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Seen from Google Trends: when the French economy stops

Seen from Google Trends: when the French economy stops

The French economy has suffered from a very sharp drop in activity since the implementation of containment against the coronavirus. Analyzing Google Trends data on the centers of interest of Internet users in France makes it possible to identify neglected sectors.

The first data from INSEE on the economic impact of the coronavirus are dizzying. At a time when non-essential businesses are closed and while a good part of the French remain confined to their homes, the institute estimates that activity will have fallen by 35% as a whole in the last week of March, compared to a “normal” week. In some sectors, the collapse is even more brutal: -89% in construction and -52% in industry excluding agri-food. However, it is indeed the cessation of market services that will constitute the most significant shock for the economy as a whole: with a drop in activity of -36%, this sector which represents more than half of GDP would contribute one-fifth of the total drop in activity. According to INSEE, the drop in consumption would be just as strong: -35%.

These very pessimistic estimates reflect the sudden change that has taken place in the daily life of an entire country. To measure this, we used data from Google Trends, a tool that offers an index of the volume of searches for a keyword over time. The behavior of Internet users in France has been radically modified by the confinement, and the data for certain keywords make it possible to understand the extent of these changes over the last 30 days, to be compared with the first elements of appreciation of the economic situation.

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A sudden interest in home delivery, small businesses mistreated

Since the introduction of the travel ban, the volume of requests for the keyword “home delivery” has exploded. Searches for “supermarket” also peaked, but before the lockdown was even in place, starting March 17. The decline in the interest of Internet users echoes the words of the boss of the E.Leclerc group, Michel-Edouard Leclerc, in Match: “This rush lasted five days, until the decision to containment, on Tuesday. We had never experienced this, with sales up 40 to 100% for “drives”, 30% for hypermarkets close to towns. The storage effect was considerable.” Since then, he says, sales have plummeted. Finally, at a time when most French people have stored their cars in the garage, the keyword “service station” has aroused less interest since a peak just before confinement.

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Not all local businesses are affected in the same way by the current crisis. Requests for food businesses are maintained, even increasing. Businesses that have had to cease their activity, on the other hand, are logically the subject of fewer searches on Google. This is the case of hairdressers, beauticians and florists, with sometimes spectacular falls. More surprisingly, wine merchants, although authorized to open, seem to be the subject of much lower interest: Google queries for the keyword have collapsed in recent days.

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Finally, all leisure-related businesses are also facing a sudden loss of interest. With restaurants, bars, cinemas, nightclubs and theaters closed, the volume of Google queries for them has plunged. The data also shows a spike in interest in most of these types of establishments just after Emmanuel Macron’s first speech on March 12. This peak partly corresponds to a weekly cycle – the French go out on Friday and Saturday evening – but it has grown more than in previous weeks for bars, nightclubs and theaters. As if some, anticipating confinement, had wanted to enjoy their evenings one last time. As of Monday March 16, noting that the instructions passed the previous week had been unequally followed, the executive had announced much stronger restrictions.

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Economically, the increased enthusiasm for certain digital services – ecommerce, video streaming, teleworking tools – will not fill the void left by the shutdown of a whole section of activity. The government has already admitted that its forecast of a -1% recession in 2020 is outdated. The rating agency Moody’s anticipates a 1.4% decline in gross domestic product, while S&P expects -1.7%. Insee, very cautious in formulating its assumptions, evokes in an economic update published Thursday a decline in annual GDP of 3 points in the event of a one-month confinement, while specifying that it is very difficult to imagine what will play out in the months to come: “The evolution of GDP growth is very closely linked to the exit scenario from the health crisis. However, INSEE does not have forecasting capabilities on this subject. By way of comparison, the decline in GDP was 2.9% in 2009, after the great financial crisis.

To read : Economy and pandemic, the contagion of risks

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