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    Photos: Witnessing the U.S. Economy’s Recovery in 2021

    September glimmered in the distance. As a hopeful spring gave way to summer, this was to be the month when pandemic restrictions and government aid would fully cease, and when a new season of live gatherings, face-to-face schooling and office work would begin. But events spilled out in unpredictable ways. New York Times photographers around […] More

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    E.C.B. Will Slow Its Crisis-Era Bond Buying

    The European Central Bank said on Thursday it would slow down the pace of its pandemic-era bond-buying program, one of the main tools it has used to support the eurozone economy through lockdowns, citing “favorable financing conditions” and the inflation outlook.The program, which has lately been purchasing about 80 billion euros, or $95 billion, of mostly government bonds each month, is a way to keep borrowing costs low and encourage economic growth.Other policy measures were left unchanged. Interest rates were held steady, including the so-called deposit rate, which remained at negative 0.5 percent. Policymakers also maintained the size of the bank’s other bond-buying program that was restarted in 2019 to head off a regional recession.In the eurozone, inflation is rising faster than expected, supply chain disruptions and product shortages are pushing costs higher for manufacturers, and there are early signs that the economic recovery is slowing down.It’s a concoction that has created divisions among the central bank’s policymakers about when to slow and then end its enormous bond-buying program. It began in March 2020 as the pandemic spread across Europe, and is meant to buy a total of 1.85 trillion euros in bonds and run until at least next March. The slowdown would help ensure the purchases end on schedule, though the central bank hasn’t ruled out an extension.“Based on a joint assessment of financing conditions and the inflation outlook, the Governing Council judges that favorable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases,” the central bank said in statement on Thursday.Thursday’s decisions are the first test of the central bank’s updated forward guidance. In July, policymakers said they were willing to overlook short-term jumps in inflation and would raise interest rates only once it was clear the annual inflation rate would reach 2 percent “well ahead” of the end of the central bank’s projection horizon and stay around that level over the medium term.New projections for inflation and economic growth will be published later on Thursday when the central bank’s president, Christine Lagarde, will hold a press conference.. The previous forecasts, in June, predicted inflation would peak at 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter and decline to 1.5 percent in 2022 and 1.4 percent in 2023.But inflation has already risen to 3 percent in August, the highest in nearly 10 years, the region’s statistics agency said last week. So far, policymakers have been betting that the jump in inflation will be temporary, like other central banks around the world.In recent years preceding the pandemic, the inflation rate was below the bank’s 2 percent target.“The stars are much better aligned than they have been for a long time for the return of inflation back to 2 percent,” Klaas Knot, the governor of the Dutch central bank and a member of the governing council at the European Central Bank, said last week.Jens Weidmann, the head of the German central bank, said that policymakers shouldn’t ignore the risk of “excessively high inflation” and that they should not “commit to our very loose monetary policy stance for too long.”But the European Central Bank as a whole has been more cautious than the Federal Reserve and Bank of England about preparing markets for a return to normal policy. While the economy is rebounding — rising 2.2 percent in the second quarter from the first three months of the year — Ms. Lagarde has highlighted the uncertainty posed by the spread of the Delta variant.Recently, Philip Lane, the central bank’s chief economist, said there were headwinds for the economy in the second half of the year, including supply-chain bottlenecks that could be more persistent than expected.While the pandemic-era bond program might be approaching its end, the central bank is expected to maintain its older bond purchase effort, under which the bank buys 20 billion euros in assets a month. Many analysts expect policymakers to increase the size of purchases to keep providing stimulus to the economy even after the immediate impact of the pandemic has passed. More

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    Inflation's Worldwide Surge May Be a Good Sign

    Inflation has surged across advanced economies. The shared experience underlines that price gains come from temporary drivers — for now.Price gains are shooting higher across many advanced economies as consumer demand, shortages and other pandemic-related factors combine to fuel a burst of inflation.The spike has become a source of annoyance among consumers and worry among policymakers who are concerned that rapid price gains might last. It is one of the main factors central bankers are looking at as they decide when — and how quickly — to return monetary policy to normal.Most policymakers believe that today’s rapid inflation will fade. That expectation may be reinforced by the fact that many economies are experiencing a price pop in tandem, even though they used vastly different policies to cushion the blow of pandemic lockdowns.The shared inflation experience underscores that mismatches between what consumers want to buy and what companies are able to deliver are helping to drive the price increases. While those may be amplified by worldwide stimulus spending, they are not the simple result of nation-specific policy choices — and they should eventually work themselves out.“There is a lot of stimulus in the system, and it is pushing up demand and that’s driving higher inflation,” said Kristin Forbes, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and former external member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.“Some of these big global moves do tend to pass through and prove temporary,” Ms. Forbes said. “The big question is: How long will these supply chain pressures last?”The United States Federal Reserve’s preferred price index rose 4.2 percent in July from the prior year, more than double the central bank’s 2 percent target, which it seeks to hit on average over time. In the eurozone, inflation recently accelerated to the highest level in about a decade. In Britain, Canada, New Zealand, South Korea and Australia, price gains have jumped well above the level central banks set as their goals.The big increases have come as supply chains have snarled around the world, adding to transportation costs and throwing the delicate balance of corporate globalization badly out of whack. Prices for airline tickets and hotel rooms dipped last year in the depths of the pandemic, and now they’re bouncing back to normal levels, making the numbers look higher than they would if compared with a less depressed base. Neither issue should last indefinitely.There is a danger that the global price surge could last longer — and become more country-specific — if workers in nations experiencing high inflation today bargain for wage increases and are more accepting of steadily higher prices. Bringing entrenched inflation back under control could require painful monetary policy responses, ones that would probably plunge national economies back into recession.Given those high stakes, the mere possibility of lasting inflation is ramping up pressure on central banks around the world to consider dialing back their still-substantial monetary policy support — even though many are not yet fully recovered and the pandemic has not ended.Economies around the world are growing quickly this year, partly as a result of enormous government spending that has pumped some $8.7 trillion into the advanced Group of 20 markets since January 2020 and central bank policies that have made money very cheap to borrow and spend. Central banks have been buying bonds to hold down longer-term interest rates and keeping short-term borrowing costs near or even below zero.It’s not just higher prices that advanced economies have in common. Complaints about labor shortages in some fields are also bubbling up around the world. Job vacancy rates have been climbing in Europe’s construction, leisure and hospitality, and information technology sectors. In Britain, firms widely complain of labor shortages, and a dearth of truck drivers caused partly by the nation’s exit from the European Union has disrupted supply chains and fueled shortages of milkshakes at McDonald’s and peri-peri chicken at Nando’s, a restaurant chain famous for the dish.A restaurant in London in June. Job vacancy rates have been climbing in Europe’s construction, leisure and hospitality, and information technology sectors.Andrew Testa for The New York TimesThose widespread trends highlight the oddities of the current economic moment. Commerce came to a sudden stop and then abruptly restarted when government relief payments padded consumers’ wallets, making people eager to spend even as manufacturers struggled to get back to full production and restaurants scrambled to staff back up.Still, some central bankers are growing nervous about their policies in countries where inflation is higher and labor supply issues are beginning to push up wages. They fret that a cocktail of low interest rates and big government bond buying will add fuel to the temporary-inflation fire, helping asset prices and consumer prices to remain higher. Prominent commentators, both in the media and in financial centers from the City of London to Wall Street, have added to the chorus arguing that central bankers are “behind the curve.”In Britain, Michael Saunders, a policymaker, already voted to end the central bank’s bond-buying program, predicting that some of the inflation spike would not be temporary. A few European central bankers have indicated that they should start debating slowing down their pandemic-era stimulus purchase program, and at least one has even suggested an immediate slowdown. Some U.S. officials, including the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, James Bullard, have said that today’s inflation might not fully fade and that policy ought to be poised to react.The extreme worriers are in the minority. Most policymakers in advanced economies are betting that price increases be temporary, and that inflation might even fade back to uncomfortably low levels over the longer term. From Ottawa to Frankfurt, they have warned against overreacting.“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,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during a recent speech. “It seems more likely that they will continue to weigh on inflation as the pandemic passes into history.”Before the pandemic, advanced economies had spent years trying to coax inflation higher, trying to stop an economically damaging downward spiral that had begun to take hold.Slow price gains may sound like good news to people buying gas, baguettes or hot dogs, but inflation counts into interest rates, so its downward trend in the 21st century has left less room for policymakers to cut rates to rescue the economy during times of trouble. That has helped to weaken recoveries, dragging inflation even lower and fueling a cycle of stagnation.Even amid the reopening, Japan — a notable outlier among advanced economies — continues to fight that long-run war, battling outright price declines. Coronavirus outbreaks have kept shoppers there at home, weighing on prices for Uniqlo attire and snacks alike. Persistent forces like population aging have also put a lid on demand and constrained companies’ ability to charge more.A shopping district in Tokyo last month. Coronavirus outbreaks have kept shoppers there at home.Franck Robichon/EPA, via ShutterstockOther economies are expected to return to their trends of slow growth and weak inflation as the pandemic shock fades and population aging becomes a more dominant force, said Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo. “It’s like going up a step,” Mr. Bryson said. “Once you get to the next step, the rate of increase drops off. It’s a one-time price level adjustment because of the pandemic.”If inflation does fade as policymakers expect, the current burst could actually offer benefits: In the United States, it has helped to nudge inflation expectations back out of the dangerously low zone, to levels that are historically consistent with healthy price gains. It has proved harder for central bankers to move prices up than it is for them to cool them off, so that opportunistic inflation could help the Fed to nail its price goals in the longer run.But if it takes too long to go away, the consequences could be more serious.“If I’m wrong and inflation does get out of hand, that would lead to slower economic growth in a longer-run sense,” Mr. Bryson said, explaining that high inflation tends to bounce around a lot, making it tough for companies to plan and invest.But he said that even if higher prices lasted, they might settle in at 2.5 percent or 3 percent — which would not cause meaningful problems. By contrast, inflation in the United States popped to double digits during the Great Inflation of the 1970s.“I don’t think we’re talking about 1970s-style inflation,” agreed Mark Gertler, an economist at New York University. Policymakers around the world have committed to fighting inflation and will not allow it to run out of control. “Central banks can always make inflation transitory by raising interest rates enough.”Eshe Nelson More

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    Why the Taliban Desperately Need Cash to Run Afghanistan

    The group has long tapped underground banks and opium to fund Afghanistan’s insurgency. Fixing the nation’s problems will require a lot more than that.As Afghans pay surging prices for eggs and flour and stand in long lines at the bank, money changers like Enayatullah and his underground financial lifeline have found themselves in desperate demand.Enayatullah — his family name withheld — holds down a tiny point in a sprawling global network of informal lenders and back-room bankers called hawala. The Taliban used hawala to help fund their ultimately successful insurgency. Many households use it to get help from relatives in Istanbul, London and Doha. Without cash from hawala, economic life in whole swaths of Afghanistan would come to a crashing halt.That is now a very real possibility. Foreign aid has dried up. Prices are surging. The value of the afghani currency is tumbling. The country’s $9.4 billion in reserves have been frozen.And hawala won’t be enough, said Enayatullah, who says people’s need for money has become so desperate in the last week he raised his commission to 4 percent per transaction, about eight times his usual rate. The system is now struggling with a lack of money, leading the Taliban and dealers themselves to rein in activity to preserve cash.“The demand,” Enayatullah said, “is too much.”The Taliban won the war in Afghanistan, and an economic crisis may be their prize. They have been cut off from the international banking system and from the country’s previous funding sources, like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the United States government. Foreign aid makes up nearly half of economic output.Without other sources of money, millions of Afghan people could lose the gains they made, in fits and starts, over the past two decades. Already, drought conditions have created a real risk of hunger.“We have conflict. We have war. This is another misery,” said Shah Mehrabi, a board member of Afghanistan’s central bank. “You will have a financial crisis and it will push families further into poverty.”Food prices soared last week after the Taliban took over, at a market in Kabul, Afghanistan.Jim Huylebroek for The New York TimesLong before Afghanistan had formal institutions like banks, it had the hawala system. Millions of Afghans, shut out from formal banking, used it to send and receive remittances, as have migrant workers and others around the world.The system functions on the premise that people want to send equivalent amounts of money between two locations. Loans and transfers are recorded on ledgers, but money doesn’t have to change hands. Those features make it useful for evading taxes, paying bribes and laundering ill-gotten gains.Hawala was a necessity under the Taliban-led Afghanistan of two decades ago, before the American invasion in 2001, when money from illicit sources greased the country’s financial wheels. In addition to hawala, opium from the country’s vast poppy fields and smuggling brought the country money from the rest of the world, offsetting weak trade. As insurgents, the Taliban funded themselves by taxing smuggled goods like televisions and fuel, in transactions often financed through hawala, and through the drug trade.But the Afghanistan of 2021 is a country transformed. The economy, though its growth has been unsteady over the past decade, is five times the size it was in the early 2000s. Once scarce in most places, electricity is now widely available. Smartphones and internet access are common.Foreign money helped. Over the two decades, the United States spent more than $145 billion on reconstruction activities in Afghanistan, according to the U.S. government. Much of it was used to build the Afghan security forces, but funds also went toward large-scale infrastructure projects and an economic support fund. More than three quarters of the Afghan government’s $11 billion annual public expenditures was paid for by donor funding.The Taliban will be hard-pressed to make up that shortfall.Since taking over Afghanistan, the Taliban have said they will stop production of opium. But for the hawala system to work, Afghanistan must ultimately find sources of hard currency to lubricate the lines of credit that would snake back into the country. With exports in 2019 of about $870 million — mostly carpets, plus figs, licorice and other agricultural products — Afghanistan has little to offer on a large scale that is as lucrative as opium.The Taliban could see support from governments like Pakistan, Iran and China that might have their own reasons for keeping relations with Afghanistan warm. Trade has already started up again with Iran, said David Mansfield, an independent consultant and an expert on rural Afghanistan, citing satellite imagery of fuel tankers and transit trucks moving across the border. He has estimated that during its insurgency, the Taliban was able to raise more than $100 million a year from informally taxing goods from Iran and southern Afghanistan.Even if the Taliban raised several multiples more than that, it would mean a return to the minimalist state like the 1990s.“Economic crisis, humanitarian disaster, more refugees,” Mr. Mansfield said. “The other side of this is we have an Afghan population in the past 20 years who have seen some degree of transformation. Their livelihoods have improved.”People stood in line outside Azizi bank in Kabul on Sunday, the first day banks reopened in Afghanistan’s capital.Jim Huylebroek for The New York TimesThe hawala system, though central to life in Afghanistan, won’t be enough on its own. While many hawala transactions exist only on ledgers, they are ultimately backed by cold, hard cash often held by hawala dealers called hawaladars. In Afghanistan, say experts, hawaladars regularly use the local currency, the afghani, to buy American dollars from Afghanistan’s central bank, a transaction that can help stabilize the afghani’s value.Understand the Taliban Takeover in AfghanistanCard 1 of 6Who are the Taliban? More

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    India’s Economic Figures Belie Covid-19’s Toll

    Strong results compared with last year’s performance mask lingering weaknesses that could hold back needed job creation.NEW DELHI — The coronavirus continues to batter India’s damaged economy, putting growing pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to nurture a nascent recovery and get the country back to work.The coronavirus, which has struck in two waves, has killed hundreds of thousands of people and at times has brought cities to a halt. Infections and deaths have eased, and the country is returning to work. Economists predict that growth could surge in the second half of the year on paper.Still, the damage could take years to undo. Economic output was 9.2 percent lower for the April-through-June period this year than what it was for the same period in 2019, according to India Ratings, a credit ratings agency.The coronavirus has essentially robbed India of much of the momentum it needed to provide jobs for its young and fast-growing work force. It has also exacerbated longer-term problems that were already dragging down growth, such as high debt, a lack of competitiveness with other countries and policy missteps.Economists are particularly concerned about the slow rate of vaccinations and the possibility of a third wave of the coronavirus, which could prove to be disastrous for any economic recovery.“Vaccination progress remains slow,” with just 11 percent of the population fully inoculated so far, Priyanka Kishore, the head of India and Southeast Asia at Oxford Economics, said in a research briefing last week. The firm lowered its growth rate for 2021 to 8.8 percent, from 9.1 percent.Even growth of 8.8 percent would be a strong number in better times. Compared with the prior year, India’s economy grew 20.1 percent April through June, according to estimates released Tuesday evening by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation.But those comparisons benefit from comparison with India’s dismal performance last year. The economy shrank 7.3 percent last year, when the government shut down the economy to stop a first wave of the coronavirus. That led to big job losses, now among the biggest hurdles holding back growth, experts say.The coronavirus continues to batter India’s damaged economy, putting growing pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.Money Sharma/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesReal household incomes have fallen further this year, said Mahesh Vyas, the chief executive of the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy. “Till this is not repaired,” he said, “the Indian economy can’t bounce back.”At least 3.2 million Indians lost stable, well-paying salaried jobs in July alone, Mr. Vyas estimated. Small traders and daily wage laborers suffered bigger job losses during the lockdowns than others, though they were able to go back to work once the restrictions were lifted, Mr. Vyas said in a report this month.“Salaried jobs are not similarly elastic,” he said. “It is difficult to retrieve a lost salaried job.”About 10 million people have lost such jobs since the beginning of the pandemic, Mr. Vyas said.Mr. Modi’s government moved this month to rekindle the economy by selling stakes worth close to $81 billion in state-owned assets like airports, railway stations and stadiums. But economists largely see the policy as a move to generate cash in the short term. It remains to be seen if it will lead to more investment, they say.“The whole idea is that the government will borrow this money from the domestic market,” said Devendra Kumar Pant, the chief economist at India Ratings. “But what happens if this project goes to a domestic player and he is having to borrow in the domestic market? Your credit demand domestically won’t change.”Dr. Pant added that questions remained about how willing private players would be to maintain those assets long term and how the monetization policy would ultimately affect prices for consumers..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-3btd0c{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:1rem;line-height:1.375rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-3btd0c{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-3btd0c strong{font-weight:600;}.css-3btd0c em{font-style:italic;}.css-w739ur{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-family:nyt-cheltenham,georgia,’times new roman’,times,serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.375rem;line-height:1.625rem;}@media (min-width:740px){#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-w739ur{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-w739ur{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-9s9ecg{margin-bottom:15px;}.css-16ed7iq{width:100%;display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;-webkit-box-pack:center;-webkit-justify-content:center;-ms-flex-pack:center;justify-content:center;padding:10px 0;background-color:white;}.css-pmm6ed{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-align-items:center;-webkit-box-align:center;-ms-flex-align:center;align-items:center;}.css-pmm6ed > :not(:first-child){margin-left:5px;}.css-5gimkt{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.8125rem;font-weight:700;-webkit-letter-spacing:0.03em;-moz-letter-spacing:0.03em;-ms-letter-spacing:0.03em;letter-spacing:0.03em;text-transform:uppercase;color:#333;}.css-5gimkt:after{content:’Collapse’;}.css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;-webkit-transform:rotate(180deg);-ms-transform:rotate(180deg);transform:rotate(180deg);}.css-eb027h{max-height:5000px;-webkit-transition:max-height 0.5s ease;transition:max-height 0.5s ease;}.css-6mllg9{-webkit-transition:all 0.5s ease;transition:all 0.5s ease;position:relative;opacity:0;}.css-6mllg9:before{content:”;background-image:linear-gradient(180deg,transparent,#ffffff);background-image:-webkit-linear-gradient(270deg,rgba(255,255,255,0),#ffffff);height:80px;width:100%;position:absolute;bottom:0px;pointer-events:none;}.css-uf1ume{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-box-pack:justify;-webkit-justify-content:space-between;-ms-flex-pack:justify;justify-content:space-between;}.css-wxi1cx{display:-webkit-box;display:-webkit-flex;display:-ms-flexbox;display:flex;-webkit-flex-direction:column;-ms-flex-direction:column;flex-direction:column;-webkit-align-self:flex-end;-ms-flex-item-align:end;align-self:flex-end;}.css-12vbvwq{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-12vbvwq{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-12vbvwq:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-12vbvwq{border:none;padding:10px 0 0;border-top:2px solid #121212;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-12vbvwq[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-qjk116{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-qjk116 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-qjk116 em{font-style:italic;}.css-qjk116 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:visited{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#326891;text-decoration-color:#326891;}.css-qjk116 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}“In India, things will decay for the worse rather than improve,” he said, adding that the costs to users of highways and other infrastructure could go up.During the second wave in May, Mr. Modi resisted calls by many epidemiologists, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to reinstitute a nationwide lockdown.At a vaccination site in India in June. Economists are particularly concerned about the slow rate of vaccinations and the possibility of a third wave of the coronavirus.Saumya Khandelwal for The New York TimesThe lockdowns in 2021 were nowhere near as severe as the nationwide curbs last year, which pushed millions of people out of cities and into rural areas, often on foot because rail and other transportation had been suspended.Throughout the second wave, core infrastructure projects across the country, which employ millions of domestic migrant workers, were exempted from restrictions. More than 15,000 miles of Indian highway projects, along with rail and city metro improvements, continued.On Tuesday, Dr. Pant said India’s growth estimates of 20.1 percent for the April-through-June period were nothing but an “illusion.” Growth contracted so sharply around the same period last year, by a record 24 percent, that even double-digit gains this year would leave the economy behind where it was two years ago.Economists say India needs to spend, even splurge, to unlock the full potential of its huge low-skilled work force. “There is a need for very simple primary health facilities, primary services to deliver nutrition to children,” Mr. Vyas said. “All these are highly labor intensive jobs, and these are government services largely.”One of the reasons Indian governments typically have not spent in those areas, Mr. Vyas said, is that it has been considered “not a sexy thing to do.” Another is the governments’ “dogmatic fixation” with keeping fiscal deficits in control, he said. The government simply can’t rely on private sector alone for creating jobs, Mr. Vyas said.The “only solution,” he said, is for the government to spend and spur private investment. “You have a de-motivated private sector because there isn’t enough demand. That’s what’s holding India back.” More

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    New York City’s Economy Is Dealt a New Blow by the Delta Variant

    For New York City and its trillion-dollar economy, September was supposed to mark a return to normal, a moment when Broadway theaters reopened, stores and restaurants hummed, and tourists and office workers again filled the streets.But that long-awaited milestone has been upended by the Delta variant of the coronavirus. One big company after another has postponed plans to come back to Manhattan’s soaring towers. Trade shows have been canceled. Some small businesses have had orders evaporate.It is a setback for a city that has lagged behind the rest of the country in its economic recovery, with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate that is nearly twice the national average. Now, rather than seeing the fuller rebound it was counting on, New York is facing fresh challenges.“The Delta variant is a meaningful threat to the city’s recovery,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “This is not going to be easy. It’s going to be a long time before New York City gets its economic groove back.”Covid-19 cases have risen sharply in the city since early July, reaching the highest level since April. Hospitalizations have not risen as greatly, and the death rate has remained low. The situation is worrisome enough, however, that the city has begun requiring patrons and employees of bars, restaurants, gyms and indoor entertainment venues to show proof of vaccination — a development unforeseen when the summer began.Staff members checking the vaccination status of patrons at the Beacon Theater.The city has established a vaccination mandate for some indoor establishments. Beginning Sept. 13, it will fine businesses that do not comply. There are signs of hope, or at least determination. Broadway shows, a major tourist magnet, are on track for a September reopening, as is in-person instruction in city schools, which will free some caregivers to return to the work force. But even as the city sponsored an official Homecoming Week, capped by a concert on Saturday in Central Park that was cut short by lightning, cancellations of trade shows and other big events have mounted.Regaining momentum could be painfully slow. James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School, expects the city to add 20,000 to 30,000 jobs a month in the fall, instead of 40,000 to 50,000, because of Delta.Overall employment remains more than half a million jobs below where it was before the pandemic, with steep losses persisting in the leisure and hospitality industries and in other blue-collar fields. Recouping those service jobs depends in part on the return of white-collar workers who have worked remotely — and have even left the city.Many companies had aimed to bring employees back to the office shortly after Labor Day, at least part-time. But those plans have been scrapped. Facebook, which employs 4,000 people in New York, has put off a return until January, while the financial giants BlackRock and Wells Fargo are now planning a return in October.“Data, not dates, is what drives our approach for returning to the office,” Facebook said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation and work with experts to ensure our return to office plans prioritize everyone’s safety.”Boston Properties, which owns nearly 12 million square feet of space in the New York region, said about 40 percent of prepandemic occupants had returned to its buildings earlier in the summer, based on lobby badge swipes. In August, amid Delta’s rise and vacation getaways, that figure had dipped to around 30 percent, said Owen Thomas, the company’s chief executive.“I think the return to the office is a ‘when’ question, not an ‘if’ question,” he said. “Delta is affecting the when.”There are some “if” questions nonetheless. As remote work extends well into a second year, and as much of the contact between professionals and clients continues to be conducted online, it is less clear whether some suburban workers will ever return to the city and to their sometimes-arduous commutes.As companies put off bringing employees back to offices, service businesses that cater to office workers have suffered.An empty plaza in Midtown Manhattan.A shuttered newsstand.As remote work extends well into a second year, the eventual return of some suburbanites to Manhattan’s office towers becomes more uncertain.Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm, was planning to move into four floors of a new building near Grand Central Terminal in October. But many of Greenberg’s lawyers and investor clients relocated to Long Island during the pandemic, prompting the firm to reduce its office space in Midtown to three floors. It plans to open two new offices on Long Island, including one in Bridgehampton.“For me, this is a no-brainer,” said Richard Rosenbaum, the executive chairman. “We accept that this is likely a permanent change in the way people work.”At the same time, corporate get-togethers are in renewed jeopardy. Mr. Zandi, the Moody’s economist, had two in-person speaking engagements set for September and October, but they were recently turned into remote events.“People are nervous about the variant,” he said. “At the very least, it dents New York’s recovery, and if cases continue to mount, then it will delay the recovery.”The on-again, off-again situation among big companies, as well as for events like weddings and parties, has been destabilizing for businesses that depend on them.Patrick Hall, a co-owner of Elan Flowers in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, has been dealing with a flurry of changes as clients have grown more skittish about the virus.Soon-to-be brides are cutting their guest lists in half and changing venues at the last minute. One client, who has not yet paid a deposit, had been emailing Mr. Hall about a nonprofit organization’s gala in October for 300 people and recently went silent.Some large companies had asked Mr. Hall to prepare flowers for return-to-office parties in the fall, but Mr. Hall wonders whether he can bank on those. He had planned to expand his staff of seven people to handle an increase in business in September but is now unsure about how many employees to hire.“I’m trying to hang on and not lose it,” Mr. Hall said. “I need these larger events in September for my business to survive.”New York’s huge travel and leisure industry is also having an uneven recovery.More than any other American city, New York counts on international tourists. So the Biden administration’s decision in late July to continue barring entry to visitors from Europe and several other parts of the world was a blow.“It’s just reinforcing that the recovery isn’t going to happen in a straight line,” said Fred Dixon, the chief executive of NYC & Company, the city’s tourism promotion agency.Having written off the bulk of foreign tourism in August, when New York is usually awash with European vacationers, tourism industry officials fear that the Delta variant could keep visitors away during the crucial holiday season, too.New York’s travel and leisure industry is experiencing an uneven recovery, punctuated by the ups and downs of virus cases.Tourism officials fear that the Delta variant could keep visitors away during the usually bustling holiday season.Domestic travelers have returned to New York in rising numbers, Mr. Dixon said — foot traffic in Times Square has been above 200,000 a day, higher than in May and June — but they do not stay as long or spend as much as overseas tourists.At the Loews Regency, a Park Avenue hotel known as a gathering spot for local power brokers and tourists alike, occupancy has been around 75 percent, according to Jonathan M. Tisch, the chief executive of Loews Hotels. But getting to the full-occupancy levels of late 2019 and early 2020, he said, would require a return of business travelers and especially international tourists.“If you could tell me the impact of the Delta variant, I could tell you the occupancy for the rest of the year,” Mr. Tisch said. “It’s a great unknown.”The Javits Convention Center was preparing to host its first trade show in more than a year when the organizers of the New York International Auto Show said in early August they were calling off their 10-day event there. A week later, the Specialty Food Association announced that its annual Fancy Food Show, scheduled for late September at Javits, would not take place.“Given the current significant national upswing in Covid-19 cases due to the Delta variant, we believe that holding a large indoor event and protecting the general safety of all show participants will be nearly impossible,” the food show’s organizers said.New York City’s largest hotel, the 2,000-room Hilton in Midtown, began taking reservations with a plan to reopen in August. But the hotel’s managers canceled those bookings and tentatively reset the reopening for Sept. 1.Still, some businesses have plowed ahead. Genting Group, a Malaysian operator of casinos, opened a 400-room Hyatt Regency hotel at its Resorts World gambling parlor near Kennedy International Airport in early August.After spending $400 million and three years getting the hotel built, the company did not want to wait any longer to open it, said Bob DeSalvio, the president of Genting Americas East.“We understand that it’s going to take a while for travel to fully ramp back up,” he said, so the hotel was staffed for 50 percent occupancy. But there clearly was pent-up demand, because the hotel’s first weekend was sold out, Mr. DeSalvio said.Caroline Hirsch, the owner of Carolines on Broadway, has not canceled any shows at her comedy club and is moving forward with the New York Comedy Festival, which is scheduled to begin on Nov. 8 and feature more than 100 shows across the city.But this month, she noticed for the first time since reopening in May that some people who bought tickets for the club did not show up.“We were off to a great start,” Ms. Hirsch said. “We thought we were going to be over this hump. Now there’s another hump. We’re all up in the air again.”Ms. Hirsch hopes that the city’s new executive order requiring proof of at least one vaccination to enter many indoor establishments will make audience members more comfortable. The mandate went into effect on Tuesday, and on Sept. 13 the city will begin fining businesses that fail to comply.Other business owners are less sanguine about the mandate; it has produced at least one legal challenge. And as September approaches, the prospect of business as usual, which seemed tantalizingly close a few months ago, is proving elusive.At the Shambhala Yoga & Dance Center in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, a wave of students signed up after in-person classes resumed in late April, when vaccination efforts were in full swing. But in recent days, attendance has ebbed and flowed with news of the Delta variant’s outbreak, said Deanna Green, Shambhala’s owner.“Once we saw uncertainty around the vaccines and the Delta variant, I have noticed a little bit of a lull,” Ms. Green said. Some yoga classes that typically had 10 students dropped last week to six or seven, she said.“We’re really dependent on a steady flow of people coming through the doors,” she said. “I wish there was more of a level of certainty.”Eduardo Porter More

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    Evergrande Went From China’s Biggest Developer to One of Its Worst Debtors

    Regulators want to fix the property sector’s bad habit of borrowing too much. Evergrande, with its billions of dollars in debt, may stand in the way.The company owes hundreds of billions of dollars. Its creditors are circling. Its shares have taken a beating. But if anything forces a reckoning for Evergrande, a vast real estate empire in China, it might be the nervousness of ordinary home buyers like Chen Cheng.Ms. Chen, 30, and her husband thought they had found the perfect apartment. It was part of an 18-building complex in the southern city of Guangzhou, near a good school for their daughter and a new subway station.Evergrande was asking for a deposit worth nearly one-third of the price before the property was completed. After reading headlines about the company’s financial difficulties and complaints about construction delays from recent buyers, Ms. Chen walked away.“We don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “We were really afraid this money would evaporate.”China has a special term for companies like Evergrande: “gray rhinos,” so large and so entangled in the country’s financial system that the government has an interest in their survival. A failure on the scale of Evergrande would ripple across the economy, and spell financial ruin for ordinary households.During the boom years, Evergrande was China’s biggest developer, creating economic activity that officials came to depend on while the country opened up. As more people were lifted out of poverty, home buyers put their money into property. Feeling flush and eager to expand, Evergrande borrowed money to dabble in new businesses like a soccer club, bottled water and, most recently, electric vehicles.Now Evergrande epitomizes the vulnerability of the world’s No. 2 economy. It owes more money than it can pay off, and officials in Beijing want it to slow down. Its stock price has lost three-quarters of its value in the past year, and creditors are panicking. The company has started selling off parts of its corporate empire, but to survive Evergrande needs to keep selling its apartments.The problem is that some Chinese home buyers, once attracted to Evergrande’s developments, have grown increasingly anxious about the company.On China’s internet, buyers describe waiting months or even years for their Evergrande apartments. Some have accused the company of using the pandemic as an excuse for further construction delays.Evergrande declined to comment, citing a “quiet period” ahead of a company earnings announcement.Xu Jiayin founded Evergrande in 1996, as urbanization in China was rising steeply.Paul Yeung/BloombergThe company’s problems have been building for years, but lenders, big investors and home buyers alike are treating it as though it is about to fail. By one estimate, Evergrande owes more than $300 billion. Creditors are not sure it can pay the bills. Business partners have filed lawsuits.Property in China is prone to big swings. Speculative buying propels prices to soar. Local governments then step in to cool things down, sometimes with a heavy hand. Despite the ups and downs, the residential real estate market is still the largest store of Chinese household wealth.For Xu Jiayin, Evergrande’s billionaire founder, the wild ride has mostly followed one trajectory: up.A former steel factory technician, he founded Evergrande in 1996 just as China was embarking on the gargantuan task of moving hundreds of millions of people from the countryside to cities. As property prices climbed with this urbanization, so did Mr. Xu’s wealth.After publicly listing his company in 2009, he began to expand the business into new areas. Evergrande took control of Guangzhou’s soccer club in 2010 and spent billions of dollars on foreign players. It then moved into the dairy, grain and oil businesses. At one point, it even tried pig farming.As the business grew, Mr. Xu was able to attract tens of billions of dollars in funding from foreign and domestic investors and cheap loans from Chinese banks. The success came with strong political connections. A member of China’s People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory body to the central government, Mr. Xu is a presence at the most important political gatherings in Beijing every year.His proximity to power also gave investors and banks the confidence they needed to keep lending to the company. Over the years when regulators have stepped in to try to curtail Evergrande’s business, they have usually eased off soon after. By 2019, Mr. Xu was one of the richest property developers in the world.Today his wealth is a little more modest, much of it tied to the company’s stock price, around $18 billion, according China’s Hurun wealth report.“In my opinion, Xi Jiayin is someone who can walk the tightrope really well,” said Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder of the Hurun Report. “He has been able to balance his debt with his growth.”The question for many observers is whether Mr. Xu can continue his careful balancing act as regulators try to shrink the sector’s spiraling debt. When China’s economy began to slow more drastically several years ago, developers like Evergrande found themselves overextended and strapped. To gin up business, they discounted apartments, undercutting the value of properties that earlier buyers paid, prompting street protests.The model of selling apartments before they were completed gave companies the cash they needed to keep operating. That was, until regulators took note of the property sector’s unruly debt, making it harder for developers like Evergrande to finish the apartments they have already sold to buyers.Evergrande took over the soccer club in Guangzhou, China, in 2010 and invested heavily in it —  including a 100,000-seat stadium that opened last year. Evergrande Group, via ReutersFearing a housing bust that would ricochet through China’s financial system, the central bank created “three red lines,” rules forcing property companies to get their debt levels down before they could borrow more money. The aim was to limit the banking sector’s exposure to the property market. But it also took away funds they could use to finish projects.To comply, Evergrande has started to sell off some of its businesses. Last week it sold stakes in its internet business. In public comments, Mr. Xu has pointed to the company’s success in paying off some foreign and domestic investors, reducing debt that incurs interest to $88 billion from $130 billion late last year.But it still has unpaid bills from acquisitions, land-use rights and contract liabilities that add up to hundreds of billions of dollars. Some lenders and business partners have taken it to court to try to freeze assets to get their money back.“On paper it doesn’t make any sense for a company like this to have so much debt. This is not normal,” said Jennifer James, an investment manager at Janus Henderson Investors who estimates that Evergrande has more than $300 billion in debt. Then there are the properties that it took payment for and still has not completed.Wesley Zhang has been waiting four years for an apartment he bought for his parents. Mr. Zhang, 33, paid a $93,000 deposit and has made 41 monthly mortgage payments of nearly $1,100. Local officials suspended the development project in 2018 but later reversed the decision, giving Evergrande the green light to start building.There are no signs of any progress or communication from Evergrande on the apartment he bought. The company is now trying to sell apartments in the complex that promise to be ready to move into by 2023.“It has a huge impact on my life,” Mr. Zhang said. To get his money back, he would have to file a lawsuit against the company to break his contract. “We also need to consider buying another apartment, but the property prices are much higher now.” More

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    U.S.-China Trade Talks Should Resume, U.S. Business Groups Say

    A letter from influential industry organizations asked the White House to resume negotiations on tariffs and other measures that stalled during a bruising trade war.A group of the most influential American business groups is urging the Biden administration to restart trade talks with China and cut tariffs on Chinese-made goods that had remained in place after the start of the bruising trade war between the two countries.The groups, which represented interests as diverse as potato farmers, microchip companies and the pharmaceutical industry, said in a letter dated Thursday that the Biden administration should take “swift action” to address “burdensome” tariffs. They also called on the White House to work with the Chinese government to ensure that it carries out commitments made in its trade truce with the Trump administration, sealed in early 2020.The letter, addressed to the Treasury Department and the United States trade representative, comes as the relationship between the world’s two largest economies remains fractious. A high-profile visit to China last month by Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, began with acerbic opening remarks from the Chinese side and ended with little sign of progress. The two have squabbled over human rights, cyberattacks and China’s military operations in the South China Sea.While the Biden administration has mapped out a strategy of confrontation with China on a range of issues, it has said less about the countries’ economic relationship.It is more than seven months into a review of the trade deal that former President Donald J. Trump signed with China in January 2020, along with other national security measures from the previous administration. Officials have not yet announced the results of that review.A visit to China last month by Wendy R. Sherman, the deputy secretary of state, ended with little sign of progress.U.S. Department of State, via ReutersThe January 2020 trade truce essentially froze into place U.S. tariffs on $360 billion in Chinese imports. That deal also did nothing to stop the Chinese government’s subsidies of strategic industries like computer chips and electric cars, which have worried American competitors. While some of the provisions of the trade deal are set to expire at the end of the year, much of the agreement will remain in place.The industry group letter appeared to be an attempt to prod the Biden administration into action.“Due to the tariffs, U.S. industries face increased costs to manufacture products and provide services domestically, making their exports of these products and services less competitive abroad,” read the letter, which was reviewed by The New York Times.The Treasury Department and the United States Trade Representative did not immediately comment. The existence of the letter was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.The letter said that China had met some of its commitments as part of the trade deal, including new measures to open up its market to U.S. financial institutions. It added that further talks would be the only way to ensure that China would carry out remaining commitments in other sectors, like intellectual property protection.Shipping containers at a port in Nantong, China. A letter from U.S. business groups is asking the Biden administration to cut tariffs on Chinese-made goods.CHINATOPIX, via Associated PressThough China has made large-scale purchases of U.S. goods since the trade war, the amount and composition have fallen short of its commitments to buy $200 billion worth of American goods and services in 2020 and 2021. According to analysis by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, China fell short of those purchases by 40 percent last year and is off by 30 percent this year.“We strongly urge the administration to work with the Chinese government to increase purchases of U.S. goods through the remainder of 2021 and implement all structural commitments of the agreement before its two-year anniversary on Feb. 15, 2022,” the letter added.While the Biden administration has questioned whether the trade deal with China was well designed, it has also signaled that it will continue to push China on what it perceives as unfair trade practices.In June, President Biden expanded a Trump administration blacklist that blocked Americans from investing in Chinese companies that aid the country’s military or repression of religious minorities. Mr. Biden included Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications giant, on the list of banned firms. The White House also announced the formation of a trade and technology council with American and European officials, an effort to counter China’s influence by coordinating digital policies between Brussels and Washington.“We will not hesitate to call out China’s coercive and unfair trade practices that harm American workers, undermine the multilateral system or violate basic human rights,” Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, said in prepared testimony for a Senate hearing in May. “We are working toward a strong, strategic approach to our trade and economic relationship with China.” More