More stories

  • in

    Economists Predicted a Recession. Instead, the Economy Grew.

    A widely predicted recession never showed up. Now, economists are assessing what the unexpected resilience tells us about the future.The recession America was expecting never showed up.Many economists spent early 2023 predicting a painful downturn, a view so widely held that some commentators started to treat it as a given. Inflation had spiked to the highest level in decades, and a range of forecasters thought that it would take a drop in demand and a prolonged jump in unemployment to wrestle it down.Instead, the economy grew 3.1 percent last year, up from less than 1 percent in 2022 and faster than the average for the five years leading up to the pandemic. Inflation has retreated substantially. Unemployment remains at historic lows, and consumers continue to spend even with Federal Reserve interest rates at a 22-year high.The divide between doomsday predictions and the heyday reality is forcing a reckoning on Wall Street and in academia. Why did economists get so much wrong, and what can policymakers learn from those mistakes as they try to anticipate what might come next?It’s early days to draw firm conclusions. The economy could still slow down as two years of Fed rate increases start to add up. But what is clear is that old models of how growth and inflation relate did not serve as accurate guides. Bad luck drove more of the initial burst of inflation than some economists appreciated. Good luck helped to lower it again, and other surprises have hit along the way.“It’s not like we understood the macro economy perfectly before, and this was a pretty unique time,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former Obama administration economic official who thought that lowering inflation would require higher unemployment. “Economists can learn a huge, healthy dose of humility.”Economists, of course, have a long history of getting their predictions wrong. Few saw the global financial crisis coming earlier this century, even once the mortgage meltdown that set it off was well underway. We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

  • in

    Airlines Hoping for More Boeing Jets Could Be Waiting Awhile

    The Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to limit Boeing’s production of 737 Max planes could hurt airlines that are struggling to buy enough new aircraft.Boeing hoped 2024 would be the year it would significantly increase production of its popular Max jets. But less than a month into the year, the company is struggling to reassure airline customers that it will still be able to deliver on its promises.That’s because the Federal Aviation Administration said on Wednesday that it would limit the plane maker’s output until it was confident in Boeing’s quality control practices. On Jan. 5, a panel blew off a Boeing 737 Max 9 body shortly after takeoff, terrifying passengers on an Alaska Airlines flight and forcing the pilots to make an emergency landing at Portland International Airport in Oregon. Almost immediately, the F.A.A. grounded some Max 9s.Since then, details have emerged about the jet’s production at Boeing’s facility in Renton, Wash., that have intensified scrutiny of the company’s quality control. Boeing workers opened and then reinstalled the panel about a month before the plane was delivered to Alaska Airlines.The directive is another setback for Boeing, which had been planning to increase production of its Max plane series to more than 500 this year, from about 400 last year. It also planned to add another assembly line at a factory in Everett, Wash., a major Boeing production hub north of Seattle.As part of the F.A.A.’s announcement on Wednesday, it also approved inspection and maintenance procedures for the Max 9. Airlines can return the jets to service once they have followed those instructions. United Airlines said on Thursday that it could resume flying some of those planes as soon as Friday.The move is another potential blow to airlines. Even though demand for flights came roaring back after pandemic lockdowns and travel restrictions eased, the airlines have not been able to take full advantage of that demand. The companies have not been able to buy enough planes or hire enough pilots, flight attendants and other workers they need to operate flights. A surge in the cost of jet fuel after Russia invaded Ukraine also hurt profits.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

  • in

    War Has Already Hurt the Economies of Israel’s Nearest Neighbors

    The impact on global growth of the Middle East violence has so far been contained. That’s not the case for Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, which were already struggling.In the Red Sea, attacks by Iranian-backed Houthi militants on commercial ships continue to disrupt a crucial trade route and raise shipping costs. The threat of escalation there and around flash points in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and now Iran and Pakistan ratchets up every day.Despite the staggering death toll and wrenching misery of the violence in the Middle East, the broader economic impact so far has been mostly contained. Oil production and prices, a critical driver of worldwide economic activity and inflation, have returned to pre-crisis levels. International tourists are still flying into other countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.Yet for Israel’s next-door neighbors — Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan — the economic damage is already severe.An assessment by the United Nations Development Program estimated that in just three months, the Israel-Gaza war has cost the three countries $10.3 billion, or 2.3 percent of their combined gross domestic product. An additional 230,000 people in these countries are also expected to fall into poverty.Iranian-backed Houthi militants have been attacking commercial ships in the Red Sea.Sayed Hassan/Getty Images“Human development could regress by at least two to three years in Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon,” the analysis warned, citing refugee flows, soaring public debt and declines in trade and tourism — a vital source of revenue, foreign currency and employment.That conclusion echoed an update last month by the International Monetary Fund, which said that it was certain to lower its forecast for the most exposed countries when it publishes its World Economic Outlook at the end of this month.The latest economic gut punches could not come at a worse time for these countries, said Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.Economic activity across the Middle East and North Africa was already on a down slide, slipping to 2 percent growth in 2023 from 5.6 percent the previous year. Lebanon has been enmeshed in what the World Bank calls one of the world’s worst economic and financial crises in more than a century and half. And Egypt has been on the brink of insolvency.Since Hamas fighters attacked Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, about 25,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, according to the Gazan health ministry. The strip has suffered widespread destruction and devastation. In Israel, where the Hamas attacks killed about 1,200 people, according to officials, and resulted in 240 being taken hostage, life has been upended, with hundreds of thousands of citizens called into military service and 200,000 displaced from border areas.In Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, uncertainty about the war’s course is eating away at consumer and business confidence, which is likely to drive down spending and investment, I.M.F. analysts wrote.Rising prices in Egypt continue to gnaw at households’ buying power.Mauricio Lima for The New York TimesEgypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has still not recovered from the rise in the cost of essential imports like wheat and fuel, a plunge in tourist revenue, and a drop in foreign investment caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine.Lavish government spending on showy megaprojects and weapons caused Egypt’s debt to soar. When central banks around the world raised interest rates to curb inflation, those debt payments ballooned. Rising prices within Egypt continue to gnaw away households’ buying power and business’s plans for expansion.“No one wants to invest, but Egypt is too big to fail,” Mr. Landis said, explaining that the United States and I.M.F. are unlikely to let the country default on its $165 billion of foreign loans given its strategic and political importance.The drop in shipping traffic crossing into the Red Sea from the Suez Canal is the latest blow. Between January and August, Egypt brought in an average of $862 million per month in revenue from the canal, which carries 11 percent of global maritime trade.James Swanston, an emerging-markets economist at Capital Economics, said that according to the head of the Suez Canal Authority, traffic is down 30 percent this month from December and revenues are 40 percent weaker compared to 2023 levels.“That’s the biggest spillover effect,” he said.For these three struggling economies, the drop in tourism is particularly alarming. In 2019 tourism in Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan accounted for 35 percent to nearly 50 percent of their combined goods and services exports, according to the I.M.F.Displaced Palestinians on their way from the north of the Gaza Strip to its south last year.Samar Abu Elouf for The New York TimesIn early January, confirmed tickets for international arrivals to the wider Middle East region for the first half of this year were 20 percent higher than they were last year, according to ForwardKeys, a data-analysis firm that tracks global air travel reservations.But the closer the fighting, the bigger the decline in travelers. Tourism to Israel has mostly evaporated, further hammering an economy upended by full-scale war.In Jordan, airline bookings were down 18 percent. In Lebanon, where Israeli troops are fighting Hezbollah militants along the border, bookings were down 25 percent.“Fears of further regional escalation are casting a shadow over travel prospects in the region,” Olivier Ponti, vice president of insights at ForwardKeys.In Lebanon, travel and tourism has previously contributed a fifth of the country’s yearly gross domestic product.“The number one site in Lebanon is Baalbek,” said Hussein Abdallah, general manager of Lebanon Tours and Travels in Beirut. The sprawling 2,000-year-old Roman ruins are so spectacular that visitors have suggested that djinns built a palace there for the Queen of Sheba or that aliens constructed it as an intergalactic landing pad.Now, Mr. Abdallah said, “it is totally empty.” Mr. Abdallah said that since Oct. 7, his bookings have dropped 90 percent from last year. “If the situation continues like that,” he said, “many tour operators in Beirut will go out of business.”Travel to Egypt also dropped in October, November and December. Mr. Landis at the Middle East Center in Oklahoma mentioned that even his brother canceled a planned trip down the Nile, choosing to vacation in India instead.The top tourist site in Lebanon is the 2,000-year-old Roman ruins of Baalbek, said Hussein Abdallah, general manager of Lebanon Tours and Travels in Beirut. Now, he said, “it is totally empty.”Mohamed Azakir/ReutersKhaled Ibrahim, a consultant for Amisol Travel Egypt and a member of the Middle East Travel Alliance, said cancellations started to pour in after the attacks began. Like other tour operators he offered discounts to popular destinations like Sharm el-Sheik at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, and occupancy hit about 80 percent of normal.He is less sanguine about salvaging the rest of what is considered the prime tourist season. “I can say this winter, January to April, will be quite challenging,” Mr. Ibrahim said from Medina in Saudi Arabia, where he was leading a tour. “Maybe business drops down to 50 percent.”Jim Tankersley More

  • in

    Holiday Spending Increased, Defying Fears of a Decline

    While the pace of growth slowed, spending stayed strong because of robust job growth and strong wage gains.Despite lingering inflation, Americans increased their spending this holiday season, early data shows. That comes as a big relief for retailers that had spent much of the year fearing the economy would soon weaken and consumer spending would fall.Retail sales increased 3.1 percent from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data Mastercard released on Tuesday. The credit card company’s numbers are not adjusted for inflation.Spending increased across many categories, with restaurants experiencing one of the largest jumps, 7.8 percent. Apparel increased 2.4 percent, and groceries also had gains.The holiday sales figures, driven by a healthy labor market and wage gains, suggests that the economy remains strong. The Federal Reserve’s campaign to rein in high inflation by raising interest rates over the last few years has slowed the economy, but many economists believe a so-called soft landing is within reach.“What we’re seeing during this holiday season is very consistent with how we’re thinking about the economy, which is that it’s an economy that is still very much expanding,” said Michelle Meyer, Mastercard’s chief economist.Solid job growth is allowing people to spend more. And even though consumer prices have risen a lot in the last two years, wages have grown faster on the whole.“We’re now entering the period, and we’re seeing it to some extent during the holiday season, where consumers have built up real purchasing power,” Ms. Meyer said.Still spending in categories like electronics and jewelry declined this season. And the rate of growth in spending has moderated from the last couple of years. In 2022, retail sales during the holiday season increased 5.4 percent, according to the National Retail Federation. In 2021, they rose 12.7 percent, the largest percentage increase in at least 20 years. Online sales growth has also slowed in 2023, increasing 6.3 percent compared with 10.6 percent from 2021 to 2022, according to Mastercard.While the economy is strong overall, Americans are being more mindful of how they’re spending, and that discretion shaped the shopping season.Some retailers had expressed concerns in recent months that shoppers appeared glum and fearful about the economy. Walmart and Target noted that shoppers seemed to be waiting for sales before buying, a change from recent years when they spent more freely.“The caution that they’ve taken on their spend and where they’re spending has been really noticeable in the second half of the year, where a lot of customers have been affected, especially lower-income and middle-income” people, said Jessica Ramírez, a retail research analyst at Jane Hali & Associates.In a return to some of the trends that prevailed before the pandemic, many retailers and brands offered promotions. Discounts were in the 30 to 50 percent range, Ms. Ramírez said. But the discounts were more targeted this year than last because fewer companies were saddled with gluts of inventory.Retail sales increased this holiday season compared with the same period a year earlier, though at a slower pace than last year.Maansi Srivastava/The New York TimesThe categories that have faced falling sales this year — like electronics, home furnishings and toys — saw some of the biggest discounts leading up to Christmas. Those goods had enjoyed booming sales during the pandemic.Alexan Weir, a 30-year-old mother in Orlando, Fla., said she was pleased to find deals on toys when she bought Christmas gifts for her daughters this month. Among the items she bought at Target were the Asha doll, based on the main character from the Disney movie “Wish”; an Elsa doll from “Frozen”; and a Minnie Mouse kitchen set. With discounts, the items together cost about half as much as their total list prices of $200.“As a parent you’re just trying to make your kids happy. You’re not trying to break the bank,” Ms. Weir said. “I spent a little bit more this year, but at least with the few sales that I received, I can say I was not heartbroken about how much I was spending.”Barbie — whose banner year was fueled by the blockbuster movie — sold particularly well in a year when there wasn’t a breakout toy. The doll and her many accouterments have been selling well at Mary Arnold Toys, a family-owned store on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And overall sales at the shop have been steady, said Ezra Ishayik, who has run the store for 40 years.“It looks like it is about even with last year — not better, not worse,” Mr. Ishayik said. “The economy looks good to me. It’s decent, it’s OK, people are buying. We are on the high end of the industry so we don’t see any downtrend at all.”But the past few months have been more challenging for Modi Toys.Modi, an online retailer, sells plush toys and books based on Hindu culture and usually sees two sales bumps in the fourth quarter — one in the lead up to Diwali and another around Christmas.Normally the company brings in more than $100,000 in sales in the month before Diwali, which fell on Nov. 12, but this year sales dropped into the five-figure range. That was partly because the retailer launched a product too early and then had to offer hefty discounts to spur sales — something retailers try to avoid with new merchandise.“That’s when we knew that we really were going to have a challenging holiday season,” said Avani Modi Sarkar, a founder of the company.As she wraps up the year and looks toward 2024, Ms. Sarkar is testing new digital marketing strategies, including sending personalized email newsletters to customers and closely monitoring discounts.“We’re just trying to close the gap for us and not end the year with as big of a gap as we would have,” she said. “I know what we’re capable of, and I’m trying to not only get to that level again, but surpass it.”One clear sign that shoppers are being more careful about how much they spend comes from discount retailers. In November, Burlington, an off-price retailer, and the parent company of Marshalls and T.J. Maxx said they saw comparable store sales increase 6 percent.The online retailer ThriftBooks said its sales were also up this holiday season, by more than 20 percent in November and more than 24 percent this month compared with a year ago, according to Ken Goldstein, the company’s chief executive.“This was unprecedented,” Mr. Goldstein said. “This is beyond belief in terms of the volume that we’re doing. Because we’re a value product, I think a lot of people are putting their dollars to work.” More

  • in

    Southwest Airlines Reaches Deal With Pilots Union

    The new contract would provide raises and better benefits, following similar deals at other big airlines.Southwest Airlines and its pilots union have reached a tentative deal on a new, five-year labor contract that would raise wages 50 percent over the next several years and increase retirement benefits.The union’s board unanimously approved the deal, which it said was worth $12 billion, on Wednesday, sending it to the more than 11,000 union members, who have until Jan. 22 to cast a vote.The deal would provide benefits that are similar to those secured by pilots unions at the three other large U.S. airlines in separate negotiations this year. Pilots have had the upper hand in labor talks because they are in high demand amid the strong recovery in air travel after a steep decline in the early part of the pandemic.Capt. Casey Murray, the president of the union, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, said that the airline had started to lag behind its peers in attracting and keeping pilots in recent years. “What this contract was about was closing that gap so that we could recruit and retain competitively,” he said in an interview.Southwest welcomed the deal. In a statement, Adam Carlisle, vice president of labor relations for the company, said that the agreement would deliver “industry-leading” pay rates.Relations between Southwest and the union have been contentious at times. In 2021, the union sued the airline over changes made by management during the pandemic. Last year, the company and union entered federal mediation over contract talks. In May, Southwest’s pilots voted to approve a strike for the first time in the company’s history, according to the union, though federal law prohibits pilots from walking off the job without first pursuing mediation and other steps.Other pilots unions have achieved big gains. In March, pilots at Delta Air Lines approved a contract that would boost wages 34 percent over several years. Pilots at American Airlines this summer approved a contract that grants them a 46 percent raise, and pilots at United Airlines approved a 40 percent pay increase.All three contracts included improvements to vacation and retirement benefits and greater protections against last-minute reassignments. Southwest’s deal will include similar improvements. The new contracts at the big airlines have also increased pressure on smaller carriers to improve pay and benefits to keep pilots from leaving for larger employers.Pilots at big airlines easily earn six-figure salaries. The most senior pilots, who typically fly larger planes on longer routes, can earn several hundred thousand dollars a year. Labor and fuel account for about half of airlines’ operating expenses. In recent months, airline executives have warned that such costs could push down their profits.If approved, the new Southwest deal would extend through December 2028. The contracts at Delta, American and United are all in effect through at least 2026.There is no guarantee that Southwest’s pilots will approve the deal. The airline’s flight attendants rejected a deal this month, sending negotiators back to the table. Flight attendants at American and United are also negotiating new contracts. More

  • in

    Caen las tarifas aéreas en EE. UU., para alivio de los pasajeros

    Las aerolíneas están comenzando a ofrecer precios de rebaja, una señal de que tienen problemas para llenar los aviones.En fechas recientes en Estados Unidos, las tarifas aéreas a muchos destinos populares han caído a su nivel más bajo en meses; incluso los viajes durante la temporada festiva son mucho más baratos que el año pasado. Esto les ha dado un respiro a los consumidores, tras meses de frustración por los elevados precios de todo tipo de bienes y servicios.La abundancia de buenas ofertas hace pensar que quizá la vigorosa recuperación de la industria aérea tras la pandemia por fin va bajando el ritmo, ya que la oferta de boletos se empareja con la demanda, que parece relativamente firme, e incluso la supera en algunas rutas.Tengamos en cuenta las tarifas que consiguió hace poco Denise Diorio, maestra jubilada de Tampa, Florida. Gastó menos de 40 dólares en un boleto de ida y vuelta a Chicago y solo pagó 230 dólares por un viaje redondo de Nueva York a París, el cual planea hacer este mes.“Les he venido diciendo a todos mis amigos que si quieren ir a alguna parte, deben comprar sus boletos ahora”, comentó.Las gangas que encontró quizá sean excepcionales, pero Diorio está en lo correcto cuando asegura que hay muchas ofertas.Este mismo mes, el precio promedio de un vuelo nacional cerca del Día de Acción de Gracias estaba casi un 9 por ciento por debajo del nivel del año pasado. En cuanto a los vuelos cerca de la Navidad, eran aproximadamente un 18 por ciento más baratos, según la aplicación de reservaciones y rastreo de precios Hopper. Kayak, el motor de búsqueda de viajes, analizó un rango más amplio de fechas cerca de las fiestas y descubrió que los precios de los vuelos nacionales eran alrededor de un 18 por ciento más bajos por la fecha del Día de Acción de Gracias y un 23 por ciento por Navidad.“En muchos casos, observamos algunas de las tarifas más bajas desde que se reanudaron los viajes tras los recortes de 2020, en realidad”, afirmó Kyle Potter, editor ejecutivo del blog de viajes y servicio de alerta de ofertas Thrifty Traveler.El precio de los boletos para vuelos dentro de Estados Unidos bajó durante el verano, aseveró Potter, y en épocas recientes es más común encontrar ofertas para viajes internacionales, en particular a Europa.Las aerolíneas bajan sus tarifas cuando quieren tentar a más personas a reservar boletos porque la demanda es baja o la competencia es más fuerte. Sin duda, la competencia se ha intensificado en algunas rutas, pero los expertos en viajes indican que no hay certeza de que la demanda vaya en declive.Se espera que el Día de Acción de Gracias de este año establezca una cifra récord para los viajes aéreos, con predicciones de casi 30 millones de pasajeros, según Airlines for America, un grupo de la industria. Esta cifra sería un 9 por ciento más alta que la del año pasado y estaría un 6 por ciento por encima de la de 2019, antes de la pandemia.Pero algunas aerolíneas afirman que la demanda va en descenso en los periodos que no son de festividades o temporada alta. Además, algunos aeropuertos han manejado tal número de vuelos que las compañías de transporte se han visto obligadas a reducir las tarifas para llenar los aviones.Ese no había sido un problema durante la mayor parte del periodo de recuperación tras la pandemia. El clima y otras perturbaciones limitaron la oferta de vuelos el año pasado y en 2021, al igual que la escasez de pilotos capacitados, repuestos y aviones, entre otros factores. Esas condiciones provocaron un alza en el precio de los boletos, mantuvieron llenos los aviones y ayudaron a las aerolíneas a obtener excelentes ganancias.“La industria de la aviación nunca había registrado el tipo de márgenes de ganancias y rendimiento sobre capital visto en los últimos 2 años y medio”, señaló John Grant, principal analista de la empresa consultora y de datos de aviación OAG. “Casi estamos de nuevo en una industria más normal”.Para las principales aerolíneas estadounidenses continúan los buenos tiempos, impulsados en particular por una gran demanda de vuelos internacionales. Pero las compañías más pequeñas y de bajo costo han comenzado a sufrir. Varias revelaron resultados financieros decepcionantes para el trimestre concluido en septiembre. Los ejecutivos de esas aerolíneas han dicho que la demanda va en descenso, las tarifas han caído y los costos se han mantenido elevados. También señalan que el mal clima y la escasez de controladores de tráfico aéreo les han complicado la operación aérea.Por ejemplo, JetBlue Airways perdió 153 millones de dólares en el tercer trimestre, en contraste con las ganancias de 57 millones de dólares registradas en el mismo periodo el año pasado. La empresa indicó hace poco que planea cambiar algunos vuelos de mercados abarrotados, como Nueva York, a otros en los que espera un mejor desempeño, como el Caribe. Las compañías de transporte económicas Spirit Airlines y Frontier Airlines les informaron hace poco a los inversionistas que buscaban recortar decenas de millones de dólares en costos.La competencia ha sido aguerrida en algunos mercados importantes, lo que ha impulsado a la baja las tarifas y las utilidades.En Denver, donde se encuentran las oficinas generales de Frontier, este verano hubo un 14 por ciento más asientos disponibles que en el verano de 2019, según la proveedora de datos de aviación Cirium. Miami y Orlando, Florida, dos destinos populares a los que vuelan muchas empresas, experimentaron aumentos en capacidad todavía mayores.No obstante, mientras que las aerolíneas añadieron vuelos en mercados populares en busca de captar pasajeros, en aeropuertos de otras ciudades, como Los Ángeles, un centro de actividades de muchas aerolíneas importantes, se observaron reducciones considerables en la capacidad con respecto al verano de 2019.“Es evidente que existe una enorme correlación entre las aerolíneas que funcionan bien y aquellas que tienen dificultades, en términos de sus márgenes, cuando comparamos dónde están sus concentraciones”, señaló el mes pasado Barry Biffle, director ejecutivo de Frontier, durante una teleconferencia para presentar los resultados de la aerolínea correspondientes al tercer trimestre.En cuanto a las rutas internacionales, los analistas no saben con tanta certeza por qué las tarifas van a la baja ni si se mantendrán así. Gangas como las que consiguió Diorio para su viaje a París podrían ser señal de que las aerolíneas más grandes pronto enfrentarán presiones financieras o sencillamente que la industria va regresando a una normalidad prepandémica.“Por lo regular, la demanda de viajes a Europa baja durante el invierno”, explicó Steve Hafner, director ejecutivo de Kayak. “Así que me parece que eso refleja las tendencias normales”.Pero la demanda de viajes internacionales podría enfrentar obstáculos, en parte debido a las guerras de Medio Oriente y Ucrania. Los analistas también advierten que muchos consumidores quizá estén menos dispuestos a derrochar dinero en viajes o tengan menos posibilidades de hacerlo ahora que en los dos años pasados, cuando contaban con el dinero que habían ahorrado durante la pandemia. Incluso si la demanda se mantiene firme, las aerolíneas corren el riesgo de ofrecer demasiados asientos en rutas populares al extranjero.Cualquiera que sea la causa de la reciente caída de las tarifas, las ofertas son un bienvenido alivio para los viajeros después de sufrir años de precios altos, dijo Potter.“En cualquier caso, la receta para vuelos baratos está ahí”, afirmó. “Si se trata solo de un pequeño exceso de capacidad, es una victoria para los consumidores. Si la demanda de viajes está cayendo, en cierto modo es una ganancia aún mayor para las personas que nunca van a renunciar a viajar”.Niraj Chokshi escribe sobre la aviación, los ferrocarriles y otras industrias del transporte. Más de Niraj Chokshi More

  • in

    Sharp Drop in Airfares Cheers Inflation-Weary Travelers

    Airfares to many popular destinations have recently fallen to their lowest levels in months, and even holiday travel is far cheaper than it was last year, providing some welcome relief to consumers who have been frustrated for months by high prices for all manner of goods and services.The glut of deals suggests that the airline industry’s supercharged pandemic recovery may finally be slowing as the supply of tickets catches up and, on some routes, overtakes demand, which appears relatively robust.Consider the fares that Denise Diorio, a retired teacher in Tampa, Fla., recently scored. She spent less than $40 on flights to and from Chicago and paid just $230 for a round-trip ticket from New York to Paris and back, a trip she plans to take this month.“I’ve been telling all my friends, ‘If you want to go somewhere, get your tickets now,’” she said.The bargains she found may be exceptional, but Ms. Diorio is right that deals abound.Early this month, the average price for a domestic flight around Thanksgiving was down about 9 percent from a year ago. And flights around Christmas were about 18 percent cheaper, according to Hopper, a booking and price-tracking app. Kayak, the travel search engine, looked at a wider range of dates around the holidays and found that domestic flight prices were down about 18 percent around Thanksgiving and 23 percent around Christmas.“In a lot of cases, we’re seeing some of the lowest fares that we’ve seen really since travel started coming back after the drop-off in 2020,” said Kyle Potter, executive editor of Thrifty Traveler, a travel blog and deal-watching service.Domestic ticket prices fell over the summer, Mr. Potter said, and deals on international travel, particularly to Europe, have become more common recently.Airlines lower their fares when they are trying to get more people to book tickets as demand is slowing or they are facing stiffer competition. There’s little question that competition has intensified on some routes, but travel experts say it’s not clear whether demand is waning.Thanksgiving this year is expected to set a record for air travel, with nearly 30 million passengers forecast, according to Airlines for America, an industry group. That would be about 9 percent more than last year and 6 percent more than in 2019, before the pandemic.But some airlines say demand is slowing outside of holiday and other peak travel periods. In addition, some airports have been so flooded with flights that carriers have been forced to cut fares to fill planes.That hadn’t been much of a problem for most of the recovery from the pandemic. Weather and other disruptions limited the supply of flights last year and in 2021, as did shortages of trained pilots, parts and planes, among other factors. That drove up ticket prices, kept planes full and helped airlines take in strong profits.Thanksgiving this year is expected to set a record for air travel, with nearly 30 million passengers anticipated.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times“The airline industry has never delivered the types of profit margins and return on capital that it has done over the last 2.5 years,” said John Grant, chief analyst with OAG, an aviation advisory and data firm. “We’re getting back to a more normal industry.”For the largest U.S. airlines, the good times have continued, fueled in particular by thriving demand for international travel. But smaller and low-fare carriers have started to suffer. Several reported disappointing financial results for the three months that ended in September. Executives at those airlines have said demand is weakening, fares are falling and costs remain high. They also say bad weather and a shortage of air traffic controllers have made flying more difficult.JetBlue Airways, for example, lost $153 million in the third quarter, compared with a $57 million profit in the same period last year. The company said recently that it was moving flights away from crowded markets, such as New York, to those where it expected stronger performance, such as the Caribbean. The budget carriers Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines recently told investors that they were looking to cut costs by tens of millions of dollars.Competition has been fierce in some important markets, driving down fares and profits.In Denver, where Frontier is based, about 14 percent more seats were available on flights this summer than in the summer of 2019, according to Cirium, an aviation data provider. Miami and Orlando, Fla., two popular destinations served by many budget carriers, saw even larger increases in capacity.But while airlines added flights in popular markets as they chased passengers, airports in other cities, including Los Angeles, a hub for several major airlines, had large declines in capacity from the summer of 2019.“You’ll find that there’s a large correlation between the airlines that are doing well and the ones that are struggling, margin-wise, when you compare where their concentrations are,” Barry Biffle, Frontier’s chief executive, said last month on a conference call to discuss the airline’s third-quarter results.When it comes to international routes, analysts are less certain of why fares are falling and whether they will remain low. The kinds of deals that Ms. Diorio got for her Paris trip could mean that larger airlines soon find themselves facing a financial squeeze or merely that the industry is returning to a prepandemic normal.“Historically, demand to Europe softens in the winter,” said Steve Hafner, Kayak’s chief executive. “So I think that reflects normal trends.”But demand for international travel could face challenges, partly because of the wars in the Middle East and Ukraine. Analysts also warn that many consumers may be less willing or able to splurge on travel than they were in the last couple of years, when they had pandemic savings to draw from. Even if demand remains strong, airlines risk offering too many seats on popular overseas routes.Whatever the cause of the recent drop in fares, the deals are a welcome break to travelers from years of high prices, Mr. Potter said.“Either way the recipe is there for cheap flights,” he said. “If it’s just a little bit of overcapacity, that’s a win for consumers. If travel demand is dropping, in some ways that’s an even bigger win for people who are never going to give up on travel.” More

  • in

    Vermont May Be the Face of a Long-Term U.S. Labor Shortage

    At Lake Champlain Chocolates, the owners take shifts stacking boxes in the warehouse. At Burlington Bagel Bakery, a sign in the window advertises wages starting at $25 an hour. Central Vermont Medical Center is training administrative employees to become nurses. Cabot Creamery is bringing workers from out of state to package its signature blocks of Cheddar cheese.The root of the staffing challenge is simple: Vermont’s population is rapidly aging. More than a fifth of Vermonters are 65 or older, and more than 35 percent are over 54, the age at which Americans typically begin to exit the work force. No state has a smaller share of its residents in their prime working years.Vermont offers an early look at where the rest of the country could be headed. The baby boom population is aging out of the work force, and subsequent generations aren’t large enough to fully replace it. Immigration slumped during the pandemic, and though it has since rebounded, it is unclear how long that will last, given a lack of broad political support for higher immigration. Birthrates are falling.“All of these things point in the direction of prolonged labor scarcity,” said David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has studied long-term work force trends.Eric Lampman, right, the president and co-owner of Lake Champlain Chocolates, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help.Lockers at Lake Champlain Chocolates. While other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.Vermont’s unemployment rate was 1.9 percent in September, among the lowest in the country, and the labor force is still thousands of people smaller than before the pandemic. Employers are fighting over scarce workers, offering wage increases, signing bonuses and child care subsidies, alongside enticements such as free ski passes. When those tactics fail, many are limiting operating hours and scaling back product offerings.A rural state — Burlington, with a population under 45,000, is the smallest “biggest city” in the country — Vermont has for decades seen young people leave for better opportunities. And while other states have helped buttress their work forces through immigration, Vermont’s foreign-born population has remained small.But demographics are at the root of the problem.“We knew where we were headed — we just maybe got there a little bit quicker than we were expecting,” said Michael Harrington, the state’s labor commissioner. “There just aren’t enough Vermonters to meet the needs of our state and our employers in the future.”Gray Mountain StateA disproportionate share of Vermonters are in or near their retirement years. But the overall U.S. population is also aging.

    .dw-chart-subhed {
    line-height: 1;
    margin-bottom: 6px;
    font-family: nyt-franklin;
    color: #121212;
    font-size: 15px;
    font-weight: 700;

    Percentage of 2022 population by age group
    Source: Census BureauBy The New York TimesThere were similar shortages across the country in 2021 and 2022, as demand — for both goods and workers — surged after pandemic lockdowns. The overall labor market has become more balanced as demand has cooled and Americans have returned to the work force. But economists and demographers say shortages will re-emerge as the population ages.“It seems to be happening slowly enough that we’re not seeing it as a crisis,” said Diana Elliott, vice president for U.S. programs at the Population Reference Bureau, a nonprofit research organization. “It’s happening in slow motion.”Long-run labor scarcity will look different from the acute shortages of the pandemic era. Businesses will find ways to adapt, either by paying workers more or by adapting their operations to require fewer of them. Those that can’t adapt will lose ground to those that can.“It’s just going to be a new equilibrium,” said Jacob Vigdor, an economist at the University of Washington, adding that businesses that built their operations on the availability of relatively cheap labor may struggle.“You may discover that that business model doesn’t work for you anymore,” he said. “There are going to be disruptions. There are going to be winners and losers.”Higher Wages, More OpportunityCentral Vermont Medical Center built a classroom and simulation lab for its training programs. A trainee practiced a procedure using a dummy.The winners are the workers. When workers are scarce, employers have an incentive to broaden their searches — considering people with less formal education, or those with disabilities — and to give existing employees opportunities for advancement.At Central Vermont Medical Center, as at rural hospitals across the country, the pandemic compounded an existing nursing shortage. An aging population means that demand for health care will only grow.So the medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time. The hospital built a classroom and simulation lab on site, and lent out its nurses to serve as faculty. Students spend 12 of their paid working hours each week studying — and if they stay on as nurses for three years after completing the program, their student debt is forgiven.The program has graduated 27 licensed practical nurses and eight registered nurses since 2021; some previously had administrative jobs. The hospital is expanding the training to roles like respiratory technicians and phlebotomists.Other businesses are finding their own ways to accommodate workers. Lake Champlain Chocolates, a high-end chocolate maker outside Burlington, has revamped its production schedule to reduce its reliance on seasonal help. It has also begun bringing former employees out of retirement, hiring them part time during the holiday season.The medical center has teamed up with two local colleges on a program enabling hospital employees to train as nurses while working full time.“We’ve adapted,” said Allyson Myers, the company’s marketing director. “Prepandemic we never would have said, oh, come and work in the fulfillment department one day a week or two days a week. We wouldn’t have offered that as an option.”Then there is the most straightforward way to attract workers: paying them more. Lake Champlain has raised starting wages for its factory and retail workers 20 to 35 percent over the past two years.Charles Goodhart, a British economist, said the aging of the population would tend to lead to lower inequality — albeit at the cost of higher prices.“Since the available supply of workers will go down, relative to demand, workers will demand and get higher wages,” Mr. Goodhart, who in 2020 published a book on the economic consequences of aging societies, wrote in an email.Robots and HousingCabot Creamery is in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to Vermont’s Labor Department.When Walmart reached out to Cabot Creamery about increasing distribution of its Greek yogurt, Jason Martin hesitated — he wasn’t sure he could find enough workers to meet the extra demand.Mr. Martin is senior vice president of operations for Agri-Mark, the agricultural cooperative that owns Cabot Creamery, the nationally distributed brand that employs close to 700 people in Vermont. When the company’s leadership talks about adding a product or expanding production, he said, labor is nearly always the first topic.“As I present products to our board of directors, in the back of my mind I always think, ‘I’m going to need to find the people,’” Mr. Martin said.The labor challenge is evident at Cabot Creamery’s packaging plant in the company’s namesake town. Blocks of cheese weighing close to 700 pounds are fed into machines that cut them, for one product, into cracker-size slices. Employees in gloves and hairnets then drop the slices into plastic pouches, which are sealed and packaged together. Many of the workers are in their 50s and 60s, and have been with Cabot for decades.Cabot is over an hour from Burlington, in a rural area where cellphone coverage is spotty and many roads are unpaved. The county has only about 700 unemployed people, according to the state’s Labor Department, and while the company has raised pay and offers generous benefits — a recent marketing campaign cites perks including a defined-benefit pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese — hiring remains difficult.Cabot has raised pay and offers generous benefits such as pension plan, tuition reimbursement and, of course, free cheese, but hiring remains difficult.Adding to the challenge is Vermont’s housing shortage. Cabot has contracted with a local college to use unoccupied dormitories to house temporary workers brought in from other states and — on guest-worker visas — from other countries.It is also investing in automation — not just to require fewer workers but also to make jobs less taxing for its aging employee base. New equipment will package cheese slices automatically.To economists, investments like Cabot’s are good news — a sign that companies are finding ways to make the people they have more productive.But ultimately, many economists say, Vermont — and the country as a whole — will simply need more workers. Some could come from the existing population, through companies’ efforts to tap into new labor pools and through government efforts to address larger issues like the opioid crisis, which has sidelined hundreds of thousands of working-age Americans.Not all economists think aging demographics are likely to drive a national labor shortage.The ranks of people in their prime working years was stagnant for years before the pandemic, but labor was often plentiful, said Adam Ozimek, the chief economist at Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan public policy organization. Increased immigration, he added, would add to demand as well as supply.Still, many economists argue that immigrants will be an important part of the solution, especially in fields, like elder care, that are rapidly growing and hard to automate.“We need to start looking at immigrants as a strategic resource, incredibly valuable parts of the economy,” said Ron Hetrick, senior labor economist at Lightcast, a labor market data firm.Workers WantedKevin Chu, the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Kevin Chu has spent the past several months traveling around Vermont speaking to local business groups, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and pretty much anyone else who would listen. His message: Vermont needs more people.Mr. Chu is the executive director of the Vermont Futures Project, a nonprofit organization, backed by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, that sees the worker shortage as an imminent, long-term threat to the state’s economy.Mr. Chu grew up in Vermont after his parents immigrated from China in the mid-1980s, part of a wave of immigrants — many of them refugees — who came to the state during that period. He recalls attending Burlington High School at a time when it flew the flag of its students’ home countries, dozens in all.“I feel like I got a glimpse of what Vermont could be,” he said.Mr. Chu’s message has resonated with business leaders and state officials, but it has been a tougher sell with the population as a whole. A recent poll found that a plurality — but not a majority — of Vermonters supported increasing the population.The Futures Project has set a goal of increasing the population to 802,000 by 2035, from fewer than 650,000 today. That would also help bring down Vermont’s median age to 40, from 42.7.The state has a long way to go: Vermont added just 92 people from 2021 to 2022.The root of Vermont’s staffing challenge is simple: More than a quarter of its adults are 65 or older, and more than 40 percent are over 54. More