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Delta variant, shortages severely restrict U.S. economic growth in third quarter

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The U.S. economy grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in the third quarter as a resurgence in COVID-19 cases further stretched global supply chains, leading to shortages of goods like automobiles that slammed the brakes on consumer spending.

The weaker-than-expected growth reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday also reflected decreasing pandemic relief money from the government to businesses, state and local governments as well as households. Hurricane Ida, which devastated U.S. offshore energy production at the end of August also restrained economic growth.

But there are signs that economic activity is already regaining momentum amid declining coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a fresh 19-month low last week. Even with the third-quarter setback, the level of gross domestic product hit a record high and the economy is now 1.4% bigger than before the pandemic.

“The growth speed bump in the third quarter is an unwelcome surprise certainly, but it will not send the economy off into the ditch because it is partly based on supply disruptions in the auto industry that has cratered sales with inventories near record lows on dealer lots,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.0% annualized rate last quarter, the government said in its advance GDP estimate. That was the slowest since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered a historic contraction in the wake of stringent mandatory measures to contain the first wave of coronavirus cases. The economy grew at a 6.7% rate in the second quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.7% rate last quarter. The meager growth came mostly from a moderate pace of inventory drawdown. Business inventories decreased at a $77.7 billion pace compared to a $168.5 billion rate in the second quarter. As result, inventories contributed 2.07 percentage points to third-quarter GDP growth.

Inventory accumulation remains weak owing to shortages, especially of motor vehicles. Motor vehicle production fell at a 41.6% rate after declining at a 14.1% pace in the second quarter because of a global shortage of semiconductors.

Excluding inventories, the economy contracted at a 0.1% rate last quarter. The scarcity of motor vehicles hammered consumer spending, which grew at only a 1.6% rate after a robust 12% pace in the April-June quarter. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

 

(GRAPHIC: Consumer spending takes a breather – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/byvrjrwykve/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

Spending on long-lasting manufactured goods dropped at a 26.2% rate. Motor vehicles cut 2.39 percentage points from GDP growth, the biggest drag from autos since the second quarter of 1980. Excluding motor vehicle output, the economy grew at a 3.5% rate last quarter, a slowdown from the 7.4% pace in the prior quarter.

Spending on services was surprisingly strong, notching a 7.9% growth pace amid demand for air travel and car rentals. Demand for services at hospitals and restaurants rose, as did bookings for hotel, motel and university campus accommodation. Services spending accelerated at an 11.5% pace in the April-June quarter.

 

(GRAPHIC: The drag from Detroit – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/jnpwewdmepw/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

The government estimated that Hurricane Ida cost about $62 billion. Inflation remained hot, eroding spending power. The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, rose at a 4.5% rate. The core PCE price index increased at a 6.1% pace in the second quarter.

The combination of high inflation and slow growth could fan fears of stagflation, something that most economists do not believe is imminent as output is seen picking up through 2022.

“Stagflation will be the talk of the town, but we should not fall for this misleading narrative,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “Inflation dynamics are definitely moderating expansion with sticky supply-driven inflation, but the economy isn’t stagnating.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher on upbeat earnings from Caterpillar, Merck and Ford.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies after the European Central Bank pushed back against market bets that high inflation would trigger an interest rate hike as soon as next year. U.S. Treasury yields rose.

REGAINING SPEED

Slower growth will have no impact on the Fed’s plans to start reducing as early as next month the amount of money it is pumping into the economy through monthly bond purchases.

With the summer wave of COVID-19 infections behind, cases declining significantly in recent weeks and vaccinations picking up economic activity is regaining steam. Consumer confidence rebounded this month and orders for capital goods excluding aircraft raced to a record high in September.

The labor market is tightening, though pandemic-related worker shortages could keep employment growth moderate this month. A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 last week, the lowest level since mid-March 2020. It was the third straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold.

The number of people continuing to receive benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 237,000 to 2.243 million in the week ended Oct. 16. That was also the lowest level in 19 months.

“Given the massive number of job openings, look for claims to continue declining for some time and look for the labor market to remain drum tight,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economics in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Though wages are rising, inflation is reducing consumers’ purchasing power. Income at the disposal of households after adjusting for inflation decreased at a 5.6% rate last quarter. The saving rate fell to 8.9% from 10.5% in the second quarter.

High prices and lack of trucks as well as communication equipment cut into business spending on equipment, which fell at a 3.2% rate after three straight quarters of double-digit growth. Trade was a drag on GDP growth for a fifth straight quarter following a drop in exports.

Shortages and expensive building materials weighed on home building and remodeling, leading to residential investment contracting for a second straight quarter. Government spending rebounded on state and local government investment.

 

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Economy

Australia's economy likely contracted in Q3 but recovery expected soon – Financial Post

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BENGALURU — Australia’s economy likely contracted in the third quarter as fresh lockdowns weighed on consumer spending and investments, but the extent of the fall was milder than the historic recession recorded last year, a Reuters poll showed.

Despite Australia’s success last year in containing the COVID-19 virus, fresh flare ups and the stay-at-home rule imposed this year severely dented economic activity leading to job cuts and calls for a ramped-up vaccination drive.

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The Nov. 23-26 poll of 24 economists showed the A$2.07 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy contracted 2.7% during the July-September quarter. Forecasts ranged from -3.8% to -1.9%.

If economists predictions were realized, it would mark a sharp turnaround in economic activity from the 1.8% and 0.7% expansion rates in the January-March and April-June quarters respectively.

“Extended stay-at-home orders in New South Wales and Victoria will have hit consumption, with services spending set to be particularly impacted,” said Felicity Emmett, senior economist at ANZ.

The year-over-year growth was estimated at 3.0% but that was over a decline of 3.6% in the third quarter last year, revealing no substantial growth.

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Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Thursday showed capital expenditure https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/australia-q3-business-investment-slips-outlook-surprisingly-resilient-2021-11-25 fell a real 2.2% in the third quarter but an upgrade to future spending showed analysts were expecting a rapid recovery to take hold.

Construction activity too declined last quarter but at a much smaller rate than expected, showing a recovery was not far off.

“The fact investment held up pretty well, we expect GDP to surpass its pre-delta level this quarter. Consumption will probably rebound very sharply given lockdowns have now ended,” said Marcel Thieliant, senior Australia & New Zealand economist at Capital Economics.

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Despite the setback to economic growth last quarter, economists do not see that trend turning into a full blown recession.

With about 86% of Australia’s adult population now vaccinated and most restrictions eased, a swift recovery is anticipated on higher consumer spending.

“There is a saying that while history doesn’t repeat, it does rhyme. The pattern for GDP in the second half of 2021 is certainly rhyming with the middle quarters of 2020 – a sharp decline followed by a large bounce,” wrote economists at ANZ. ($1 = 1.3986 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Shaloo Shrivastava; Polling by Md. Manzer Hussian and Devayani Satyan; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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China's Economy Likely Remained Weak as Factories Slump – Financial Post

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(Bloomberg) — China’s manufacturing activity likely remained subdued in November, with weak domestic demand in the economy outweighing any relief that came from an easing in energy shortages.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index is forecast to improve slightly to 49.7 from 49.2 in October when it’s released Tuesday, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. That would be the third month it stays below the key 50-mark, indicating a contraction in production. 

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The non-manufacturing gauge, which measures activity in the construction and services sectors, is forecast to fall to 51.5 from 52.4 in the previous month. 

China’s energy shortages, which ravaged factory production in September and October, likely eased this month as coal producers boosted output and inventories rose. However, the housing market crisis shows no signs of ending, and frequent Covid-19 outbreaks continue to curb consumption.

“Supply-side restrictions have improved marginally, so production likely rebounded somewhat,” said Xing Zhaopeng, senior China strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. But there’s “not much positive signal on domestic demand,” which continued to weigh on activities, he said.

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Economic growth is forecast to slow to 5.3% next year, according to a Bloomberg survey median, with some economists seeing expansion as low as 4%. Bloomberg Economics forecast growth will come in at 5.7%, as the government will likely target a 5-6% range.

What Bloomberg Economics Says…

“In 2021, policy played a secondary role in setting the growth trajectory. In 2022, it will be pivotal. The extent of the slowdown will hinge largely on what balance China strikes between supporting short-term growth and advancing long-term reforms.

…We see the People’s Bank of China cutting the interest rate on its one-year medium-term lending facility by 20 basis points and the reserve requirement ratio by 100-150 bps by end-2022.”

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— Chang Shu and David Qu

For the rull report, click here

Authorities are trying to moderate the sharp downturn in the property market, while providing targeted support to areas such as small businesses and green technology. Officials will reveal more clues on how much policy easing they plan to provide during two key political meetings in December by the Politburo and the Central Economic Work Conference.

China will adopt a more proactive macroeconomic policy next year to respond to the challenges from an uneven recovery of the global economy and instability in containing the pandemic, the Securities Times, run by the People’s Daily, said in a front-page commentary Monday. 

Authorities have exercised restraint in using monetary and fiscal tools amid an economic slowdown this year, thus creating sufficient space for policy maneuvering next year, according to the commentary.

The slowdown is being cushioned by strong export demand, which likely remained solid in November, judging by latest shipment figures from South Korea.

Consumption and travel continues to be affected by a resurgence in virus cases and the country’s growing determination to stick to its strict Covid Zero strategy. Subway passenger traffic in six major cities of China declined less than 10% in November from October, though the plunge is smaller than that over the August outbreak, according to Xing. 

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

Bloomberg.com

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China's Economy Likely Remained Weak as Factories Slump – Bloomberg

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China’s manufacturing activity likely remained subdued in November, with weak domestic demand in the economy outweighing any relief that came from an easing in energy shortages.

The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index is forecast to improve slightly to 49.7 from 49.2 in October when it’s released Tuesday, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. That would be the third month it stays below the key 50-mark, indicating a contraction in production. 

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