Critics charge that building all 12 terminals would produce an excess capacity. But even half that number would produce three-quarters of the carbon emissions Germany is allowed under international agreements, according to a recent report published by a German environmental watchdog. The terminals would be in use until 2043, far too long for Germany to become carbon neutral by 2045, as pledged by Mr. Scholz’s government.

And countries are not just investing in infrastructure at home.

Last month, Mr. Scholz was in Senegal, one of the developing countries invited to the Group of 7 summit, to discuss cooperating not just on renewables but also on gas extraction and L.N.G. production.

In promoting the Senegal gas project, analysts say, Berlin is violating its own Group of 7 commitment not to offer public financing guarantees for fossil fuel projects abroad.

These contradictions have not gone unnoticed by poorer nations, which are wondering how Group of 7 countries can push for commitments to climate targets while also investing in gas production and distribution.

One explanation is a level of lobbying among fossil fuel companies not seen for years, activists say.

“It looks to me like an attempt by the oil and gas industry to end-run the Paris Agreement,” said Bill Hare of Climate Analytics, an advisory group in Berlin, referring to the landmark 2015 international treaty on climate change. “And I’m very worried they might succeed.”

Ms. Morgan in the German Foreign Ministry shares some of these concerns. “They’re doing everything that they can to move it forward, also in Africa,” she said of the industry. “They want to lock it in. Not just gas, but oil and gas and coal.”

But she and others are still hopeful that the Group of 7 can become a platform for tying climate goals to energy security.

Environmental and foreign policy analysts argue that the Group of 7 could support investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, while pledging funds for poorer nations hit with the brunt of climate disasters.

Above all, activists warn, rich countries need to resist the temptation to react to the short-term energy shortages by once again betting on fossil fuel infrastructure.

“All the arguments are on the table now,” said Ms. Neubauer, the Fridays for Future activist. “We know exactly what fossil fuels do to the climate. We also know very well that Putin is not the only autocrat in the world. We know that no democracy can be truly free and secure as long as it depends on fossil fuel imports.”

Katrin Bennhold Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Jim Tankersley from Telfs, Austria. Erika Solomon and Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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Analysis: Russia’s ‘political’ debt default sets emerging market precedent

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  • Russia says has paid $100 mln in interest due on May 27
  • The country was rated investment grade in early 2022
  • A defaults pushes up borrowing costs for issuers

NEW YORK/LONDON, May 27 (Reuters) – Russia is on the cusp of a unique kind of debt crisis which investors say would be a first time a major emerging market economy is pushed into a bond default by geopolitics, rather than empty coffers.

Until the Kremlin launched an attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24, few would have entertained the possibility of Russia defaulting on its hard currency bonds. Its strong solvency track record, bumper export revenues and an inflation-fighting central bank had made it a favourite of emerging market investors.

But the U.S. Treasury’s decision not to extend a licence allowing Russia to keep up debt payments despite wide-ranging sanctions, have set Moscow on the road to default.

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The Russian finance ministry has wired some $100 million in interest payments on two bonds due on Friday to its domestic settlement house. But unless money shows up in foreign bondholders’ accounts, it will constitute a default by some definitions.

And even if funds go through this time, payments of nearly $2 billion are due by the end of the year. One in late June is mandated to be settled outside Russia – a task experts predict will be impossible without the U.S. waiver. read more

Emerging market debt crises are nothing new — Russia itself reneged on its rouble bonds in 1998. Geopolitics too have spilled into the debt sphere before, forcing defaults in Venezuela and Iran for instance.

Yet in Iran’s case, small amounts of loan debt were hit by U.S. sanctions after its 1979 revolution, while Venezuela’s economy was already on its knees before U.S. curbs in 2019 pushed $60 billion in sovereign and sub-sovereign debt across the brink.

Russia meanwhile continues to rake in oil and metals earnings. Even with half its $640 billion reserves’ war chest frozen by sanctions, the central bank has enough cash to repay the $40 billion outstanding in sovereign hard currency debt.

“This is a completely different crisis from other emerging market crises, it’s not about ability or willingness to pay, they technically cannot pay,” said Flavio Carpenzano, investment director at Capital Group, an asset manager that – like many others – was exposed to Russia before war erupted. read more

The impact is amplified by the fact this would be Russia’s first major foreign bond default since just after its 1917 Bolshevik revolution. Sanctions on Russia and its own countermeasures have effectively severed it from global financial systems.

Comparisons with recent defaults such as Argentina in 2020 are inappropriate because most countries’ finances are strained when defaults happen, said Stephane Monier, chief investment officer at Lombard Odier.

“This would be the first externally and politically driven default in emerging markets’ history,” Monier said.

The Treasury license expiry means creditors may be unable to receive payments anyway, which Daniel Moreno, head of global emerging market debt at Mirabaud Asset Management, likened to “turning the world upside down.”

“Me, the creditor, is now not willing to accept the payment,” he added.

NO GOING BACK

Russia’s international bonds, most of which started the year trading above par, have dropped in value to between 13-26 cents on the dollar. They have also been ejected from indexes.

A key difference with past defaulters such as Argentina or Venezuela is that Russia’s attack on Ukraine — which it calls a special operation — has made it a pariah in many investors’ eyes, probably for years to come.

“There is a huge stigma in actually holding these bonds, with emerging markets asset managers under pressure from their clients asking them not to invest in Russia and to liquidate their positions,” said Gabriele Foa, portfolio manager for the Algebris Global Credit Opportunity Fund.

For now, a potential default is symbolic because Russia cannot borrow internationally anyway, nor does it need to. But what comes further down the line is crucial.

Regime change in Russia could at some point end Western sanctions and allow it back into the fold.

But first, creditors face a long and costly process to recover money, for instance by exchanging defaulted bonds with new ones. read more

A default stigma would also raise future borrowing costs.

By defaulting “you increase the cost of funding and it’s very likely this will happen to Russia too. They will need to pay a premium,” said Capital Group’s Carpenzano.

The White House expects a default to have minimal impact on the U.S. or global economy but Carpenzano reckons events around Russia are forcing a re-assessment of geopolitical risks in emerging markets. read more

“Geopolitical noise has increased and investors would like to be compensated for this higher risk,” he said, citing China’s hefty investment outflows in recent weeks.

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Reporting by Davide Barbuscia in New York and Sujata Rao, Karin Strohecker, Marc Jones and Jorgelina do Rosario in London
Editing by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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In London, a Long-Awaited High-Speed Train Is Ready to Roll

LONDON — When Andy Byford ran New York City’s dilapidated subway system, fed-up New Yorkers hailed his crusade to make the trains run with fewer delays and lamented his premature exit after clashes with the governor at the time, Andrew M. Cuomo. He was a familiar, unfailingly cheerful presence on its often-restive platforms. Straphangers even took to calling him “Train Daddy.”

Nobody calls Mr. Byford Train Daddy in London, where he resurfaced in May 2020 as the commissioner of the city’s transit authority, Transport for London. But on May 24, when he opens the Elizabeth line — the long-delayed, $22 billion-plus high-speed railway that uncoils from west and east underneath central London — he might find himself again worthy of a cheeky nickname.

“That was fun in New York,” said Mr. Byford, 56, a gregarious public transport evangelist who grew up in Plymouth, England, began his career as a tube-station manager in London, and has also run transit systems in Toronto and Sydney, Australia. “But I’m really enjoying almost complete anonymity in London.”

Second Avenue subway or the extension of the No. 7 line, which are tiny projects by comparison.”

Mr. Cuomo resigned last year, his successor, Gov. Kathy Hochul, put a proposed $2.1 billion AirTrain project to LaGuardia airport on ice. That leaves the newly renovated airport without a rail link to Manhattan, to the enduring frustration of many New Yorkers.

Heathrow Airport has had a subway link for decades. When the Elizabeth line’s next phase is opened in the fall, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow to the banks at Canary Wharf in East London in 40 minutes; that is a prime selling point for a city desperate to hold on to its status as financial mecca after Brexit. All told, the line has 10 entirely new stations, 42 miles of tunnels and crosses under the Thames three times.

“We’re jealous, it’s fair to say,” said Danny Pearlstein, the policy director for Riders Alliance, a transportation advocacy group in New York. “Imagining a new, full-length underground line here is not something anyone is doing. The Second Avenue subway, which people have been talking about for 100 years, has three stations.”

To be fair, Transport for London is not without its problems. It has shelved plans to build a north-south counterpart to the Elizabeth line, not to mention an extension to the Bakerloo tube line, because of a lack of funding. Still reeling from a near-total loss of riders during pandemic lockdowns, the system faces many of the same financial woes as New York’s subway.

Though ridership has recovered from a nadir of 5 percent, it is still at only 70 percent of prepandemic levels. Transport for London is also heavily dependent on ticket fares to cover its costs, more so than the New York subway, which gets state subsidies, as well as funds from bridge and tunnel tolls.

“My other obsession is sorting out the finances,” Mr. Byford said. “One way is to wean us away from dependence on fares.”

He is somewhat vague about how to do that, and it is clear that Transport for London will depend on additional government handouts to get back on sound financial footing. That is why the opening of the Elizabeth line is so important to London: It makes a powerful case for public transportation at a time when people are questioning how many workers will ever return to their offices.

Mr. Byford lays out the case with the practiced cadence of a stump speech. The new line will increase the capacity of the system by 10 percent. Its spacious coaches are well suited to a world in which people are used to social distancing. It will revitalize economically blighted towns east of the city, while making central London accessible to people who live in far-flung towns to the east and west.

While Mr. Byford does not expect ridership ever to return completely, he thinks 90 percent is attainable. If office buildings remain underpopulated, London could develop like Paris, with more residential neighborhoods downtown. (The Elizabeth line bears a distinct resemblance to the high-speed RER system in Paris.) The line, he says, is an insurance policy against the “siren voices of doom” about Brexit.

At times, Mr. Byford slips perilously close to a real estate agent’s patter. “These super-high-tech stations simply ooze quality,” he said. But emerging from Liverpool Street, with its spectacular, rippling, pinstriped ceiling, it is hard to argue with his basic assertion: “This is a game changer.”

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Ukraine Live Updates: War’s Economic Toll Tests Western Unity

LONDON — The West united against Russia’s war on Ukraine more swiftly and solidly than almost anyone had expected. But as the war settles into a prolonged conflict, one that could rumble on for months or even years, it is testing the resolve of Western countries, with European and American officials questioning whether the rising economic toll will erode their solidarity over time.

So far, the fissures are mostly superficial: Hungary’s refusal to sign on to an embargo of Russian oil, thwarting the European Union’s effort to impose a continentwide ban; restiveness in Paris with the Biden administration’s aggressive goal of militarily weakening the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin; a beleaguered President Biden blaming sky-high food and gas prices on a Putin price hike.

Alongside those tensions, there are further signs of solidarity: Finland and Sweden on Wednesday edged closer to joining NATO, with Britain offering both countries security assurances to gird against the Russian threat. In Washington, the House voted 368 to 57 on Tuesday in favor of a nearly $40 billion aid package for Ukraine.

Yet Russia’s tanks rolled across the Ukrainian frontier just 76 days ago, the blink of an eye in the scheme of history’s forever wars. As the fighting grinds on, the cascading effect on supply chains, energy pipelines and agricultural harvests will be felt more acutely at gas pumps and on supermarket shelves.

Mr. Putin, some experts say, is calculating that the West will tire before Russia does of a long twilight struggle for Ukraine’s contested Donbas region, especially if the price for the West’s continued support is turbocharged inflation rates, energy disruptions, depleted public finances and fatigued populations.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

The Biden administration’s director of national intelligence, Avril D. Haines, crystallized those doubts on Tuesday, warning senators that Mr. Putin was digging in for a long siege and “probably counting on U.S. and E.U. resolve to weaken as food shortages, inflation and energy shortages get worse.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden traveled to a farm in Kankakee, Ill., to make the case that Mr. Putin’s war was to blame for food shortages and the cost-of-living squeeze on American families, a tacit sign that his steadfast support for Ukraine — a policy that has won bipartisan support in Washington — could carry a political cost.

Mr. Putin faces his own domestic pressures, which were evident in the calibrated tone he struck during a speech in Moscow’s Red Square on Monday, neither calling for a mass mobilization nor threatening to escalate the conflict. But he also made clear that there was no end in sight for what he falsely called Russia’s campaign to rid its neighbor of “torturers, death squads and Nazis.”

On the ground in Ukraine, the fighting shows signs of becoming a protracted battle. A day after Ukraine’s counteroffensive unseated Russian forces from a cluster of towns northeast of the city of Kharkiv, the region’s governor said on Wednesday that the Ukrainian efforts had driven Moscow’s forces “even further” from the city, giving them “even less opportunity to fire on the regional center.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Ukraine’s apparent success at pushing back Russian troops outside Kharkiv — its second largest city, about 20 miles from the Russian border — appears to have contributed to reduced shelling there in recent days, even as Russia makes advances along parts of the front line in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

That Ukraine would even find itself in an ongoing pitched battle, nearly three months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion, is remarkable. Analysts pointed out that a prolonged war would stretch the resources of a Russian military that has already suffered heavy losses of men and machinery. Given that, some argue that the West should press its advantage by tightening the economic chokehold on Moscow.

“I worry about Western fatigue,” said Michael A. McFaul, a former American ambassador to Russia, “which is why the leaders of the free world should do more now to hasten the end of the war.”

The United States and the European Union, he said, should impose a full range of crippling sanctions immediately, rather than rolling them out in escalating waves, as they have so far. Western countries had come close to such an all-in strategy with military aid, he said, which had helped the Ukrainians hold off the Russians.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

But the halting negotiations on a European oil embargo show the limits of that approach when it comes to Russian energy supplies. European Union ambassadors held another fruitless meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, failing to break the fierce resistance of a single member of the bloc, Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has a warm relationship with Mr. Putin and has been at odds with Brussels, threw hopes for a show of unity into disarray when he blocked the latest measure, arguing that a ban on Russian oil would be the equivalent of an “atomic bomb” for the Hungarian economy.

Mr. Orban has continued to resist, even after concessions that would give Hungary more time to wean itself off Russian oil and intense lobbying by other leaders. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, flew to Budapest to try to sway him while President Emmanuel Macron telephoned him.

“We will only support this proposal if Brussels proposes a solution for the problem that Brussels created,” Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, said, adding that modernizing Hungary’s energy sector would cost “many, many billions of euros.”

In Washington, Mr. Biden has encountered less trouble rounding up support for military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. The House vote in favor of a massive aid package showed how the war’s brutality had overcome resistance from both the right and left to American involvement in military conflicts overseas.

And yet rising food and fuel prices, which are aggravated by the war, pose a genuine threat to Mr. Biden. The price of food rose 0.9 percent in April from the previous month, according to data released on Wednesday. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the administration was “terribly concerned about global food supplies,” adding that 275 million people around the world face starvation.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

“Putin’s war has cut off critical sources of food,” Mr. Biden said to farmers in Illinois. “Our farmers are helping on both fronts, reducing the price of food at home and expanding production and feeding the world in need.”

It remains to be seen whether the United States can increase agricultural production enough to ease the shortages. But the visit to a farm came as Mr. Biden, under pressure over the fastest pace of inflation in 40 years, tried to reassure Americans that the White House is taking price increases seriously.

While Mr. Putin faces arguably much greater pressures — from swelling combat casualties to the economic pain caused by sanctions — he is exploiting nationalist feelings, which some analysts note will give him staying power.

The Kremlin signaled on Wednesday that it could annex the strategically important southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, as the occupying authorities said they would prepare a formal request to Mr. Putin to absorb their region into Russia.

“They are motived by powerful nationalism,” said Francis Fukuyama, a political scientist at Stanford University, “for which they are willing to undergo extraordinary economic damage.” Still, he added, the West’s muscular response could be “a moment of turnaround in the self-confidence of democracies.”

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

For some Europeans, the United States might be going too far. French diplomats with ties to Mr. Macron described the evolving American policy as essentially arming Ukraine to the hilt and maintaining sanctions on Russia indefinitely. France, they said, wants to push hard for negotiations with Mr. Putin because there was no other path to lasting European security.

Other analysts argue that the threats to Western unity are overdone. The moves by Finland and Sweden to join NATO suggest not only that the alliance is pulling together but also that its center of gravity is shifting eastward.

Even before he invaded Ukraine, Mr. Putin warned those countries that they would face “retaliation” if they joined NATO. On a visit to Stockholm, Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that the mutual security declaration Britain signed with Sweden — under which both countries pledged come to each other’s aid if they face a military threat or natural disaster — would counter that threat.

“Sovereign nations must be free to make those decisions without fear or influence or threat of retaliation,” Mr. Johnson said, alongside Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden. The declaration “will allow us to share more intelligence, bolster our military exercises and further our joint development of technology,” he said.

Credit…Pool photo by Frank Augstein

Despite Germany’s ambivalence about cutting off Russian gas, it seems highly unlikely to reverse course from its landmark commitment to increase military spending. On Wednesday, Germany started training the first class of Ukrainian gun crews on the use of self-propelled howitzers in western Germany. The German military plans to donate seven of the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

“The Russians, because of their barbarity, keep on generating images and news that will help the cause of Western unity,” said Eliot A. Cohen, a political scientist who served in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration. “If the Ukrainians continue to succeed, I think people will cheer them on.”

Reporting was contributed by Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels, Roger Cohen from Paris, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Cora Engelbrecht from London, Ana Swanson and Alan Rappeport from Washington, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, and Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin.

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Can Elon Musk Make Twitter’s Numbers Work?

Still, the interest rates on the loans reflect the risk that they might not get paid back. The banks don’t hold on to the loans but sell them to other investors in the market, so if Twitter can’t pay its debts, Mr. Musk will either have to pay those investors, perhaps by selling more Tesla stock, or he could cede some part of his ownership of Twitter, diluting his stake.

Tesla had a market value of $902 billion as of Friday, but its shares have fallen by nearly 20 percent since Mr. Musk first revealed, in early April, that he had bought a big stake in Twitter. If Twitter’s finances go south, forcing Mr. Musk to sell more Tesla stock to pay Twitter’s debts or pledge more shares as collateral for his personal loans, it could put further pressure on Tesla’s stock price. Mr. Musk doesn’t take a salary from Tesla but is paid in stock that is released based on performance milestones that include the company’s share price.

Since Mr. Musk first disclosed his stake, the tech-heavy Nasdaq index has fallen more than 10 percent, making his offer appear even more generous. “It’s a high price and your shareholders will love it,” Mr. Musk said in a letter to Twitter’s board. Although the social media company’s stock had traded higher than Mr. Musk’s offer just six months ago, it slumped far below that price early this year and looked unlikely to return to those highs any time soon.

Mr. Musk has considered teaming up with investment firms in his bid to buy Twitter, which would reduce the amount of money he would personally have to invest. He could still partner with a firm or other investors like family offices to help raise cash, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

Thoma Bravo, a technology-focused buyout firm, has expressed willingness to provide some financing, but nothing has been decided yet. Apollo, an alternative asset manager, also looked at a possible deal where it would extend a loan on preferred terms.

If the deal math becomes unpalatable for Mr. Musk, he has an out: a breakup fee of $1 billion. For a man with an estimated fortune well over $200 billion, that’s a small price to pay.

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Russia facing most difficult situation in three decades, PM says, article with image

Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin delivers a speech during a session of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in Moscow, Russia April 7, 2022. Sputnik/Dmitry Astakhov/Pool via REUTERS

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April 7 (Reuters) – Russia is facing its most difficult situation in three decades due to unprecedented Western sanctions, but foreign attempts to isolate it from the global economy will fail, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Thursday.

Western countries are progressively broadening an array of economic sanctions imposed to try to force Russia to end its military operation in Ukraine and withdraw its forces.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its southern neighbour’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists.

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“No doubt, the current situation could be called the most difficult in three decades for Russia,” Mishustin told the Duma, or lower house of parliament. “Such sanctions were not used even in the darkest times of the Cold War.”

Western sanctions have already cut Russia off from the global financial network and left a number of its top banks with no access to the international SWIFT banking messaging system, while some traders have started to refuse Russian oil cargoes, intensifying pressure on Moscow’s finances.

Before the recent sanctions, Russia planned to run a budget surplus of 1.3 trillion roubles ($17 billion) this year, equal to 1% of gross domestic product. On Thursday, Mishustin said Russia would spend all it will earn this year on state aid.

The government has so far pledged over 1 trillion roubles in anti-crisis support to businesses, on social payments and to families with children, of which 250 billion roubles are to be spent on state aid for the Russian Railways.

Russia has introduced capital controls in retaliation for the sanctions, making it nearly impossible for foreign investors to sell their assets, both industrial and financial, if they decide to pull out of the country.

“If you have to leave, production should continue working as it provides jobs. Our citizens work there,” Mishustin said.

The Kremlin has suggested that it may nationalise assets held by Western investors who decide to depart.

As some of the companies leaving are transferring their holdings to Russian companies, Mishustin said, the situation offered scope for new business opportunities. read more

“Our financial system, the lifeblood of the entire economy, has held up,” Mishustin said. “The stock market and the rouble are stabilising. I doubt that any other country would have withstood this. We did.”

The European Commission proposed on Tuesday new sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, including a ban on buying Russian coal and on Russian ships entering EU ports, and said it was working on banning oil imports too. read more

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Reporting by Reuters; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Europeans Are Responding to Exorbitant Gas and Power Bills

A German retiree facing sky-high energy bills is turning to a wood-burning stove. The owner of a dry cleaning business in Spain adjusted her employees’ work shifts to cut electric bills and installed solar panels. A mayor in France said he ordered a hiring freeze because rising electrical bills threaten a financial “catastrophe.”

Europeans have long paid some of the world’s highest prices for energy, but no one can remember a winter like this one. Lives and livelihoods across the continent are being upended by a series of factors, including pandemic-induced supply shortages and now geopolitical tensions that are driving some energy prices up fivefold.

Matters could get worse if tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate further, potentially interrupting the flow of gas. Russia provides more than a third of Europe’s natural gas, which heats homes, generates electricity and powers factories. Even as politicians and leaders in capitals across Europe are freezing prices, slashing taxes on energy and issuing checks to households hardest hit by the price increases, concerns are growing about what the persistently high prices could mean for people’s jobs and their ability to pay their bills.

“People are very upset and very distressed,” said Stefanie Siegert, who counsels consumers in the eastern German state of Saxony who find themselves struggling to pay their gas and power bills.

rocked France in 2018. But Ms. Siegert, whose agency counseled more than 300 customers in January — three times its monthly average — said she wouldn’t be surprised if the anger currently directed at the prospect of a vaccine mandate shifted its sights to energy prices.

“When you talk with people, you feel their anger,” she said. “It is very depressing.”

price cap on energy bills was recently raised 54 percent, increasing annual charges to 1,971 pounds. That increase will affect 22 million households beginning in April, contributing to broadening worries in Britain about the rising cost of living.

Similar concerns can be found throughout the continent.

Athina Sirogianni, 46, a freelance translator in Athens, said she remembered fondly the day about a decade ago when her building switched from oil to natural gas. The move cut her utility bill in half.

Nyrstar, the world’s second-largest zinc processor, produces nearly 500 tons of the metal each day at a sprawling factory in Auby, in northern France, a complex that consumes as much energy as the French city of Lyon.

When its electrical rates surged from €35 to €50 per megawatt-hour to €400 last December, it made no sense to keep the factory running, said Xavier Constant, Nyrstar France’s general manager. At that rate, he said, “the more we produce the more we lose,” and so the plant shut down last month for three weeks.

Nyrstar temporarily halved production at its other European plants in October when the energy crisis set in, prompting a brief spike in the global price of zinc.

Last fall, fertilizer plants in Britain were forced to close because of gas prices. And several German companies that produce glass, steel and fertilizer have also scaled back production in recent months.

To ease the burden of the high prices, the government in Berlin reduced by half an energy surcharge on bills aimed at funding the country’s transition to renewable sources of power, and plans to phase it out by the end of next year.

on Twitter. He said the facility’s electricity prices had increased 100 percent.

He and other hospital directors have appealed to the government in Warsaw to intervene, saying the recent cuts to taxes on energy and gasoline were not enough.

In Germany, there is rising tension in municipally owned utilities that must accept customers, like Mr. Backhaus in Saxony, whose relatively low-cost contracts have been dropped by private energy companies because the companies can’t pay ballooning energy rates.

The municipal utilities are forced to increase the rates for these new customers, often almost astronomically high, to cover the cost of buying extra energy on the spot market at record prices. That leads to tensions in communities, and can threaten municipal finances.

“Anyone who wants to will be supplied with energy by the municipal utilities,” said Markus Lewe, president of the German Association of Cities and Towns. “But it must not lead to the municipal utilities and their loyal customers being asked to pay for questionable business models of other providers and having to answer for their shortsighted financing.”

He called on the federal government to intervene, to protect cities from the price instability.

In France, local leaders are also looking to the federal government to help ease the sting of skyrocketing energy bills.

Boris Ravignon, the mayor of Charleville-Mézières, said his city is facing “a catastrophe” after its January energy bill more than tripled, wiping out the region’s budget surplus for infrastructure and public services in a single month. The city is trying to cut costs by switching streetlights to LED bulbs, which use less electricity, and has proposed a new hydroelectric project.

The mayor has already frozen planned hirings and said the city may have no choice but to raise the cost of public services like water, transportation, fees to use sports halls like the city’s public pool, and cultural events.

“We really want to protect citizens from these increases,” Mr. Ravignon said. “But when prices reach such crazy heights, it’s impossible.”

Reporting contributed by Adèle Cordonnier in France, Raphael Minder in Spain and Niki Kitsantonis in Greece.

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U.S. Economy Grew 1.7% in 4th Quarter, Capping a Strong Year

A Gallup survey conducted this month found that Americans view the economy more negatively than positively — with only 29 percent saying that the economy is improving, while 67 percent believe it is getting worse.

Still, 72 percent say it is a good time to find a quality job.

“It’s all about what you prioritize,” said Allison Schrager, an economist and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Policymakers in Washington decided to err on the side of delivering too much pandemic aid rather than too little — and Ms. Schrager is among the analysts who say the trade-offs of that decision are becoming evident. If there had been less stimulus, she said, “inflation wouldn’t be as bad as it is.”

At a news conference on Wednesday, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, conceded that “bottlenecks and supply constraints are limiting how quickly production can respond to higher demand in the near term” and that “these problems have been larger and longer lasting than anticipated.”

As analysts mull the direction and degree of price increases this year, many see the spring months as a crucial pivot point, said Ellen Zentner, a managing director and the chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley. This is partly because the Consumer Price Index reports in March and April of this year will provide the first relatively stable year-over-year comparisons that experts will have seen in three years: 2020 data was juxtaposed with the prepandemic normal of 2019; reports in 2021 after the economy reopened were measured against the abnormal, partly depressed environment of the vaccine-less economy in 2020.

“The hope is that changes as we’re getting into the second quarter,” Ms. Zentner said. And that high-single-digit inflation “doesn’t drag on further into the year.”

During quarterly earnings calls, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America, which serve a combined 140 million households, have reported that families’ finances are technically better off than before the pandemic. Bank of America said its customers spent a record $3.8 trillion in 2021, a 24 percent jump from 2019 levels. But analysts note that dwindling savings and continuing price increases — along with any new coronavirus variants — could curb consumption.

The report on Thursday indicated that the cash reserves many Americans were able to build up during the pandemic continued to dwindle: Real disposable personal income decreased by 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter, and the personal saving rate — the percentage of overall disposable income that goes into savings each month — was 7.4 percent, compared with 9.5 percent in the third quarter.

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