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Biden’s New Vaccine Push Is a Fight for the U.S. Economy – The New York Times

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The effort reflects the continuing and evolving threat the coronavirus pandemic poses to the economic recovery.

WASHINGTON — President Biden’s aggressive move to expand the number of vaccinated Americans and halt the spread of the Delta variant is not just an effort to save lives. It is also an attempt to counter the continuing and evolving threat that the virus poses to the economy.

Delta’s rise has been fueled in part by the inability of Mr. Biden and his administration to persuade millions of vaccine-refusing Americans to inoculate themselves against the virus. That has created another problem: a drag on the economic recovery. Real-time gauges of restaurant visits, airline travel and other services show consumers pulled back on some face-to-face spending in recent weeks.

After weeks of playing down the threat that a new wave of infections posed to the recovery, the president and his team blamed Delta for slowing job growth in August. “We’re in a tough stretch,” he conceded on Thursday, after heralding the economic progress made under his administration so far this year, “and it could last for a while.”

The virus threatens the recovery even though consumers and business owners are not retrenching the way they did when the coronavirus began to spread in the United States in the spring of 2020. Far fewer states and cities have imposed restrictions on business activity than in previous waves, and administration officials vowed on Thursday that the nation would not return to “lockdowns or shutdowns.”

But a surge in deaths crippled consumer confidence in August and portends a possible chill in fall spending as people again opt for limited in-person commerce. The unchecked spread of the virus has also contributed to a rapid drop in the president’s approval ratings — even among Democrats.

The explosion of new cases and deaths also appears to have deterred many would-be workers from accepting open jobs in businesses across the country, economists say. That comes as businesses and consumers are complaining about a labor shortage and as administration officials pin their hopes on rising wages to power consumer spending in place of fading government support for distressed families.

The plan that Mr. Biden announced on Thursday would mandate vaccinations for federal employees and contractors and for millions of health care workers, along with new Labor Department rules requiring vaccines or weekly tests for employees at companies with more than 100 employees. It would push for more testing, offer more aid to small businesses, call on schools to adopt vaccine requirements and provide easy access to booster shots for eligible Americans. The president estimated the requirements would affect 100 million Americans, or about two-thirds of all workers.

“We have the tools to combat the virus,” he said, “if we can come together and use those tools.”

Mr. Biden faces political risks from his actions, which drew swift backlash from many conservative lawmakers who accused him of violating the Constitution and abusing his powers.

But administration officials have always viewed vaccinating more Americans as the primary strategy for reviving the recovery.

“This is an economic downturn that has been spawned from a public health crisis,” Cecilia Rouse, the chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said last month in an interview. “So we will get back to economic health when we get past the virus, when we return to public health as well.”

That is likely true even in places that already have high inoculation rates. Mr. Biden’s inability thus far to break through vaccine hesitancy, particularly in conservative areas, has also become a psychological spending drag on those in highly vaccinated areas. That is because vaccinated Americans appear more likely to pull back on travel, dining out and other activity out of fear of the virus.

“People who vaccinate themselves very early are people who are already very careful,” said Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, a University of Pennsylvania economist who has studied the interplay between the pandemic and the economy. “People who do not vaccinate themselves are less careful. So there is a multiplier effect” when it comes to those kinds of decisions.

The economic effect from the virus varies by region, and it has changed in key ways over the course of the pandemic. In some heavily vaccinated parts of the country — including liberal states packed with Mr. Biden’s supporters — virus-wary Americans have pulled back on economic activity, even though infection rates in their areas are low. In some less-vaccinated states like Texas that have experienced a large Delta wave, data suggest rising hospitalization and death rates are not driving down activity as much as they did in previous waves.

“It appears the latest Covid surge has been less impactful on the economy than previous surges in Texas,” said Laila Assanie, a senior business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, which surveys employers in the state each month about their activity during the pandemic.

Business owners, Ms. Assanie said, “said they were better prepared this time around.”

Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

Respondents to the survey said consumer spending had not fallen off as much this summer, compared with the initial spread of the coronavirus in March 2020 or a renewed spike last winter, even as case and hospitalization rates neared their previous peak from January. But many employers reported staffing pressures from workers falling ill with the virus. The share of businesses reporting that concerns about the pandemic were an impediment to hiring workers tripled from July to August.

Data from Homebase, which provides time-management software to small businesses, show that employment in entertainment, dining and other coronavirus-sensitive sectors has fallen in recent weeks as the Delta variant has spread. But the decline is smaller than during the spike in cases last winter, suggesting that economic activity has become less sensitive to the pandemic over time. Other measures likewise show that economic activity has slowed but not collapsed as cases have risen.

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That trend has helped bolster overall consumer spending and hiring in the short term and helped keep the economy on track for its fastest annual growth in a quarter century. But there is a risk that it will be undercut by a continued pandemic dampening of labor force participation. Economists who have tracked the issue say that even if consumers have grown more accustomed to shopping or dining out as cases rise, there is little sign that would-be workers, even vaccinated ones, have become more accepting of the risks of returning to service jobs as the pandemic rages.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that employers are eager to hire,” said Andrew Atkeson, an economist at the University of California at Los Angeles who has released several papers on the economics of the pandemic. “The problem is not that people aren’t spending. It’s that people are still reluctant to go back to work”

The Delta wave also appears to be sidelining some workers by disrupting child care and, in some cases, schools — forcing parents to take time off or to delay returning to jobs.

Some forecasters believe the combination of rising vaccination rates and a growing share of Americans who have already contracted the virus will soon arrest the Delta wave and set the economy back on track for rapid growth, with small-business hiring and restaurant visits rebounding as soon as the end of this month. “Now is the time to start thinking about the post-Delta world,” Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note this month.

Other economists see the possibility that a continued Delta wave — or a surge from another variant in the months to come — will substantially slow the recovery, because potential workers in particular remain sensitive to the spread of the virus.

“That’s a very real danger,” said Austan Goolsbee, a former head of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama whose research earlier in the pandemic showed fear, not government restrictions, was the driving force behind lost economic activity from the virus.

“At the same time,” Mr. Goolsbee said, “it also shows promise: the fact that when we get control of the spread of the virus, or even stabilize the spread of the virus, the economy wants to come back.”

The greatest lift to the country, and likely to Mr. Biden’s popularity, from finally curbing the virus would not be regained business sales or jobs created. It would be stemming a death toll that has climbed to about 650,000 since the pandemic began.

“I always tell undergraduates, when they take economics with me, that economics is not about optimizing output,” said Mr. Fernández-Villaverde, the University of Pennsylvania economist. “It’s about optimizing welfare. And if you’re dead, you’re not getting a lot of welfare.”

Ben Casselman contributed reporting from New York.

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Slow pace of vaccinations is largest drag on the economy in survey of business leaders – NBC News

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Corporate leaders are far less bullish about the economic recovery than they were back in the spring — and they fear that vaccination holdouts could stall or even reverse the progress that has been made.

A new survey by the National Association for Business Economics, or NABE, found a marked pullback in expectations for economic growth and output, especially in the near term. Survey respondents expect real growth in gross domestic product for this year to come in at 5.6 percent at the median — a significant drop from the median 6.7 percent growth expected in May, when the survey was last conducted.

“The erosion of forecasts and confidence has really mirrored what our economists have been saying, because we brought down our Q3 GDP forecast from 7.0 to 5.6 percent,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research. “We just feel that things don’t look as rosy as they did before.”

Nearly 2 in 5 NABE survey respondents said downside economic risk outweighs upside risk for the year, and just 16 percent said conditions are weighted toward the upside. The figures were reversed in May, when 56 percent ranked upside risk as a higher probability and just 15 percent said saw greater downside risk to the outlook.

The key difference, and the factor that is weighing on hopes for the recovery, is the resurgence of Covid-19 fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus. Everybody who was banking on the pandemic’s receding over the summer has had to modify their expectations in the face of a public health crisis that shows no sign of abating.

“We all believed we were through the pandemic five months ago, and I believe that the variant has caught many people by surprise,” said Joseph Heider, president of Cirrus Wealth Management. “As this lingers on, executives are becoming more concerned and asking, ‘Are we going to have this under control?'”

NABE survey chair Holly Wade, executive director of the NFIB Research Center, said in the survey outlook report, “Panelists point to a variant of the coronavirus, against which the vaccines may be ineffective as the main downside risk.” Nearly two-thirds of respondents identified that as the greatest downside risk to the economy, and 9 percent more cited slowing vaccine uptake as the most worrisome hurdle. A plurality of 44 percent said a faster vaccine rollout is the best chance for higher-than-expected economic gain.

Heider said: “Vaccine resistance is, I think, larger than many people anticipated. I think it’s creating real concerns as to our ability to reach herd immunity. And when we don’t have herd immunity, the unvaccinated are human petri dishes for the virus to mutate.”

Although the virus represents the biggest threat to near-term business recovery, analysts said it is far from the only headwind corporations face. “There’s just many more variables and unknowns than there were six months ago,” said Dick Pfister, CEO of AlphaCore Wealth Advisory.

In addition to the threat of Covid and potential variants, Pfister said, companies and investors are monitoring other unfolding circumstances. The Federal Reserve is edging closer to ending its bond buying, and more policymakers have expressed openness to raising interest rates sooner. The financial peril faced by the heavily indebted Chinese real estate giant Evergrande is making investors nervous, he said, as they try to gauge whether the company’s teetering on the brink of collapse was an isolated incident.

“There’s probably more than just one, and there are some fears from economists that this could be more systematic inside of China,” he said.

A globally connected economy poses other sorts of risks, as well: A cascading series of bottlenecks in the global supply chain affecting semiconductors to energy has triggered much of the growing worry about rapidly increasing prices. The NABE survey found that 17 percent of respondents said supply chain disruptions were having a “significant impact” on business, while 27 percent more cited mild or moderate impacts.

“Inflation expectations have moved up significantly from those in the May 2021 survey,” Wade said. On average, NABE respondents expect inflation to rise by 5.1 percent in the fourth quarter year over year, a jump from an expected 2.8 percent increase in the May survey.

David Wagner, portfolio manager at Aptus Capital Advisors, said the duration and the breadth of global supply disruption have triggered a re-evaluation in corner offices in the U.S. and around the world. In the spring, “it seemed like the supply chain problem was transitory,” but the assumptions were dashed as the summer went on, he said, adding: “Supply chain problems are persisting for much longer than originally expected.

“Now that you’re starting to see some kind of tangible supply chain backlog, I think that’s got more people pessimistic. It caught people by surprise,” Wagner said.

Rob Haworth, senior investment strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, said, “Supply concerns are weighing on the mind of the market and economists because it has limited the amount of output we can get from certain industries.”

Along with the supply shortages that are hindering production and driving up costs, the unbalanced labor market continues to constrain growth, as well — but there also are glimpses within those distortions of potential normalization. Although about one-third of survey respondents said they were facing a surfeit of workers, a larger proportion, 44 percent, said they were not experiencing a labor shortage. Respondents predict wage growth of 4 percent for the year, followed by a 3.5 percent increase next year — rates broadly in line with what many economists consider to be indicative of a well-functioning labor market.

“The labor market is not fully recovered — we’re seeing that across other surveys, as well, and even the Fed’s own Beige Book indicates that hiring has been challenging,” Haworth said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement, but it’s really slow going.”

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Toronto market rises as energy shares reach 3-month high

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Canada‘s main stock index rose on Monday as a rally in oil prices lifted the energy sector to the highest level in nearly three months, while financials gained ground as bond yields rose.

The Toronto Stock Exchange‘s S&P/TSX composite index ended up 60.76 points, or 0.3%, at 20,463.42.

“Energy has rallied pretty nicely” on the jump in oil prices, said Kevin Headland, senior investment strategist at Manulife Investment Management.

The energy sector rose 3.1% to notch its highest closing level since July 5, while crude oil futures settled nearly 2% higher at $75.45 a barrel as investors fretted about tighter supplies.

The heavily weighted financial services sector ended 0.5% higher but information technology lost 1.2%.

The move lower in technology was “a carryover from the U.S., given the jump in 10-year yields today,” Headland said.

The U.S. 10-year yield rose above 1.5% for the first time since June 29 before easing, bolstered by solid economic data and signals the Federal Reserve is shifting toward a more hawkish policy.

Higher yields tend to hurt the shares of companies with high growth prospects because they reduce the value of future cash flows.

The S&P 500, which has a higher technology weighting than the Toronto market, ended lower.

“In the Canadian stock market… we’re playing a little bit of catch-up to U.S. stocks as they outperformed Canadian stocks in the last five sessions,” said Michael White, portfolio manager at Picton Mahoney Asset Management.

The healthcare sector, which includes cannabis producers, ended 2.4% higher. The materials group gained 0.5%.

 

(Reporting by Fergal Smith; Additional reporting by Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Fund Managers See Stocks Outperforming Bonds Despite Economy – Bloomberg

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Gently, but steadily, economic expectations are coming down. It may be an overreaction to the wave of Covid-19 caused by the delta variant, or it may be a response to incoming data, or it could reflect dampening hopes for an expansive new fiscal policy in the U.S. as the standing of President Biden also dampens. But for whatever reason, hopes for a big new “reflation” or even a post-Covid “reopening” have dwindled.

One thing remains unchanged by this, however. The great majority of investors are still convinced that there is no alternative to stocks. Even with drabber economic growth in prospect, which should help fixed-income more than equities, the overwhelming consensus still calls for stocks to outperform bonds.

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