Hawaii braces for possible recession as economic fallout of virus grows

Updated: Mar. 13, 2020 at 1:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Even if the coronavirus does not become widespread in Hawaii, business leaders said the pandemic is already hurting Hawaii businesses.

“People aren’t buying as much or they’re being cautious and a lot of people are staying home right now," said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, at the first meeting Thursday of the state House Committee charged with preparing for the economic fallout of the coronavirus.

“(Retailers) are looking at cutbacks in (employee) hours. ... They are going back looking over their business plans, they’re redoing their budgets.”

University of Hawaii economist Carl Bonham said there’s a 50% chance of a recession, especially if the virus isn’t contained and consumer confidence doesn’t recover.

“It looks like a recession for Hawaii, it looks like a recession for the U.S," Bonham said.

Hawaiian Airlines, meanwhile, told attendees that advance bookings from Japan are down 15 to 25% this month while bookings for the larger mainland market are also softening.

“The impact of the global spread of COVID-19 on Hawaii’s economy will be profound," said Peter Ingram, Hawaiian’s CEO.

Gov. David Ige, who also attended Thursday’s hearing, said the state will try to stimulate the economy.

“We definitely are looking at construction projects that we already have in the pipeline and get them shovel ready as quick as possible," he said.

Other proposals being considered include extending unemployment benefits for people who lose their jobs and eliminating income taxes on unemployment benefits.

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