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Economy

The great unrest: How 2020 changed the economy in ways we can't understand yet – CNBC

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National Guard troops pose for photographers on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol the day after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump for the second time January 14, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

In an earnings call this week, Yum Brands CEO David Gibbs expressed the confusion many people are feeling as they try to figure out what’s going on with the U.S. economy right now:

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“This is truly one of the most complex environments we’ve ever seen in our industry to operate in. Because we’re not just dealing with economic issues like inflation and lapping stimulus and things like that. But also the social issues of people returning to mobility after lockdown, working from home and just the change in consumer patterns.”

Three months earlier, during the company’s prior call with analysts, Gibbs said economists who call this a “K-shaped recovery,” where high-income consumers are doing fine while lower-income householders struggle, are oversimplifying the situation.

“I don’t know in my career we’ve seen a more complex environment to analyze consumer behavior than what we’re dealing with right now,” he said in May, citing inflation, rising wages and federal stimulus spending that’s still stoking the economy.

At the same time, societal issues like the post-Covid reopening and Russia’s war in Ukraine are weighing on consumer sentiment, which all “makes for a pretty complex environment to figure out how to analyze it and market to consumers,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs is right. Things are very strange. Is a recession coming or not?

There is ample evidence for the “yes” camp.

Tech and finance are bracing for a downturn with hiring slowdowns and job cuts and pleas for more efficiency from workers. The stock market has been on a nine-month slump with the tech-heavy Nasdaq off more than 20% from its November peak and many high-flying tech stocks down 60% or more.

Inflation is causing consumers to spend less on nonessential purchases like clothing so they can afford gas and food. The U.S. economy has contracted for two straight quarters.

Downtown San Francisco doesn’t quite have the ghost town feel it did in February, but still has vast stretches of empty storefronts, few commuters and record-high commercial real estate vacancies, which is also the case in New York (although Manhattan feels a lot more like it’s back to its pre-pandemic hustle).

Then again:

The travel and hospitality industries can’t find enough workers. Travel is back to nearly 2019 levels, although it seems to be cooling as the summer wanes. Delays are common as airlines can’t find enough pilots and there aren’t enough rental cars to satisfy demand.

Restaurants are facing a dire worker shortage. The labor movement is having its biggest year in decades as retail workers at Starbucks and warehouse laborers at Amazon try to use their leverage to extract concessions from their employers. Reddit is filled with threads about people quitting low-paying jobs and abusive employers to … do something else, although it’s not always exactly clear what.

A shrinking economy typically doesn’t come with high inflation and a red-hot labor market.

Here’s my theory as to what’s going on.

The pandemic shock turned 2020 into an epoch-changing year. And much like the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the full economic and societal effects won’t be understood for years.

Americans experienced the deaths of family members and friends, long-term isolation, job changes and losses, lingering illness, urban crime and property destruction, natural disasters, a presidential election that much of the losing party refuses to accept, and an invasion of Congress by an angry mob, all in under a year.

A lot of people are dealing with that trauma — and the growing suspicion that the future holds more bad news — by ignoring propriety, ignoring societal expectations and even ignoring the harsh realities of their own financial situations. They’re instead seizing the moment and following their whims.

Consumers aren’t acting rationally, and economists can’t make sense of their behavior. It’s not surprising that the CEO of Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut, can’t either.

Call it the great unrest.

How might that manifest itself? In a decade, how will we look back at the 2020s?

Perhaps:

  • Older workers will continue to leave the workforce as soon as they can afford it, spending less over the long term to maintain their independence, and stitching together freelance or part-time work as needed. The labor market will remain tilted toward workers.
  • Workers in lower-paying jobs will demand more dignity and higher wages from their employers, and be more willing to switch jobs or quit cold if they don’t get them.
  • People will move more for lifestyle and personal reasons rather than to chase jobs. Overstressed workers will continue to flee urban environments for the suburbs and countryside, and exurbs one-to-three hours’ drive from major cities will see an upswing in property values and an influx of residents. Dedicated urban dwellers will find reasons to switch cities, creating more churn and reducing community bonds.
  • The last vestiges of employee loyalty will disappear as more people seek fulfillment ahead of pay. As one tech worker who quit her job at Expedia to work for solar tech company Sunrun recently put it, “You just realize there’s a little bit more to life than maxing out your comp package.”
  • Employees who proved they could do their jobs remotely will resist coming back to the office, forcing employers to make hybrid workplaces the norm. Spending patterns will change permanently, with businesses catering to commuters and urban workers continuing to struggle.
  • Those with disposable income will vigorously spend it on experiences — travel, restaurants, bars, hotels, live music, outdoor living, extreme sports — while curbing the purchase of high-end material goods and in-home entertainment, including broadband internet access and streaming media services. The pandemic was a time to hunker down and upgrade the nest. Now that we’ve got all the furniture and Pelotons we need, it’s time to go out and have fun.

It’s possible that this summer will be the capstone to this period of uncertainty and consumers will suddenly stop spending this fall, sending the U.S. into a recession. Further “black swan” events like wars, natural disasters, a worsening or new pandemic, or more widespread political unrest could similarly squash any signs of life in the economy.

Even so, some of the behavioral and societal shifts that happened during the pandemic will turn out to be permanent.

These signals should become clearer in earnings reports as we move further from the year-ago comparisons with the pandemic-lockdown era, and as interest rates stabilize. Then, we’ll find out which businesses and economic sectors are truly resilient as we enter this new era.

WATCH: Jim Cramer explains why he believes inflation is coming down

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Economy

As economy faces potential recession, Liberals to release 'tricky' budget Tuesday – Financial Post

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are set to unveil a budget on Tuesday intended to showcase their plans to keep Canada competitive amid the clean energy transition while supporting Canadians who are struggling with affordability.

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Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland has promised to accomplish as much over the last few weeks, while also pledging to keep the budget fiscally restrained.

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But that balancing act isn’t expected to be easy. A slowing Canadian economy could weigh on government coffers.

“It’s going to be very tricky for the federal government,” said Randall Bartlett, a senior director of Canadian economics at Desjardins.

The Liberals are expected to invest considerably in Canada’s clean energy transition, in an attempt to keep Canada competitive with the United States as it launches its own aggressive measures.

The Inflation Reduction Act, signed into law last August by U.S. President Joe Biden, invests nearly US$400 billion in everything from critical minerals to battery manufacturing, electric vehicles and clean electricity, including hydrogen.

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Ottawa has also promised big bucks for health care. It recently signed 10-year funding agreements with provinces on health-care transfers, and that spending is expected to be accounted for in the budget.

And with the cost of living still a top economic issue for many Canadians, the Liberals have signalled the budget will include new affordability measures.

“In the weeks to come, for those Canadians who feel the bite of rising prices the most acutely, for our most vulnerable friends and neighbours, our government will deliver additional, targeted inflation relief,” Freeland said in Oshawa, Ont. on Monday.

But Bartlett said the federal government has to balance its big-ticket spending priorities with an uncertain economic outlook.

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Many economists are forecasting that Canada could enter a recession this year as high interest rates weigh on the economy. Since March 2022, the Bank of Canada has aggressively raised interest rates to crack down on high inflation.

As global price pressures ease and interest rates dampen spending in the economy, inflation has been slowing. Canada’s annual inflation rate has tumbled from 8.1 per cent in the summer to 5.2 per cent in February.

Even as inflation becomes less of a problem, though, a slowing economy means less government revenues to finance spending.

According to a report from Desjardins, new spending measures alone wouldn’t necessarily put federal finances on an unsustainable path. But if significant new spending is paired with a worse-than-expected economic downturn, that could spell trouble for the federal government, the report says.

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“Planning for an optimistic future and spending accordingly now could lead to very challenging circumstances going forward,” Bartlett said.

The federal government also runs the risk of fuelling inflation with excessive spending, making the Bank of Canada’s job of cooling inflation more challenging. Freeland has repeatedly said she doesn’t plan on doing that, noting the federal government can’t compensate all Canadians for the rise in prices.

Bartlett said the federal government so far has done a good job balancing the need to help low-income Canadians while avoiding adding fuel to the fire.

“My concern is this that (if) they continue to layer this on top of additional spending for other other initiatives … it’s not only going to make potentially the Bank of Canada’s job more challenging, but it’s also going to just increase the size of the deficit at a time when the economic outlook is very uncertain,” he said.

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There is some ambiguity around how the government will approach tax policy in this year’s budget.

Some policy experts have suggested that increasing tax revenues might be part of the solution when it comes to stabilizing federal finances. A shadow budget put together for the C.D. Howe Institute, an economic thinktank, recommended increasing the GST tax rate.

But Bartlett said raising taxes might be a tough sell for Canadians, especially because the federal government has had mixed results on some of its key areas of investment, such as its national housing strategy.

“If we continue to see increased spending, and that requires tax increases to to afford that spending, there’s going to be … increased scrutiny by the public on whether or not we’re getting the bang for the buck,” Bartlett said.

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On the political front, the Liberals also have to contend with New Democrat priorities as outlined in the party’s supply-and-confidence agreement with the Liberals. It agreed to support the minority government in key votes until 2025 — including on federal budgets — in exchange for movement on shared priorities.

In the upcoming budget, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he wants to see the government extend the six-month boost to the GST rebate, introduced last fall, which temporarily doubled the amount people received.

Singh has also said he’d like to see federal funding for school lunches.

Per the parties’ agreement, the Liberals have already agreed to create a federally funded and administered dental care program this year that would replace the dental benefit for children in low-income families that was rolled out in the fall.

The deal also commits the Liberals to passing legislation on a national pharmacare program by the end of 2023 — although there’s been no sign of movement on that yet.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2023.

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Economy

Property Sector Biggest Overhang for China Economy: Hong – Bloomberg

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Property Sector Biggest Overhang for China Economy: Hong  Bloomberg

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Economy

Prices are High: Yet Inflation has dropped to 5.2%

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The Inflation rate remains relatively high at 5.2% but it has declined reasonably since the interest rates began to rock and roll upwards.

Will the decision be made to raise rates further or drop them? I believe the rates will stay where they are or go up a further point. America will be increasing its rates in an effort to quell its own inflation, and our government will follow suit as usual. A Federal election may well be announced once the inflation rate in Canada has halved itself. Interest rates will be allowed to decline and the public will show their support for the Liberals in kind.

More importantly, why are prices still extremely high while inflation continues to drop? Greed and Shrinkflation of course. Any manufacturer knows the marketplace in Canada and the US has rebounded since mid-summer 2022. Supply chain problems aside, the decline of needed products that once were earmarked for North American Markets have been redirected to China and Indian needs. This is deliberate of course, allowing those manufacturers in Asian Markets to demand higher prices. Products within the retail sector have gone up in price or the price remains the same while the product has been reduced in size. After 2020-2021, most retailers did increase their prices and realized that our markets still were prepared to purchase what was needed, so they will retain their higher prices until forced to change their pricing structure in the near future.

Has this increase in slowing the economy work? North America’s Economy has been booming since mid-summer 2022. Growth rates in the US show promise, and Canada’s Economy has benefited from the boom to the south. America’s President Biden continues to sell its America First purchasing policy putting Canada’s Liberal Government into a fear fest spin. Trump’s “make America great again has been followed by Biden’s purchase American 1st”. Federal Agencies must purchase American manufactured products and services 1st, before giving foreign firms a chance to bid. Canada’s begun to apply taxes on various products in an effort to pay down their massive public debt. Beer and most forms of booze and other items that fall into the luxury tax sector are being targeted.

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Have you noticed that most media outlets have refused to offer an attitude of clarity with regard to higher prices and inflation? Why are prices so high? Most so-called specialists claim various reasons why, while others insist grocers are not making loads of money, surviving on a 2-4% profit margin.
Would it not be nice to see a media broadcaster or journalist come out with something like this…

“The Public is being taken for a ride by basically everyone within the retail-manufacturing sectors”
“It’s greed baby, with a side of massive profiteering”.

Canadian and US Corporations are taking our funds to the bank, and we are letting them do so. The public continues to buy what they want on credit while complaining all the more. And did our government demand that essential items needed by the public be made locally, and not imported from some distant land? Words with no follow-up, propaganda with no real power behind them. Instead of going after the wayward profiteering firms, our governments are canceling funding programs for the businesses most damaged by the pandemic(restaurants and Mom & Pop Stores) and also pursuing some individuals that asked for CERB. Governments are and will continue to create new taxes and tax us, while they let the wealthy hide their fortunes in banking centers throughout the world. The government is so comfortable that it will pursue a policy of taxation that strikes at the most vulnerable, our elderly, who also have within their bank accounts @ 3.2 trillion Canadian and much more in America. The average Canadian Boomer is worth @$206,000 and the government and many corporations want some of that.

Like Premier Ford said last year…Ontario is back in business. So to the taxation hikes to come.

Why do our governments allow corporations to blind us with advertising propaganda while their hands are in our pockets, robbing us blind? The very basics of foodstuff, energy demands, and housing needs are pushing many towards a credit crisis never seen before. If the public fails, so do their public governments.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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