement from Barack Obama, blasting Bernie Sanders, could make a difference.”

To secure the party’s nomination on the first ballot at the July 13-16 convention in Milwaukee, a Democratic contender will need to win at least 1,991 pledged delegates. Pundits have been speculating that for the first time since 1952, no Democratic politician will get to that magic number, so party insiders known as superdelegates will join in the process of picking the politician who will take on President Donald Trump in November.

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Economy

Stock-market plunge ‘starting to feel a bit ridiculous’ but don’t argue, says chart watcher

It doesn’t pay to fight the tape, but the stock market could be poised for a big-time rally once a historic selloff subsides, a veteran chart watcher told clients Thursday.

“This move lower is starting to feel a bit ridiculous, but we try not to argue with Ms. Market,” said Mark Arbeter, president of Arbeter Investments, in a note. “If and when this thing turns, we should see some rip roaring rally.”

A relentless six-day selloff previously pushed major indexes into correction territory on Thursday, a move attributed by investors largely to fears over the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus outside of China, before trimming losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -2.57% was down around 430 points, or 1.6%, near 26,530 after falling more than 900 points at its session low. The S&P 500 SPX, -2.48%was off 1.6% near 3,067 after briefly trading below its 200-day moving average.

A close below 3,047.54 for the S&P 500 would meet the widely used definition of a market correction, marking a more than 10% pullback from a record close set just six trading days ago on Feb. 19.

In a phone interview, Arbeter told MarketWatch that the push off the session lows was encouraging, with the S&P 500 finding support after briefly trading below its 200-day moving average at 3,046.91. The 200-day average is seen as an important gauge of an asset’s longer-term trend.

“I think we hit a low this morning,” Arbeter said. The potential for a “rip-roaring” rally, meanwhile, is a consequence of the nearly vertical drop by the market from its all-time highs — a move that left little in the way of potential resistance on the S&P 500 chart below the 3,200 level.

Arbeter said he was encouraged by “clear evidence of panic in both sentiment and market breadth measures.” Chart watchers look for such signs of capitulation, clearing out weak-handed traders, exhausting sellers and paving the way for a rebound.

In terms of market breadth, Monday and Tuesday saw 90% of stocks fall, “which means everything was thrown out,” he said.

Chart watchers and other market observers have noted a plethora of oversold market signals in recent sessions as the selloff intensified, but some have cautioned against moving to immediately buy the dip. They argued that a “reflex rally” would likely be met with selling pressure as investors who missed the opportunity to sell in the initial leg down use a bounce to reduce positions.

Market bears contend stocks are headed for a prolonged selloff and the potential end of a long-running bull market if the spread of COVID-19 results in a global supply shock.

But Arbeter said he suspected the market was more likely to see a V-shaped recovery, much like the bounce seen in the wake of the December 2018 selloff that took the S&P 500 to the brink of a bear market before giving way to a sharp rally that didn’t see a meaningful pause until the spring of 2019.

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Economy

Steven Seagal pays $330K to settle SEC cryptocurrency promo case

Steven Seagal isn’t above the law, after all.

The action-movie star agreed to pay more than $330,000 to settle allegations that he hid his hefty compensation package for promoting a fledgling cryptocurrency.

Seagal, 67, touted a 2018 initial coin offering for “Bitcoiin2Gen” without revealing that the company behind it promised him $1 million in cash and cryptocurrency for his services, the US Securities and Exchange Commission said Thursday.

The promotional campaign for the coin included a February 2018 press release boasting that “Zen Master Steven Seagal” — who made his big-screen debut in the 1988 film “Above the Law” — had become its “brand ambassador.” Seagal went on to push the coin to his 107,000 Twitter followers and 6.7 million Facebook fans without disclosing that he was being paid, which is illegal, according to SEC officials.

“These investors were entitled to know about payments Seagal received or was promised to endorse this investment so they could decide whether he may be biased,” Kristina Littman, chair of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit, said in a statement.

Bitcoiin2Gen pledged to pay Seagal $250,000 in cash and $750,000 in its cryptocurrency tokens for promoting the coin, but Seagal only received about $157,000, SEC officials said. The coin company said in late March 2018 that Seagal’s brand ambassador gig had come to an end after it got a cease-and-desist order from New Jersey securities regulators.

Seagal agreed to pay disgorgement of $157,000, plus about $16,400 in interest and a $157,000 penalty under the settlement without admitting to or denying the SEC’s allegations, the commission said.

Bitcoiin2Gen and representatives for Seagal did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Economy

Former Baltimore mayor sentenced to 3 years in prison over book scheme

BALTIMORE (AP) — The disgraced former mayor of Baltimore was sentenced to three years in federal prison Thursday for arranging fraudulent sales of her self-published children’s books to nonprofits and foundations to promote her political career and fund her run for the city’s highest office.

Catherine Pugh spoke through tears for about 10 minutes before her sentencing in federal court in Baltimore. The 69-year-old veteran Democratic politician apologized and said that “no one is more disappointed than me.”

The scandal has shaken Maryland’s largest city, which for years has struggled with grinding poverty, political mismanagement, record crime rates and police abuses that led to massive riots. And it made a mockery of Pugh’s inaugural promise to restore trust in Baltimore’s leaders.

Pugh was elected mayor in 2016 and resigned under pressure in May as authorities investigated bulk sales of her “Healthy Holly” paperbacks, which netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Federal authorities accused Pugh, 69, of double selling the books, keeping many for self-promotion purposes and failing to deliver them to institutions they were purchased for, including the Baltimore City Public Schools. Pugh used the proceeds to fund straw donations to her mayoral campaign and buy a new house.

Pugh was also sentenced on Thursday to serve three years of supervised release after getting out of prison and was ordered to pay more than $411,000 in restitution and to forfeit more than $669,000 to the government. She pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November.

Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow to sentence the former mayor to nearly five years in prison, while her attorneys suggested a term of one year and a day.

Prior to the sentencing, a visibly stressed Pugh teared up when she turned around in her seat and saw friends and others sitting in the packed courtroom. Her attorney handed her a box of tissues and briefly rubbed her back.

Dozens of people submitted letters to the federal judge pleading for leniency, including Kweisi Mfume, the former NAACP leader and Democratic nominee for Maryland’s 7th Congressional District. Five people spoke in support of Pugh during the hearing, including her former high school teacher.

But U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow said she found it ironic that Pugh’s supporters flaunted her commitment to public service.

“It was precisely that reputation for good work that enabled her to commit those offenses,” Chasnow said.

Pugh, helped by longtime aide Gary Brown Jr., carefully carried out the scheme over more than seven years, starting when she was a Maryland state senator and into her tenure as Baltimore’s mayor. Brown and another Pugh associate, Roslyn Wedington, await sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy and tax fraud.

A detailed accounting of the sales presented by prosecutors revealed that organizations paid Pugh $859,960 for orders of more than 132,100 copies. But only about 73,200 copies were printed. In their sentencing memorandum, prosecutors said Pugh’s personal inventory of books never exceeded 8,216 copies, but she resold them repeatedly through the elaborate scheme.

The University of Maryland Medical System — one of the state’s largest employers — was Pugh’s biggest book customer, and will receive $400,000 of the $411,000 in restitution payments. The remaining $11,000 will go to the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund.

The medical system paid her a total of $500,000 for 100,000 copies that were meant to be distributed to schoolchildren, but about 60,000 of those books were sent to a city warehouse and a Pugh office where thousands were removed to give to other customers. Prosecutors say Pugh never delivered the other 40,000 books the health system purchased for city schools.

While serving in the state Senate, Pugh sat on a committee that funded the medical system. She also sat on the hospital network’s board from 2001 until the scandal erupted in March. The former mayor returned the last $100,000 payment.

Other Pugh customers include CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Permanente, which insure city employees. Some of their multiyear, multimillion-dollar contracts were awarded before Pugh took office, and some were awarded afterward, prosecutors said in a court filing.

“While there is no evidence that Pugh attempted to extort or solicit bribes from any of the foregoing companies or organizations, the fact that she repeatedly and almost exclusively targeted them suggests that Pugh leveraged the power of her elected office to corruptly solicit money from companies and organizations that might be beholden to her,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memorandum.

The memorandum added that none of those who bought the books were even aware of their existence until Pugh mentioned them. Prosecutors said 93.6% of the book purchases, totaling $805,000, were bought by corporate buyers with an interest in “obtaining or maintaining a government contract.”

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Economy

Best Buy, J. C. Penney Q4 Results Top View

Best Buy Co. Inc. (BBY) Thursday reported a fourth-quarter profit that increased 1.4 percent from last year, while, J. C. Penney Co.’s (JCP) quarterly profit dropped 64 percent. However, the results of the companies topped analysts’ estimates.

Best Buy boosted its quarterly dividend by 10 percent. It expects profit for the first-quarter and full year in line with analysts’ view.

J. C. Penney expects to close at least six store locations in fiscal 2020, and annual comparable store sales to decline in a range of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Best Buy reported that its net earnings for the fourth-quarter of fiscal year 2020 increased 1.4 percent to $745 million from $735 million, with earnings per share improving to $2.84 from $2.69 in the prior year.

Both adjusted earnings per share and quarterly revenues topped analysts’ expectations.

Adjusted earnings per share for the quarter were $2.90 compared to $2.72 in the previous year. On average, 24 analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected the company to report earnings of $2.75 per share for the forth-quarter. Analysts’ estimates typically exclude special items.

The company’s board approved a 10 percent increase in the regular quarterly dividend to $0.55 per share, effective immediately. The regular quarterly dividend will be payable on April 9, 2020, to shareholders of record as of the close of business on March 19, 2020.

The company plans to spend between $750 million and $1.0 billion on share repurchases in fiscal year 2021.

For the first quarter, the company forecasts adjusted earnings per share to be in the range of $1.00 – $1.05 and enterprise revenue of $9.1 billion to $9.2 billion. Analysts expect the company to report earnings of $1.01 per share for the quarter on revenues of $9.28 billion.

For fiscal year 2021, the company projects earnings per share of $6.10 to $6.30 and enterprise revenue of $43.3 billion to $44.3 billion. The Street expects earnings of $6.25 per share for the year on revenues of $44.22 billion.

The company expects full-year comparable sales growth in the range of flat to 2 percent.

The company views the Coronavirus outbreak as a relatively short-term disruption that does not impact its long-term strategy and initiatives.

The retailer said it is confident to achieve its fiscal year 2025 targets, specifically the financial targets of $50 billion in revenue and a 5 percent adjusted operating income rate.

Revenue for the quarter grew 2.7 percent to $15.20 billion from $14.80 billion last year. Wall Street analysts were looking for revenue estimate of $15.05 billion for the quarter.

Domestic revenue increased 2.6 percent year-over-year to $13.85 billion, driven by comparable sales growth of 3.4 percent, partially offset by the loss of revenue from store closures in the past year.

Quarterly international revenue was $1.35 billion up 3.4 percent from the previous year, primarily driven by the impact of about 160 basis points of favorable foreign currency exchange rates and comparable sales growth of 1.6 percent, which was driven by Canada.

Meanwhile, the Plano, Texas-based department store chain J. C. Penney Co. reported its net income for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2019 dropped 64 percent to $27 million from $75 million last year, while earnings per share fell to $0.08 from $0.24 in the previous year.

However, both adjusted earnings per share and revenue for the quarter beat analysts’ expectations.

Adjusted net income was $43 million or $0.13 per share, compared to $57 million or $0.18 per share, last year. Analysts expect the company to report loss of $0.06 per share for the fourth-quarter.

The company expects to close at least six store locations in fiscal 2020.

Total revenues for the fourth quarter decreased about 7.7 percent to $3.49 billion from $3.79 billion in the prior year. Analysts expected revenues of $3.44 billion for the quarter.

Comparable store sales for the quarter decreased 7 percent, while it was down 6 percent in the prior year.

Adjusted comparable store sales, which exclude the impact of the Company’s exit from major appliance and in-store furniture categories, decreased 4.7 percent for the quarter.

For fiscal 2020, the company projects comparable store sales to decline in a range of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent. The guidance does not include any potential impact from the Coronavirus situation.

BBY is trading at $79.40, down $2.78 or 3.38 percent. JCP is trading at $0.68, down $0.04 or 6.06 percent.

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Economy

American satisfaction with US position in world nears 2-decade high

What do people from socialist countries think of America?

PHP Agency co-owner Matt Sapaula discusses the love immigrants have for the United States, the rise of socialism in the country and his company, which helps people flee from socialist countries.

Americans are more satisfied with the status of the U.S. in the world today than they have been since 2003, a jump largely owed to Republicans, according to a new Gallup poll.

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About 53 percent of Americans are satisfied with the global position of the U.S., the poll, released Thursday found.

But the assessment of the country’s position in the world is starkly different between the political parties: Republicans expressed a high level — 85 percent — of satisfaction, while just 19 percent of Democrats said they were satisfied. Independents’ satisfaction edged up slightly to 48 percent.

While Democrats and Republicans typically disagree in their evaluation of the country, depending on whether their party occupies the White House, the current 66-percentage-point gap between their satisfaction levels is the largest ever recorded by Gallup.

UNDER TRUMP, AMERICANS' ECONOMIC OPTIMISM HITS HIGHEST LEVEL SINCE 1999

Gallup has tracked Americans’ satisfaction with the country’s standing since 2000; it peaked at 71 percent in 2002 shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks and plummeted to 30 percent in 2008 at the end of President George W. Bush’s eight-year tenure when the U.S. remained mired in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still, most Americans agree that President Trump is not viewed positively by other world leaders. Just 37 percent think that leaders of other countries respect Trump, compared to 61 percent who say they do not. That’s up six percentage points from 2019, a record for Trump, but is far from the highs recorded for his two most recent predecessors (Bush received 75 percent in 2002, and Barack Obama garnered 67 percent in 2009).

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Seventy-one percent of Republicans think Trump is respected, while just 6 percent of Democrats believe the same. The 68-point gap between Republicans and Democrats on this measure is not uncommon, though it is at the higher end.

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“As Trump fights to stay in the White House and remain the leader of the free world, Americans are feeling more positive about the United States' global image than they have since 2003,” the poll concluded. “The readings about global perceptions of the U.S. among all Americans are roughly in line with those in 2004 when Bush won a second term in office.”

The poll, which was conducted from Feb. 3 to Feb. 16, surveyed 1,208 adults.

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Economy

Drivers with expensive cars less likely to stop for pedestrians

Illinois gas prices could rise if state bans drivers from pumping own gas

FOX Business’ Grady Trimble on the price of gas and a proposal to ban drivers from pumping their own gas in Illinois.

If you have an expensive car, you’re probably less likely to stop for pedestrians, a new study has found.

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On Wednesday, a study on driver yielding behaviors for pedestrians — conducted by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) — was published online at ScienceDirect ahead of its March publication in the Journal of Transport & Health.

The study found that the cost of a car was “a significant predictor of driver yielding,” according to a press release.

FORD’S INCOMING COO FOCUSES ON COST CUTS, LAUNCHES, CHANGE

The likeliness of a driver stopping for pedestrians waiting at crosswalks decreases by 3 percent for every $1,000 increase in the car’s cost, the study found.

A crosswalk is pictured in Hong Kong. (BMW)

However, all drivers need to work on yielding, according to the report. Only 28 percent of drivers yielded out of 461 cars that were analyzed by researchers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR WHEN IT COMES TO FUEL ECONOMY

"It says that pedestrians are facing some challenges when it comes to safety, and it's really concerning," lead author and UNLV public health professor Courtney Coughenour said in a statement.

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"Drivers need to be made aware that they legally have to yield. It's hard to say whether they're not yielding because they don't know the laws or because they don't want to yield," Coughenour added. "Further study is needed to examine that. Until then, the bigger thing is driver education."

For the study, UNLV researchers used Kelley Blue Book to calculate the cost of each car and video data from a previous UNLV study on driver yielding.

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Economy

U.S. economy grew a mild 2.1% in 4th quarter, but coronavirus threatens to reduce GDP even further

The numbers: The economy expanded at a 2.1% pace at the end of 2019, but the U.S. might struggle to achieve even that modest rate of growth in the months ahead if a new strain of coronavirus isn’t contained.

The government also pegged gross domestic product at 2.1% in its preliminary estimate last month. GDP is the official scorecard for the economy.

The economy had been growing at a similar pace early in 2020, but signs are starting to suggest that the global outbreak of the COVID-19 illness could hurt the U.S. in the late stages of the first quarter. Tourism and travel-related businesses are already feeling the ill effects and tech giants such as Apple AAPL, +1.59% have warned about potentially softer sales and profits.

What happened: Consumer spending, the main engine of the economy, was revised down a notch to show a so-so 1.7%% pace of growth in the fourth quarter. Outlays had risen 3.2% in the prior quarter.

The trade deficit was also sharply lower, giving the biggest boost to GDP. Exports rose a revised 2% instead of 1.4%. The decline in imports was little changed at 8.7%.

As reported last month, soft business spending acted as a ball and chain on the economy in the fourth quarter.

Fixed business investment, excluding housing, fell 2.3% compared to an initial 1.5% decline. Companies spent less on equipment, especially in oil and gas extraction.

The change in the value of unsold goods was revised up to $13 billion from $6.5 billion, but it was still the weakest in a year and a half. Manufacturers cut back production late in the year amid a drop in demand tied to the U.S.-China trade war and a slowing global economy.

Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 illness, investors were hoping that a partial trade truce with China would spur more business investment this year, but the spread of the virus appears to have upset those plans.

The rate of inflation in the fourth quarter, meanwhile, was lowered to 1.3% from 1.6%. Inflation has been running low for years and shows little sign of rising.

Most other figures in the report were little changed.

Big picture: The spiraling health and other risks from the coronavirus have created a shadow over what had seemed to be a sunny U.S. economy. So far the harm has been limited, but the viral outbreak could do more damage in the near future and even raise the odds of the first recession in almost 11 years if it’s not contained.

Read: Fears that the coronavirus will turn into a global economic pandemic are mounting

Market reaction:The Dow Jones Industrial AverageDJIA, -0.46% and S&P 500 SPX, -0.38% were set to open lower in Thursday trades. Stocks have lost more than 2,000 points in the past week owing to the rapid spread outside of China of the new strain of coronavirus.

The 10-year Treasury yield TMUBMUSD10Y, -4.67% slipped to 1.28% as investors sought the perceived safety of government bonds. The yield has fallen to a record low.

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