WASHINGTON — Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the Federal Reserve will keep pursuing its low-interest rate policies until an economic recovery is well underway, acknowledging that the economy has faltered in recent months.
The Fed said in a statement after its latest policy meeting that hiring and economic growth had slowed, particularly in industries affected by the raging pandemic, notably restaurants, bars, hotels and others involving face-to-face public contact. The officials kept their benchmark short-term rate pegged near zero and said they would keep buying Treasury and mortgage bonds to restrain longer-term borrowing rates and support the economy.
Speaking at a news conference, Powell made clear his belief that the economy will struggle in the coming weeks and months, until widespread vaccinations and government rescue aid eventually fuel a sustained rebound.
“We’re a long way from full recovery,” he said. “Something like 9 million people remain unemployed as a consequence of the pandemic. That’s as many people as lost their jobs at the peak of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession.”
The Fed statement warned that the virus is posing risks to the economy. But the officials removed phrases from their previous statement in December that had said the pandemic was pressuring the economy in the “near term” and posed risks “over the medium term.”
Powell said that language was removed because the Fed policymakers see the pandemic increasingly as a short-term risk that will likely fade as vaccines are distributed more widely. But he also cautioned that the threat remains a serious one, particularly because of the potential harm from new strains of the virus.
“We have not won this yet,” Powell said. “There’s nothing more important to the economy now than people getting vaccinated.”
As Powell spoke, a broad sell-off on Wall Street knocked more than 600 points off the Dow Jones Industrial Average, handing the stock market its worst day in nearly three months. The drop, which followed a recent record-setting run, came as investors focused on the uncertain outlook for the economy and corporate profits amid a still-raging coronavirus pandemic. Traders were also focused on the eye-popping surge in shares of GameStop, a money-losing video game seller that became the focus of a battle between small investors bidding it higher and big hedge funds betting it would fall.
For now, the job market is faltering, with 9.8 million jobs still lost to the pandemic, which erupted 10 months ago. Hiring has slowed for six straight months, and employers shed jobs in December for the first time since April. The job market has sputtered as the pandemic and colder weather have discouraged Americans from travelling, shopping, dining out or visiting entertainment venues. Retail sales have declined for three straight months.
Yet the Fed still envisions a sharp rebound in the second half of the year as the virus is brought under control by vaccines and government-enacted rescue money spreads through the economy. Americans fortunate enough to have kept their jobs have stockpiled massive savings that suggest pent-up demand that could be unleashed, with a big lift to the economy, once consumers increasingly feel safe about resuming their old spending patterns.
Powell was pressed during the news conference on whether the Fed should respond to the recent speculative surge in the prices of some individual stocks, notably shares of GameStop, and whether that buying frenzy suggested a dangerous bubble in overall stock prices. Powell deflected the questions by saying the Fed’s interest rate policies aren’t well-suited to address speculation in the stock market.
In addition, he said, “if you look at what’s really been driving asset prices in the last couple of months, it isn’t monetary policy. It’s expectations about vaccines and also fiscal policy. Those are the news items that have been driving asset values in recent months.”
Powell also noted that the Fed is keeping rates low and buying bonds to support economic growth. Reversing those policies to offset potential bubbles in the stock market, he said, could harm the economy.
“We don’t actually understand the trade-off,” he said. “Will it actually cause more damage, or will it help? I think that’s unresolved.”
The Fed has signalled that it expects to keep its key short-term rate at a record low between zero and 0.25% through at least 2023. Earlier this month, Vice Chair Richard Clarida said he expects the Fed’s bond purchases to extend through the end of this year, which would mean continued downward pressure on long-term loan rates.
The central bank said it will continue its bond purchases until it makes “substantial further progress” toward its goals of maximum employment and stable 2% inflation. Powell said “it is likely to take some time” for that progress to be achieved.
The Fed’s drive to keep long-term rates low have helped hold down mortgage rates and fueled home sales and price increases. Home prices, for example, surged 9% in November compared with a year earlier, its fastest increase in more than six years.
The prospect of significant more government rescue aid and ongoing vaccinations has raised some concern that as Americans eventually release pent-up demand for airline tickets, hotel rooms, new clothes and other goods and services, the economy might accelerate and annual inflation could surge above the Fed’s 2% target.
If many companies don’t initially have the capacity to meet that demand, prices would pick up. Powell, however, dismissed those concerns, pointing to several long-run factors that have restrained inflation for more than a decade, such as an aging population that tends to spend less and save more, technological developments that improve efficiency, and overseas competition.
“Frankly, we welcome somewhat higher inflation,” Powell said. The Fed believes that inflation sustainably at 2% guards against deflation, a drop in prices and wages. And since interest rates include expected levels of inflation, that gives the Fed more room to cut interest rates. “The kind of troubling inflation that people like me grew up with seems far away and unlikely.”
The Fed adopted a framework last year that calls for inflation to average 2% over time. Given that inflation has mostly languished below that level since the Fed adopted it as a target in 2012, policymakers would have to let inflation run above 2% for some time to make up for the years of below-target price increases.
Christopher Rugaber And Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press
Rural development grants to spark Nicola Valley economy – Global News
The province announced on Friday a series of rural development grants in the Nicola Valley to support economic development and diversification.
This is the next step in the StrongerBC Economic Plan and the ongoing recovery efforts in Merritt following the floods in November last year.
“People in Merritt have been through a lot in the past year, and they know how important business recovery is for community rebuilding,” said parliamentary secretary for rural and regional development Roly Russell in a press release.
The provincial government is providing a $1-million rural development grant to the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association to build a community abattoir in the Merritt area.
This will provide meat processing and cut-and-wrap services to local farmers and ranchers.
“This project represents significant job and economic opportunities for the region, while ensuring local ranches, abattoirs and businesses are part of a strong, resilient B.C. food system,” said minister of agriculture and food Lana Popham in a press release.
“With the recent changes to B.C.’s meat-licensing system and investments in facilities like the Nicola Valley community abattoir, this revitalization of the small-scale meat industry makes it easier to produce, buy and sell B.C. meat in our rural communities, and helps strengthen our food security and food resiliency.”
The abattoir will be a government-inspected licensed facility with a full range of services to process red meat.
According to the province, local producers have been impacted by the lack of processing capacity. Julia Smith who is a pork and beef producer in Merrit is hopeful this new facility will help her business as well as other local producers.
“My partner and I moved to the Nicola Valley in 2016 planning to expand our business to meet the growing demand for well-raised, local meat. But we soon found that the processors we relied upon were not able to keep up with our production and we had to scale the business back instead of growing it.”
More than 900 people still displaced following Merritt flooding last fall
“We were on the verge of giving up. But now we are ready to press on, because this facility will allow us, and other local family farms and ranches, to grow and thrive while providing greater food security for the community.”
The province is providing a $1-million rural development grant to the Scw’exmx Tribal Council toward Gateway 286 in Merritt.
“After an unbelievable year of fires, floods, and a pandemic, we welcome the B.C. government’s $1-million grant that will bolster our rural community, support good-paying jobs and much-needed economic development,” said Spayum Holdings LP director and Scw’exmx Tribal Council Terrence (Lee) Spahan in a press release.
“The Gateway 286 project is a 30-plus-year vision of past and present Nicola Valley Indigenous Chiefs and these monies will take our commercial and tourism development one more step closer to reality. This project will enhance the experience of the [traveling] public by providing much-needed services, and it will provide good-paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for the residents of the Nicola Valley.”
Meanwhile, the City of Merritt is receiving a $500,000 grant related to economic recovery for communities that were affected by the flooding. The grant will go towards completing economic development projects and initiatives to support long-term economic recovery.
This is in addition to $329,000 in provincial funding for the City of Merritt to update flood-hazard mapping and develop new flood-mitigation plans.
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China's Economy Contracts Sharply as Covid Zero Cuts Output – BNN
(Bloomberg) — China’s economy contracted in April, with Covid outbreaks and lockdowns dragging the industrial and consumer sectors down to the weakest levels since early 2020 as millions of residents were confined to their homes and factories were forced to halt production.
Industrial output fell 2.9% in April from a year ago, worse than the median estimate of a 0.5% increase in a Bloomberg survey of economists. Retail sales contracted 11.1% in the period, weaker than a projected 6.6% drop. The unemployment rate climbed to 6.1%, higher than the forecast of 6%.
China’s economy has taken an enormous toll from the government’s stringent efforts to keep the virus at bay. Beijing has insisted on sticking with its Covid Zero strategy to curb infections, even though the high transmissibility of omicron puts cities at greater risk of repeatedly locking down and reopening compared to earlier strains.
“Covid outbreaks in April had a big impact on the economy, but the impact is short-term,” the National Bureau of Statistics said in a statement. “With progress in Covid controls and policies to stabilize the economy taking effect, the economy is likely to recover gradually.”
China’s benchmark CSI 300 stock index was down 0.3% as of 10:04 am local time. The onshore yuan was little changed at 6.7917 per dollar. The yield on the 10-year government bonds rose 1 basis point to 2.83%.
Fixed-asset investment increased 6.8% in the first four months of the year, largely in line with projected growth of 7%, likely supported by the government’s push to expand infrastructure spending.
The economic shocks from the zero-tolerance policy have pushed China’s ambitious full-year growth target of around 5.5% further out of reach, and is weighing on the global growth outlook.
Beijing has signaled that policy makers will step up support for the economy, with Premier Li Keqiang recently urging officials to ensure stability through fiscal and monetary policy.
The People’s Bank of China took steps on Sunday to ease a housing crunch by reducing mortgage rates for first-time homebuyers. It left the interest rate on one-year policy loans unchanged on Monday, as inflation pressure and worries about capital outflows reduce the scope for more easing.
Monetary stimulus is proving less effective because of the stringent virus restrictions, with data on Friday showing businesses and consumers had little appetite to borrow in April. Credit growth weakened sharply last month, with new yuan loans sinking to the lowest level since December 2017.
(Updates with comment from statistics office)
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
Potential of Seaweed on Economy Being Explored in Upcoming Webinar – VOCM
A webinar on the potential of seaweed as an economic driver is coming later this month.
The webinar, put together by The Laurentic Forum Consortium, will look at how coastal communities can use an abundance of seaweed to boost the economy, as seaweed is being used as fertilizer, diet supplements, bioplastics, animal feed, pharmaceutical products, and much more.
Webinar moderator and the executive director of the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation, Keith Hutchings, says seaweed farming could provide opportunities in Newfoundland and Labrador.
He says if utilized correctly, communities and regions can add one more industry to help sustain them.
The webinar is taking place May 19.
The Laurentic Forum consortium invites you to join us on May 19, 2022, to discuss the tremendous opportunity and potential associated with the seaweed industry.
— Laurentic Forum (@ForumLaurentic) May 11, 2022
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