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Canada’s job growth is challenging basic economic theory. Are the models wrong?

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Canada’s economy added a stunning 150,000 jobs last month. It’s the second straight month that jobs numbers blew well past expectations. And it’s yet one more data point that challenges the narrative that Canada needs to shed jobs to bring inflation under control.

“We’re seeing a key test of our theories of how labour market tightness translates to wages and from wages to prices,” said Brendon Bernard, chief economist at the job search site Indeed.

Economic theory tells us that unemployment and inflation are inextricably linked. As unemployment falls and more people work, inflation increases. And as unemployment increases, inflation drops.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Inflation peaked in June at 8.1 per cent. It has decelerated considerably since then. In December, it had fallen to 6.3 per cent and is expected to fall all the way to 5.6 per cent when we get January’s numbers later this month.

“Theories are always being tested,” said Bernard. “But I think in really unique times like this, that’s even more the case. Partially because the pressure is really on. There are major policy implications of how things evolve in the next six months or a year.”

The policy implications of this are enormous.

‘Must make them at least a tad nervous’

Canadians are already squeezed — pinched between rising prices and increased borrowing costs. The Bank of Canada raised rates by another 25 basis points earlier this year. But it also signaled it was ready to pause rate hikes going forward.

“If economic developments evolve broadly in line with the [bank’s] outlook, Governing Council expects to hold the policy rate at its current level while it assesses the impact of the cumulative interest rate increases,” wrote the central bank in its last decision.

Canada has now added 326,000 jobs since the beginning of September. That was certainly not in line with the Bank of Canada’s outlook.

“For the Bank of Canada, the strong [jobs] report must make them at least a tad nervous about their freshly-minted pause — we said the bar for any move would be very high, but the employment gain is pretty towering indeed,” wrote BMO Capital Markets chief economist Douglas Porter in a research note.

But economists like Jim Stanford say continuing to hike rates now is unnecessary and needlessly painful.

He’s been saying for months that inflation was driven by global factors like the price of oil and shipping. He says it’s been exacerbated at home by corporations hiking prices more than their input costs.

“We’ve been barking up the wrong tree on both the cause of inflation and how to fix it,” said Stanford, an economist and director at the Centre for Future Work.

 

The Canadian economy added 100,000 jobs in December, exceeding expectations and signaling to the Bank of Canada that another interest rate hike might be necessary.

He says most conventional thinking around inflation is that prices are driven up by too much spending. So, the orthodox response is to cool the labour market and put people out of work.

The problem, according to Stanford, is that in this particular environment, inflation is not following the textbook model.

“I think the assumption that you can’t have low unemployment without blowing the roof off inflation is being proved wrong day by day,” Stanford told CBC News.

‘No easy way to restore price stability’

The orthodoxy around the relationship between jobs and inflation isn’t the only theory being challenged right now.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has attacked the credibility of the Bank of Canada, saying it didn’t recognize the perils of inflation as it ramped up last year and has been too focused on supporting markets instead of regular Canadians.

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem gave a speech this week entitled “How monetary policy works.” In that address, he tried to make a case for how the bank has seen the last year or so unfold.

 

“We know that the monetary policy tightening we’ve undertaken is hard on many Canadians. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to restore price stability. Monetary policy doesn’t work as quickly or painlessly as everyone would like, but it works,” said Macklem.

Communication and transparency are key to making sure Canadians understand and trust what the bank is doing. After a critical report from the International Monetary Fund last year, the Bank of Canada agreed to release more information around how it makes its decisions.

This week the bank unveiled its first ever Summary of Deliberations. It didn’t offer any surprises, but it is a clear attempt by the central bank to become more transparent.

A weird time for the economy

All this speaks to a uniquely weird time in both the Canadian and the global economies.

An unprecedented pandemic crashed into the economy just three years ago. Overnight it shocked markets and supply chains. It fundamentally changed how we live and work.

Now as life slowly creaks back to normal, economists say it can’t be much of a surprise that the old models and economic theories aren’t exactly spot-on.

The jobs report is just one data point and the Bank of Canada has more to consider before its next interest rate decision on March 8. Chief among those will be the next inflation report on Feb 21.

On the upside, there are an awful lot of positive forces at play right now. Inflation is decelerating, the economy has slowed, but hasn’t slipped into a recession, and experts say that red-hot jobs market should act as something of a buffer against a pretty lousy forecast for the first half of this year.

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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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