Federal Reserve officials indicated on Wednesday that they expect to soon slow the asset purchases they have been using to support the economy and predicted they might raise interest rates next year, sending a clear signal that policymakers are preparing to curtail full-blast monetary help as the business environment snaps back from the pandemic shock.
Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference that the central bank’s bond purchases, which have propped up the economy since the depths of the pandemic downturn, “still have a use, but it’s time for us to begin to taper them.”
That unusual candor came for a reason: Fed officials have been trying to fully prepare markets for their first move away from enormous economic support. Policymakers could announce a slowdown to their monthly government-backed securities purchases as soon as November, the Fed’s next meeting, and the program may come to a complete end by the middle of next year, Mr. Powell later said. He added that there was “very broad support” on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee for such a plan.
Nearly 20 months after the coronavirus pandemic first shook America, the Fed is trying to guide an economy in which business has rebounded as consumers spend strongly, helped along by repeated government stimulus checks and other benefits.
markets on edge. In the United States, partisan wrangling could imperil future government spending plans or even cause a destabilizing delay to a needed debt ceiling increase.
Mr. Powell and his colleagues are navigating those crosscurrents at a time when inflation is high and the labor market, while healing, remains far from full strength. They are weighing when and how to reduce their monetary policy support, hoping to prevent economic or financial market overheating while keeping the recovery on track.
“They want to start the exit,” said Priya Misra, global head of rates strategy at T.D. Securities. “They’re putting the markets on notice.”
Investors took the latest update in stride. The S&P 500 ended up 1 percent for the day, slightly higher than it was before the Fed’s policy statement was released, and yields on government bonds ticked lower, suggesting that investors didn’t see a reason to radically change their expectations for interest rates.
The Fed has been holding its policy rate at rock bottom since March 2020 and is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies that work together to keep many types of borrowing cheap. The combination has fueled lending and spending and helped to foster stronger economic growth, while also contributing to record highs in the stock market.
fresh set of economic projections on Wednesday, laying out their predictions for growth, inflation and the funds rate through the end of 2024. Those included the “dot plot” — a set of anonymous individual estimates showing where each of the Fed’s 18 policymakers expect their interest rate to fall at the end of each year.
last released in June. This was the first time the Fed has released 2024 projections, and officials expected rates to stand at 1.8 percent at the end of that year.
sharply higher in recent months, elevated by supply-chain disruptions and other quirks tied to the pandemic. The Fed’s preferred metric, the personal consumption expenditures index, climbed 4.2 percent in July from a year earlier.
Fed officials expected inflation to average 4.2 percent in the final quarter of 2021 before falling to 2.2 percent in 2022, the new forecasts showed.
Central bankers are trying to predict how inflation will evolve in the coming months and years. Some officials worry that it will remain elevated, fueled by strong consumption and newfound corporate pricing power as consumers come to expect and accept higher costs.
Others fret that the same factors pushing prices higher today will lead to uncomfortably low inflation down the road — for instance, used car prices have contributed heavily to the 2021 increase and could fall as demand wanes. Tepid price increases prevailed before the pandemic started, and the same global trends that had been weighing inflation down could once again dominate.
“Inflation expectations are terribly important, we spend a lot of time watching them, and if we did see them moving up in a troubling way” then “we would certainly react to that,” Mr. Powell said. “We don’t really see that now.”
The Fed’s second goal — full employment — also remains elusive. Millions of jobs remain missing compared with before the pandemic, even after months of historically rapid employment gains. Officials want to avoid lifting interest rates to cool off the economy before the labor market has fully healed. It’s difficult to know when that might be, because the economy has never recovered from pandemic-induced lockdowns before.
“The process of reopening the economy is unprecedented, as was the shutdown at the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Powell said on Wednesday.
Given those uncertainties, the Fed is likely to move cautiously on raising interest rates. And while Mr. Powell teed up a possible November announcement that the Fed would start slowing its bond-buying, even that is subject to change if the economy does not shape up as expected — or if major risks on the horizon materialize.
“The start of tapering would be delayed if the debt ceiling standoff is unresolved and markets are in turmoil,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note following the meeting.
Yet Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed was not equipped to ride to the rescue if lawmakers could not resolve their differences.
“It’s just very important that the debt ceiling be raised in a timely fashion,” Mr. Powell said, adding that “no one should assume the Fed or anyone else can protect markets and the economy in the event of a failure” to “make sure that we do pay those, when they’re due.”
Investors on three continents dumped stocks on Monday, fretting that the governments of the world’s two largest economies — China and the United States — would act in ways that could undercut the nascent global economic recovery.
The Chinese government’s reluctance to step in and save a highly indebted property developer just days before a big interest payment is due signaled to investors that Beijing might break with its longstanding policy of bailing out its homegrown stars.
And in the United States, the globe’s No. 1 economy, investors worried that the Federal Reserve would soon begin cutting back its huge purchases of government bonds, which had helped drive stocks to a series of record highs since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The sell-off started in Asia and spread to Europe — where exporters to China were slammed — before landing in the United States, where stocks appeared to be heading for their worst performance of the year before a rally at the end of the trading day. The S&P 500 closed down 1.7 percent, its worst daily performance since mid-May, after being down as much as 2.9 percent in the afternoon.
to ignore a variety of issues complicating the recovery — including the emergence of the Delta variant and the supply chain snarls that have bedeviled consumers and manufacturers alike.
But beginning this month, as Evergrande began to teeter and the likelihood of the Fed’s scaling back — or tapering — its bond-buying programs grew, the market’s protective bubble began to deflate. Some U.S. investors are also concerned that tax increases are in the offing — including on share buybacks and corporate profits — to help pay for a spending push by the federal government, the signature piece of which is President Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion budget bill. Separately, Congress also must act to raise the government’s borrowing limit, a politically charged process that has at times thrown markets for a loop.
On Monday, those currents combined, reflecting the interconnectedness of the global markets as investors everywhere sold their holdings.
the rancorous debate about increasing the debt limit was accompanied by a sharp market slump, as representatives in Washington appeared to flirt with the idea of not raising the constraint on borrowing, which would effectively amount to a default on Treasury bonds.
“It’sgoing to be drama for the sake of politics,” said Lisa Shalett, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. “People don’t like that.”
Eighteen months into the pandemic, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has offered the strongest sign yet that the Fed is prepared to soon withdraw one leg of the support it has been providing to the economy as conditions strengthen.
At the same time, Mr. Powell made clear on Friday that interest rate increases remained far away, and that the central bank was monitoring risks posed by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Fed has been trying to bolster economic activity by buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month and by leaving its policy interest rate at rock bottom. Officials have been debating when to begin slowing their bond buying, the first step in moving toward a more normal policy setting. They have said they would like to make “substantial further progress” toward stable inflation and full employment before doing so.
Mr. Powell, speaking at a closely watched conference that the Kansas City Fed holds each year, used his remarks to explain that he thinks the Fed has met that test when it comes to inflation and is making “clear progress toward maximum employment.”
six million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. And the Delta variant could cause consumers and businesses to pull back as it foils return-to-office plans and threatens to shut down schools and child care centers. That could lead to a slower jobs rebound.
Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed wants to avoid overreacting to a recent burst in inflation that it believes will most likely prove temporary, because doing so could leave workers on the sidelines and weaken growth prematurely. While the Fed could start to remove one piece of its support, he emphasized that slowing bond purchases did not indicate that the Fed was prepared to raise rates.
“We have much ground to cover to reach maximum employment, and time will tell whether we have reached 2 percent inflation on a sustainable basis,” he said in his address to the conference, which was held online instead of its usual venue — Jackson Hole in Wyoming — because of the latest coronavirus wave.
The distinction he drew — between bond buying, which keeps financial markets chugging along, and rates, which are the Fed’s more traditional and arguably more powerful tool to keep money cheap and demand strong — sent an important signal that the Fed is going to be careful to let the economy heal more fully before really putting away its monetary tools, economists said.
told CNBC on Friday that he supported winding down the purchases “as quickly as possible.”
“Let’s start the taper, and let’s do it quickly,” he said. “Let’s not have this linger.”
James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said on Friday that the central bank should finish tapering by the end of the first quarter next year. If inflation starts to moderate then, the country will be in “great shape,” Mr. Bullard told Fox Business.
“If it doesn’t moderate, then I think the Fed is going to have to be more aggressive in 2022,” he said.
ushered in a new policy framework at last year’s Jackson Hole gathering that dictates a more patient approach, one that might guard against a similar overreaction.
But as Mr. Bullard’s comments reflected, officials may have their patience tested as inflation climbs.
The Fed’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, rose 4.2 percent last month from a year earlier, according to Commerce Department data released on Friday. The increase was higher than the 4.1 percent jump that economists in a Bloomberg survey had projected, and the fastest pace since 1991. That is far above the central bank’s 2 percent target, which it tries to hit on average over time.
“The rapid reopening of the economy has brought a sharp run-up in inflation,” Mr. Powell said.
They warn that if the Fed overreacts to today’s inflationary burst, it could wind up with permanently weak inflation, much as Japan and Europe have.
White House economists sided with Mr. Powell’s interpretation in a new round of forecasts issued on Friday. In its midsession review of the administration’s budget forecasts, the Office of Management and Budget said it expected the Consumer Price Index inflation rate to hit 4.8 percent for the year. That is more than double the administration’s initial forecast of 2.1 percent.
initially expected. But they still insist that it will be short-lived and foresee inflation dropping to 2.5 percent in 2022. The White House also revised its forecast of growth for the year, to 7.1 percent from 5.2 percent.
Slow price gains sound like good news to anyone who buys oat milk and eggs, but they can set off a vicious downward cycle. Interest rates include inflation, so when it slows, Fed officials have less room to make money cheap to foster growth during times of trouble. That makes it harder for the economy to recover quickly from downturns, and long periods of weak demand drag prices even lower — creating a cycle of stagnation.
“While the underlying global disinflationary factors are likely to evolve over time, there is little reason to think that they have suddenly reversed or abated,” Mr. Powell said. “It seems more likely that they will continue to weigh on inflation as the pandemic passes into history.”
Mr. Powell offered a detailed explanation of the Fed’s scrutiny of prices, emphasizing that inflation is “so far” coming from a narrow group of goods and services. Officials are keeping an eye on data to make sure prices for durable goods like used cars — which have recently taken off — slow and even fall.
Mr. Powell said the Fed saw “little evidence” of wage increases that might threaten high and lasting inflation. And he pointed out that measures of inflation expectations had not climbed to unwanted levels, but had instead staged a “welcome reversal” of an unhealthy decline.
Still, his remarks carried a tone of watchfulness.
“We would be concerned at signs that inflationary pressures were spreading more broadly through the economy,” he said.
Federal Reserve officials left policy unchanged on Wednesday but moved up expectations for when they would first raise interest rates from rock bottom, a sign that a healing labor market and rising inflation were giving policymakers confidence that they would achieve their full employment and stable price goals in coming years.
Fed policymakers expect to make two interest rate increases by the end of 2023, the central bank’s updated summary of economic projections showed Wednesday. Previously, the median official had anticipated that rates would stay near zero — where they have been since March 2020 — at least into 2024. The Fed now sees rates rising to 0.6 percent by the end of 2023, up from 0.1 percent.
The significant upgrade comes as the economy is healing, and as Fed officials penciled in stronger growth in 2021, faster inflation and slightly quicker labor market progress next year.
“Progress on vaccinations has reduced the spread of Covid-19 in the United States,” the Fed said in a statement released at the conclusion of its June 15-16 policy meeting, one that contained several optimistic revisions. “Progress on vaccinations will likely continue to reduce the effects of the public health crisis on the economy, but risks to the economic outlook remain.”
late April, and since it last released economic projections in March. Inflation data have come in faster than officials had expected, and consumer and market expectations for future inflation have climbed. Employers have been hiring more slowly than they were this spring, as job openings abound but it takes workers time to flow into them.
The Fed continued to call that inflation increase largely “transitory” in its new statement. It has consistently pledged to take a patient approach to monetary policy as the economic backdrop rapidly shifts.
Mr. Powell acknowledged that “inflation has come in above expectations” but suggested it was largely because of robust consumer demand coupled with shortages and bottlenecks as the economy reopens.
“Our expectation is that these high inflation readings that we’re seeing now will start to abate,” he said, adding that if prices moved up in a way that was inconsistent with the Fed’s goal, central bankers would be prepared to react by reducing monetary policy support.
The central bank made no changes on Wednesday to its main policy interest rate, which has been set at near zero since March 2020, helping keep borrowing cheap for households and businesses. The Fed will also continue to buy $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, which keeps longer-term borrowing costs low and can bolster stock and other asset prices. Those policies work together to keep money flowing easily through the economy, fueling stronger demand that can help to speed up growth and job market healing.
Officials have pledged to continue to support the economy until the pandemic shock is well behind the United States. Specifically, they have said that they want to achieve “substantial” progress toward their two economic goals — maximum employment and stable inflation — before slowing their bond purchases. The bar for raising interest rates is even higher. Officials have said they want to see the job market back at full strength and inflation on track to average 2 percent over time before they will lift interest rates away from rock bottom.
a “number” of officials at the Fed’s April meeting suggested that they would like to start talking about how and when to begin the so-called taper soon, minutes from that gathering showed.
The Fed is buying $80 billion in Treasury bonds each month, and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities. Those purchases have helped to push the central bank’s balance sheet holdings up to about $8 trillion — roughly twice as big as they were as recently as summer 2019.
Officials including Robert S. Kaplan, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Patrick Harker, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, have signaled that they think it would be appropriate to get those discussions going. Other important policymakers have sounded patient, with John Williams, the New York Fed president, saying that “we’re not near the substantial further progress marker,” in a June 3 Yahoo Finance interview.
Mr. Powell said on Wednesday that officials had begun “talking about talking about” slowing those bond purchases but that the central bank was not preparing to start tapering anytime soon.
“I expect that we’ll be able to say more about timing as we start to see more data,” Mr. Powell said.
Some Republican politicians have questioned whether emergency monetary policy settings remain necessary as the economy reopens and growth rebounds, the Fed has signaled over that the United States is in for a long period of central bank support.
preferred inflation gauge came in at 3.6 percent in April compared to the previous year and is likely to jump even higher in May. The more up-to-date Consumer Price Index was up 5 percent in the year through last month, partly as the figures were compared to very low readings last year.
Officials expect the current price pop to prove temporary, the product of one-off data quirks and the fact that demand is recovering faster than supply chains coming out of the pandemic. Markets seem to broadly share that view: While they have penciled in slightly higher inflation, that recent increase in expectations appears to be stabilizing at a level that is probably more or less consistent with the Fed’s goals.
Still, Wall Street strategists and politicians in Washington alike are watching for any sign that Fed officials have become more concerned about lasting price pressures as some stickier prices in the real economy — such as shelter costs — stabilize and increase.
If inflation does take off in a lasting way and the Fed has to lift interest rates to slow the economy and tame price pressures, that could be bad news. Rapid rate adjustments have a track record of causing recessions, which throw vulnerable workers out of jobs.
But the Fed tries to balance risks when setting policy, and so far, it has seen the risk of pulling back support early as the one to avoid. Millions of jobs are still missing since the start of the pandemic, and monetary policy could help to keep the economy recovering briskly so that displaced employees have a better chance of finding new work.
Alan Rappeport and Matt Phillips contributed reporting.
Violence in Israel could have “significant economic repercussions” if it leads to sustained conflict between Jewish and Arab citizens, the Fitch credit ratings agency said Thursday.
The warning from Fitch, whose views influence the interest rates paid by the Israeli government and Israeli corporations, was an indication of how rioting and mob attacks in cities like Lod could undercut the country’s recovery from the economic effects of the pandemic.
Fitch, noting that the Israeli economy has withstood past conflicts, said damage to the government’s creditworthiness would be limited “unless there is a substantial and sustained escalation in violence.”
If persistent strife prompts bond investors to demand higher interest rates on Israeli government debt, borrowing costs for businesses and consumers would also rise and act as a brake on growth.
Jewish and Arab citizens have clashed in the worst violence in decades in Israeli cities, in some cases dragging people from their vehicles and beating them severely.
The violence will make it more difficult for the leading political parties to form a stable government following elections in March that produced a stalemate. And the fighting will hurt the Israeli tourism industry, Fitch said.
The fighting will also hinder Israel from benefiting from better relations with other countries in the region, Fitch said. “The prospect of improved regional relations has receded further with the latest clashes,” Fitch said.
Consumer prices jumped at the fastest pace in more than a decade in April, surprising economists and intensifying a debate on Wall Street and in Washington over whether inflation might reach levels that would squeeze households and ultimately undermine the recovery.
Investors and politicians are worried that prices will keep climbing — potentially causing the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates sharply. That could slow economic growth and send stock prices plummeting. But some economists and central bank officials said the jump in the Consumer Price Index reflected pandemic-driven trends that would most likely prove temporary.
Stocks slumped more than 2 percent on Wednesday, their biggest decline since late February.
Hanging over the debate is America’s inflationary experience in the 1960s and 1970s, when big government spending, an oil crisis, a slow-moving Fed and the final end of the gold standard converged to send price gains to double-digit heights. The central bank got things under control only by lifting interest rates to punishing levels, at a grave cost to the housing market and ultimately the job market.
Few analysts expect a return to such huge price gains, in part because the Fed has pledged to act to keep inflation under control. But if officials are prodded to withdraw economic support quickly in order to prevent another “Great Inflation,” it could spur a downturn, as sudden Fed changes have done in the past.
showed that job gains slowed sharply in April, vastly disappointing economists’ expectations.
“We have not made substantial further progress toward our labor market objective,” Mr. Clarida said Wednesday, speaking to business economists on a webcast.
Fed last year redefined its 2 percent inflation target to make it clear that it will aim for periods of slightly faster price gains to make up for months of slow ones.
Fed officials have been clear in recent weeks that as inflation pops, they need to focus on both risks: that it might take off, but also that it might sink back down after a 2021 reopening jump.
“TheFed has a fundamentally different framework. I mean, we cannot apply the playbook of the Fed in the previous recovery to what’s happening now,” said Jean Boivin, head of the BlackRock Investment Institute. “I think each time we get a number that surprises in the upside, we get an extrapolation, too much extrapolation, into a Fed tightening coming sooner.”
Matt Phillips, Jim Tankersley and Ella Koeze contributed reporting.
The Bank of England unveiled a much brighter outlook for the British economy on Thursday, saying it would return to its prepandemic levels at the end of this year as lockdowns ended, consumers spent billions of pounds in extra savings and the vaccine rollout reduced public health worries.
The central bank, in its quarterly monetary report, raised its growth forecasts and slashed its predictions for unemployment. The British economy is now projected to grow 7.25 percent this year, compared to a forecast of 5 percent growth three months ago. This would be the fastest pace of expansion for the economy since official records began in 1949, pulling Britain out of its worst recession in three centuries.
The higher forecast comes after the government has announced tens of billions of pounds in additional spending to see workers and businesses through the summer, and outlined its plan to end lockdown restrictions by late June.
Britain’s economic output“recovers strongly over the course of 2021, albeit only back to pre-Covid levels,” Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said in a news conference on Thursday.
“Of course, there remains uncertainty around how the pandemic might evolve and so there are risks around this projection, including from renewed waves of infections in the U.K. and other countries,” he said.
He added that there was also an “enormous amount of uncertainty” about how the pandemic might permanently change people’s working and living patterns, and the effect that will have on the shape of the economy.
Even though inflation is expected to rise above the central bank’s 2 percent target, policymakers voted unanimously to keep the benchmark interest rate at 0.1 percent. It cut rates to that level in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The central bank also said it would slow the pace of its £875 billion government bond-buying program, which was projected to run through 2021, so that it does not finish the program before the end of the year.If the central bank had continued at its current pace, the buying program would have ended several months early. Instead of buying £4.4 billion government bonds a week, the central bank will buy £3.4 billion. The program helps keep government borrowing costs low and supports the economy by encouraging investors to buy other assets.
The minutes of the central bank’s policy meeting showed that officials don’t intent to tighten monetary policy until “there is clear evidence that significant progress” is made on the economic recovery and inflation is sustainably at the bank’s target.
The Bank of England now forecasts unemployment to peak at 5.5 percent later this year, because of the extension of the government’s furlough program. In February, the central bank predicted the unemployment rate would rise as high as 7.75 percent.
The easing of pandemic restrictions will also increase consumer spending. The central bank added that it now expected people to spend about 10 percent of the excess savings they built up in lockdown based on new survey evidence. The previous estimate was just 5 percent.
But these extra savings are “not evenly distributed,” Mr. Bailey said. And they are concentrated among people who are older and already wealthier.
“While the level of new cases remains concerning,” he said, “continued vaccinations should allow for a return to more normal economic conditions later this year.”
Fed officials have signaled that they will keep interest rates low and bond purchases going at the current $120 billion-per-month pace until the recovery is more complete. The Fed has said it would like to see “substantial” further progress before dialing back government-backed bond buying, a policy meant to make many kinds of borrowing cheap. The hurdle for raising rates is even higher: Officials want the economy to return to full employment and achieve 2 percent inflation, with expectations that inflation will remain higher for some time.
“A transitory rise in inflation above 2 percent this year would not meet this standard,” Mr. Powell said of the Fed’s criteria for achieving its average inflation target before raising interest rates. When it comes to bond buying, “the economy is a long way from our goals, and it is likely to take some time for substantial further progress to be achieved.”
He later said that “it is not time yet” to talk about scaling back, or “tapering,” bond purchases.
Unemployment, which peaked at 14.8 percent last April, has since declined to 6 percent. Retail spending is strong, supported by repeated government stimulus checks. Consumers have amassed a big savings stockpile over months of stay-at-home orders, so there is reason to expect that things could pick up further as the economy fully reopens.
Yet there is room for improvement. The jobless rate remains well above its 3.5 percent reading coming into the pandemic, with Black workers and those in lower-paying jobs disproportionately out of work. Some businesses have closed forever, and it remains to be seen how post-pandemic changes in daily patterns will affect others, like corporate offices and the companies that service them.
“There’s no playbook here,” said Michelle Meyer, the head of U.S. economics at Bank of America, adding that the Fed needed time to let inflation play out and the labor market heal, and that while the signs were encouraging, central bankers would only “react when they have enough evidence.”
The Fed has repeatedly said it wants to see realized improvement in economic data — not just expected healing — before it reduces its support. Based on their March economic projections, most Fed officials are penciling in interest rates near zero through at least 2023.
As businesses shuttered and workers stayed home, the gross domestic product, a broad measure of goods and services, plummeted in the United States. G.D.P. dropped 5 percent in the first quarter of 2020 and more than 31 percent in the second, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. The unemployment rate surged more than 10 percentage points from March to April last year, nearly reaching 15 percent. That was the highest level and the biggest increase since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data in January 1948.
In March 2020, the Federal Reserve stepped in. On its own, it couldn’t do much to combat the coronavirus itself — the last presidential administration’s efforts were dilatory at best, historians say. But the Fed and the federal government were able to prop up the markets, provide emergency aid for millions of people, help keep at least some small businesses afloat and put most major corporations in a position to reap big profits as the economy rebounded.
By now, the federal government has committed more than $5 trillion in a variety of coronavirus-related aid packages, and the Fed has made trillions more available in loans, intervened in financial markets, purchased vast quantities of bonds and held short-term interest rates near zero.
The Biden boom
All of this is contributing to what looks like a “Biden boom economy,” as the Princeton economist Alan S. Blinder called it in The Wall Street Journal. Economic growth may exceed 7 percent for the first quarter, and will almost certainly be spectacular for the year as a whole, when compared with 2020.
But there’s the rub. These annual economic and financial numbers are comparisons with the depths of the pandemic. The statistics are warped, inevitably, by “base effects,” which is to say, in economic jargon, that the coronavirus-induced recession of last year is making many current numbers look unnaturally high. They don’t provide much insight about where we are heading in 2022 and later.
Take inflation, for example
As Neil Irwin explained in The New York Times, the current uptick in inflation may not be as worrisome as it would otherwise seem because its comparisons are based on the depressed prices of a year ago, when so many people were huddled indoors.
What’s more, Alberto Cavallo, a Harvard economist who has studied inflation deeply, told me that by altering consumption and supply patterns radically, the pandemic has had many subtle effects. Lower-income people, for example, who pay a higher proportion of their income for food, have experienced greater inflation than those for whom food is a relatively minor expense.
Unofficial Tally of Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes 1,608 yes votes are needed for the union to win today. The New York Times·As of 7:19 p.m. Hundreds of ballots have been contested, which could delay either side from reaching the threshold. One ballot was marked as void. The ballots were being counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote “Yes” for a union or “No” for nearly four hours on Thursday.Amazon and the union had spent more than a week in closed sessions, reviewing the eligibility of each ballot cast with the labor board, the federal agency that conducts union elections. The union said several hundred ballots had been contested, largely by Amazon, and those ballots were set aside to be adjudicated and counted only if they were vital to determining an outcome. If Amazon’s large margin holds steady throughout the count, the contested ballots are likely to be moot.The incomplete tally put Amazon on the cusp of defeating the most serious organized-labor threat in the company’s history. Running a prominent campaign since the fall, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union aimed to establish the first union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States. The result will have major implications not only for Amazon but also for organized labor and its allies.
Labor organizers have tapped into dissatisfaction with working conditions in the warehouse, saying Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profits makes the conditions harsh for workers. The company counters that its starting wage of $15 an hour exceeds what other employers in the area pay, and it has urged workers to vote against unionizing.
Amazon has always fought against unionizing by its workers. But the vote in Alabama comes at a perilous moment for the company. Lawmakers and regulators — not competitors — are some of its greatest threats, and it has spent significant time and money trying to keep the government away from its business.
The union drive has had the retailer doing a political balancing act: staying on the good side of Washington’s Democratic leaders while squashing an organizing effort that President Biden has signaled he supported.
Labor leaders and liberal Democrats have seized on the union drive, saying it shows how Amazon is not as friendly to workers as the company says it is. Some of the company’s critics are also using its resistance to the union push to argue that Amazon should not be trusted on other issues, like climate change and the federal minimum wage.
Sophia June contributed to this report.
Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.
Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.
“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.
Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.
Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.
Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”
Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.
Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.
“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”
Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.
Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.
The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.
Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.
Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.
Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.
Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.
In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.
Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.
So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.
But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.
Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.
The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.
U.S. stock futures rose on Friday along with government bond yields after the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery until it is complete.
The rollout of vaccinations meant the United States economy could probably reopen soon, but the recovery was still “uneven and incomplete,” Mr. Powell said at the International Monetary Fund annual conference on Thursday.
He pointed out that the economic burden of the pandemic was falling most heavily on low-income service workers who were least able to bear it. “I really want to finish the job and get back to a great economy,” Mr. Powell said.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped 5 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 1.67 percent. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose across Europe, too.
Stocks, low volatility and oil prices
The S&P 500 index was set to open 0.1 percent higher and has risen 0.4 percent so far this week.
The relatively quiet week in the stock market has sent the VIX index, a measure of volatility, to its lowest level since February 2020. The index was at 17 points on Friday. In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down huge parts of the global economy, it spiked above 80.
European stock indexes were mixed on Friday, though the Stoxx Europe 600 was heading for its sixth straight week of gains. The DAX index in Germany rose 0.1 percent after data showed an unexpected drop in industrial production.
Oil prices rose slightly with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, 0.2 percent higher to $59.70 a barrel.