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BlackRock expects economy to flatline for a year before inflation returns in 2024. Get ready for a generational shift to ‘full-employment stagnation’

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In December, BlackRock’s top minds told their clients that a U.S. recession was “foretold.” The Federal Reserve’s aggressive interest rate hikes, although meant to merely tame inflation, would ultimately lead to a wave of job losses and falling GDP, they warned. But now, with inflation fading, GDP growth continuing, and the labor market remaining resilient, experts at the world’s largest asset manager have become a bit more optimistic about the future—at least in the near-term.

“Our base case is that the economy broadly flatlines for another year as the full impact of high interest rates comes through and consumers exhaust their pandemic savings,” Jean Boivin, head of the BlackRock Investment Institute and his deputy head, Alex Brazier, wrote in an August 14 blog post.

A stagnant economy is slightly better than a shrinking one, but Boivin and Brazier noted that if their prediction is correct, the economy will have essentially “flatlined” for two and a half straight years. “That would be the weakest such period in the post-war era outside the Global Financial Crisis,” they explained, referring to the financial meltdown caused by the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.

Boivin and Brazier also argue that a “big structural shift” is underway that could cause problems for the U.S. in the long term. Changing demographics and a rise in early retirements are increasing the share of retirees in the U.S. population. That could lead to labor force shortages, which would slow the economy and have the potential to reignite inflation.

“Our assessment is that we are set for ‘full-employment stagnation,’” the pair wrote Monday, arguing that as labor shortages start to “bind” in 2024, inflation will go on “roller coaster ride” and reemerge.

Out of the fire and into the frying pan

Over the past few years, changing consumer spending patterns and pandemic and war-related supply chain issues helped to create a “mismatch” in the economy that sparked the rise of inflation, according to BlackRock.

Essentially, the economy wasn’t set up to produce what people actually wanted to buy, and this supply-demand imbalance caused prices to surge. But now, although that imbalance is “resolving,” enabling inflation to fade, the labor shortage is threatening to bring consumer price increases back with a vengeance.

Boivin and Brazier found that the U.S. workforce is 4 million workers short of where it would have been if it kept growing at its pre-COVID pace. And due to demographics, the pair believe it will now grow by only 0.5% on average each year, compared to 1.5% before the pandemic.

That could cause “full-employment stagnation,” or a period of weak growth with rising inflation caused by labor shortages. “And that should lead to a shift in how all the income generated in the economy is being distributed: a greater share is ending up in employees’ pockets and a smaller share for companies and their shareholders,” Boivin and Brazier explained.

Rising wages are great for workers, but with increased pay comes less profit and increased costs for business, and that “could hold back business investment” and stoke inflation, according to BlackRock. And on top of that: “A smaller workforce means the rate of growth the economy will be able to sustain without resurgent inflation will be lower: more like 1% than the 2% we were used to,” Boivin and Brazier warned.

Of course, some economists—and even billionaire CEOs—believe that rising wages are not necessarily an issue for the economy. Barry Sternlicht, the founder and CEO of Starwood Capital, told Fortune last September that even if rising wages push inflation higher, that might not be the worst tradeoff.

“I think the whole dialogue is wrong. I don’t think we need 2% inflation,” he said. “I mean, inflation that is driven by wage growth is fabulous. We should want wages to go up, that will help social issues in the United States; it’s the trickle-down that we’ve all been waiting for with low unemployment.”

A word of warning for the Fed

For the Federal Reserve, full-employment stagnation is a serious concern. Keeping inflation sustainably at bay amid labor shortages that cause steadily rising wages, while also ensuring that the economy continues to grow, will be a real challenge.

On top of that, the tactics used to spark economic growth in the past, including cutting interest rates or buying government bonds and mortgage backed securities, may prove to be far more inflationary amid future labor force shortages as lower rates and increased liquidity could spark unsustainable wage gains.

With that in mind, Boivin and Brazier had a message for central bank officials:

“This is not a business cycle. We are in the midst of a structural shift. Monetary policy cannot rescue the economy from weakness. The Fed will need to make sure the U.S. economy is not growing more quickly than what it can now maintain without inflation surging.”

 

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Here is Trump economy: Slower growth, higher prices and a bigger national debt

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If Donald Trump is re-elected president of the United States in November, Americans can expect higher inflation, slower economic growth and a larger national debt, according to economists.

Trump’s economic agenda for a second term in office includes raising tariffs on imports, cutting taxes and deporting millions of undocumented migrants.

“Inflation will be the main impact” of a second Trump presidency, Bernard Yaros, lead US economist at Oxford Economics, told Al Jazeera.

“That’s ultimately the biggest risk. If Trump is president, tariffs are going up for sure. The question is how high do they go and how widespread are they,” Yaros said.

Trump has proposed imposing a 10 percent across-the-board tariff on all imported goods and levies of 60 percent or higher on Chinese imports.

During Trump’s first term in office from 2017 to 2021, his administration introduced tariff increases that at their peak affected about 10 percent of imports, mostly goods from China, Moody’s Analytics said in a report released in June.

Those levies nonetheless inflicted “measurable economic damage”, particularly to the agriculture, manufacturing and transportation sectors, according to the report.

“A tariff increase covering nearly all goods imports, as Trump recently proposed, goes far beyond any previous action,” Moody’s Analytics said in its report.

Businesses typically pass higher tariffs on to their customers, raising prices for consumers. They could also affect businesses’ decisions about how and where to invest.

“There are three main tenets of Trump’s campaign, and they all point in the same inflationary direction,” Matt Colyar, assistant director at Moody’s Analytics, told Al Jazeera.

“We didn’t even think of including retaliatory tariffs in our modelling because who knows how widespread and what form the tit-for-tat model could involve,” Colyar added.

‘Recession becomes a serious threat’

When the US opened its borders after the COVID-19 pandemic, the inflow of immigrants helped to ease labour shortages in a range of industries such as construction, manufacturing, leisure and hospitality.

The recovery of the labour market in turn helped to bring down inflation from its mid-2022 peak of 9.1 percent.

Trump has not only proposed the mass deportation of 15 million to 20 million undocumented migrants but also restricting the inflow of visa-holding migrant workers too.

That, along with a wave of retiring Baby Boomers – an estimated 10,000 of whom are exiting the workforce every day – would put pressure on wages as it did during the pandemic, a trend that only recently started to ease.

“We can assume he will throw enough sand into the gears of the immigration process so you have meaningfully less immigration, which is inflationary,” Yaros said.

Since labour costs and inflation are two important measures that the US Federal Reserve weighs when setting its benchmark interest rate, the central bank could announce further rate hikes, or at least wait longer to cut rates.

That would make recession a “serious threat once again”, according to Moody’s.

Adding to those inflationary concerns are Trump’s proposals to extend his 2017 tax cuts and further lower the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 20 percent.

While Trump’s proposed tariff hikes would offset some lost revenue, they would not make up the shortfall entirely.

According to Moody’s, the US government would generate $1.7 trillion in revenue from Trump’s tariffs while his tax cuts would cost $3.4 trillion.

Yaros said government spending is also likely to rise as Republicans seek bigger defence budgets and Democrats push for greater social expenditures, further stoking inflation.

If President Joe Biden is re-elected, economists expect no philosophical change in his approach to import taxes. They think he will continue to use targeted tariff increases, much like the recently announced 100 percent tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles and solar panels, to help US companies compete with government-supported Chinese firms.

With Trump’s tax cuts set to expire in 2025, a second Biden term would see some of those cuts extended, but not all, Colyar said. Primarily, the tax cuts to higher earners like those making more than $400,000 a year would expire.

Although Biden has said he would hike corporate taxes from 21 percent to 28 percent, given the divided Congress, it is unlikely he would be able to push that through.

The contrasting economic visions of the two presidential candidates have created unwelcome uncertainty for businesses, Colyar said.

“Firms and investors are having a hard time staying on top of [their plans] given the two different ways the US elections could go,” Colyar said.

“In my entire tenure, geopolitical risk has never been such an important consideration as it is today,” he added.

 

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China Stainless Steel Mogul Fights to Avoid a Second Collapse

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Chinese metal tycoon Dai Guofang’s first steel empire was brought down by a government campaign to rein in market exuberance, tax evasion accusations and a spell behind bars. Two decades on, he’s once again fighting for survival.

A one-time scrap-metal collector, he built and rebuilt a fortune as China boomed. Now with the economy cooling, Dai faces a debt crisis that threatens the future of one of the world’s top stainless steel producers, Jiangsu Delong Nickel Industry Co., along with plants held by his wife and son. Its demise would send ripples through the country’s vast manufacturing sector and the embattled global nickel market.

 

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Why Trump’s re-election could hit Europe’s economy by at least €150 billion

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A Trump victory could trigger a 1% GDP hit to the eurozone economy, with Germany, Italy, and Finland most affected. Renewed NATO demands and potential cessation of US aid to Ukraine could further strain Europe.

The potential re-election of Donald Trump as US President poses a significant threat to the eurozone economy, with economists warning of a possible €150 billion hit, equivalent to about 1% of the region’s gross domestic product. This impact stems from anticipated negative trade repercussions and increased defence expenditures.

The recent attack in Butler, Pennsylvania, where former President Trump sustained an ear injury, has boosted his re-election odds. Prediction markets now place Trump’s chances of winning at 71%, a significant rise from earlier figures, while his opponent, Joe Biden, has experienced a sharp decline, with his chances dropping to 18% from a peak of 45% just two months ago.

Rising trade uncertainty and economic impact from tariffs

Economists James Moberly and Sven Jari Stehn from Goldman Sachs have raised alarms over the looming uncertainty in global trade policies, drawing parallels to the volatility experienced in 2018 and 2019. They argue that Trump’s aggressive trade stance could reignite these uncertainties.

“Trump has pledged to impose an across-the-board 10% tariff on all US imports including from Europe,” Goldman Sachs outlined in a recent note.

The economists predict that the surge in trade policy uncertainty, which previously reduced Euro area industrial production by 2% in 2018-19, could now result in a 1% decline in Euro area gross domestic product.

Germany to bear the brunt, followed by Italy

Germany, Europe’s industrial powerhouse, is expected to bear the brunt of this impact.

“We estimate that the negative effects of trade policy uncertainty are larger in Germany than elsewhere in the Euro area, reflecting its greater openness and reliance on industrial activity,” Goldman Sachs explained.

The report highlighted that Germany’s industrial sector is more vulnerable to trade disruptions compared to other major Eurozone economies such as France.

After Germany, Italy and Finland are projected to be the second and third most affected countries respectively, due to the relatively higher weight of manufacturing activity in their economies.

According to a Eurostat study published in February 2024, Germany (€157.7 billion), Italy (€67.3 billion), and Ireland (€51.6 billion) were the three largest European Union exporters to the United States in 2023.

Germany also maintained the largest trade surplus (€85.8 billion), followed by Italy (€42.1 billion).

Defence, security pressures and financial condition shifts

A Trump victory would also be likely to bring renewed defence and security pressures to Europe. Trump has consistently pushed for NATO members to meet their 2% GDP defence spending commitments. Currently, EU members spend about 1.75% of GDP on defence, necessitating an increase of 0.25% to meet the target.

Moreover, Trump has indicated that he might cease US military aid to Ukraine, compelling European nations to step in. The US currently allocates approximately €40bn annually (or 0.25% of EU GDP) for Ukrainian support. Consequently, meeting NATO’s 2% GDP defence spending requirement and offsetting the potential reduction in US military aid could cost the EU an additional 0.5% of GDP per year.

Additional economic shocks from Trump’s potential re-election include heightened US foreign demand due to tax cuts and the risk of tighter financial conditions driven by a stronger dollar.

However, Goldman Sachs believes that the benefits from a looser US fiscal policy would be marginal for the European economy, with by a mere 0.1% boost in economic activity.

“A Trump victory in the November election would likely come with significant financial market shifts,” Goldman Sachs wrote.

Reflecting on the aftermath of the 2016 election, long-term yields surged, equity prices soared, and the dollar appreciated significantly. Despite these movements, the Euro area Financial Conditions Index (FCI) only experienced a slight tightening, as a weaker euro counterbalanced higher interest rates and wider sovereign spreads.

In conclusion, Trump’s potential re-election could have far-reaching economic implications for Europe, exacerbating trade uncertainties and imposing new financial and defence burdens on the continent.

 

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