Friday’s blowout jobs report may have quieted claims that the U.S. is in a recession, but it did not end the mystery about the state of the economy or resolve questions about where it is headed.
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Global investors are being overly complacent about downside economic risks, aggravated but not limited to the growing impact of coronavirus.
They are underestimating the forces that are changing the very nature of the world economy – a growing degree of “deglobalization” in the face of U.S.-Chinese decoupling. At the same time, they are overestimating the power of monetary and fiscal stimulus to keep the global economic party going.
When G-20 finance ministers meet this weekend in Riyadh, they’ll do so at a time when all of the world’s ten major economies are slowing – and several confront recession. Next week, Beijing is likely to announce a delay in the meeting of its National People’s Congress due to the coronavirus outbreak.
This week, Apple raised fears of more global corporate troubles to come with a coronavirus-caused revenue warning. The full ripple effects of the virus, and of the economic impact of humans scared to be with other humans, will show up in first quarter results, in particular in tourism, travel and on all Chinese and global companies that depend on Chinese supply chains and markets.
Despite all that, investor complacency persists in no small part due to a fundamental misunderstanding of how rapidly the world has changed, economically and politically. We are only in the opening pages of this new era of major power competition and technological change, and there’s no model to “price in” its impact.
Within democracies, the public’s faith has been shaken in capitalism and globalization to produce results that deliver greater prosperity. Most recently, that has driven everything from the recent Irish election victory of Sinn Fein, to the UK’s departure from the European Union, to the erosion of the German political center.
Markets are wagering that the combination of fiscal and monetary measures will again prevent the worst. However, what if they’re wrong?
Most dramatic is the growing possibility that U.S. presidential elections this year could produce a showdown between two populists of different stripes but similar decibels, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both are septuagenarian insurgents who appeal to hard-core, unconventional constituencies, and that’s prompted global concern that the new U.S. normal may be abnormal.
All of that is unfolding against a backdrop of a major power test that at its heart is a systemic struggle between democratic and authoritarian capitalist models. Though traditional security analysts continue to worry about how U.S.-Chinese, U.S.-Russian or U.S.-Iranian tensions could unravel into armed conflict, the more likely outcome is a resource-sapping, continual competition that stops short of kinetics but involves information warfare, cyber assaults, and economic clashes ranging from trade wars to targeted sanctions.
But let’s get back to investors and their complacency, which is as easy to explain as it is increasingly hard to justify.
Every time the global economy approached the brink in the decade since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-2009, some intervening force pulled us back. The latest came last year when it looked as though the global economy might slow to below 2 percent GDP growth, generally considered a way to measure the onset of a global recession.
Central banks stepped up. As the International Monetary Fund has pointed out, 49 central banks cut interest rates 71 times last year. The result was a 0.5 percent global GDP boost, according to the IMF. Monetary policy saved the day.
Investors understand that coronavirus could be a major 2020 shock, but they are wagering again that something will prevent this from becoming an economic disaster. They realize the U.S. Fed and other central banks may have fewer monetary tools to deploy, so they are counting on increased fiscal stimulus from governments.
For example, Chinese lenders on Thursday cut their one-year loan prime rate, which is used across the financial system, by 0.1 percent to 4.05 percent. The result was a rallying of Chinese stocks that day of 2.2 percent of the benchmark CSI 300 index.
That followed the Chinese central bank’s cut to its medium-term lending rate this week, as well as dozens of other measures Beijing has introduced in recent days to support businesses hit by the epidemic. The Financial Times reports that China’s central bank thus far has made 300 billion RmB available to large lenders and local banks in hard-hit areas, particularly Hubei province.
Even so, the S&P Global Ratings forecast that China’s 2020 growth could fall to 4.4 percent from its 6 percent level last year, if the coronavirus hit continues through April. Most predictions of that sort probably err on the optimistic side, and it may be wishful thinking that China’s economy will make up most of what is being lost once coronavirus recedes.
At the same time, the eurozone economy barely grew in the fourth quarter of 2019, up only 0.1 percent from the previous quarter, the slowest rate since 2013. Germany had zero growth. Real GDP in the eurozone was up just 0.9 percent in 2019, the slowest rate since 2013. (With the UK now leaving the EU, its leaders failed to agree on their budget on Friday due to insoluble differences.)
Governments across the world see these storm clouds, and a Bloomberg survey of economic forecasts shows that budgets are loosening in more than half of the world’s 20 biggest economies, providing some of the fiscal stimulus that central bankers have been seeking from their government counterparts.
Markets are wagering that the combination of fiscal and monetary measures will again prevent the worst.
However, what if they’re wrong?
Other than the United States, major central banks are tapped out, some of them experimenting with negative interest rates. Some experts argue that our low interest rate environment allows greater borrowing for fiscal stimulus.
That’s risky business.
Near the end
Global debt is nearing $244 trillion, the highest level on record, and that’s not a good record to be breaking. Public debt is the highest in advanced economies since WWII. In a recent Atlantic Council report, Global Risks 2035 Update, author Mathew Burrows explores a worst-case scenario he calls “Descent into Chaos.” It starts with growing indebtedness hitting China first and then spreading to the Western world, triggering a worldwide economic meltdown.
Burrows isn’t in the business of predicting the timing of global downturns. Yet it would be unwise to take one’s eye off this ballooning debt at this moment of uncertainty.
Investors are counting on the playbook of the last decade to hold out for a little longer.
That’s a risky bet in this year of coronavirus, slowing growth, growing debt, and rising geopolitical uncertainty. We’re near the end of a bull run that’s in year ten of a seven-year cycle.
Frederick Kempe is a best-selling author, prize-winning journalist and president & CEO of the Atlantic Council, one of the United States’ most influential think tanks on global affairs. He worked at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years as a foreign correspondent, assistant managing editor and as the longest-serving editor of the paper’s European edition. His latest book – “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth” – was a New York Times best-seller and has been published in more than a dozen languages. Follow him on Twitter @FredKempe and subscribe here to Inflection Points, his look each Saturday at the past week’s top stories and trends.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.
Charting the Global Economy: Job Growth in US Powers Ahead – BNN
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The strongest US job growth in five months and firmer-than-expected worker pay assuaged recession concerns, while also helping clear the path for the Federal Reserve to continue large interest-rate hikes.
In Europe and Asia, factory production weakened on lingering supply-chain constraints that are contributing to persistent price pressures. The Bank of England stepped up its inflation fight with the biggest rate increase in more than a quarter century, while also cautioning that the UK is headed for more than a year of recession.
Here are some of the charts that appeared on Bloomberg this week on the latest developments in the global economy:
Central banks around the world continued raising interest rates this week. Australia, Brazil, India and the UK were among those hiking by 50 basis points, while Romania went for 75 basis points and Madagascar for 90 basis points.
The standoff between the US and China over Taiwan has thrown a spotlight on growing risks to one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes — even a minor disruption could ripple through supply chains. Almost half of the global container fleet and a whopping 88% of the world’s largest ships by tonnage passed through the Taiwan Strait this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
European factory activity plunged and Asian manufacturing output continued to weaken in July amid lingering supply-chain complications and a slowing global economy. Purchasing managers’ indexes for the euro area’s four largest members all indicated contraction, while China, South Korea and Taiwan took the biggest hit in Asia.
Employers added more than double the number of jobs forecast, illustrating rock-solid labor demand that tempers recession worries and suggests the Federal Reserve will press on with steep interest-rate hikes to thwart inflation.
Household debt increased by 2% to $16.2 trillion in the second quarter, with mortgages, auto loans and credit-card balances all seeing sizable jumps, according to a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
With almost two openings for every person looking for work, US companies are increasingly tapping high school students for skilled jobs. As a result, apprenticeships are seeing a renaissance after failing to gain a foothold over the past few decades.
The Bank of England unleashed its biggest interest-rate hike in 27 years as it warned the UK is heading for more than a year of recession under the weight of soaring inflation. The half-point increase to 1.75% was backed by eight of the bank’s nine policy makers, who also kept up a pledge to act forcefully again in the future if needed.
German factory orders sank for a fifth month in June as rampant inflation and global supply disruptions continued to weigh on the outlook in Europe’s largest economy.
Germany’s presidential palace in Berlin is no longer lit at night, the city of Hanover is turning off warm water in the showers of its pools and gyms, and municipalities across the country are preparing heating havens to keep people safe from the cold. And that’s just the beginning of a crisis that will ripple across Europe.
It’s 2025 in Beijing, five years since the start of the pandemic, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Covid Zero policy is still an inescapable part of daily life. As omicron sub-variants become ever-more infectious, Xi’s resolve to avert virus fatalities is growing stronger – leading many experts to warn that Covid Zero could continue well beyond 2022.
Major South Korean firms are agreeing to the biggest pay rises in 19 years, according to a government survey, fueling concerns that a wage-price spiral is taking hold in the economy. Salary agreements at companies with 100 workers or more climbed 5.3% in the first half of the year, exceeding every increase since 2003, a labor ministry poll showed.
Turkish inflation accelerated again and may be months away from peaking, soaring to levels unseen since 1998 as the central bank sticks with its ultra-loose monetary course.
Brazil’s central bank raised its key interest rate by half a percentage point and left the door open for a smaller boost in September as it shifts its focus to the outlook for inflation more than a year ahead.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
The economy is growing by one measure, shrinking by another – The Washington Post
Government data showing the economy had contracted for the second consecutive quarter — meeting one informal definition of recession — was still fresh, as the Labor Department on Friday said employers had added 528,000 jobs in July. That was more than twice as many as economists expected.
Only eight days separated the two government reports, yet they seemed to describe entirely different realities.
The first showed a weak economy that — coupled with the highest inflation in 40 years — offered consumers nothing but grief. The second reflected a juggernaut that was minting jobs faster than workers could be found to fill them, with an unemployment rate that matched the pre-pandemic low of 3.5 percent.
“It’s normal for different economic indicators to point in different directions. It’s the magnitude of the discrepancies right now that’s unprecedented,” said Jason Furman, formerly President Barack Obama’s top economic adviser. “It isn’t just that the economy is growing in one measure and shrinking in another. It’s growing incredibly strongly in one measure while shrinking at a pretty decent clip in another.”
In Washington on Friday, President Biden took a victory lap for the job growth while claiming credit for gas prices having declined for more than 50 consecutive days. Yet he also acknowledged the disconnect between the sunny employment report and the inflation headaches that afflict many households.
“I know people will hear today’s extraordinary jobs report and say they don’t see it, they don’t feel it in their own lives,” the president said, speaking from a White House balcony. “I know how hard it is. I know it’s hard to feel good about job creation when you already have a job and you’re dealing with rising prices, food and gas, and so much more. I get it.”
The surprisingly robust jobs number seemed to call into question the president’s argument that the economy is undergoing a “transition” from its faster growth rates last year to a slower, more sustainable pace.
No one expects the economy to continue producing half a million new jobs each month. No one thinks it could without inflation remaining at uncomfortable heights.
Almost five months after the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates to cool off the economy and to bring down the highest inflation since the early 1980s, the labor market report showed that the nation’s central bank has more work to do. Average hourly earnings for private sector workers rose by 5.2 percent over the past year, which hints at the sort of wage-price spiral that the Fed is determined to prevent.
Last month, the Fed lifted its benchmark interest rate to a range of 2.25 percent to 2.5 percent, its highest level in almost four years. Yet in “real” or inflation-adjusted terms, borrowing costs remain deeply negative, which acts as a spur to economic growth.
Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell said last month that additional rate increases are likely when policymakers next meet on Sept. 21. The size of the next increase – either half a percentage point or three-quarters of a point – will “depend on the data we get between now and then,” he told reporters.
Investors see a 70 percent chance of the larger move, according to CME Group, which tracks purchases of derivatives linked to the central bank’s key rate.
On Wednesday, the government is scheduled to release inflation readings for July, which are expected to show a modest improvement compared to June’s 9.1 percent figure, thanks to falling energy prices.
Powell’s decision to stop telegraphing Fed moves by providing “forward guidance” of its plans is itself a sign that the current environment is murkier than usual.
“A lot of what’s happening in this economy is being driven by the pandemic, and then the pandemic response. And so, we are in a very unusual time, in many ways [it’s] challenging to sort of read through those data,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and a voting member of the Fed’s rate-setting committee, told The Washington Post this week.
Almost 22 million Americans lost their jobs between February and April of 2020 in covid’s first months. The unemployment rate hit 14.7 percent, the highest figure recorded by the Labor Department in a series that began in 1948.
With July’s gains, the economy now has recovered all of the lost jobs.
But the workforce has been reshaped. There are more warehouse and logistics workers today and fewer employees working for hotels and airlines.
Employers are reacting differently than they did before the pandemic to indications that the economy may be slowing, according to Gregory Daco, chief economist for EY-Parthenon. Rather than immediately resorting to significant layoffs, they are instead scaling back hiring or engaging in targeted job cuts.
Weekly first-time unemployment claims are up, but only to 260,000 from their 54-year low of 166,000 in March.
Consumers have also acted differently, buying more goods than normal while trapped at home during the pandemic’s initial wave. Retailers that ordered unusual volumes of furniture, electronics and apparel from overseas suppliers later misjudged the pace of consumers’ return to traditional buying patterns, leaving stores stuffed with unwanted goods.
On top of the pandemic’s lingering ills, the war in Ukraine has disrupted global commodity markets, contributing to higher inflation.
All of these forces combined to produce economic data that is unusual and sometimes contradictory. Friday’s jobs report showed 32,000 new construction jobs and 30,000 new factory jobs created in the month. Yet housing starts have fallen for the past two months and the latest ISM manufacturing reading was the weakest in two years.
“We are in somewhat of a dizzying business cycle. We’re getting economic data that is fluctuating quite rapidly and it’s very hard to get a precise read on where the economy is at any point in time,” Daco said.
Individual data points also provide snapshots of the economy that are out of sync, said Kathryn Edwards, an economist at the Rand Corp.
Friday’s Labor Department report tallied up jobs gained in July. The last consumer price index reading covered June. And the gross domestic product reading that started the recession furor described activity that occurred between April and June – and will be revised twice.
“It’s a challenge for an economist, but also for a reader who wants to understand how at risk they are for an economic downturn,” she said.
Labor market and output data have been telling different stories about the economy all year. After six straight months of shrinkage, the economy is roughly $125 billion smaller than it was at the end of 2021, according to inflation-adjusted Commerce Department data.
Yet employers have hired 3.3 million new workers over that same period.
How could more workers be producing fewer goods and services?
One explanation is that workers are less productive today than during the emergency phase of the pandemic, when companies struggled to keep producing their required orders with fewer workers, Furman said.
Indeed, non-farm business productivity in the first quarter fell 7.3 percent, the largest decline since 1947, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Preliminary results for the second quarter will be made public on Tuesday and are likely to show the largest two-quarter drop in history, he said.
Those figures may overstate the change. During the pandemic, companies may have been able to maintain output with a covid-thinned workforce by exhorting or incentivizing the remaining workers to work harder or longer. But there is a limit to how long bosses can motivate people by citing emergency conditions.
“They worked extra hard, but they wouldn’t work extra hard forever,” Furman said.
Likewise, the labor force participation rate usually rises when employers are adding jobs and the unemployment rate is falling. But since March, it has fallen, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Some Americans retired instead of risking working during the pandemic. Others — mostly women — who lacked adequate child care, stayed home with young children or other vulnerable relatives.
An April paper by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond found that “the pandemic has permanently reduced participation in the economy.”
Participation by Americans in their prime working years, ages 25 to 54, has almost entirely recovered. But for those 55 and older, there has been almost no improvement since the initial plunge at the outset of the pandemic. And for younger workers, age 20 to 24, participation is lower now than at the end of last year.
“I don’t think we have a great handle on why other workers are not coming back,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. “It’s just such an unusual period.”
Canadian economy sheds jobs for second straight month – BNN
Canada’s economy lost 30,600 jobs in July, according to data from Statistics Canada on Friday. This marks the second consecutive month of employment losses for the country.
The data came in weaker than expected. The median estimate among economists tracked by Bloomberg was for a gain of 15,000 jobs last month and an unemployment rate of 5.0 per cent.
The country’s unemployment rate remained steady at a historic low of 4.9 per cent.
The wholesale and retail trade, health care and social assistance, and educational services sectors collectively saw a loss of 53,000 jobs. The losses were partially offset by the goods-producing sector which gained 23,000 jobs, the labour force survey revealed.
The decline in jobs was roughly the same in both part-time and full-time work, though employment fell the most among women aged 55 and over.
The overall participation rate fell 0.2 per cent to 64.7 per cent in July, compared to the 0.4 percentage point drop in June.
The average hourly wages of employees rose 5.2 per cent on a year-over-year basis, matching the pace set in June.
“This is a notoriously noisy survey, especially in the summer months, July and August. The numbers bounce around a lot. I think what’s important here is that the North American economies are slowing,” Philip Cross, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and a former chief economic analyst of Statistics Canada, said in an interview Friday morning.
He also cautioned that Canada’s housing sector is vulnerable to the rising interest rate environment and could lag behind the U.S.
“There are some pockets of resilience in the economy. The resource sector is one,” Cross said.
The Bank of Canada has attempted to rein in runway inflation with aggressive interest rate hikes. Friday’s jobs data will likely help inform the central bank’s next scheduled interest rate decision in September.
“While today’s figures muddied the waters further for policymakers, the Bank of Canada will likely focus on the historic low unemployment rate and still strong wage growth to justify another non-standard rate hike at its next meeting,” Andrew Grantham, a senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, wrote in a note to clients on Friday.
The Bank of Canada remains committed to reaching its target rate of two per cent inflation.
“Evidence that the economy is slowing due to weakening demand, rather than supply constraints, will bring a pause in this rate hike cycle following the next hike,” Grantham said.
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