Despite it all — a nation on edge, with an untamed pandemic and convulsive protests over police brutality — for the first time in three months there is a scent of economic optimism in the air.
Employers added millions of jobs to their payrolls in May, and the jobless rate fell, a big surprise to forecasters who expected further losses. Businesses are reopening, and the rate of coronavirus deaths has edged down. The Trump administration has begun pointing to what are likely to be impressive growth numbers as the economy starts to pull out of its deep hole.
All of that is good news, and far better than the alternative of a continuing collapse in economic activity. But it also creates a risk: distraction and complacency.
You can already sense in the public debate over the economy that people are starting to lose the thread — viewing the slight rebound from epic collapse as a sign that a crisis has been averted. That certainly is the kind of optimism evident in the stock market, which is now down a mere 1.1 percent for the year.
But there are clear signs that the collapse of economic activity has set in motion problems that will play out over many months, or maybe many years. If not contained, they could cause human misery on a mass scale and create lasting scars for families.
The fabric of the economy has been ripped, with damage done to millions of interconnections — between workers and employers, companies and their suppliers, borrowers and lenders. Both the historical evidence from severe economic crises and the data available today point to enormous delayed effects.
“There’s a lot of denial here, as there was in the 1930s,” said Eric Rauchway, a historian at the University of California, Davis, who has written extensively about the Great Depression. “At the beginning of the Depression, nobody wanted to admit that it was a crisis. The actions the government took were not adequate to the scope of the problem, yet they were very quick to say there had been a turnaround.”
Though it may not attract the attention that reopening beaches and a soaring stock market might, the evidence is everywhere if you look closely.
Consider those seemingly great new employment numbers. It is clear that many workers who were temporarily laid off in March and April returned to work in May, such as employees at once-closed restaurants that opened up, or construction workers who returned to job sites.
But it still left the economy with 19.55 million fewer jobs than existed in February. And the rebound came in part thanks to more than $500 billion in federal aid to small businesses offered on the condition that workers be retained, under the Paycheck Protection Program.
Other data points to a severe but slower-moving crisis of collapsing demand that will affect many more corners of the economy than those that were forced to close because of the pandemic.
New orders for manufactured goods, for example, remained in starkly negative territory in May, according to the Institute for Supply Management; its index came in at 31.8, far below the level of 50 that is the line between expansion and contraction.
And despite the net gain in employment in May, there have been many announced layoffs at companies outside sectors directly affected by the pandemic. This suggests that the forced shutdown of travel, restaurant and related industries is rippling out into a broad-based shortage of demand in the economy.
Consider just a partial list of large well-known companies unaffected by the direct first-round effects of pandemic-induced shutdowns, but which have since announced layoffs: Chevron, I.B.M. and Office Depot.
Last week, the Congressional Budget Office tried to put a number on the aggregate economic activity that will be lost over the next decade compared with what was projected at the start of the year. That number is $15.7 trillion, reflecting both less economic activity and deflationary forces that reduce prices.
That is 5.3 percent less “nominal” output, meaning not adjusted for inflation, than had been forecast. For comparison, from 2008 to 2018, total nominal output came in 6 percent below the level the C.B.O. had forecast at the start of 2008.
We know how miserable that economic crisis and sluggish recovery were, with long-term costs to earnings and well-being. The C.B.O. is now forecasting that the next decade will be nearly as bad — but emphasizes that policy choices will shape how things actually evolve.
The economy is a gigantic machine in which one person’s consumption spending generates someone else’s income. The pandemic began by crushing the economy’s productive capacity — a shock to the supply side of the economy, as many types of business activity were shut down for public health concerns.
In normal times, when there is a negative supply shock (say, a year of drought that reduces agricultural crops, or new tariffs that make imports more expensive), the pain can be intense for people in sectors directly affected, yet the economy as a whole adjusts.
But this crisis is so large and so sudden that the usual adjustment mechanisms aren’t working very well.
The people losing their jobs because of shutdowns cannot easily find new ones, because so much of the economy is shuttered at the same time. The businesses in danger of closing have cut every possible expense: A hotel isn’t going to invest in new furniture or new reservation software right now. And consumer demand for some seemingly safe goods falls because those goods are complements to the sectors that are shut down.
“Hotels are locked down, so people buy fewer cars because they don’t need to travel as much,” said Veronica Guerrieri, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “Restaurants are locked down, so people don’t need fancy clothes because they don’t want to go out as much.”
The result is that what started as a disruption to the supply side of the economy has metastasized into a collapse of the demand side, she and co-authors say in a recent working paper. They call it a Keynesian supply shock: an inversion of the demand-driven crisis of the Great Depression described by the great economist of that era, John Maynard Keynes.
“Demand is interrelated with supply,” said Iván Werning, an M.I.T. economist and a co-author of the paper. “It’s not a separate concept.”
The demand shock, with lagged effects, is only beginning to hurt major segments of the economy, like sellers of capital goods that are experiencing plunging sales; state and local governments that are seeing tax revenues crater; and landlords who are seeing rent payments dry up.
The government can’t wave a wand and bring back industries that are semi-permanently shuttered. That original supply shock can be fixed only as public health conditions allow sports arenas and the like to reopen.
But the government can act — and has acted — to try to keep demand for goods and services at pre-crisis levels. That, in turn, can smooth the path for other sectors to grow so that there is not a prolonged depression of jobs, income and investment, with a resulting reduction in the economy’s long-term potential.
In the early phase of the crisis, Congress expanded unemployment benefits, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars toward small businesses to keep workers on their payrolls, and supported state governments, among other steps. But much of this help is scheduled to expire this summer, absent further action — and the positive jobs numbers Friday led many Republicans on Capitol Hill allied with the Trump administration to suggest that they were reluctant to do more.
It is against his backdrop that some of the most influential — and fiscally conservative — voices in economic policy are saying that further aggressive spending is needed to prevent this shock from causing long-lasting damage to the economy.
“This is the time to use the great fiscal power of the United States to do what we can to support the economy and try to get through this with as little damage to the longer-run productive capacity of the economy as possible,” Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair and a longtime fiscal hawk, said at a news conference in late April.
“Please, spend wisely, but spend as much as you can!” Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, implored the world’s governments at an event in May. “And then, spend a bit more for your doctors, for your nurses, for the vulnerable people in your society.”
Both the Fed and the I.M.F. more typically act as brakes on fiscal profligacy. For Mr. Powell and Ms. Georgieva to effectively beg elected officials to stop a spiraling crisis reflects the unusual circumstances of this moment and the extraordinary risk they see if government action is inadequate to the job. Their comments are the equivalent of a normally debt-averse financial adviser urging a family to borrow more money to ride out a period of illness without suffering long-term financial damage.
When the crisis we now know as the Great Depression began in 1929, President Herbert Hoover started with denial, then tried blaming other countries, then argued that there was nothing the government could really do to contain the damage.
Eventually, the Hoover administration took more aggressive action, creating a large federal program of mass employment. “He gave a speech and said that 700,000 Americans were at work on federal public works, and it was bigger than anything that had done before,” Mr. Rauchway said. “And that was true, but it was at a time when more than seven million people were out of work.”
That crisis showed how when there are profound rips in the economic fabric, repairing them isn’t a simple job, it isn’t quick, and even what seems like a huge response often isn’t enough.
It’s great that the economy is ticking up from its shutdown of March and April. And the world right now is confusing and chaotic. But that makes it all the more important not to lose focus on fundamental forces that risk holding back the economy and that, if unchecked, could mean a second lost decade in this young century.
Does the Trudeau government have a plan to end the pandemic economy? – CBC.ca
In a normal year, the federal government tables a budget in the spring and then an economic statement or fiscal update in the fall.
But this is not a normal year. The budget that was supposed to be presented in March was pushed back and then completely swamped by the first wave of COVID-19, the economic shutdown that resulted and the federal aid that soon followed.
Some opposition MPs and economists subsequently pushed for a fiscal update. The Liberal government contended, with some justification, that making long-term projections in a time of such incredible uncertainty would be — to use Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s words — “an exercise in invention and imagination.”
What’s being released this afternoon is being described instead as a fiscal “snapshot” — a status report on where things stand after four months of the pandemic.
It should provide some insight into what the last four months have meant for the federal government’s balance sheet and Canada’s economy. Ideally, it also would offer some sense of what the future might look like — at least the near future.
The deficit is going to be alarming
Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s presentation is not expected to offer new policy announcements, but it could further quantify both the economic disruption and the government’s response to that shock. That undoubtedly will include the projection of a large deficit for the current fiscal year.
The exact number might be new, but it’s already clear that the deficit likely will be in excess of $250 billion.
Last fall, months before the first cases of COVID-19 were detected in China, Morneau projected that the deficit for 2020-2021 would be $28.1 billion. Since then, a lot has changed.
This spring’s pause in economic activity and employment meant a drop in the revenue the government receives from taxes. Meanwhile, more money has been going out in the form of government support measures to help individuals and businesses get through the shutdown.
Since April, the Liberal government has provided bi-weekly updates on its relief spending to the finance committee of the House of Commons. The most recent tally, provided on June 25, showed $174.1 billion in direct support for individuals and businesses and $19.4 billion in federal funding for health and safety measures.
The office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer also has provided a regularly updated “scenario analysis” that projects the broad economic and fiscal implications. In its most recent analysis, released on June 18, the PBO projected a deficit of $256 billion for 2020-2021.
As a percentage of Canada’s GDP, a deficit of that size would be the largest for the federal government since the Second World War.
There has been little to no debate about the need to spend the money on emergency relief; if anything, the Liberals have been under political pressure to spend more and faster. Recent analysis by Scotiabank found that failing to provide that relief would have led to much worse economic results and an only slightly lower level of federal debt.
But after any deficit-related sticker shock wears off, the next question will be how well the government is positioned to manage that accumulated debt.
Governments are not like households — a government can effectively carry debt in perpetuity — so their primary goal is to manage that debt rather than pay it off outright. Most of the fiscal analysis of government debt focuses on its size in comparison to the national economy.
The PBO estimated that the federal debt-to-GDP ratio will reach 44.4 per cent, while Scotiabank projects that the ratio will be closer to 48 per cent.
It’s bad — but it’s been worse
Either number would be a significant increase over what Morneau projected last fall, when the Liberals forecast a debt-to-GDP ratio of 31 per cent in 2020-2021, declining annually thereafter.
But something around 45 per cent also would still be well below Canada’s historic peak of 66.6 per cent back in 1995-1996. That debt ratio, coupled with high interest rates and nervous international markets, led Jean Chrétien’s government to make drastic cuts to balance the budget and get the national debt under better control.
If the federal debt-to-GDP does increase to 45 per cent, it will be back to where it was in 2001.
But the fiscal story of COVID-19 will be only partly about what has happened over the last four months. It also will be about what happens over the next few months — and then several years after that.
Where do we go from here?
It’s not clear how far into the future the Liberal government is willing to look, but there are a number of questions it could start trying to answer.
What are the potential pathways for economic recovery? How much longer might the temporary relief measures be needed? How much more new spending might be necessary? And how does Morneau see the recovery and the debt being managed?
“There will be significant unemployment across Canada for the duration of the recovery,” Rebekah Young, director of fiscal and provincial economics at Scotiabank, told CBC’s Power & Politics on Tuesday.
“The [employment insurance system] was not and is not sufficient to cover all Canadians that will be out of work, but the [Canadian Emergency Response Benefit] clearly is too expensive for that duration. So I think … we would like to see some signals that they have a plan for the next 18 months in terms of addressing his persistent shock that the economy will be facing.”
In an email, Young said she thinks Wednesday’s “snapshot” could set up a fall budget that lays out longer-term plans.
“In addition to an updated statement of transactions, the country needs a fiscal plan from the federal government,” said Kevin Page, the former parliamentary budget officer who is now president of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa. “We need a fiscal plan to understand what role federal fiscal policy will play to support the recovery.”
A proper plan, Page said, would boost consumer confidence and investor confidence and mitigate the possibility of further downgrades to Canada’s credit rating.
Finance officials might be quick to note the unprecedented amount of uncertainty at the moment, but Page said a plan could be debated and adjusted.
“A ‘snapshot’ that is only backward-looking would be a major missed opportunity,” he said.
In the midst of managing a national response to a pandemic, it’s important to not get ahead of yourself — to focus on the crisis in the here and now.
But sooner or later, the federal government will need to confront the future.
French economy seen rebounding 19% in third quarter, 3% in fourth quarter: INSEE – TheChronicleHerald.ca
PARIS (Reuters) – The French economy is set to rebound sharply in the second half of the year after an unprecedented slump in the first half due to the coronavirus lockdown, the INSEE statistics agency said on Wednesday.
The euro zone’s second-biggest economy likely contracted 17% in the second quarter from the previous three months, unchanged from a June forecast and already on the heels of a 5.3% slump in the first quarter, INSEE said.
The economy was set to rebound 19% in the third quarter and a further 3% in the fourth quarter with activity seen 1-6% below pre-crisis levels by December, it added.
Over the course of the year, INSEE estimated that the economy was set to contract 9%, France’s worst recession since modern records began in 1948 but not as bad as the 11% slump the government forecast in its last revision to the 2020 budget.
The government put France under one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe in mid-March, but the economy saw a “gradual, but sharp recovery” in the weeks after the government began lifting restrictions on May 11, INSEE said.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Tom Hogue and Andrew Heavens)
Ontario Introduces Legislation to Protect Public Health as Economy Reopens – Government of Ontario News
Proposed Bill Would Provide Flexibility to Address the Ongoing Threat of COVID-19
TORONTO — Today, the Ontario government introduced proposed legislation that, if passed, would give the province the necessary flexibility to address the ongoing risks and effects of the COVID-19 outbreak. The proposed legislation is part of the government’s plan for the continued safe and gradual reopening of the province once the declaration of emergency ends.
Details about the proposed legislation were provided today by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
“If passed, the proposed legislation would allow us to chart a responsible path to economic reopening and recovery without putting all the progress we’ve made in fighting this virus at risk,” said Premier Ford. “Even as we continue certain emergency orders under the proposed legislation to protect public health, we will always be a government accountable to the people of Ontario. That’s why I will ensure ongoing updates are provided and that a report is tabled within four months of the anniversary of this proposed Act coming into force.”
“While the declaration of emergency may come to an end shortly, the risk posed by COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time to come,” said Solicitor General Sylvia Jones. “This new legislation would provide the government with the necessary flexibility to ensure select tools remain in place to protect vulnerable populations, such as seniors, and respond to this deadly virus.”
The Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Response to COVID-19) Act, 2020 would, if passed, ensure important measures remain in place to address the threat of COVID-19 once the provincial declaration of emergency has ended. Specifically, the legislation would:
- Continue emergency orders in effect under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (EMCPA) under the new legislation for an initial 30 days.
- Allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council to further extend these orders for up to 30 days at a time, as required to keep Ontarians safe.
- Allow the Lieutenant Governor in Council to amend certain emergency orders continued under the EMCPA if the amendment relates to:
- labour redeployment or workplace and management rules;
- closure of places and spaces or regulation of how businesses and establishments can be open to provide goods or services in a safe manner;
- compliance with public health advice; or
- rules related to gatherings and organized public events.
- Not allow new emergency orders to be created.
- Allow emergency orders to be rescinded when it is safe to do so.
The ability to extend and amend orders under the new legislation would be limited to one year, unless extended by the Ontario legislature. Appropriate oversight and transparency would be ensured through regular, mandated reporting that provides the rationale for the extension of any emergency order. The legislation would include the same types of provisions on offences and penalties as set out under the EMCPA to address non-compliance with orders.
- The termination of the provincial emergency declaration under the EMCPA, or the passage of the proposed Act, would not preclude a head of council of a municipality from declaring under the EMCPA that an emergency exists in any part of the municipality or from continuing such a declaration.
- The termination of the provincial emergency declaration under the EMCPA, or the passage of the proposed Act, would not preclude the exercise of the powers under the Health Protection and Promotion Act by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health or local medical officers of health.
- The Government of Ontario declared a provincial declaration of emergency under s.7.0.1 of the EMCPA on March 17, 2020. The declaration has been extended under s.7.0.7 of the EMCPA and is in place until July 15, 2020, allowing the province to continue to make new emergency orders or amend existing orders under the EMCPA until that date.
- On June 26, 2020, emergency orders then in effect that were made under section 7.0.2 of the EMCPA were extended to July 10.
- A full list of current emergency orders in effect under the EMCPA can be found on the e-Laws website under the EMCPA and at Ontario.ca/alert.
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