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Does the US economy need another $480 billion in stimulus? – CNN

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A version of this story first appeared in CNN Business’ Before the Bell newsletter. Not a subscriber? You can sign up right here.

London (CNN Business)The Federal Reserve is buying $120 billion in bonds per month, part of a package of emergency measures to prop up the US economy during the pandemic. But as activity returns to normal, is that level of support necessary?

That’s among the key questions facing central bankers when they gather for an annual meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming this week.
What’s happening: The event, which usually includes central bankers from around the world, will be a pared-back affair due to the pandemic. Neither European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde nor Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey will be in attendance.
That puts attention squarely on the Federal Reserve, which telegraphed last week that it could begin to taper its bond purchases by the end of the year.
At its current pace, the Fed would scoop up about $480 billion in assets between September and December. But debate has been growing about whether that’s really needed.
“It’s harder to argue now [that] the Fed needs to keep going with these emergency support measures,” Andrew Hunter, senior US economist at Capital Economics, told me.
Retail sales are significantly above pre-pandemic levels, and the US economy added 943,000 jobs in July. Tens of millions of US households will also receive monthly bank deposits through the end of the year — the result of the enhanced child tax credit that was part of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package.
On deck: Most Fed watchers agree that news on bond purchases at Jackson Hole is unlikely, though Chair Jerome Powell’s speech on Friday will be monitored closely. Instead, they think the Fed will formally announce its plans to start tapering bond purchases in September, with the shift kicking in before 2022. (Though the Delta variant remains a major unknown.)
The Federal Reserve has only launched two large-scale, asset-buying programs in its history — one after the 2008 financial crisis, and one in response to the pandemic. That makes it difficult to game out how financial markets and the real economy will respond.
There are some concerns that financial markets could panic. The memory still looms of the 2013 “taper tantrum,” when the Fed’s announcement that it would eventually slow asset purchases sparked a sharp bond market selloff.
“There’s always a chance for short-run turbulence,” said Randall Kroszner, who served as a Federal Reserve governor between 2006 and 2009.
But this recovery looks very different from the one that followed the financial crisis, according to Michael Skordeles, senior US macro strategist at Truist Advisory Services.
“Going across many industries, things look very strong,” he said. “That wasn’t the case in 2013.”
Even then, the short-term shock to markets had little effect on the actual economy, said Kroszner. Even if interest rates move up slightly as the Fed changes course, they’re likely to remain very close to historic lows.
The hope is that by beginning to step back this year, the Fed will be able to gently back away without causing too much tumult.
“Starting earlier allows them to do it even more gradually,” Skordeles said.

For employers, it’s vaccine mandates versus worker shortages

At Kevin Smith’s home health care agency in Massachusetts, only 52% of his 400 staff members have been vaccinated. He’d like to order them all to get the shot, but he says he can’t risk a mass exodus.
“It puts you at risk of alienating the staff, if not losing them to a competitor,” said Smith, who has run the family-owned Best of Care since 2013. “No one can afford to do that. That is why any employer in our industry is so reluctant to impose a mandate.”
Step back: Employers are facing a record number of job openings and not enough candidates. That puts companies who might otherwise consider requiring vaccinations in a tight spot, my CNN Business colleague Chris Isidore writes.
Among unvaccinated workers asked what they would do if their employer instituted a mandate, 50% said they’d leave their job, according to a June survey by health policy think tank KFF.
The problem: A higher inoculation rate is exactly what experts say we need to fight the pandemic, and there’s pressure on employers to play a larger role.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said employers have the right to impose a vaccine mandate as long as there are exceptions for employees with health conditions or legitimate religious objections.
It’s not clear how many employers are taking that step. A June survey from the Society of Human Resource Management showed 29% of workers say their employers are requiring vaccines. A Gartner survey from the end of July found only 9% doing so.
Even among hospitals, most employers don’t have vaccine mandates. The American Hospital Association said only 2,100 hospitals, about a third of the nation’s total, require vaccines — and many are in places where state laws or executive orders mandate them.
“Employers in a labor shortage environment don’t want to create any barrier for employment, let alone any cause for people to go elsewhere,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist for job site ZipRecruiter.

Up next

Monday: Existing US home sales; JD.com (JD) earnings
Tuesday: New US home sales; Best Buy (BBY), Nordstrom (JWN) and Urban Outfitters (URBN) earnings
Wednesday: US durable goods orders; Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS), Salesforce (CRM) and Snowflake earnings
Thursday: Jackson Hole summit kicks off; US initial unemployment claims; Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Coty (COTY), Dollar General (DG), Dollar Tree (DLTR), J.M. Smucker (SJM), Gap (GPS), HP and Peloton (PTON) earnings
Friday: US personal income and spending data

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Why Disney's Earnings Report Is A Good Sign For The U.S. Economy – Forbes

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Disney shares are up 5% following Wednesday’s third-quarter earnings report that surpassed expectations, largely due to higher spending at the company’s domestic theme parks.

But might Disney’s success also say something about the current state of the U.S. economy? Experts often view Disney’s theme parks as bellwether economic indicators, as the Financial Times explained several years ago. Essentially, the theory goes that when budgets tighten, families cancel trips to Disney theme parks. That does not appear to be happening right now.

What a difference a year makes. This time last summer, most of Disney’s theme parks were running at reduced capacity due to the pandemic and Disney Cruise Line was not operating at all.

Flash forward to Wednesday’s earnings call, where company executives announced that revenue for Disney’s parks, experiences and products division rose by more than $3 billion and operating income increased by $1.8 billion compared to the same period in 2021. The increase was driven by jumps in theme park attendance, occupied room nights at Disney’s on-site hotels and cruise bookings.

“Demand at our domestic parks continues to exceed expectations with attendance on many days tracking ahead of 2019 levels.”

—Christine McCarthy, Disney CFO

“All of our theme parks are now open,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek on the earnings call, noting that the company has ramped up capacity on a phased basis and brought back many of the experiences that families love, such as character meet-and-greets, fireworks spectaculars and theatrical performances.

“Demand at our domestic parks continues to exceed expectations with attendance on many days tracking ahead of 2019 levels,” said Christine McCarthy, Disney’s chief financial officer. “We have not yet seen demand abate at all and we still have many days when people cannot get reservations.”

Chapek noted that the quarter included three major milestones for the parks and experiences business. The first was the launch of the immersive Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind roller coaster at Epcot in Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

The second was the expansion of the Disney Cruise Line fleet with the brand new Disney Wish ship, which is powered by liquefied natural gas. The cruise business “has been the most severely impacted by Covid in terms of duration of disruption to the business,” noted McCarthy. “But we have a competitive position overall in the cruise business, especially the family cruise market, so we generate pricing that’s well above the industry average.

The third big milestone was the opening of the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disneyland Paris. “Guests are responding in a big way to our enhanced offering at Disneyland Paris’ per capita spending in Q3 was up over 30% versus 2019, a great sign of the site’s potential for growth,” said Chapek.

The strong performance in the third quarter of Disney’s resort in France was partially offset by closure-related impacts at its Shanghai resort, where the theme park was closed for all but the last three days of the quarter.

Though the average daily attendance at domestic Disney parks was down slightly compared to 2019, per capita spending is up 10% compared to last year and is 40% higher than fiscal 2019.

Higher per-person spending was driven in part by the Genie+ and Lightning Lane features introduced last year to replace the old FastPass system. With the new system, parkgoers can pay extra to bypass lines for the most popular attractions. “Now about 50% of the people that come through the gate actually buy up to that Genie product, which I think you can see the result of in our yields,” said Chapek.

McCarthy acknowledged that international visitors, which historically have accounted for up to 20% of total guests, have been slow to return to the U.S. parks. “During the pandemic, international visitation to our domestic park — primarily Walt Disney World — was basically nonexistent,” she said. “But it’s made significant progress, and we expect the international visitation, when it is fully back, to actually be additive to margins because those guests tend to stay longer at the parks, and they spend more money when they’re there as well.”

Disney’s rebound is about more than pent-up demand following the darkest days of the pandemic, said Chapek. “What we’re seeing is far more resilient, far more long lasting in terms of increase in the affinity for our parks, both from the willingness to come to our parks and its attendance, but also in terms of what guests are willing to spend when they get there in order to personalize their experience.”

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Putin's War Hurls Russian Economy Back Four Years in One Quarter – Bloomberg

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Putin’s War Hurls Russian Economy Back Four Years in One Quarter  Bloomberg



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At 75, India seeks way forward in big but job-scarce economy – Financial Post

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NEW DELHI (AP) — As India’s economy grew, the hum of factories turned the sleepy, dusty village of Manesar into a booming industrial hub, cranking out everything from cars and sinks to smartphones and tablets. But jobs have run scarce over the years, prompting more and more workers to line up along the road for work, desperate to earn money.

Every day, Sugna, a young woman in her early 20s who goes by her first name, comes with her husband and two children to the city’s labor chowk — a bazaar at the junction of four roads where hundreds of workers gather daily at daybreak to plead for work. It’s been days since she or her husband got work and she has only five rupees (six cents) in hand.

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Scenes like this are an everyday reality for millions of Indians, the most visible signs of economic distress in a country where raging unemployment is worsening insecurity and inequality between the rich and poor. It’s perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest challenge as the country marks 75 years of independence from British rule on Monday.

“We get work only once or twice a week,” said Sugna, who says she earned barely 2,000 rupees ($25) in the past five months. “What should I do with a life like this? If I live like this, how will my children live any better?”

Entire families leave their homes in India’s vast rural hinterlands to camp at such bazaars, found in nearly every city. Out of the many gathered in Manesar recently, only a lucky few got work for the day — digging roads, laying bricks and sweeping up trash for meager pay — about 80% of Indian workers toil in informal jobs including many who are self-employed.

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India’s phenomenal transformation from an impoverished nation in 1947 into an emerging global power whose $3 trillion economy is Asia’s third largest has turned it into a major exporter of things like software and vaccines. Millions have escaped poverty into a growing, aspirational middle class as its high-skilled sectors have soared.

“It’s extraordinary — a poor country like India wasn’t expected to succeed in such sectors,” said Nimish Adhia, an economics professor at Manhattanville College.

This year, the economy is forecast to expand at a 7.4% annual pace, according to the International Monetary Fund, making it one of the world’s fastest growing.

But even as India’s economy swells, so has joblessness. The unemployment rate remains at 7% to 8% in recent months. Only 40% of working age Indians are employed, down from 46% five years ago, the Center for Monitoring the Indian Economy (CMIE) says.

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“If you look at a poor person in 1947 and a poor person now, they are far more privileged today. However if you look at it between the haves and the have nots, that chasm has grown,” said Gayathri Vasudevan, chairperson of LabourNet, a social enterprise.

“While India continues to grow well, that growth is not generating enough jobs – crucially, it is not creating enough good quality jobs,” said Mahesh Vyas, chief executive at CMIE. Only 20% of jobs in India are in the formal sector, with regular wages and security, while most others are precarious and low-quality with few to no benefits.

That’s partly because agriculture remains the mainstay, with about 40% of workers engaged in farming.

As workers lost jobs in cities during the pandemic, many flocked back to farms, pushing up the numbers. “This didn’t necessarily improve productivity – but you’re employed as a farmer. It’s disguised unemployment,” Vyas said.

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With independence from Britain in 1947, the country’s leaders faced a formidable task: GDP was a mere 3% of the world’s total, literacy rates stood at 14% and the average life expectancy was 32 years, said Adhia.

By the most recent measures, literacy stands at 74% and life expectancy at 70 years. Dramatic progress came with historic reforms in the 1990s that swept away decades of socialist control over the economy and spurred remarkable growth.

The past few decades inspired comparisons to China as foreign investment poured in, exports thrived and new industries — like information technology – were born. But India, a latecomer to offshoring by Western multinationals, is struggling to create mass employment through manufacturing. And it faces new challenges in plotting a way forward.

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Financing has tended to flow into profitable, capital intensive sectors like petrol, metal and chemicals. Industries employing large numbers of workers, like textiles and leather work, have faltered. This trend continued through the pandemic: despite Modi’s 2014 ‘Make in India’ pitch to turn the country into another factory floor for the world, manufacturing now employs around 30 million. In 2017, it employed 50 million, according to CMIE data.

As factory and private sector employment shrink, young jobseekers increasingly are targeting government jobs, coveted for their security, prestige and benefits.

Some, like 21-year-old Sahil Rajput, view such work as a way out of poverty. Rajput has been fervently preparing for a job in the army, working in a low-paid data-entry job to afford private coaching to become a soldier and support his unemployed parents.

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But in June, the government overhauled military recruitment to cut costs and modernize, changing long-term postings into four-year contracts after which only 25% of recruits will be retained. That move triggered weeks of protests, with young people setting vehicles on fire.

Rajput knows he might not be able to get a permanent army job. “But I have no other options,” he said. “How can I dream of a future when my present is in tatters?”

The government is banking on technology, a rare bright spot, to create new jobs and opportunities. Two decades ago, India became an outsourcing powerhouse as companies and call centers boomed. An explosion of start-ups and digital innovation aims to recreate that success – “India is now home to 75,000 startups in the 75th year of independence and this is only the beginning,” Minister of Commerce, Piyush Goyal, tweeted recently. More than 740,000 jobs have been created via start-ups, a 110% jump over the last six years, his ministry said.

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There’s still a long way to go, in educating and training a labor force qualified for such work. Another worry is the steady retreat of working women in India — from a high of nearly 27% in 2005 to just over 20% in 2021, according to World Bank data.

Meanwhile, the stopgap of farming appears increasingly precarious as climate change brings extreme temperatures, scorching crops.

Sajan Arora, a 28-year-old farmer in India’s breadbasket state of Punjab, can no longer depend on ancestral farmland his family has relied on to survive. He, his wife and seven-month old daughter, plan to join family in Britain and find work there after selling some land.

“Agriculture has no way forward,” said Arora, saying he will do whatever work he can get, driving a taxi, working in a store or on a construction site.

He’s sad to leave his parents and childhood home behind, but believes the uncertainty of change offers “better prospects” than his current reality.

“If everything was right and well, why would we go? If we want a better life, we will have to leave,” he said.

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