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The Economy Looks Solid. But These Are the Big Risks Ahead. – The New York Times

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One concern is that political leaders will mismanage things in the world’s largest and second-largest economies.

The low-hanging fruit of the pandemic economic recovery has been eaten. As a result, the expansion is entering a new phase — with new risks.

For months, the world economy has expanded at a torrid pace, as industries that were shut down in the pandemic reopened. While that process is hardly complete — numerous industries are still functioning below their prepandemic levels — further healing appears likely to be more gradual, and in some ways more difficult.

Reopening restaurants and performance arenas is one thing. Fixing extraordinary backups in shipping networks and shortages of semiconductors, among the most vivid examples of supply shortages holding back many parts of the economy, is harder.

And a range of risks, including the hard-to-predict dynamics of Covid variants, could throw this transition to a healthy post-pandemic economy off course.

One looming risk is if political leaders mismanage things in the world’s largest and second-largest economies. Namely, in the United States, a standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling could bring the nation to the brink of default. And in China, the fallout from the property developer Evergrande’s financial problems is raising questions about the country’s debt-and-real-estate-fueled growth.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last week projected that the world economy would grow 4.5 percent in 2022, downshifting from an expected 5.7 percent expansion in 2021. Its forecast for the United States shows an even steeper slowdown, from 6 percent growth this year to 3.9 percent next.

Of course, a year of 3.9 percent G.D.P. growth would be nothing to scoff at — that would be much faster growth than the United States has experienced for most of the 21st century. But it would represent a resetting of the economy.

“We’ve had liftoff, and now we’re at cruising altitude,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global.

After the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the great challenge for the recovery was a shortfall of demand. Workers and productive capacity were abundant, but there was inadequate spending in the economy to put that capacity to work. The post-reopening stage of this recovery is the opposite image.

Now there is plenty of demand — thanks to pent-up savings, trillions of dollars in federal stimulus dollars, and rapidly rising wages — but companies report struggles to find enough workers and raw materials to meet that demand.

Dozens of container ships are backed up at Southern California ports, waiting their turn to unload products meant to fill American store shelves through the holiday season. Automakers have had to idle plants for want of semiconductors. Builders have had a hard time obtaining windows, appliances and other key products needed to complete new homes. And restaurants have cut back hours for lack of kitchen help.

These strains are, in effect, acting as a brake that slows the expansion. The question is how much, and for how long, that brake will be applied.

“The kinds of growth rates we are seeing were a bounce-back from a really severe recession, so it’s no surprise that won’t continue,” said Jennifer McKeown, head of the global economics service at Capital Economics. “The risk is that this becomes less about a natural cooling and more about the supply shortages that we’re seeing really starting to bite. That may mean that economic activity doesn’t continue to grow as we’re expecting it to, as instead there is a stalling of activity and price pressures starting to rise.”

The problem is that the supply shortages have many causes, and it is not obvious when they will all diminish. Spending worldwide, and especially in the United States, shifted toward physical goods over services during the pandemic, more quickly than productive capacity could adjust. The Delta variant and continued spread of Covid has caused restrictions on production in some countries. And the lagged effects of production shutdowns in 2020 are still being felt.

Then there are the risks that lurk in the background — the kinds of things that aren’t widely forecast to be a source of economic distress, but could unspool in unpredictable ways.

Debt ceiling brinkmanship in Washington is a prime example. Senate Republicans insist that they will not vote to increase the federal debt limit, and that Democrats will have to do so themselves — while also planning to filibuster Democratic attempts to do so.

Failure to reach some sort of agreement would risk a default on federal obligations, and could cause a financial crisis. For that reason, a deal in these cases has always ultimately been done — even if, as in 2011, it created a lot of uncertainty along the way.

The risk here is that both sides could be so determined to stick to their stances that a miscalculation happens, like two drivers in a game of chicken who both refuse to swerve. And to those who are closest to American fiscal policymaking, that looks like a meaningful risk.

“Chances of a default are still remote, and Congress will likely increase the debt ceiling. but the path to a deal is more murky than usual,” said Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist at Stifel, in a research note. He added that the political game of chicken could spook markets in coming weeks.

And on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese government has its own challenge, as Evergrande struggles to make payments on $300 billion worth of debt.

Real estate has played an outsize role in China’s economy for years. But few analysts expect the problems to spread far beyond Chinese borders. The Chinese banking and financial system is largely self-contained, in contrast to the deep global linkages that allowed the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 to trigger a global financial crisis.

“Everyone’s learned a trick or two since 2008,” said Alan Ruskin, a macro strategist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “What you have here is the world’s second-largest economy, and one that has lifted all boats, could be slowing more materially than people anticipated. I think that’s the primary risk, rather than that financial interlinkages shift out on a global basis.”

All of which could make for a bumpy autumn for the world economy, but which in the most likely scenarios would lead to a solid 2022. If, that is, everything goes the way the forecasters expect.

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Economy

Oil prices climb to highest in years as COVID recovery, power generators stoke demand

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 Oil prices hit their highest in years on Monday as demand continues its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, boosted by more custom from power generators turning away from expensive gas and coal to fuel oil and diesel.

Brent crude oil futures rose 87 cents, or 1%, to $85.73 a barrel by 0111 GMT, the highest price since October 2018.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures climbed $1.12, or 1.4%, to $83.40 a barrel, highest since October 2014.

Both contracts rose by at least 3% last week.

“Easing restrictions around the world are likely to help the recovery in fuel consumption,” analysts from ANZ bank said in a note on Monday.

“The jet fuel market was buoyed by news that the U.S. will open its borders to vaccinated foreign travellers next month. Similar moves in Australia and across Asia followed.”

They added that gas-to-oil switching for power generation alone could boost demand by as much as 450,000 barrels per day in the fourth quarter.

Still, supply could also increase from the United States, where energy firms last week added oil and natural gas rigs for a sixth week in a row as soaring crude prices prompted drillers to return to the wellpad.

The U.S. oil and gas rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose 10 to 543 in the week to Oct. 15, its highest since April 2020, energy services firm Baker Hughes Co said last week.

China’s economy, meanwhile, likely grew at the slowest pace in a year in the third quarter, hurt by power shortages, supply bottlenecks and sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks.

The world’s second-largest oil consumer issued a new batch of oil import quotas for independent refiners for 2021 that show total annual allowances were lower than last year, a first reduction of import permits since these firms were allowed into the market in 2015.

 

(Reporting by Jessica Jaganathan; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

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Economy

Stop handing out free money (and other ideas for getting the economy back on track) | TheHill – The Hill

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Supply chain shortages and inflation are hurting consumers and Democratic election prospects in 2022 and 2024. The Biden administration, no doubt aware of this possibility, is taking action to address the ill-effects of scarcity and higher prices. Recently, the administration mandated that the Port of Los Angeles remain open 24 hours a day so merchandise idling in shipping containers can be delivered faster to fill empty supermarket shelves and consumer shopping carts.

But this response may be coming too late, because shortages and inflation have created uncertainty in the minds of consumers that cannot be easily reduced.

While the administration has handled the COVID-19 pandemic well, it has been much less successful in dealing with the negative effects of the ensuing adjustments, including shortages, inflation, supply chain disruptions, high demand and uncertainty.  

The widespread shortages were caused by sudden and rapid increases in consumer demand and by manufacturers and suppliers that were too slow or unable to respond swiftly.

Once supply chain disruptions are straightened out as manufacturers increase their production and distributers move their products faster, shortages are bound to ease, though some could linger.  

The U.S. economy is also experiencing a modest annual inflation rate of 5.4 percent, caused by the trillions of dollars that the Treasury gave Americans in 2020 to spend to avert a pandemic-induced depression. Flush with this cash and what they had saved while sheltering in their homes during the pandemic, consumers quickly increased demand for most products and services. They became less price sensitive and pushed inflation higher. Still, though worrisome, an annual inflation rate of 5.4 percent is hardly runaway or stagflationary.  

But the excess cash is tapering off. Without it, consumers will be forced to reduce their demand and thereby push most prices downward. As a result, future inflation won’t be as drastic or widespread, especially since the Federal Reserve Board is planning to reduce the money supply, which will dampen inflation.

But the uncertainty produced by the pandemic is likely to prevent people from getting back to normal and might foster some continued shortages and inflation.  

Americans have been feeling confused and unsure about their future. Before the pandemic, they took stable prices and product availability for granted, knew the content and location of their jobs, woke up in the mornings to feed their kids and send them to school and were fairly content with their lives. Not anymore. Their world had changed, and the new one seems unfamiliar and scary to many. As a result, 4.3 millions have left the labor force since the onset of the pandemic.

What can the White House and Congress do to alleviate shortages, inflation and uncertainty? Here are four ideas.  

1. Take measures to ease shortages. Mandating that the Port of Los Angeles work nonstop will increase some supplies, but it’s not enough. It should be followed by similar action in other ports. Likewise, factories should be instructed to increase production. Such measures are easy to take in the case of consumer staples but more difficult in the case of computer chips, as chips are part of a global industry, and increasing their production requires building large factories and investing billions of dollars.

2. Stop handing out free money to consumers. With less money to spend, demand and inflation will ease. Though Americans are no longer receiving government manna, many still have cash to spend, which will continue to exert some upward inflationary pressures. 

3. Think again about the size, timing and spending schedule of infrastructure and Build Back Better initiatives. Pumping trillions of dollars into the economy could create a new round of inflation inflammation.

4. Reduce uncertainty. Unfortunately, policymakers lack the knowledge, skills and tools to address this effectively. What is desperately needed is trusted and steady leadership to assure Americans that their lives as consumers, employees, parents and human beings will be more certain again. Unless they can be made to feel more content with their lives, the economy may continue to sputter and keep a fuller economic recovery at bay. 

Can these challenges be successfully addressed in the coming year or two? Maybe. The U.S. discovered and produced a life-saving vaccine against COVID-19 in record time and enacted policies that averted depression. Likewise, I expect shortages and inflation to subside and a sense of normalcy to rise. This, plus efforts to make consumers feel more confident, would put the country on a more prosperous path. 

Avraham Shama is the former dean of the College of Business at the University of Texas – Pan American. He is a professor emeritus at the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico. His book, “The Impact of Stagflation on Consumer Psychology,” was published by Praeger publishing. 

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Economy

Shekel surplus weighs down Palestinian economy – FRANCE 24

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Issued on: 17/10/2021 – 05:06Modified: 17/10/2021 – 05:04

Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Palestinian businesses flush with too much Israeli cash: it may not be the most talked about aspect of the occupation, but experts warn it is a growing concern for the Palestinian economy.

Palestinians in the West Bank use the Israeli shekel but, beyond that commonality, the two financial systems are dramatically different.

In Israel, as in many advanced economies, digital payments are rapidly growing, taking the place of transactions once done with bills and coins.

But in the West Bank, a territory under Israeli military occupation since 1967, cash is still king.

Tasir Freij, who owns a hardware store in Ramallah, told AFP he now has to pay a two percent commission to deposit paper money because his bank is reluctant to receive it.

“This is a crisis… and we are feeling its effects,” Freij told AFP.

Much of the paper money is brought in by the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work inside Israel or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and who get their wages in cash.

Experts and business people say the buildup of hard currency risks stifling the Palestinian financial system.

Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local  shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies
Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local  shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies
Palestinian men exchange currencies in the West Bank city of Ramallah; the local shekel surplus has seen its value fall against major global currencies ABBAS MOMANI AFP

Freij fretted that buying goods from abroad typically requires converting shekels into foreign currencies, especially dollars or euros, but the abundance of shekels in the market has forced him to accept painfully unfavourable rates.

– ‘Dumping ground’ –

The Palestinian Monetary Authority, which functions as the central bank in the West Bank, has warned that paper shekels are building up because it has no way to return the hard currency to Israel.

PMA governor Firas Melhem told AFP that the cash buildup was “a very worrying problem,” causing headaches for banks and businesses.

“If the problem is not resolved quickly, the Palestinian market will turn into a dumping ground for the shekel,” he added.

The shekel was established as the official currency in the Palestinian territories as a result of economic protocols known as the Paris agreements that followed the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Much has changed since those 1994 agreements.

As they lean more on digital transactions, Israel’s banks no longer want to reabsorb paper cash that accumulates in the West Bank but does not circulate rapidly through the Israeli economy.

The Bank of Israel cited security as another reason.

“We stress that uncontrolled cash transfers could be misused, especially for money laundering and terror funding, and would not be in compliance with international standards on the prohibition of money laundering and terror funding,” the bank told AFP in a statement.

– Solutions? –

Palestinian banks have tried to encourage customers to moderate their cash deposits, but that risks limiting the capital available to banks, which would lower their ability to offer loans.

The cash surplus predicament has fuelled renewed calls from some Palestinian experts in favour of ditching the shekel, either in favour of a unique Palestinian currency or that of another nation, including the Jordanian dinar, which also circulates in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Monetary Authority is also pushing the Bank of Israel to take back more hard currency.

But Melhem stressed that Palestinians also needed to “keep up with developments in financial technologies,” and move towards more cashless payments.

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