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Yearender: US economy slows in 2019, thorny road ahead – Xinhua | English.news.cn – Xinhua

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Colorful child’s riding toys are displayed at the 116th Annual North American International Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, the United States, Feb. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

The U.S. economy has maintained a moderate pace of growth, but it faces a thorny path ahead.

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) — The U.S. economy, supported by robust consumer spending and a strong job market, has maintained a moderate pace of growth as 2019 draws to a close. While worries about an immediate recession have abated, its economy still shows signs of slowing down.

With business investment falling and manufacturing sector contracting, the U.S. economic recovery has hit a lot of bumps over the past few months. It faces a thorny path ahead amid lingering trade uncertainty and a synchronized global slowdown.

MIXED PICTURE

U.S. economic growth in the third quarter expanded at an annual rate of 2.1 percent, which is slightly up from the 2 percent in the second quarter and marks a sharp deceleration from the 3.1 percent in the first quarter, according to data from the U.S. Commerce Department.

A panel of professional forecasters recently surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics (NABE) anticipated the U.S. Gross Domestic Product growth would slow from 2.9 percent in 2018 to 2.3 percent this year.

After the central bank’s latest policy meeting earlier this month, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell described the mixed picture in his words: “Household spending has been strong, supported by a healthy job market, rising incomes, and solid consumer confidence. In contrast, business investment and exports remain weak, and manufacturing output has declined over the past year.”

Personal consumption expenditures, which account for roughly 70 percent of U.S. economic output, have seen robust growth during the first three quarters — rising by 1.1 percent, 4.6 percent, and 3.2 percent respectively — partly soothing fears over the health of the world’s largest economy.

The unemployment rate, which has remained below 4 percent since the beginning of the year, dropped slightly to 3.5 percent in November, again hitting the lowest in nearly five decades. Job gains have averaged 205,000 from September to November.

Despite resilient consumer spending and a strong labor market, business investment has declined for two straight quarters — dropping by 1 percent in the second quarter and 2.3 percent in the third — acting as a drag on the overall economy.

Economic activity in the manufacturing sector, meanwhile, contracted for a fourth consecutive month in November, according to the Institute for Supply Management. The Purchasing Managers’ Index registered 47.8 percent in September, the lowest in a decade.

TRADE UNCERTAINTY

The Fed chairman, along with many economists, has repeatedly cited trade tensions as one of the factors that have been weighing on the U.S. economy.

Noting that the economy faced some “important challenges” from weaker global growth and trade uncertainty over the past year, Powell said the central bank adjusted the stance of monetary policy to “cushion” the economy from these developments and “provide some insurance against the associated risks.”

The Fed has lowered interest rates three times since July, amid growing uncertainty stemming from trade tensions, weakness in global growth and muted inflation pressures. These policy adjustments put the current federal funds rate target range at 1.5 percent to 1.75 percent.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, on Dec. 11, 2019. (Xinhua/Sarah Silbiger)

The Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs for some of the largest companies in the United States, recently said its index of the CEOs’ economic outlook in the fourth quarter dropped to 76.7, which remains below the historical average and marks the seventh consecutive quarterly decline.

“CEOs are justified in their caution about the state of the U.S. economy. While we have achieved a competitive tax environment, uncertainty surrounding trade policy and slowing global growth are creating headwinds for business,” said Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable.

According to the NABE survey released earlier this month, trade policy continues to be the “most widely cited” dominant downside risk to the U.S. economy through 2020, with half of respondents citing it as the “greatest” downside risk.

U.S.-initiated trade tensions have taken a toll on the global economy. The World Trade Organization recently said that world merchandise trade volumes are expected to rise by only 1.2 percent in 2019, substantially slower than the 2.6 percent growth forecast in April.

In its latest World Economic Outlook report released in October, the International Monetary Fund lowered its global growth forecast for 2019 to 3 percent, warning that growth continues to be weakened by rising trade barriers and growing geopolitical tensions.

THORNY ROAD AHEAD

The U.S. economy is expected to further slow down next year against the backdrop of persistent trade policy uncertainty and a labor market that could be losing momentum, as well as a precarious global outlook.

Official data showed that job gains have averaged 180,000 per month so far in 2019, compared with an average monthly gain of 223,000 in 2018, indicating that the overall level of hiring has been slowing down over the past few months. Meanwhile, the pace of payroll growth has remained weak.

According to the CNBC Global CFO Council survey for the fourth quarter, 60 percent of chief financial officers expect their company’s head count to decrease over the next 12 months.

The NABE survey panelists believed the U.S. economy would slow to 1.8 percent in 2020. “The consensus forecast calls for a pickup in housing, but slower growth in business investment and consumer spending, along with larger deficits in trade and the federal budget,” said NABE President Constance Hunter, chief economist at KPMG.

The federal budget deficit, which ballooned rapidly during the Trump administration, has drawn concern from many. Powell, the Fed chairman, recently stressed the urgency for the U.S. Congress to address the issue, noting that there would otherwise be less fiscal space to support the economy in a downturn.

On the trade front, uncertainty has been the only certainty. Despite progress with Canada, Mexico and China, the United States has proposed tariffs on French products in retaliation for digital service tax, and its Boeing-Airbus aircraft subsidy dispute with the European Union has been escalating.

A worker milks a cow at a dairy farm run by Kelly D. Cunningham in rural Cass County of the U.S. state of Iowa, Oct. 16, 2019. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

“The administration’s trade policies have left little room to maneuver,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, a major accounting firm, wrote in an analysis.

“Either the president backs off his campaign promises, holds the line on tariffs and the economy slows. Or, he risks a recession by doubling down on trade wars and heightening uncertainty,” Swonk wrote.

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Delta variant, shortages severely restrict U.S. economic growth in third quarter

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The U.S. economy grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in the third quarter as a resurgence in COVID-19 cases further stretched global supply chains, leading to shortages of goods like automobiles that slammed the brakes on consumer spending.

The weaker-than-expected growth reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday also reflected decreasing pandemic relief money from the government to businesses, state and local governments as well as households. Hurricane Ida, which devastated U.S. offshore energy production at the end of August also restrained economic growth.

But there are signs that economic activity is already regaining momentum amid declining coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a fresh 19-month low last week. Even with the third-quarter setback, the level of gross domestic product hit a record high and the economy is now 1.4% bigger than before the pandemic.

“The growth speed bump in the third quarter is an unwelcome surprise certainly, but it will not send the economy off into the ditch because it is partly based on supply disruptions in the auto industry that has cratered sales with inventories near record lows on dealer lots,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.0% annualized rate last quarter, the government said in its advance GDP estimate. That was the slowest since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered a historic contraction in the wake of stringent mandatory measures to contain the first wave of coronavirus cases. The economy grew at a 6.7% rate in the second quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.7% rate last quarter. The meager growth came mostly from a moderate pace of inventory drawdown. Business inventories decreased at a $77.7 billion pace compared to a $168.5 billion rate in the second quarter. As result, inventories contributed 2.07 percentage points to third-quarter GDP growth.

Inventory accumulation remains weak owing to shortages, especially of motor vehicles. Motor vehicle production fell at a 41.6% rate after declining at a 14.1% pace in the second quarter because of a global shortage of semiconductors.

Excluding inventories, the economy contracted at a 0.1% rate last quarter. The scarcity of motor vehicles hammered consumer spending, which grew at only a 1.6% rate after a robust 12% pace in the April-June quarter. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

 

(GRAPHIC: Consumer spending takes a breather – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/byvrjrwykve/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

Spending on long-lasting manufactured goods dropped at a 26.2% rate. Motor vehicles cut 2.39 percentage points from GDP growth, the biggest drag from autos since the second quarter of 1980. Excluding motor vehicle output, the economy grew at a 3.5% rate last quarter, a slowdown from the 7.4% pace in the prior quarter.

Spending on services was surprisingly strong, notching a 7.9% growth pace amid demand for air travel and car rentals. Demand for services at hospitals and restaurants rose, as did bookings for hotel, motel and university campus accommodation. Services spending accelerated at an 11.5% pace in the April-June quarter.

 

(GRAPHIC: The drag from Detroit – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-ECONOMY/jnpwewdmepw/chart_eikon.jpg)

 

The government estimated that Hurricane Ida cost about $62 billion. Inflation remained hot, eroding spending power. The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding food and energy, rose at a 4.5% rate. The core PCE price index increased at a 6.1% pace in the second quarter.

The combination of high inflation and slow growth could fan fears of stagflation, something that most economists do not believe is imminent as output is seen picking up through 2022.

“Stagflation will be the talk of the town, but we should not fall for this misleading narrative,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics in New York. “Inflation dynamics are definitely moderating expansion with sticky supply-driven inflation, but the economy isn’t stagnating.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher on upbeat earnings from Caterpillar, Merck and Ford.

The dollar fell against a basket of currencies after the European Central Bank pushed back against market bets that high inflation would trigger an interest rate hike as soon as next year. U.S. Treasury yields rose.

REGAINING SPEED

Slower growth will have no impact on the Fed’s plans to start reducing as early as next month the amount of money it is pumping into the economy through monthly bond purchases.

With the summer wave of COVID-19 infections behind, cases declining significantly in recent weeks and vaccinations picking up economic activity is regaining steam. Consumer confidence rebounded this month and orders for capital goods excluding aircraft raced to a record high in September.

The labor market is tightening, though pandemic-related worker shortages could keep employment growth moderate this month. A separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showed initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 last week, the lowest level since mid-March 2020. It was the third straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold.

The number of people continuing to receive benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 237,000 to 2.243 million in the week ended Oct. 16. That was also the lowest level in 19 months.

“Given the massive number of job openings, look for claims to continue declining for some time and look for the labor market to remain drum tight,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economics in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Though wages are rising, inflation is reducing consumers’ purchasing power. Income at the disposal of households after adjusting for inflation decreased at a 5.6% rate last quarter. The saving rate fell to 8.9% from 10.5% in the second quarter.

High prices and lack of trucks as well as communication equipment cut into business spending on equipment, which fell at a 3.2% rate after three straight quarters of double-digit growth. Trade was a drag on GDP growth for a fifth straight quarter following a drop in exports.

Shortages and expensive building materials weighed on home building and remodeling, leading to residential investment contracting for a second straight quarter. Government spending rebounded on state and local government investment.

 

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

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Canadian wage inflation looms as ‘perfect storm’ hits labor market

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Canadian workers are fast becoming hot commodities in a tight labor market and companies are increasingly forced to raise wages to fill jobs – and retain existing staff – a factor likely to complicate the Bank of Canada‘s efforts to tame inflation.

While fast rising wages have yet to filter through to official data, hiring intentions are far above pre-pandemic levels and staffing companies say it is a “sellers market” for skilled and unskilled job seekers across many industries.

Economists say wage growth could turn into a big problem for the Bank of Canada, which is already grappling with inflation that is near a two-decade high. On Wednesday the central bank surprised the market https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/bank-canada-signals-it-could-hike-rates-sooner-than-expected-2021-10-27 with its hawkish tone, nudging forward the chance of an interest rate hike as it warned inflation would go higher.

“I’m seeing increases in labor wage rates anywhere from 10% to 40%,” said Tanya Cerniuk, head of sales for Canada at global staffing firm Adecco Group.

“I saw one today … they were offering C$14 ($11.35) an hour and now they’re offering C$19.50 per hour,” she said. “Things are changing so quickly. Employers are having to be very agile.”

Digital marketing professional Riley Haas started looking for a new job in August and signed on with an internet marketing company within weeks, earning about 30% more than before, plus benefits.

“I was blown away by the number of opportunities that were out there, as well as some of the remuneration being offered,” Haas said. “I have never had a job-hunting experience like this in my life.”

While Canada’s employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, wage growth was up 1.7% on the year in September, compared with 4.3% in February 2020, right before the onset of the pandemic, according to Statistics Canada.

“If you look at the various wage measures, they’re actually still somewhat below their pre-pandemic levels,” Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said on Wednesday.

The central bank is watching closely for signs of wage inflation as the headline Consumer Price Index is now expected to be above the 1%-3% control range until late 2022, he added.

MORE MONEY, MORE WORKERS

Some companies, hesitant to boost base wages amid ongoing pandemic-related uncertainty, are instead offering rich signing bonuses and hourly premiums based on attendance and retention, Adecco’s Cerniuk said, all of which may not register as wage increases.

Loosening of COVID-19 restrictions has prompted an early start to seasonal hiring for the holidays, pitting retailers and restaurants against manufacturers and warehousing firms to secure workers. Lower immigration during the pandemic has added to the pinch.

“I think it’s a perfect storm,” Cerniuk said.

A giant billboard outside an Ottawa liquor store offers seasonal jobs starting about 15% above minimum wage, which is C$14.35 an hour in the province of Ontario, while a placard in a nearby Whole Foods store promises hires a C$2-C$3 per hour bonus plus richer overtime if they stay on for the entire holiday season.

Derek Holt, head of capital market economics at Scotiabank, pointed to seasonally adjusted and annualized numbers that show a sharp three-month acceleration in wage growth, calling it hard to ignore.

“Wage growth is ripping in Canada,” he said in a recent note, adding that it is just the latest pressure point on the central bank.

Meloche Group, an aerospace components maker in the Montreal area, has boosted worker salaries this month and is planning another wage hike in February. The company has about 30 open positions – 10% of its workforce – and the staff shortage is making it difficult to complete deliveries on time, Chief Executive Officer Hugue Meloche said.

“We are expecting a lot of growth,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the Aero Montreal global supply-chain summit this week. “We have to get prepared.”

 

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa, additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Fergal Smith in Toronto; Editing by Paul Simao)

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U.S. economy slows sharply in third quarter; weekly jobless claims at new 19-month low – Reuters

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FILE PHOTO: People line up at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing at a mobile testing van in New York City, U.S., August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy grew at its slowest pace in more than a year in the third quarter as COVID-19 infections flared up, further straining global supply chains and causing shortages of goods like automobiles that almost stifled consumer spending.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.0% annualized rate last quarter, the Commerce Department said in its advance GDP estimate on Thursday. That was slowest since the second quarter of 2020, when the economy suffered a historic contraction in the wake of stringent mandatory measures to contain the first wave of coronavirus cases.

The economy grew at a 6.7% rate in the second quarter. The Delta variant of the coronavirus worsened labor shortages at factories, mines and ports, gumming up the supply chain. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.7% rate last quarter.

Strong inflation, fueled by the economy-wide shortages and pandemic relief money from the government over the course of the public health crisis, cut into growth. Ebbing fiscal stimulus and Hurricane Ida, which devastated U.S. offshore energy production in late August, also weighed on the economy.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a 1.6% rate after a robust 12% growth pace in the April-June quarter. Though automobiles accounted for a chunk of the stagnation, the Delta variant also curbed spending on services like air travel and dining out.

But there are signs that economic activity picked up as the turbulent quarter ended. The summer wave of COVID-19 infections has subsided, with cases declining significantly in recent weeks. Vaccinations have also picked up. The improving public health situation helped to lift consumer confidence this month.

Fewer Americans are filing new claims for unemployment benefits. That improving trend in labor market conditions was confirmed by a separate report from the Labor Department on Thursday showing initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000 last week, the lowest level since mid-March 2020.

It was the third straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast 290,000 applications in the latest week.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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