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US economy Heading to recession?

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WASHINGTON — Financial markets are flashing a key warning sign of a recession, and the global economy is weakening as the U.S.-China trade war intensifies.

All of which is heightening fear about the U.S. economy and about whether the 10-year expansion, the longest on record, is nearing an end.

On Wednesday, a rare realignment in interest rates intensified those worries: The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note briefly fell below the yield on the 2-year Treasury for the first time since 2007.

Normally, investors earn higher interest on longer-term bonds than on short-term ones. Put another way, the government will usually pay more to investors who are willing to lend their money for longer periods.

So when that equation reverses itself — when longer-term Treasurys pay less than shorter-term ones — economists call it an “inverted yield curve .” An inverted curve suggests that bond investors expect growth to slow so much that the Federal Reserve will soon feel compelled to slash short-term rates to try to support the economy.

In short, it’s a sign of economic pessimism. Inverted curves are, in fact, remarkably reliable harbingers of recessions: They have occurred before each of the past five downturns.

The inversion sent stocks plunging Wednesday, with the Dow Jones tumbling 800 points, or 3%. Still, an inversion says little about timing of a forthcoming recession. On average, an inversion occurs roughly two years before a downturn.

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SO ARE WE NEARING A RECESSION?

Many economists worry that recession odds are rising. Julia Coronado, chief economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives, sees a 40% probability of a downturn within the next 12 months, up from 30% last month.

Those concerns stem in part from the U.S.-China trade war, which appears to have discouraged many businesses from expanding and investing in new buildings and equipment. It is also harming Germany’s export-led economy, which shrank in the second quarter. A chaotic British exit from the European Union looms this fall. Japan and South Korea are also engaged in a trade fight.

And the Trump administration has essentially acknowledged that its planned 10% tariffs on $300 billion of mostly consumer goods from China would hurt U.S. shoppers. That’s because many retailers would raise prices to account for the higher tariffs on Chinese imports they would have to pay.

On Tuesday, Trump said he would delay, from Sept. 1 to Dec. 15, the tax on more than half those imports to avoid raising prices for holiday shoppers.

Still, for now, most economic signs appear solid. Employers are adding jobs at a steady pace, the unemployment rate remains near a 50-year low and consumers are optimistic.

“I wouldn’t forecast a recession just on the yield curve,” said Eric Winograd, senior economist at AllianceBernstein. “I would want to see other signals that point to that, but we’re not seeing them right now.”

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WHAT IS A RECESSION?

One rule of thumb is that a recession occurs when gross domestic product, the broadest measure of U.S. growth, contracts for two straight quarters.

But that’s not the official definition. The National Bureau of Economic Research, a private organization of economists that formally defines recessions, say they occur when there is: “a significant decline in economic activity” lasting for more than “a few months,” reflected in a range of economic data, including GDP, incomes and jobs.

The bureau makes its determination retroactively. So the economy can actually be in recession for some time before it is officially declared so. The bureau, for example, declared in November 2008 that the Great Recession had begun 11 months earlier.

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WHAT DO ECONOMISTS WATCH FOR SIGNS OF A RECESSION?

The most commonly cited indicator of a weakening economy is weekly first-time applications for unemployment benefits. People are eligible for the benefits if they’ve been laid off or have lost a job through no fault of their own. So a rising pace of applications suggests that companies are cutting jobs.

Last week, first-time applications amounted to 209,000, a very low level historically.

The Institute for Supply Management’s survey of manufacturers is another important gauge. Lately, it is showing that factory activity has been slowing and is near the level that indicates it is shrinking. Manufacturing makes up a relatively small part of the economy but is more sensitive to downturns than services. That’s because people cut back on car-buying and other large purchases when they feel economically squeezed.

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HOW SEVERE MIGHT ARECESSION BE?

If there is one anytime soon, it’s hard to tell how long or deep it will be. But many economists think it might be relatively mild. That’s because American households are in stronger financial shape than before the Great Recession. Mortgages and household debts, as a percentage of overall incomes, are lower. And ultra-low interest rates make it easier for consumers to stay current on their debts.

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WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY FINANCES IF A RECESSION IS COMING?

Since it’s hard to know when or if a recession will occur, most experts advise against drastic moves, such as rashly selling stock holdings or postponing major purchases that you can otherwise afford.

Generally, it makes sense to do what most personal finance experts typically recommend: Pay off credit card and other high-interest debt and make sure you have a cushion of savings.

The irony is that such advice, if widely adopted, could make a recession more likely as millions of consumers collectively pull back on spending. Companies’ reluctance to invest amid the uncertainty of the trade war, has already slowed growth.

“We could end up talking ourselves into a recession,” said Jay Bryson, global economist for Wells Fargo.

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EU incoming economy chief calls for less restrictive budget policies

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By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) – The European Union needs looser budgetary policies and an overhaul of its fiscal rulebook, the bloc’s designated economics commissioner said in an article published on Sunday.

Writing in Italian financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Paolo Gentiloni said that while the EU’s deficit and debt rules must not be ignored, they needed to be “reviewed and updated”.

“It’s time for countries which have fiscal space to use it, in an overall context of less restrictive budgetary policies,” Gentiloni, due to replace Pierre Moscovici as economic and financial affairs commissioner on Nov. 1, said.

The former Italian prime minister warned that with the EU economy slowing, “the risks of a prolonged period of low growth must not be overlooked” and the task of stimulating the economy “cannot be left to monetary policy alone”.

Gentiloni will have an important role in scrutinizing Italy’s draft 2020 budget which was submitted to the Commission last week.

The budget plan raises next year’s structural deficit — which excludes the effect of GDP growth fluctuations — by 0.1% of gross domestic product, reversing a previous commitment by Rome to lower it by 0.6%.

EU Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis told Reuters on Friday that Brussels would ask Italy for “clarifications” over its budget intentions.

However, even though the budget seems to flout EU rules, many analysts expect the Commission to take a lenient approach and avoid a prolonged dispute with Rome like the one that broke out last year when Italy had a less EU-friendly government.

Gentiloni, who comes from the pro-Europe Democratic Party which now governs with the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, said it was crucial that the budget plan comes from a government that has a constructive approach toward the EU.

Among what he termed new instruments needed help growth and stability, Gentiloni cited an EU-wide unemployment insurance scheme, without going into details.

(Reporting by Gavin Jones; Editing by Canada News Media)

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Lebanese continue protests, demand government to fix economy

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Tens of thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Lebanon‘s streets on Sunday for a fourth day of anti-government protests that have led to the resignation of a Christian party from the government.

Demonstrators, who have been on the streets since Thursday, have pledged to continue marching despite the resignations late on Saturday of four government members from the key political party, Lebanese Forces.

Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman, one of the four to quit the government, told Al Jazeera shortly after the decision that they had “lost faith in the government’s ability to effect change and address the problem”.

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Lebanese citizens have been suffering from tax hikes and dire economic conditions in the heavily indebted country.

Lebanon’s public debt stands at around $86bn – more than 150 percent of gross domestic product, according to the finance ministry.

The grievances and anger at the government’s lack of solutions erupted into protests on Thursday, sparked by hikes in taxes including a proposed $0.2 tax on calls via messaging apps such as WhatsApp.

Such calls are the main method of communication for many Lebanese and, despite the government’s swift abandonment of the tax, the demonstrations quickly swelled into the largest in years.

“It is day four and protesters are back on the street. It’s not just in the capital Beirut, but across the country. The message they [protesters] are giving is of defiance and that they will continue to demand the resignation of the government,” said Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Beirut.

“While there are tens of thousands on the street protesting, there are still people who are backing the political parties, so it is not going to be easy to bring a change. These people out there want a nationalist leader whose loyalty is to Lebanon and not a political party.”

In an attempt to appease demonstrators, Lebanon’s finance minister, following a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, announced that they had agreed on a final budget that did not include any additional taxes or fees.

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“We want everybody to join us on Sunday and also Monday to topple the government,” one protester said.

On Friday, Hariri gave a 72-hour deadline to his partners in government to agree on a solution to the country’s economic woes without imposing new taxes.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, whose movement is part of the government, warned on Saturday that a change in government would only worsen the situation.

The army on Saturday called on protesters to “express themselves peacefully without harming public and private property”.

What is the solution to Lebanon’s economic and political crisis?

On Saturday evening, thousands were packed for a third straight night into the Riyadh al-Solh square in central Beirut, despite security forces having used tear gas and water cannon to disperse similar crowds a day before.

Amnesty International said the security forces’ reaction was excessive, pointing out that the vast majority of protesters were peaceful.

“The intention was clearly to prevent protesters gathering – in a clear violation of the right to peaceful assembly,” it said.

Small groups of protesters have also damaged shop fronts and blocked roads by burning tyres and other obstacles.

The Internal Security Forces said 70 arrests were made on Friday on accusations of theft and arson.

But all of those held at the main police barracks were released on Saturday, the National News Agency (NNA) said.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Finance Officials Focus on Economy

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The IMF managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, said the threat from trade wars was a chief point of discussion for finance officials.

She said the IMF has estimated that the tariffs already imposed or threatened could shave 0.8% off global growth by the end of next year. Much of that stems from the fallout on business confidence.

In trade wars, “everybody loses,” she said. “Policymakers ought to take very seriously their obligations to international cooperation in trade.”

The World Bank’s president, David Malpass, said this week’s finance discussions had focused on how to address multiple challenges.

“Growth is slowing, investment is sluggish, manufacturing activity is soft and trade is weakening,” he said. “Climate change and fragility are making poor countries more vulnerable.”

He said the World Bank was committed to helping to address these challenges to provide a better life for the 700 million people in the world living in extreme poverty.

The IMF, in an updated economic outlook, projected the global economy would expand by 3% this year, the weakest in a decade, and said 90 percent of the world was experiencing a downshift in growth. But the IMF forecast growth will accelerate slightly to 3.4% in 2020, still below the 3.6% rate in 2018.

Jubilee USA, a religious organization fighting global poverty, said in a statement that while the IMF outlined a number of serious threats, the recommendations for dealing with them fell short.

“Risky investing, trade tensions and developing countries borrowing too much are serious concerns for financial stability,” said Eric LeCompte, the group’s executive director.

While Trump’s trade policies were a prime topic of discussion at the meetings, finance officials for the most part avoided direct criticism of the American president.

Christine Lagarde, who dealt with the Trump administration during her last three years as head of the IMF, was a bit more direct in an interview to be broadcast Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Asked about Trump’s trade war with China, she said it would give the world’s economy “a big haircut” and should be resolved by having all parties “sit down like big men, many men in those rooms and put everything on the table, and try to deal bit by bit, piece by piece, so that we have certainty.”

On Trump’s frequent Twitter attacks on Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, Lagarde said central bankers need to be independent to do their jobs well.

“Market stability should not be the subject of a tweet here or a tweet there. It requires consideration, thinking, quiet and measured and rational decisions,” she said.

Lagarde is scheduled to take over on Nov. 1 as the head of the European Central Bank, which manages monetary policy for the 19 countries who use the euro currency.

(KR)

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