Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said the coronavirus is likely to cause economic disruption in China and possibly beyond but it is still too early to judge any potential impact on the U.S.
“There is likely to be some disruption to activity in China and possibly globally based on the spread of the virus to date and the travel restrictions and business closures that have already been imposed,” Powell said at a press conference Wednesday. “Of course the situation is really in its early stages and its very uncertain about how much it will spread and what the macroeconomic effects would be in China and its immediate trading partners and neighbors and around the world.”
Powell added that the Fed is “very carefully monitoring the situation.”
Last year, the Fed cut its benchmark rate three times after having raised it four times in 2018. Powell and other Fed officials credit those rate cuts with revitalizing the housing market, which had stumbled early last year, and offsetting some of the drag from President Donald Trump’s trade war with China.
China’s viral outbreak has injected fresh doubts into that outlook. The coronavirus has in effect shut down much of that nation and seems sure to slow the Chinese economy — the world’s second-largest — which had already been decelerating. The virus has now infected more people in China than were sickened in the country by the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.
Major companies across the world have responded to the virus by suspending some operations in China. Starbucks said it plans to close half its stores in China, its second-largest market. British Airways has halted all flights to China, and American Airlines suspended Los Angeles flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing.
Hotels, airlines, casinos and cruise operators are among the industries that have suffered the most immediate repercussions, especially in countries close to China. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company’s suppliers in China have been forced to delay the re-opening of factories that have closed for the Chinese New Year holiday until Feb. 10.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report.