American consumers have enhanced fears of a downturn. This past week, the International Monetary Fund cited weaker consumer spending in slashing expectations for economic growth this year in the United States, from 2.9 percent to 2.3 percent. Avoiding recession will be “increasingly challenging,” the fund warned.

Orwellian lockdowns that have constrained business and life in general. The government expresses resolve in maintaining lockdowns, now affecting 247 million people in 31 cities that collectively produce $4.3 trillion in annual economic activity, according to a recent estimate from Nomura, the Japanese securities firm.

But the endurance of Beijing’s stance — its willingness to continue riding out the economic damage and public anger — constitutes one of the more consequential variables in a world brimming with uncertainty.

sanctions have restricted sales of Russia’s enormous stocks of oil and natural gas in an effort to pressure the country’s strongman leader, Vladimir V. Putin, to relent. The resulting hit to the global supply has sent energy prices soaring.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil rose by nearly a third in the first three months after the invasion, though recent weeks have seen a reversal on the assumption that weaker economic growth will translate into less demand.

major pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany cut the supply sharply last month, that heightened fears that Berlin could soon ration energy consumption. That would have a chilling effect on German industry just as it contends with supply chain problems and the loss of exports to China.

euro, which has surrendered more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar this year. That has increased the cost of Europe’s imports, another driver of inflation.

ports from the United States to Europe to China.

“Everyone following the economic situation right now, including central banks, we do not have a clear answer on how to deal with this situation,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Norway. “You have a lot of things going on at the same time.”

The most profound danger is bearing down on poor and middle-income countries, especially those grappling with large debt burdens, like Pakistan, Ghana and El Salvador.

As central banks have tightened credit in wealthy nations, they have spurred investors to abandon developing countries, where risks are greater, instead taking refuge in rock-solid assets like U.S. and German government bonds, now paying slightly higher rates of interest.

This exodus of cash has increased borrowing costs for countries from sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia. Their governments face pressure to cut spending as they send debt payments to creditors in New York, London and Beijing — even as poverty increases.

U.N. World Food Program declared this month.

Among the biggest variables that will determine what comes next is the one that started all the trouble — the pandemic.

The return of colder weather in northern countries could bring another wave of contagion, especially given the lopsided distribution of Covid vaccines, which has left much of humanity vulnerable, risking the emergence of new variants.

So long as Covid-19 remains a threat, it will discourage some people from working in offices and dining in nearby restaurants. It will dissuade some from getting on airplanes, sleeping in hotel rooms, or sitting in theaters.

Since the world was first seized by the public health catastrophe more than two years ago, it has been a truism that the ultimate threat to the economy is the pandemic itself. Even as policymakers now focus on inflation, malnutrition, recession and a war with no end in sight, that observation retains currency.

“We are still struggling with the pandemic,” said Ms. Haugland, the DNB Markets economist. “We cannot afford to just look away from that being a risk factor.”

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Bitcoin Plummets Below $20,000 for First Time Since Late 2020

Square, another payments company, bought $50 million of Bitcoin and changed its name to Block, in part to signify its work with blockchain technology. Tesla bought $1.5 billion of it. The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz raised $4.5 billion for a fourth cryptocurrency-focused fund, doubling its previous one.

Excitement hit a peak in April last year when Coinbase, a cryptocurrency exchange, went public at an $85 billion valuation, a coming-out party for the industry. Bitcoin topped $60,000 for the first time.

Last summer, El Salvador announced that it would become the first country to classify Bitcoin as legal tender, alongside the U.S. dollar. The country’s president updated his Twitter profile picture to include laser eyes, a calling card of Bitcoin believers. The value of El Salvador’s $105 million investment in Bitcoin has been slashed in half as the price has fallen.

Senators and mayors around the United States began touting cryptocurrency, as the industry spent heavily on lobbying. Mayor Eric Adams of New York, who was elected in November, said he would take his first three paychecks in Bitcoin. Senators Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming, and Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, proposed legislation that would create a regulatory framework for the industry, giving more authority to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an agency that crypto companies have openly courted.

Through the frenzy, celebrities fueled the fear of missing out, flogging their NFTs on talk shows and talking up blockchain projects on social media. This year, the Super Bowl featured four ads for crypto companies, including Matt Damon warning viewers that “fortune favors the brave.”

That swaggering optimism faltered this spring as the stock market plummeted, inflation soared and layoffs hit the tech sector. Investors began losing confidence in their crypto investments, moving money to less risky assets. Several high-profile projects crashed amid withdrawals. TerraForm Labs, which created TerraUSD, a so-called stablecoin, and Celsius, an experimental crypto bank, both collapsed, wiping out billions in value and sending the broader market into a tailspin.

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U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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