More stories

  • in

    Rapid Inflation Fuels Debate Over What’s to Blame: Pandemic or Policy

    The White House is emphasizing that inflation is worldwide. Economists say that’s true — but stimulus-spurred consumer buying is also to blame.The price increases bedeviling consumers, businesses and policymakers worldwide have prompted a heated debate in Washington about how much of today’s rapid inflation is a result of policy choices in the United States and how much stems from global factors tied to the pandemic, like snarled supply chains.At a moment when stubbornly rapid price gains are weighing on consumer confidence and creating a political liability for President Biden, White House officials have repeatedly blamed international forces for high inflation, including factory shutdowns in Asia and overtaxed shipping routes that are causing shortages and pushing up prices everywhere. The officials increasingly cite high inflation in places including the euro area, where prices are climbing at the fastest pace on record, as a sign that the world is experiencing a shared moment of price pain, deflecting the blame away from U.S. policy.But a chorus of economists point to government policies as a big part of the reason U.S. inflation is at a 40-year high. While they agree that prices are rising as a result of shutdowns and supply chain woes, they say that America’s decision to flood the economy with stimulus money helped to send consumer spending into overdrive, exacerbating those global trends.The world’s trade machine is producing, shipping and delivering more goods to American consumers than it ever has, as people flush with cash buy couches, cars and home office equipment, but supply chains just haven’t been able to keep up with that supercharged demand.Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, said that “more than half of the increase, at least, is due to global factors.” But “there is also a domestic demand component that is important,” she said.The White House has tried to address inflation by boosting supply — announcing measures to unclog ports and trying to ramp up domestic manufacturing, all of which take time. But rising inflation has already imperiled Mr. Biden’s ability to pass a sprawling social policy and climate bill over fears that more spending could add to inflation. Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat whose vote is critical to getting the legislation passed, has cited rising prices as one reason he won’t support the bill.The demand side of today’s price increases may prove easier for policymakers to address. The Federal Reserve is preparing to raise interest rates to make borrowing more expensive, slowing spending down, in a recipe that could help to tame inflation. Fading government help for households may also naturally bring down demand and soften price pressures.Inflation has accelerated sharply in the United States, with the Consumer Price Index climbing by 7 percent in the year through December, its fastest pace since 1982. But in recent months, it has also moved up sharply across many countries, a fact administration officials have emphasized.“The inflation has everything to do with the supply chain,” President Biden said during a news conference on Wednesday. “While there are differences country by country, this is a global phenomenon and driven by these global issues,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said after the latest inflation data were released.It is the case that supply disruptions are leading to higher inflation in many places, including in large developing economies like India and Brazil and in developed ones like the euro area. Data released in the United Kingdom and in Canada on Wednesday showed prices accelerating at their fastest rate in 30 years in both countries. Inflation in the eurozone, which is measured differently from how the U.S. calculates it, climbed to an annual rate of 5 percent in December, according to an initial estimate by the European Union statistics office.“The U.S. is hardly an island amidst this storm of supply disruptions and rising demand, especially for goods and commodities,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.But some economists point out that even as inflation proves pervasive around the globe, it has been more pronounced in America than elsewhere.“The United States has had much more inflation than almost any other advanced economy in the world,” said Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and former Obama administration economic adviser, who used comparable methodologies to look across areas and concluded that U.S. price increases have been consistently faster.The difference, he said, comes because “the United States’ stimulus is in a category of its own.”White House officials have argued that differences in “core” inflation — which excludes food and fuel — have been small between the United States and other major economies over the past six months. And the gaps all but disappear if you strip out car prices, which are up sharply and have a bigger impact in the United States, where consumers buy more automobiles. (Mr. Furman argued that people who didn’t buy cars would have spent their money on something else and that simply eliminating them from the U.S. consumption basket is not fair.)Administration officials have also noted that the United States has seen a robust rebound in economic growth. The International Monetary Fund said in October that it expected U.S. output to climb by 6 percent in 2021 and 5.2 percent in 2022, compared with 5 percent growth last year in the euro area and 4.3 percent growth projected for this year.“To the extent that we got more heat, we got a lot more growth for it,” said Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.While many nations spent heavily to protect their economies from coronavirus fallout — in some places enough to push up demand, and potentially inflation — the United States approved about $5 trillion in spending in 2020 and 2021. That outstripped the response in other major economies as a share of the nation’s output, according to data compiled by the International Monetary Fund.Many economists supported protecting workers and businesses early in the pandemic, but some took issue with the size of the $1.9 trillion package last March under the Biden administration. They argued that sending households another round of stimulus, including $1,400 checks, further fueled demand when the economy was already healing.Consumer spending seemed to react: Retail sales, for instance, jumped after the checks went out.Americans found themselves with a lot of money in the bank, and as they spent that money on goods, demand collided with a global supply chain that was too fragile to catch up.Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York TimesAdam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the U.S. government spent too much in too short a time in the first half of 2021.“If there had not been the bottlenecks and labor market shortages, it might not have mattered as much. But it did,” he said.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

  • in

    China’s Economy Is Slowing, a Worrying Sign for the World

    Economic output climbed 4 percent in the last quarter of 2021, slowing from the previous quarter. Growth has faltered as home buyers and consumers become cautious.BEIJING — Construction and property sales have slumped. Small businesses have shut because of rising costs and weak sales. Debt-laden local governments are cutting the pay of civil servants.China’s economy slowed markedly in the final months of last year as government measures to limit real estate speculation hurt other sectors as well. Lockdowns and travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus also dented consumer spending. Stringent regulations on everything from internet businesses to after-school tutoring companies have set off a wave of layoffs.China’s National Bureau of Statistics said Monday that economic output from October through December was only 4 percent higher than during the same period a year earlier. That represented a further deceleration from the 4.9 percent growth in the third quarter, July through September.The world’s demand for consumer electronics, furniture and other home comforts during the pandemic has produced record-setting exports for China, preventing its growth from stalling. Over all of last year, China’s economic output was 8.1 percent higher than in 2020, the government said. But much of the growth was in the first half of last year.A port in Qingdao, in China’s eastern Shandong Province, earlier this month. China’s exports have remained strong.CHINATOPIX, via Associated PressThe snapshot of China’s economy, the main locomotive of global growth in the last few years, adds to expectations that the broader world economic outlook is beginning to dim. Making matters worse, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is now starting to spread in China, leading to more restrictions around the country and raising fears of renewed disruption of supply chains.The slowing economy poses a dilemma for China’s leaders. The measures they have imposed to address income inequality and rein in companies are part of a long-term plan to protect the economy and national security. But officials are wary of causing short-term economic instability, particularly in a year of unusual political importance.Next month, China hosts the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which will focus an international spotlight on the country’s performance. In the fall, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, is expected to claim a third five-year term at a Communist Party congress.Mr. Xi has sought to strike an optimistic note. “We have every confidence in the future of China’s economy,” he said in a speech on Monday to a virtual session of the World Economic Forum.But with growth in his country slowing, demand slackening and debt still at near-record levels, Mr. Xi could face some of the biggest economic challenges since Deng Xiaoping began lifting the country out of its Maoist straitjacket four decades ago.“I’m afraid that the operation and development of China’s economy in the next several years may be relatively difficult,” Li Daokui, a prominent economist and Chinese government adviser, said in a speech late last month. “Looking at the five years as a whole, it may be the most difficult period since our reform and opening up 40 years ago.”China also faces the problem of a rapidly aging population, which could create an even greater burden on China’s economy and its labor force. The National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday that China’s birthrate fell sharply last year and is now barely higher than the death rate. Private Sector StrugglesAs costs for many raw materials have risen and the pandemic has prompted some consumers to stay home, millions of private businesses have crumbled, most of them small and family owned.That is a big concern because private companies are the backbone of the Chinese economy, accounting for three-fifths of output and four-fifths of urban employment.Kang Shiqing invested much of his savings nearly three years ago to open a women’s clothing store in Nanping, a river town in Fujian Province in the southeast. But when the pandemic hit a year later, the number of customers dropped drastically and never recovered.As in many countries, there has been a broad shift in China toward online shopping, which can undercut stores by using less labor and operating from inexpensive warehouses. Mr. Kang was stuck paying high rent for his store despite the pandemic. He finally closed it in June.“We can hardly survive,” he said.Another persistent difficulty for small businesses in China is the high cost of borrowing, often at double-digit interest rates from private lenders.Chinese leaders are aware of the challenges private companies face. Premier Li Keqiang has promised further cuts in taxes and fees to help the country’s many struggling small businesses.On Monday, China’s central bank made a small move to reduce interest rates, which could help reduce slightly the interest costs of the country’s heavily indebted real estate developers. The central bank pushed down by about a tenth of a percentage point its interest rate benchmarks for one-week and one-year lending.Construction StallsThe building and fitting out of new homes has represented a quarter of China’s economy. Heavy lending and widespread speculation have helped the country erect the equivalent of 140 square feet of new housing for every urban resident in the past two decades.This autumn, the sector faltered. The government wants to limit speculation and deflate a bubble that had made new homes unaffordable for young families.China Evergrande Group is only the largest and most visible of a lengthening list of real estate developers in China that have run into severe financial difficulty lately. Kaisa Group, China Aoyuan Property Group and Fantasia are among other developers that have struggled to make payments as bond investors become more wary of lending money to China’s real estate sector.An idle construction site for a China Evergrande residential project in Taiyuan, in China’s northern Shanxi Province.Gilles Sabrié for The New York TimesAs real estate companies try to conserve cash, they are starting fewer construction projects. And that has been a big problem for the economy. The price of steel reinforcing bars for the concrete in apartment towers, for example, dropped by a quarter in October and November before stabilizing at a much lower level in December.Understand the Evergrande CrisisCard 1 of 6What is Evergrande? More

  • in

    As Humanitarian Disaster Looms, U.S. Opens Door for More Afghanistan Aid

    The Treasury Department and the United Nations offered new protection for aid from sanctions meant to pressure the Taliban.Facing pressure to prevent a humanitarian and economic catastrophe in Afghanistan, the Biden administration on Wednesday took steps to allow more aid to flow into the Taliban-led country.The measures exempt aid groups from stringent economic sanctions that were imposed against the Taliban before they seized control of the government and have been strangling Afghanistan’s economy under its leadership. But diplomats and activists said that easing the restrictions might not be enough to rescue the country from what one U.N. official on Wednesday called “shocking” need and suffering.At the same time, some Republicans said the Biden administration risked legitimizing and even funding Taliban leaders.The U.S. actions and mixed response underscore the challenge that Afghanistan continues to pose for the Biden administration four months after the last American troops withdrew from the country. Administration officials have been struggling to address the dire humanitarian needs without empowering the Taliban.The United States fought a 20-year war against the Taliban and does not recognize them as the legitimate government of Afghanistan. After the group’s takeover in August, the Biden administration halted most aid to Afghanistan, froze $9.5 billion of its foreign reserves and pressured the International Monetary Fund to delay emergency support.A combination of the coronavirus pandemic, a severe drought, the loss of foreign aid and frozen currency reserves have left Afghanistan’s fragile economy on the brink of collapse, with aid groups warning that the harsh winter could lead to mass starvation and a refugee crisis.After weeks of calls for swifter action, the Treasury Department said on Wednesday that it was issuing new “general licenses” that would make it easier for nongovernmental organizations, international aid groups and the U.S. government to provide relief to Afghans while maintaining economic leverage over the Taliban to prevent human rights abuses and terrorist activity..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-1kpebx{margin:0 auto;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-1kpebx{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-1kpebx{font-size:1.6875rem;line-height:1.875rem;}}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1kpebx{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1gtxqqv{margin-bottom:0;}.css-1g3vlj0{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-1g3vlj0{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-1g3vlj0 strong{font-weight:600;}.css-1g3vlj0 em{font-style:italic;}.css-1g3vlj0{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:0.25rem;}.css-19zsuqr{display:block;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}.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;}The actions came soon after the United Nations Security Council passed a related resolution, sponsored by the United States, that exempts humanitarian activities in Afghanistan from international sanctions for a year.Biden administration officials note that the United States remains the world’s top provider of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, even after it cut off most assistance after the Taliban takeover.“We are committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan,” Wally Adeyemo, the deputy Treasury secretary, said in a statement.The department’s general licenses allow financial transactions involving the Taliban and members of the Haqqani network, who share power in the new Afghan government, as long as the money is used for purposes such as projects to meet basic human needs, civil society development, environmental and natural resource protection and similar efforts. The United States considers both groups terrorist organizations.The Treasury move expands the type of relief activity that can take place in Afghanistan and broadens the level of contact that international groups can have with the Taliban. It also allows the Taliban to collect taxes related to that assistance.Alex Zerden, the Treasury Department’s financial attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul from 2018 to 2019, called the move “absolutely a step in the right direction,” saying it addressed requests for clarity from private sector and nongovernmental organizations about how to operate in Afghanistan without violating U.S. sanctions and providing the Taliban with illegal revenue.But many close observers said far more remained to be done.“We need a bigger humanitarian response, but without a functioning economy and banking system, we are facing terrible odds,” David Miliband, the president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, wrote on Twitter. “Need massive economic stabilization package to stop the rip current.”The United States provided Afghanistan with $3.95 billion in foreign aid last year, about two-thirds of which was security assistance for the former government’s fight against the Taliban. U.S. humanitarian aid for the country and for Afghan refugees in the region has totaled nearly $474 million so far this year.“We’re very conscious of the fact that there is an incredibly difficult humanitarian situation right now, one that could get worse as winter sets in,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a news conference on Tuesday.He added that the United States was determined to ensure “that the Taliban make good on the expectations of the international community,” including by respecting women’s rights, not carrying out reprisals against political enemies and denying safe haven to international terrorist groups.Morgan Ortagus, a State Department spokeswoman during the Trump administration, condemned the U.S. actions as “extremely dangerous.” She said on Twitter that the Treasury Department licenses “send the signal that if you take over enough territory with enough people in it, you too can gain legitimacy.”The Security Council resolution, which was adopted unanimously, seeks to reduce the legal and political risks of delivering aid to Afghanistan. It exempts humanitarian activities such as payments and delivery of goods and services from U.N. sanctions for a one-year period, and requires updates to ensure that aid is not diverted to the Taliban.China on Monday blocked a narrower version drafted by the United States that would have allowed only case-by-case exemptions.After passage of the broader measure, China’s U.N. ambassador, Zhang Jun, said on Twitter that the new resolution “can only fix the faucet, but to keep the water running, the international community need to make joint efforts.”Citing “shocking levels of need and suffering,” the top U.N. official for emergency humanitarian efforts, Martin Griffiths, said the effect that the 160 aid organizations working in Afghanistan could have “depends on the cooperation of the de facto authorities in the country and on the flexibility of the funding we receive.”Governments and international organizations have been accelerating their efforts to provide assistance in recent weeks.The World Bank has said that the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund donors would transfer $280 million to UNICEF and the World Food Program by the end of the year to provide humanitarian aid.The Treasury Department this month issued a license allowing personal remittance payments to be sent to people in Afghanistan. And the United States on Wednesday announced that it would donate another million Covid-19 vaccine doses to Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. contribution to 4.3 million doses.But the need remains enormous. Three former U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan and several former ambassadors and other officials this month signed a letter, published by the Atlantic Council, calling on the Biden administration to show “the courage to act” and expedite creative steps to prop up the Afghan economy and feed the hungry without benefiting the Taliban.“We believe the United States has a reputational interest and a moral obligation in vigorously joining efforts to help the Afghan people preserve at least some of the social and economic gains made over the last 20 years,” the authors wrote. “We believe that ways to do so can be found, while erecting barriers to assistance being diverted to purposes other than those for which it is intended.”Such admonitions came as Taliban officials pleaded for swift international relief, which they said was also in the West’s self-interest.“The impact of the frozen funds is on the common people and not Taliban authorities,” the Taliban’s deputy foreign minister, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, said on Sunday, according to Reuters.Mr. Stanikzai warned that if “the political and economic situation doesn’t change,” Afghan refugees would pour into neighboring countries and Europe.Rick Gladstone More

  • in

    Omicron Is an Economic Threat, but Inflation Is Worse, Central Bankers Say

    Within 24 hours, the Federal Reserve, Bank of England and European Central Bank all stepped forward to deal with price increases.There is still a lot scientists do not know about Omicron. There is cautious optimism — but no certainty — about the effectiveness of vaccines against this fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus, and experts do not fully understand what it means for public health or the economy.But central banks have concluded they don’t have the luxury of waiting to find out.Facing surging inflation, three of the world’s most influential central banks — the Federal Reserve, Bank of England and European Central Bank — took decisive steps within 24 hours of each other to look past Omicron’s economic uncertainty. On Thursday, Britain’s central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates for the first time in more than three years as a way to curb inflation that has reached a 10-year high. The eurozone’s central bank confirmed it would stop purchases under a bond-buying program in March. The day before, the Fed projected three interest rate increases next year and said it would accelerate the wind down its own bond-buying program.The perception that the Bank of England would “view the outbreak of the Omicron variant with greater concern than it actually did” caused the surprise in financial markets, ” Philip Shaw, an economist at Investec in London, wrote in a note to clients. The Fed also “carried on regardless” with its tightening plans, he added.Aside from Omicron, the central banks were running out of reasons to continue emergency levels of monetary stimulus designed to keep money flowing through financial markets and to keep lending to businesses and households robust throughout the pandemic. The drastic measures of the past two years had done the job — and then some: Inflation is at a nearly 40-year high in the United States; in the eurozone it is the highest since records began in 1997; and price rises in Britain have consistently exceeded expectations.It is still unknown how Omicron will affect the economic recovery. Vaccine makers are still testing their shots against the variant.Alessandro Grassani for The New York TimesThe heads of all three central banks have separately decided that the price gains won’t be as temporary as they once thought, as supply chains take a while to untangle and energy prices pick up again.Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said that policymakers in Britain were seeing things that could threaten inflation in the medium-term. “So that’s why we have to act,” he said on Thursday.“We don’t know, of course, a lot about Omicron at the moment,” he added. It could slow the economy, and already there are canceled holiday parties, fewer restaurant bookings, less retail foot traffic and signs that more people are staying home. But Omicron could also worsen inflationary pressures, he said. “And that’s, I’m afraid, a very important factor for us.”Already, price gains have popped higher this year as snarled supply chains and goods shortages have raised shipping and manufacturing costs. Depending on the severity of Omicron and how governments react, the variant could cause factories to shut down and could keep supply chains in disarray and workers at home, prolonging goods and labor shortages and pushing inflation higher.At the same time, policymakers are assuming the impact on the economy will be milder than previous waves of the virus. With each surge in cases and reintroduction of restrictions, the dent to the economy has gotten smaller and smaller. This would lessen the risk that the central banks end up tightening monetary policy into a downturn.Still, it is an awkward balancing act. On the same day the Bank of England raised rates, its staff cut half a percentage point from their growth forecasts for the final three months of the year. By the end of 2021, the British economy will still be 1.5 percent smaller than its prepandemic size, the bank estimated.Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, said Omicron had created uncertainty in the face of a strong recovery.Pool photo by Ronald Wittek“From a macroeconomic perspective, it’s unlikely that the fourth wave is going to have as meaningful an impact as we’ve seen even during last winter,” said Dean Turner, an economist at UBS Global Wealth Management.The economic recoveries from the pandemic, though bumpy, haven’t been derailed yet. Unemployment rates are falling in Europe and the United States, and businesses are complaining that is difficult to hire staff. That, combined with the burst of inflation, was enough to bolster the case for some monetary tightening.“There’s a lot of uncertainty with the new variant, and it’s not clear how big the effects would be on either inflation or growth or hiring,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday. But there is a “real risk” inflation could be more persistent, he also said, which was part of the reason the bank sped up its plans to taper its bond purchases.Ending the Fed’s bond purchases sooner would give the central bank room to react to a wider range of economic outcomes next year, Mr. Powell said.“The data is pretty glaring,” Mr. Turner of UBS said of recent statistics on inflation and employment. “There’s only so much caution you can get away with,” before central banks need to take action, he said.Omicron has created uncertainty in the face of a strong recovery, Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank said on Thursday after she outlined how the bank would end its largest pandemic-era stimulus measure.Vaccine-makers are still testing their shots against Omicron and medical officials are encouraging restraint when it comes to socializing rather than implementing new lockdowns, but central bankers are marching ahead because time isn’t on their side. The effect of monetary policy decisions on the wider economy isn’t immediate.The Bank of England is forecasting that inflation will peak at 6 percent in April, three times the central bank’s target. Within such a short time frame, there is little policymakers can do to stop that from happening, but they can try to signal to businesses and unions setting wages that they will act to stop higher inflation from becoming entrenched, said Paul Mortimer-Lee, the deputy director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research in London. This may prevent higher prices from spilling over into significantly higher wages, which could cause businesses to raise prices even more.While all three central banks are facing similar problems with high inflation and are keeping watch over wage negotiations, their future challenges are different.The Federal Reserve and Bank of England are worried about the persistence of high inflation. For the European Central Bank, inflation in the medium term is too low, not too high. It is still forecasting inflation to be below its 2 percent target in 2023 and 2024. To help reach that target in coming years, the central bank will increase the size of an older bond-buying program beginning in April, after purchases end in the larger, pandemic-era program. This is to avoid “a brutal transition,” Ms. Lagarde said.She warned against drawing strong comparisons between Britain, the United States and the eurozone economies.“Those three economies are at a completely different states of the cycle,” she said. “We are in a different universe and environment,” even though there might be some spillover effects across countries from the actions each central bank takes.Melissa Eddy More

  • in

    Why New York City’s Jobless Rate Is Double the Rest of the Country's

    The city has regained fewer than 6 of every 10 jobs it lost since the pandemic began, while the nation as a whole has regained more than 90 percent of lost jobs.Since the start of the year, nearly six million jobs have been added in the United States. The unemployment rate has plummeted to 4.2 percent, close to where it stood before the pandemic. But in New York City, the economy appears to be in a rut.After gaining 350,000 jobs in the last months of 2020, employment has slowed considerably this year, with just 187,000 jobs added since March. The city’s unemployment rate of 9.4 percent is more than double the national average, and its decline in recent months was largely caused by people dropping out of the labor force.From the start of the pandemic, no other large American city has been hit as hard as New York, or has struggled as much to replenish its labor force. Nearly a million people lost their jobs in the early months of the pandemic, and thousands of businesses closed.As the city plunged into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, peaking in June 2020 at 20 percent. Nearly every industry — from construction to finance to social services — has fewer people employed now than before the pandemic swept into New York in March 2020.Nearly two years later, New York has added back a little more than half the jobs it lost, according to the state Labor Department, far less than the rest of the country, underscoring how the pandemic ravaged some of the city’s core economic engines like tourism, hospitality and retail.The protracted pandemic has shut out tourists and scared off the crush of suburbanites who filled office towers every weekday — a “double whammy,” said Andrew Rein, president of the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit watchdog group. Just 8 percent of office workers were back at work five days a week in early November, according to a survey by the Partnership for New York City, a business group.Crowds are thinner at Pennsylvania Station in Midtown Manhattan with so many suburban office employees still working remotely.Yuvraj Khanna for The New York Times“Commuters and tourists consume a lot of the same stuff,” Mr. Rein said. “They consume, in a certain sense, the vibrancy of New York City.”Their absence has contributed to the loss of more than 100,000 jobs in the city’s restaurants, bars and hotels, plus nearly 60,000 additional jobs in retailing, performing arts, entertainment and recreation. The reopening of Broadway theaters and the high rate of vaccinations has provided a boost this fall that lowered the city’s official unemployment rate to 9.4 percent in October.But the rise of the Omicron variant could threaten the fledgling recovery just as the next mayor, Eric Adams, takes office in January. Mr. Adams has pledged to use the full resources of city government to reinvigorate the economy, creating a citywide jobs training and placement program.So far, the city has regained fewer than six of every 10 jobs it lost since the pandemic began in early 2020, while the nation as a whole has regained more than nine out of 10 lost jobs, said James Parrott, an economist with the Center for New York City Affairs. “It certainly looks to me like we’re going to have a much slower, much more drawn-out recovery,” Mr. Parrott said.The short but sharp pandemic recession was particularly painful for those in lower-paying service jobs: Positions in retail, restaurants and hotels help underpin the city’s economy and were the first to be cut in spring 2020. The jobs have been slow to reappear while a large share of their customers — office workers — have still not returned to the city’s business districts.The story is far different for one major industry and its employees, finance, which has thrived, with companies like JPMorgan Chase posting record revenues during the pandemic.In the two previous recessions — those that started in 2000 and 2008 — Wall Street shrank and the city lost tens of thousands of high-paying finance jobs. This time, the job losses on Wall Street have been minimal, helping tax collections to hold up as the city has continued to collect income tax from high-paid professionals who are working remotely.“Wall Street is having a banner year, and they did really well last year,” said Ana Champeny, deputy research director at the Citizens Budget Commission. “That has helped prop up the city’s income tax revenues and business tax revenues.”A strong employment rebound has yet to take hold despite an easing of pandemic-related business restrictions over the summer, the ending of expanded unemployment benefits in September and the reopening of international travel last month.An estimated 800,000 New York City residents, about 10 percent of the population, were receiving the benefits when they expired. Republican lawmakers and small business owners had blamed the benefits for discouraging people from working, though recent studies have shown that the extra payments most likely had little effect on labor shortages, which have continued after the payments ended.Before the pandemic, the tourism industry in New York City employed 283,000 people, with the majority of those jobs in Manhattan. By the end of 2020, roughly a third of those positions had been eliminated, according to the New York State comptroller’s office.Roughly a third of New York City’s 283,000 tourism positions had been eliminated by the end of 2020, though visitors have started to return in greater numbers in recent weeks.Gabby Jones for The New York TimesWhen the city locked down early last year, almost all of its tour guides were laid off, and most have not been rehired, said Patrick Casey, a board member of the Guides Association of New York City who is out of work himself.He had worked as a guide for New York Water Taxi, which operated a fleet of sightseeing boats, for more than 10 years before he was furloughed at the start of the pandemic. He had to fend for himself: Federal pandemic benefits have expired, and like many workers, he had exhausted his unemployment insurance.Mr. Casey said he had hoped to be rehired, but he gave up and started collecting Social Security when he turned 65 in early December. “It’s going to take a long time for my industry to come back,” he said.The pandemic has caused many workers to re-evaluate their own priorities, placing a greater importance on work-life balance, spending time with their families and protecting their health. It has led some workers to retire, while others are reluctant to rejoin the work force if it means taking a job that requires face-to-face interaction, economists say.Louisa Tatum, a career coach at the New York Public Library in the Bronx, said that more people with college degrees were seeking advice, and workers were more selective about what jobs they were willing to accept.While some businesses are hiring and some even have major staff shortages, many workers tell her that they are willing to wait to accept a position that pays well, has consistent hours and, in a reflection of how the pandemic has shifted priorities, offers greater flexibility for remote work.“There is a desire to work remotely and for opportunities that don’t put them at risk of anything,” Ms. Tatum said. The biggest barrier, she said, is the lack of desirable openings.For some industries in New York, the pandemic simply accelerated financial pressure that already existed. Retailers were already struggling with the rise of online shopping, and empty storefronts were adding up even on famed corridors like Madison Avenue.The apparel manufacturing business, a bedrock industry in New York a century ago that employed hundreds of thousands of people, shed more than 4,000 jobs during the pandemic, leaving just 6,100 employees in the city as of October.Taylor Grant moved back home to Alabama after being laid off from her clothing designing job and decided to stay after not being able to find a new job in New York.Julie Bennett for The New York TimesTaylor Grant was among those who lost a job in the apparel manufacturing trade. Ms. Grant, 25, accepted a job in early 2019 as a clothing designer at HMS Productions, a designer and manufacturer of women’s clothes sold at shops like TJ Maxx and Marshalls. Her office was in the garment district, the once booming textile neighborhood in Midtown Manhattan.Ms. Grant said she had survived rounds of layoffs in spring 2020 and had worked remotely for a couple of months in Dothan, Ala., her hometown. She lost her job that summer.Ms. Grant said she applied for a handful of jobs in the apparel business in New York through the rest of 2020, hoping to return while she still had an apartment in the city. Not one company responded, so she stopped looking. She now works as a manager at a women’s boutique started by her mother, Frou Frou Frocks in Dothan, and has helped increase its online sales and social media presence.“I definitely thought I would be with my company for at least five years,” Ms. Grant said. “Once I realized there were no job opportunities in New York, I decided to stay in Alabama.”The Hotel and Gaming Trades Council, a union that represents more than 30,000 hotel workers in New York, still has thousands of members who have been out of work for nearly two years. The outlook is so bleak that union officials have been counseling members on how to find work in other fields, even nonunion jobs. But replacing jobs that paid $35 an hour and provided free family health care is a tall order.“We have people waiting in line and anxious to go back to work,” said Rich Maroko, president of the union. “They’re having difficulty finding full-time work.”Kazi M. Hossain, 59, had served drinks at Bar Seine in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Manhattan for nearly 35 years when the pandemic forced the hotel to close in March 2020. It has never reopened, leaving Mr. Hossain without a full-time job for the first time since the mid-1970s.He has supported his family in Queens by taking on part-time work and borrowing $100,000 from his retirement savings. “If the hotel opens in the next three months, I could survive,” Mr. Hossain said. More

  • in

    How Inflation Affects Turkey's Struggling Economy

    Even before the pandemic, Turkey was trying to ward off financial meltdown. The crisis has accelerated as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has doubled down on his unorthodox policies.The signs of Turkey’s disastrous economy are all around. Long lines snake outside discounted bread kiosks. The price of medicine, milk and toilet paper are soaring. Some gas stations have closed after exhausting their stock. Angry outbursts have erupted on the streets.“Unemployment, high living costs, price increases, and bills are breaking our backs,” the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions said last month.Even before the coronavirus pandemic and supply chain bottlenecks began walloping the world’s economies nearly two years ago, Turkey was trying to ward off a recession as it struggled with mountainous debt, steep losses in the value of the Turkish lira, and rising inflation. But in recent weeks that slow-moving train wreck has sped up with a ferocious intensity. And the foot that’s pushing hardest on the accelerator belongs to the country’s authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.Why is this happening now?Turkey’s economic problems have deep roots but the most recent crisis was caused by Mr. Erdogan’s insistence on lowering interest rates in the face of galloping inflation — precisely the opposite tactic of what economists almost universally prescribe.Mr. Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for 18 years, has long resisted that particularly painful prescription, but his determination to keep cutting interest rates even as the country’s inflation rate tops a staggering 21 percent appears to be pushing Turkey past a tipping point.Normally, investors and others look to a nation’s central bank to keep inflation in check and set interest rates. But Mr. Erdogan has repeatedly shown that if Turkey’s central bankers and finance ministers won’t do what he wants, he will get rid of them, having already fired three in two years.The value of the lira has nose-dived in recent weeks, and on Monday hit a record low — reaching 14.3 to a dollar, from about 7 to the dollar earlier this year — pushing some businesses and households that have borrowed money from abroad into bankruptcy. The currency’s steep decline means prices for imported goods keep rising. Shortages are common and people are struggling to afford food and fuel. The youth unemployment rate is 25 percent. The president’s popularity is sinking and his opponents have become emboldened.With an election coming up in 18 months, Mr. Erdogan seems convinced that his strategy will enable the Turkish economy to grow out of its problems. Most economists, however, say a crash is more likely.When did Turkey’s economic problems begin?“Interest rates make the rich richer, the poor poorer,” the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a recent interview.Antonio Masiello/Getty ImagesMr. Erdogan’s aggressive pro-growth strategies have worked for him before. Since he began governing Turkey in 2003, he has undertaken expensive infrastructure projects, courted foreign investors and encouraged businesses and consumers to load up on debt. Growth took off.“Turkey was considered to be an economic miracle” during the first decade of Mr. Erdogan’s rule, said Kadri Tastan, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund based in Brussels. Poverty was sliced in half, millions of people swelled the ranks of the middle class, and foreign investors were eager to lend.But Mr. Erdogan’s relentless push to expand became unsustainable. Rather than pull back, however, the giddy borrowing continued.The increasingly unstable economy was caught in a bind. High interest rates attracted foreign investors to accept the risk and keep lending, but they would stunt growth. Mr. Erdogan was unwilling to accept that trade-off, and continued to support cheap borrowing as inflation took off and the currency’s value declined.And he insists that high interest rates cause inflation — even though it is low interest rates that put more money into circulation, encourage people to borrow and spend more, and tend to drive up the prices.“Erdogan has his own economic philosophy,” said Henri Barkey, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.The economy seesawed between these conflicting goals until 2018 when growing political tensions between Turkey and the United States caused the value of the lira to topple.The political standoff eased, but the underlying economic problems remained. Mr. Erdogan kept pushing state banks to offer cheap loans to households and businesses and the borrowing frenzy continued. “Things never really normalized,” said Selva Demiralp, an economist at Koc University in Istanbul.When the chief of the central bank resisted pressure from the president to lower the 24 percent interest rate in 2019, Mr. Erdogan fired him, the beginning of a pattern.To prop up the lira, Turkish banks began selling off their reserves of dollars. Those stocks of dollars are now running low.The global economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic has added to the strains by limiting the sales of Turkish goods around the world. Tourism, which was one of Turkey’s most dynamic sectors, has also been badly hit.What is President Erdogan’s approach to interest rates and what do economists say?A protest against the economic policies of the government in Istanbul on Sunday.Murad Sezer/ReutersBy keeping interest rates low, Mr. Erdogan argues that consumers will be more eager to keep shopping and businesses will be more inclined to borrow, invest money in the economy and hire workers.And if the lira loses value against the dollar, he says, Turkey’s exports will simply become cheaper and foreign consumers will want to buy even more.That is true to some degree — but it comes at a heavy price. Turkey is quite dependent on imports like automobile parts and medicine, as well as fuel and fertilizer and other raw materials. When the lira depreciates, those products cost more to buy.At the same time, Mr. Erdogan’s disdain for conventional economic theory has scared off some foreign investors, who had been eager to loan Turkish businesses hundreds of millions of dollars but now are losing faith in the currency.And the lower rates go, the faster inflation rises. Over the past year, the lira has lost more than 45 percent of its value, and the official inflation rate has surged past 20 percent, although many analysts believe the rate on the streets is much higher.By comparison, an inflation rate of 6.8 percent so far this year in the United States (the highest in nearly four decades) and a 4.9 percent rate in the eurozone are enough to set off alarms.In Turkey, skyrocketing prices are causing misery among the poor and impoverishing the middle class.“We can’t make a living,” said Mihriban Aslan, as she waited on a long line to buy bread in Istanbul’s Sultangazi district. “My husband is 60 years old, he can’t work much now.” He has a small pension of 1,800 lira — which at the moment is worth about $125. “I sometimes do needle work at home to bring in extra money,” she said.Businesses would rather hoard goods than sell them because they don’t think they will be able to afford to replace them.Ismail Arslanturk, a 22-year-old cashier at a neighborhood grocery shop, complained that the price of green lentils has nearly doubled. “I don’t believe the economy will be fixed after this point,” said Mr. Arslanturk, who added he was forced to leave high school to help support his family. “I am hopeless.’’A currency exchange office in Turkey. Over the past year, the lira has lost more than 45 percent of its value.Emrah Gurel/Associated PressWhat has Erdogan’s response been to the intensifying crisis?The president has doubled down on his approach, asserting he will “never compromise” on his opposition to higher interest rates. “Interest rates make the rich richer, the poor poorer,” he said in an interview on national television last month. “We have prevented our country from being crushed in such a way.”The president has invoked Islamic precepts against usury and referred to interest charges on loans as the “mother and father of all evil,” and blamed foreign interference for rising prices. Analysts like Mr. Barkey of the Council on Foreign Relations said that such comments are primarily aimed at appealing to more conservative religious segments of the country that represent the core of Mr. Erdogan’s support.Turkey’s fundamental problem, Mr. Barkey maintains, is that it has an overly confident ruler who has been in power for a long time. “He believes in his omnipotence and he’s making mistakes,” Mr. Barkey said, “but he’s so surrounded by yes men that nobody can challenge him.” More

  • in

    Workers in Europe Are Demanding Higher Pay as Inflation Soars

    Prices are rising at the fastest rate on record, and unions want to keep up. Policymakers worry that might make inflation worse.PARIS — The European Central Bank’s top task is to keep inflation at bay. But as the cost of everything from gas to food has soared to record highs, the bank’s employees are joining workers across Europe in demanding something rarely seen in recent years: a hefty wage increase.“It seems like a paradox, but the E.C.B. isn’t protecting its own staff against inflation,” said Carlos Bowles, an economist at the central bank and vice president of IPSO, an employee trade union. Workers are pressing for a raise of at least 5 percent to keep up with a historic inflationary surge set off by the end of pandemic lockdowns. The bank says it won’t budge from a planned a 1.3 percent increase.That simply won’t offset inflation’s pain, said Mr. Bowles, whose union represents 20 percent of the bank’s employees. “Workers shouldn’t have to take a hit when prices rise so much,” he said.Inflation, relatively quiet for nearly a decade in Europe, has suddenly flared in labor contract talks as a run-up in prices that started in spring courses through the economy and everyday life.From Spain to Sweden, workers and organized labor are increasingly demanding wages that keep up with inflation, which last month reached 4.90 percent, a record high for the eurozone. Austrian metalworkers wrested a 3.6 percent pay raise for 2022. Irish employers said they expect to have to lift wages by at least 3 percent next year. Workers at Tesco supermarkets in Britain won a 5.5 percent raise after threatening to strike around Christmas. And in Germany, where the European Central Bank has its headquarters, the new government raised the minimum wage by a whopping 25 percent, to 12 euros (about $13.60) an hour.A market in Frankfurt. Inflation in the eurozone last month reached 4.90 percent, a record high.Felix Schmitt for The New York TimesThe upturns follow a bout of anemic wage growth in Europe. Hourly wages fell for the first time in 10 years in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier, although economists say pandemic shutdowns and job furloughs make it hard to paint an accurate picture. In the decade before the pandemic, when inflation was low, wages in the euro area grew by an average of 1.9 percent a year, according to Eurostat.The increases are likely to be debated this week at meetings of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. E.C.B. policymakers have insisted for months that the spike in inflation is temporary, touched off by the reopening of the global economy, labor shortages in some industries and supply-chain bottlenecks that can’t last forever. Energy prices, which jumped in November a staggering 27.4 percent from a year ago, are also expected to cool.The E.C.B., which aims to keep annual inflation at 2 percent, has refrained from raising interest rates to slow climbing prices, arguing that by the time such a policy takes effect, inflation would have eased anyway on its own.“We expect that this rise in inflation will not last,” Christine Lagarde, the E.C.B. president, said in an interview in November with the German daily F.A.Z., adding that it was likely to start fading as soon as January.In the United States, where the government on Friday reported that inflation jumped 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years, officials are not so sure. In congressional testimony last week, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, stopped using the word “transitory” to describe how long high inflation would last. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus could worsen supply bottlenecks and push up inflation, he said.In Europe, unions are also agitated after numerous companies reported bumper profits and dividends despite the pandemic. Companies listed on France’s CAC 40 stock index saw margins jump by an average of 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, and half reported profits around 40 percent higher than the same period a year earlier.Justine Negoce, a cashier at Leroy Merlin, with her daughters. She joined a companywide walkout in Paris last month demanding a pay increase.Andrea Mantovani for The New York TimesWorkers say that they have not benefited from such gains, and that inflation has made things worse by abruptly slashing their purchasing power. Companies, for their part, are wary of linking salaries to inflation — a policy that also makes the European Central Bank nervous.Surging energy costs have been “a shock on incomes,” said James Watson, chief economist for Business Europe, the largest business trade association. “But if you try to compensate by raising wages, there’s a risk that it’s unsustainable and that we enter into a wage-price spiral,” he said.European policymakers are watching carefully for any signs that companies are passing the cost of higher wages on to consumers. If that happens, it could create a dangerous run-up of higher prices that might make inflation chronic.For now, that seems unlikely, in part because wage negotiations so far haven’t resulted in outsize pay increases, said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.Negotiated wage increases have been averaging around 2.5 percent, below inflation’s current pace. “Will wage hikes be inflationary? Not really,” he said. “The eurozone is not at a severe risk.”But as climbing prices continue to unnerve consumers, labor organizations are unlikely to ease up. Gasoline prices recently hit €2 a liter in parts of Europe — equal to over $8 a gallon. Higher transportation costs and supply chain bottlenecks are also making supermarket basics more expensive.Ms. Negoce is facing a 25 percent jump in grocery and gas bills for her family. Even with a pay raise next year, “we’ll need to count every penny,” she said.Andrea Mantovani for The New York TimesJustine Negoce, a cashier at France’s largest home-improvement chain, joined an unprecedented companywide walkout in Paris last month to demand a hefty raise as rising prices gobbled up her modest paycheck.After employees blocked warehouses for 10 days and demonstrated in the cold, the company, Leroy Merlin, agreed to a 4 percent raise for its 23,000 workers in France — twice the amount that management originally offered. The company, owned by Adeo, Europe’s biggest DIY chain, saw revenue climb over 5 percent in 2020 to €8 billion as housebound consumers decorated their homes and people like Ms. Negoce worked the front lines to ring up sales.Her monthly take-home pay will rise in January to €1,300 from €1,250. The additional cash will help offset a 25 percent jump in grocery and gas bills for her two teenage children and husband — just barely.On a recent trip to the supermarket, her basket of food basics, including rice, coffee, sugar and pasta, jumped to €103 instead of the €70 to €80 she paid a few months back. Filling her gas tank now costs €75 instead of €60. And even with her husband’s modest salary, she said, the couple will still be in the red at the end of the month.“We’re happy with the raise, because every little bit helps,” Ms. Negoce said. “But things are still tight, and we’ll need to count every penny.”In a statement, Leroy Merlin said the agreement maintains employees’ purchasing power and puts its average salaries for next year at 15 percent above France’s gross monthly minimum wage, which the government raised in October by 2.2 percent.Crucially, executives also agreed to return to the bargaining table in April if a continued upward climb in prices hurts employees.At Sephora, the luxury cosmetics chain owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, some unions are seeking an approximately 10 percent pay increase of €180 a month to make up for what they say is stagnant or low pay for employees in France, many of whom earn minimum wage or a couple hundred euros a month more.Jenny Urbina, a representative of the union that is negotiating with Sephora for salary increases. “When we work for a wealthy group like LVMH no one should be earning so little,” she said.Andrea Mantovani for The New York TimesLVMH, which recorded revenue of €44.2 billion in the first nine months of 2021, up 11 percent from 2019, raised wages at Sephora by 0.5 percent this year and granted occasional work bonuses, said Jenny Urbina, a representative of the Confédération Générale du Travail, the union negotiating with the company.Sephora has offered a €30 monthly increase for minimum wage workers, and was not replacing many people who quit, straining the remaining employees, she said.“When we work for a wealthy group like LVMH no one should be earning so little,” said Ms. Urbina, who said she was hired at the minimum wage 18 years ago and now earns €1,819 a month before taxes. “Employees can’t live off of one-time bonuses,” she added. “We want a salary increase to make up for low pay.”Sephora said in a statement that workers demanding higher wages were in a minority, and that “the question of the purchasing power of our employees has always been at the heart” of the company’s concerns.At the European Central Bank, employees’ own worries about purchasing power have lingered despite the bank’s forecast that inflation will fade away.A spokeswoman for the central bank said the 1.3 percent wage increase planned for 2022 is a calculation based on salaries paid at national central banks, and would not change.But with inflation in Germany at 6 percent, the Frankfurt-based bank’s workers will take a big hit, Mr. Bowles said.“It’s not in the mentality of E.C.B. staff to go on strike,” he said. “But even if you have a good salary, you don’t want to see it cut by 4 percent.”Léontine Gallois More

  • in

    How Omicron Could Knock Economic Recovery Off Track

    The latest zigzag in the pandemic has already curtailed travel, but its broader impact on growth and inflation isn’t likely to be known for several weeks.LONDON — This week, Marisha Wallace finally had to admit that her planned five-day ski holiday in Switzerland in mid-December was not salvageable: The Swiss government’s sudden decision to impose a 10-day quarantine on some international travelers meant she wouldn’t be able to leave her hotel or return home to London on her scheduled flight.“It’s the way of the world right now,” said Ms. Wallace, an actress and a singer. “You can’t plan anymore.”That provisional state, amplified across the world, has left the still-fragile economy in a state of suspense as spiking coronavirus infections and the new variant Omicron have popped up around the globe.“There’s no way to know how bad it will get,” said Ángel Talavera, head of European economics at Oxford Economics.The forecasting firm has sketched out three scenarios, including one that predicts no discernible effect on economic growth and one severe enough to slash next year’s in half. It will take several weeks before there is more clarity, Oxford concluded.The current round of restrictions has already reduced travel and dampened consumer confidence. A virulent, vaccine-resistant strain could send the economy into a tailspin again, while a mild one could leave health care systems unburdened and allow the recovery to get back on track.As a report released Wednesday from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed, although growth has been uneven, the world economy this year bounced back more quickly and strongly than had been anticipated. The report, compiled largely before the latest coronavirus news, nevertheless warned that growth was projected to slow: in the eurozone, to 4.3 percent next year from 5.2 percent in 2021; and in the United States, to 3.7 percent in 2022 from 5.6 percent.The organization characterized its outlook as “cautiously optimistic.” But it reiterated how much economic fortunes are inextricably tied to the coronavirus: “The economic policy priority is to get people vaccinated,” the report concluded.Travelers from South Africa being tested at the Amsterdam airport on Tuesday.Remko De Waal/Anp/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIndeed, Omicron’s threat to the recovery is just the latest in a series of zigzags that the world economy has endured since the coronavirus began its march across continents last year. Hopes that an ebbing pandemic would permit daily life and commerce to return to normal have been repeatedly frustrated by the virus.Even before this latest variant was discovered, a fourth wave of infections transformed Europe into a Covid hot spot and prompted new restrictions like lockdowns in the Netherlands and Austria.During earlier outbreaks, trillions in government assistance helped quickly resuscitate the struggling U.S. and European economies. It also brought some unexpected side effects. Combined with pent-up demand, that support helped produce a shortage of labor and materials and rising inflation.Given how much debt was racked up in the past 18 months, such aid is unlikely to recur even with a sharp downturn — and neither are wholesale closures. Vaccines provide some protection, and many people say they are unwilling to go back into hibernation.People and business alike have shifted into a wait-and-see mode. “A lot of things do seem like they are on hold, like labor market or overall consumption decisions,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed.How that will affect unemployment levels and inflation rates is unclear. Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, indicated on Tuesday that concern about stubborn inflation was growing. The O.E.C.D. also warned that inflation could be higher and last longer than originally anticipated.Omicron’s appearance just adds to the uncertainty, Laurence Boone, the organization’s chief economist, said in an interview.The Nativity Hotel in Bethlehem. Israel on Sunday decided to close its borders to foreign tourists after the Omicron variant was detected.Hazem Bader/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“If it’s something we can cope with, like the virus we have so far, then it may prolong disruptions of the supply chain, and inflation could take longer to sort out,” she said. But if the new variant causes wider shutdowns and plunging confidence, she added, it could reduce the spending binge and dampen rising prices.In recent days, governments have reacted with a confusing hodgepodge of stern warnings, travel bans, mask mandates and testing rules that further cloud the economic outlook. That patchwork response combined with people’s varying tolerance for risk means that, at least in the short term, the virus’s latest swerves will have a vastly different effect depending on where you are and what you do.In France, Luna Park, an annual one-month amusement fair held in the southern city of Nice and slated to open this weekend, was called off after the government suddenly requisitioned the massive warehouse where roller coasters, shooting galleries and merry-go-rounds were being set up in order to convert the space to an emergency vaccination center.“Today I find myself trying to save my company, and I’m not sure that I can,” said Serge Paillon, park’s owner. He feared he would face huge losses, including 500,000 euros (about $566,000) he had already invested in the event, as well as refunds for tickets that had been on sale for several monthsMr. Paillon furloughed 20 employees. Another 200 festival workers who were coming from around the country to manage the 60 games and rides were told to stay home.“For a year and a half, it was already a disaster,” Mr. Paillon said. “And now it’s starting again.”Israel’s decision on Saturday to shut its borders to all foreign tourists for two weeks is likely to reduce the number of tourists in Israel and the occupied territories this December by up to 40,000, or nearly 60 percent of what was expected, according to a government estimate.Wiatt F. Bowers had to cancel his trip to Tel Aviv, the fifth time in 18 months he has had to scrap a planned trip to Israel.Agnes Lopez for The New York TimesWiatt F. Bowers, an urban planner, had planned to leave Jacksonville, Fla., for Tel Aviv on Wednesday but had to cancel — the fifth time in 18 months that he had to scrap a planned trip to Israel. He will rebook, but doesn’t know when.Foreign tourism, which brought a record 4.55 million tourists to Israel in 2019, had already nearly vanished. Between March 2020 and September 2021, nonresident foreigners were barred from entering Israel — and, by extension, the occupied territories, where entry and exit are controlled by Israel.In Bethlehem, where tourism is the main industry, income consequently fell more than 50 percent, said the mayor, Anton Salman, in a phone interview.Elias al-Arja, the chief of the Arab Hotel Association, which represents about 100 Palestinian hotels in the occupied territories, said he was concerned less about the short-term effect of the sudden travel ban than about the long-term message of unpredictability it sent to potential visitors.“The disaster isn’t the groups who canceled over the next two weeks,” Mr. al-Arja said. “How can I convince people to come to the Holy Land after we promised them that you can come, but then the government closes the border?”Reluctance to travel, though, could mean an upswing in other sectors if the new variant is not as harmful as people fear. Jessica Moulton, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in London, said previous spending patterns during the pandemic showed that some money people would otherwise use for travel would instead be spent on dining.She estimated that the roughly $40 billion that British consumers saved on travel last summer was used for shopping and eating out.At the moment, Ms. Moulton said, “to the extent that Omicron decreases travel, which will happen as we head into Christmas, that will benefit restaurants.”Even before the latest variant was discovered, a fourth wave of infections transformed Europe into a Covid hot spot and prompted new restrictions like lockdowns in Amsterdam.Peter Dejong/Associated PressIn Switzerland, where travelers from Britain and 22 other countries must now quarantine, the effect of the policy change on hotels was immediate.“The majority of travelers from England — between 80 to 90 percent — have already canceled,” said Andreas Züllig, head of HotellerieSuisse, the Swiss hotel association.Ms. Wallace, who canceled her trip to the Cambrian Hotel in Adelboden, was one of several people who changed their reservations at the hotel after the Swiss government made its announcement on Friday, just one week before the slopes open.“This obviously has an impact on our very important winter and Christmas business,” said Anke Lock, the Cambrian’s manager, who estimated that 20 percent of the hotel’s December bookings were at risk.For now, though, most guests are watching and waiting, Ms. Lock said: “We’ve changed the bookings from guaranteed to tentative.”Extreme uncertainty about the economy may turn out to be the only certainty.Patrick Kingsley More