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    US National Debt Tops $31 Trillion for First Time

    America’s borrowing binge has long been viewed as sustainable because of historically low interest rates. But as rates rise, the nation’s fiscal woes are getting worse.WASHINGTON — America’s gross national debt exceeded $31 trillion for the first time on Tuesday, a grim financial milestone that arrived just as the nation’s long-term fiscal picture has darkened amid rising interest rates.The breach of the threshold, which was revealed in a Treasury Department report, comes at an inopportune moment, as historically low interest rates are being replaced with higher borrowing costs as the Federal Reserve tries to combat rapid inflation. While record levels of government borrowing to fight the pandemic and finance tax cuts were once seen by some policymakers as affordable, those higher rates are making America’s debts more costly over time.“So many of the concerns we’ve had about our growing debt path are starting to show themselves as we both grow our debt and grow our rates of interest,” said Michael A. Peterson, the chief executive officer of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, which promotes deficit reduction. “Too many people were complacent about our debt path in part because rates were so low.”The new figures come at a volatile economic moment, with investors veering between fears of a global recession and optimism that one may be avoided. On Tuesday, markets rallied close to 3 percent, extending gains from Monday and putting Wall Street on a more positive path after a brutal September. The rally stemmed in part from a government report that showed signs of some slowing in the labor market. Investors took that as a signal that the Fed’s interest rate increases, which have raised borrowing costs for companies, may soon begin to slow.Higher rates could add an additional $1 trillion to what the federal government spends on interest payments this decade, according to Peterson Foundation estimates. That is on top of the record $8.1 trillion in debt costs that the Congressional Budget Office projected in May. Expenditures on interest could exceed what the United States spends on national defense by 2029, if interest rates on public debt rise to be just one percentage point higher than what the C.B.O. estimated over the next few years.The Fed, which slashed rates to near zero during the pandemic, has since begun raising them to try to tame the most rapid inflation in 40 years. Rates are now set in a range between 3 and 3.25 percent, and the central bank’s most recent projections saw them climbing to 4.6 percent by the end of next year — up from 3.8 percent in an earlier forecast.Federal debt is not like a 30-year mortgage that is paid off at a fixed interest rate. The government is constantly issuing new debt, which effectively means its borrowing costs rise and fall along with interest rates.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Economists Nervously Eye the Bank of England’s Market Rescue

    The Bank of England stepped in to save a critical market this week. Economists say it was necessary but also worry about the precedent.When the Bank of England announced last week that it would buy bonds in unlimited quantities in an effort to stabilize the market for U.K. government debt, economists agreed it was probably a necessary move to prevent a cataclysmic financial crisis.They also worried it could set a dangerous precedent.Central banks defend the financial stability of the nations in which they operate. In an era of highly leveraged and deeply interconnected markets, that means that they sometimes have to buy bonds or backstop lending to prevent a problem in one area from spiraling into a crisis that threatens the entire financial system.But that backstop role also means that if a government does something to generate a major shock, politicians can be fairly confident that the local central bank will step in to stem the fallout.Some economists say that is essentially what happened in the United Kingdom. Liz Truss, the new prime minister, proposed a huge package of tax cuts and spending during a period of already high inflation, when standard economic theory suggests governments should do the opposite. Markets reacted forcefully: Yields on long-term government debt shot up, and the value of the British pound fell sharply relative to the dollar and other major currencies.The Bank of England announced that it would buy long-term government debt “on whatever scale is necessary” to prevent a full-blown financial crisis. The move was particularly striking because the bank had been poised to begin selling its bond holdings — a plan that is now postponed — and has been raising interest rates in a bid to bring down inflation.Economists broadly agreed that the bank’s decision was the right one. The rapid rise in interest rates sent shock waves through financial markets and upended a typically sleepy corner of the pension fund industry, which, left unaddressed, could have carried severe consequences for millions of workers and retirees, destabilizing the country’s entire financial system.“You saw very substantial market dislocation,” said Lawrence H. Summers, a former U.S. Treasury Secretary who is now at Harvard. “It’s a recognized role of central banks to respond to that.”To some economists, that was exactly the problem: By shielding the U.K. government from the full consequences of its actions — both preventing citizens from feeling the painful aftereffects and keeping government borrowing costs from shooting higher — the policy demonstrated that central bankers stand ready to clean up messy fallout. That could make it easier for elected leaders around the world to take similar risks in the future.Those concerns eased somewhat on Monday when Ms. Truss partly backed down, reversing plans to abolish the top income tax rate of 45 percent on high earners.But she appears poised to go forward with the rest of her proposed tax cuts and spending programs, putting the Bank of England in a delicate spot.Rising Inflation in BritainInflation Slows Slightly: Consumer prices are still rising at about the fastest pace in 40 years, despite a small drop to 9.9 percent in August.Interest Rates: On Sept. 22, the Bank of England raised its key rate by another half a percentage point, to 2.25 percent, as it tries to keep high inflation from becoming embedded in the nation’s economy.Mortgage Market: The uptick in interest rates roiled Britain’s mortgage market, leaving many homeowners calculating their potential future mortgage payments with alarm.Investor Worries: The financial markets have been grumbling with unease about Britain’s economic outlook. The government plan to freeze energy bills and cut taxes is not easing concerns.The “partial U-turn” from Ms. Truss “still leaves the Bank of England with a set of near-impossible choices,” analysts at Evercore ISI wrote in a note to clients. “The only way to alleviate this is for the government to take much bigger steps to restore credibility — but there is little sign this is imminent.”There’s a reason that the interplay between monetary policy and politics in the United Kingdom is garnering so much attention. Central banks have for decades closely guarded their independence from politics. They set their policies to either stoke the economy or to slow it down based on what was necessary to achieve their goals — in most cases, low and stable inflation — free from the control of elected officials.The logic behind that insulation is simple. If central bankers had to listen to politicians, they might let price increases get out of control in exchange for faster short-term growth that would help the party in power.Now, that independence is being tested, and not just in the United Kingdom. Central banks around the world are raising interest rates to try to fight inflation, resulting in slower growth and making it harder for governments to borrow and spend. That is likely to lead to tension — if not outright conflict — between central bankers and elected leaders.It is already beginning. A United Nations agency on Monday warned that the Federal Reserve risked a global recession and significant harm in developing countries, for instance. But the United Kingdom’s example is stark because the elected government is carrying out policy that works against what the nation’s central bank is trying to achieve.“One always worries that actions like these can affect incentives going forward,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist who served as a top official in the Treasury Department under President Obama. “It’s basic economics: People respond to incentives, and fiscal policymakers are people.”Part of the issue is that it is hard for central bankers to single-mindedly focus on controlling inflation in an era when financial markets are fragile and susceptible to disruption — including disruptions caused by elected governments.Before 2008, the Fed had never used mass long-term bond purchases to calm markets in its modern era. It has now used them twice in the span of 12 years. In addition to last week’s moves, the Bank of England also turned to mass bond purchases to calm markets in 2020.Bank of England officials have stressed that the policies they announced last week are a temporary response to an immediate crisis. The bank plans to buy long-dated bonds for less than two weeks and says it will not hold them longer than necessary. The Treasury, not the bank, will be responsible for any financial losses. The bank said it remained committed to fighting inflation, and some economists have speculated that it could raise rates even more aggressively in light of the government’s growth-stoking policies.If the bank is able to hold to that plan, it could mitigate economists’ concerns about the longer-run risks of the program. If interest rates rise again and it gets more expensive for the government to borrow, Ms. Truss will still need to grapple with the costs of her proposed programs, just without facing an imminent financial crisis.But some economists warn that the Bank of England may find the situation harder to extricate itself from than it hopes. It may turn out that the bank needs to keep buying bonds longer than expected, or that it cannot sell them without threatening another crisis. That could have the unintentional side effect of giving the British government a helping hand — and it could demonstrate that it is hard for a big central bank to remove support from its economy when the elected government wants to do the opposite.Liz Truss, Britain’s prime minister, will still need to grapple with the costs of her proposed programs, but she won’t be facing an imminent financial crisis because of the Bank of England’s actions.Alberto Pezzali/Associated PressMs. Truss’s policies — particularly before her partial reversal on Monday — would work directly against the bank’s efforts to cool growth, stoking demand through lower taxes and increased spending. The rapid rise in bond yields last week suggested that investors expected inflation to rise even further.Under ordinary circumstances, these conditions would lead the Bank of England to do even more to bring down the inflation it had already been fighting, raising interest rates more quickly or selling more of its bond holdings. Some analysts early last week expected the bank to announce an emergency rate increase. Instead, the brewing financial crisis forced the bank to do, in effect, the opposite, lowering borrowing costs by buying bonds.While lowering rates and stoking the economy was not the point — just a side effect — some economists warn that those actions risk setting a dangerous precedent in which central banks can only tighten policy to control inflation if their national governments cooperate and do not roil markets in a way that threatens financial stability. That situation puts politicians more in the driver’s seat when it comes to making economic policy.Guillaume Plantin, a French economist who has studied the interplay between central banks and governments, likened the dynamic to a game of chicken: To avoid a financial crisis, either Ms. Truss had to abandon her tax-cut plans, or the Bank of England had to set aside, at least temporarily, its efforts to raise borrowing costs. The result: “The Bank of England had to chicken out,” he said.Policymakers have known for decades that when the government steps in to rescue private companies or individuals, it can encourage them to repeat the same risky behavior in the future, a situation known as “moral hazard.” But in the private sector, there are steps governments can take to offset those risks — regulating banks to reduce the risk of collapse, for example, or wiping out shareholders if the government does need to step in to help.It is less clear what monetary policymakers can do to prevent the government itself from taking advantage of the safety net a central bank provides.“There is a moral hazard here: You are protecting some people from the full consequences of their actions,” said Donald Kohn, a former Fed vice chair and a former member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, who agreed that it is necessary to intervene to prevent market dysfunction. “If you think about the entities that benefited from this, one was the chancellor of the Exchequer, the government.”Some forecasters have warned that other central banks might have to pull back on their own efforts to fight inflation to avoid destabilizing financial markets. Some investors are speculating that the Fed will have to end its policy of shrinking government bond holdings early or risk stirring market turmoil, for instance.Not all of those scenarios would necessarily raise the same concerns. In the United States, the Biden administration and the Fed are both focused on fighting inflation, so any reversal by the central bank would probably not look like bowing to pressure from the elected government.Still, the common thread is that financial stability issues could become a hurdle in the fight against inflation — especially where governments do not decide to go along with the push to rein in prices. And how worrying the British precedent proves will depend on whether the Bank of England is capable of backing away from bond buying quickly.“Is this just an exigent moment that they needed to respond to, or does it give the fiscal authority room to be irresponsible?” said Paul McCulley, an economist and the former managing director at the investment firm PIMCO. “The question is who blinks.”Joe Rennison More

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    Less Turnover, Smaller Raises: Hot Job Market May Be Losing Its Sizzle

    Unemployment is low, and hiring is strong. But there are signs that frenzied turnover and rapid wage growth are abating.Last year, Klaussner Home Furnishings was so desperate for workers that it began renting billboards near its headquarters in Asheboro, N.C., to advertise job openings. The steep competition for labor drove wages for employees on the furniture maker’s production floor up 12 to 20 percent. The company began offering $1,000 signing bonuses to sweeten the deal.“Consumer demand was through the roof,” said David Cybulski, Klaussner’s president and chief executive. “We just couldn’t get enough labor fast enough.”But in recent months, Mr. Cybulski has noticed that frenzy die down.Hiring for open positions has gotten easier, he said, and fewer Klaussner workers are leaving for other jobs. The company, which has about 1,100 employees, is testing performance rewards to keep workers happy rather than racing to increase wages. The $1,000 signing bonus ended in the spring.“No one is really chasing employees to the dollar anymore,” he said.By many measures, the labor market is still extraordinarily strong even as fears of a recession loom. The unemployment rate, which stood at 3.7 percent in August, remains near a five-decade low. There are twice as many job openings as unemployed workers available to fill them. Layoffs, despite some high-profile announcements in recent weeks, are close to a record low.But there are signs that the red-hot labor market may be coming off its boiling point.Major employers such as Walmart and Amazon have announced slowdowns in hiring; others, such as FedEx, have frozen hiring altogether.Americans in July quit their jobs at the lowest rate in more than a year, a sign that the period of rapid job switching, sometimes called the Great Resignation, may be nearing its end. Wage growth, which soared as companies competed for workers, has also slowed, particularly in industries like dining and travel where the job market was particularly hot last year.More broadly, many companies around the country say they are finding it less arduous to attract and retain employees — partly because many are paring their hiring plans, and partly because the pool of available workers has grown as more people come off the economy’s sidelines.The labor force grew by more than three-quarters of a million people in August, the biggest gain since the early months of the pandemic. Some executives expect hiring to keep getting easier as the economy slows and layoffs pick up.“Not that I wish ill on any people out there from a layoff perspective or whatever else, but I think there could be an opportunity for us to ramp some of that hiring over the coming months,” Eric Hart, then the chief financial officer at Expedia, told investors on the company’s earnings call in August.Taken together, those signals point to an economic environment in which employers may be regaining some of the leverage they ceded to workers during the pandemic months.The State of Jobs in the United StatesEconomists have been surprised by recent strength in the labor market, as the Federal Reserve tries to engineer a slowdown and tame inflation.August Jobs Report: Job growth slowed in August but stayed solid, suggesting that the labor market recovery remains resilient, even as companies pull back on hiring.Factory Jobs: American manufacturers have now added enough jobs to regain all that they shed during the pandemic — and then some.Missing Workers: The labor market appears hot, but the supply of labor has fallen short, holding back the economy. Here is why.Black Employment: Black workers saw wages and employment rates go up in the wake of the pandemic. But as the Federal Reserve tries to tame inflation, those gains could be eroded.That is bad news for workers, particularly those at the bottom of the pay ladder who have been able to take advantage of the hot labor market to demand higher pay, more flexible schedules and other benefits. With inflation still high, weaker wage growth will mean that more workers will find their standard of living slipping.But for employers — and for policymakers at the Federal Reserve — the calculation looks different. A modest cooling would be welcome after months in which employers struggled to find enough staff to meet strong demand, and in which rapid wage growth contributed to the fastest inflation in decades.Too pronounced a slowdown, however, could lead to a sharp rise in unemployment, which would almost certainly lead to a drop in consumer demand and create a new set of problems for employers.Leila and David Manshoory have struggled for months to recruit workers for their fast-growing skin care and beauty brand, Alleyoop. In recent weeks, however, that has begun to change. They have begun to get more applications from more qualified candidates, some of whom have been laid off by other e-commerce companies. And notably, applicants aren’t demanding the sky-high salaries they were last spring.“I think the tables are turning a little bit,” Mr. Manshoory said. “There are people who need to pay their bills and are realizing there might not be a million jobs out there.”Alleyoop, too, has pared its hiring plans somewhat in preparation for a possible recession. But not too much — Mr. Manshoory said he saw this as a moment to snap up talent that the three-year-old company might struggle to hire in a different economic environment.“You kind of want to lean in when other people are pulling back,” he said. “You just have more selection. There’s a lot of, unfortunately, talented people getting let go from really large companies.”The resilience of the labor market has surprised many economists, who expected companies to pull back on hiring as growth slowed and interest rates rose. Instead, employers have continued adding jobs at a rapid clip.Klaussner Home Furnishings, which has about 1,100 employees, is testing performance rewards to keep workers happy rather than racing to increase wages.Eamon Queeney for The New York Times“There are some signs in the labor market data that there’s been a bit of cooling since the beginning of the year, or even the spring, but it’s not a lot,” said Nick Bunker, director of North American economic research for the career site Indeed. “Maybe the temperature has ticked down a degree or two, but it’s still pretty high.”But Mr. Bunker said there was evidence that the frenzy that characterized the labor market over the past year and a half had begun to die down. Job openings have fallen steadily in Indeed’s data, which is more up to date than the government’s tally.And Mr. Bunker said the decline in voluntary quits was particularly notable because so much recent wage growth had come from workers moving between jobs in search of better pay.Recent research from economists at the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas and St. Louis found that there had been a huge increase in poaching — companies hiring workers away from other jobs — during the recent hiring boom.If companies become less willing to recruit workers from competitors, and to pay the premium that doing so requires, or if workers become less likely to hop between jobs, that could lead wage growth to ease even if layoffs don’t pick up.There are hints that could be happening. A recent survey from another career site, ZipRecruiter, found that workers had become less confident in their ability to find a job and were putting more emphasis on finding a job they considered secure.“Workers and job seekers are feeling just a little bit less bold, a little bit more concerned about the future availability of jobs, a little bit more concerned about the stability of their own jobs,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.Some businesses, meanwhile, are becoming a bit less frantic to hire. A survey of small businesses from the National Federation of Independent Business found that while many employers still had open positions, fewer of them expected to fill those jobs in the next three months.More clues about the strength of the labor market could come in the upcoming months, the time of year when companies, including retailers, traditionally ramp up hiring for the holiday season. Walmart said in September that this year it would hire a fraction of the workers it did during the last holiday season.The signs of a cool-down extend even to leisure and hospitality, the sector where hiring challenges have been most acute. Openings in the sector have fallen sharply from the record levels of last year, and hourly earnings growth slowed to less than 9 percent in August from a rate of more than 16 percent last year.Until recently, staffing shortages at Biggby Coffee were so severe that many of the chain’s 300-plus stores had to close early some days, or in some cases not open at all. But while hiring remains a challenge, the pressure has begun to ease, said Mike McFall, the company’s co-founder and co-chief executive. One franchisee recently told him that 22 of his 25 locations were fully staffed and that only one was experiencing a severe shortage.A Biggby Coffee store in Sterling Heights, Mich. Until recently, staffing shortages at some locations were so severe that many of the chain’s 300-plus stores had to close early some days.Sarah Rice for The New York Times“We are definitely feeling the burden is lifting in terms of getting people to take the job,” Mr. McFall said. “We’re getting more applications, we’re getting more people through training now.”The shift is a welcome one for business owners like Mr. McFall. Franchisees have had to raise wages 50 percent or more to attract and retain workers, he said — a cost increase they have offset by raising prices.“The expectation by the consumer is that you are raising prices, and so if you don’t take advantage of that moment, you are going to be in a pickle,” he said, referring to the pressure to increase wages. “So you manage it by raising prices.”So far, Mr. McFall said, higher prices haven’t deterred customers. Still, he said, the period of severe staffing shortages is not without its costs. He has seen a loss in sales, as well as a loss of efficiency and experienced workers. That will take time to rebuild, he said.“When we were in crisis, it was all we were focused on,” he said. “So now that it feels like the crisis is mitigating, that it’s getting a little better, we can now begin to focus on the culture in the stores and try to build that up again.” More

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    August PCE Inflation Data Shows Prices Are Stubbornly High

    The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge remained elevated in August, data released on Friday showed, further evidence that the central bank is contending with a stubborn problem as it tries to choke off the worst inflation in four decades.The Personal Consumption Expenditures inflation measure, which is the measure the Fed officially targets as it tries to achieve 2 percent annual inflation, climbed 6.2 percent over the year through August. While that was a slowdown from 6.4 percent in July, it was higher than the 6 percent that economists in a Bloomberg survey had expected.The details of the report were even more concerning. Price increases have been moderating somewhat on an overall basis, partly because gas prices have been declining. But after volatile fuel and food prices were stripped out to get a sense of underlying inflationary pressures, the index climbed 4.9 percent over the year through August, an acceleration from 4.7 percent the month before. And on a monthly basis, the core index picked up by 0.6 percent, the fastest increase since June.Consumers also continued to spend in August, particularly on dining, travel and other services, the report showed, though the pace was slowing. Incomes rose, buoyed by a hot job market.The data underlined the challenging path the Fed faces as it tries to guide the U.S. economy toward slower inflation. Both the economy and price pressures have retained momentum, even as central bankers raise interest rates to try to cool demand. As a result, the Fed has become steadily more aggressive in its efforts to constrain spending and temper inflation, and it is likely to keep raising rates and keep them elevated for a while.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    New Inflation Data Shows Prices Remain Stubbornly High

    The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge remained elevated in new data released on Friday, further evidence that the central bank is contending with a stubborn problem as it tries to choke off the worst inflation in four decades.The Personal Consumption Expenditures inflation measure, which is produced by the Commerce Department and is the measure the Fed officially targets as it tries to achieve 2 percent annual inflation, climbed by 6.2 percent in the year through August. While that was a slowdown from 6.4 percent in July, it was higher than the 6 percent economists in a Bloomberg survey had expected.Inflation has been moderating somewhat on an overall basis partly because gas prices are declining. After stripping out food and fuel, both of which jump up and down, inflation climbed 4.9 percent in the year through August. That compares to 4.7 percent the month before. On a monthly basis, the core index picked up by 0.6 percent, a rapid pace of increase that was the fastest since June.The data underlined what a rocky road the Fed faces as it tries to guide the U.S. economy toward slower inflation.Economists are hopeful that healing supply chains, a slowing housing market, cooling consumer demand and a moderating labor market will combine to pull inflation lower in the months ahead. But Russia’s war in Ukraine poses a constant risk to the global supply of food and oil, and industries including automobiles remain severely disrupted. Rents and other service costs have been rising sharply, and labor shortages spanning many industries have pushed wages up, which could feed through to higher prices.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Why the British Pound Continues to Sink

    Britain’s pound coin — rimmed in nickel and brass with an embossed image of Queen Elizabeth II at the center — could always be counted on to be significantly more valuable than the dollar.Such boasting rights effectively came to an end this week when the value of the pound sank to its lowest recorded level: £1 = $1.03 after falling more than 20 percent this year.The nearly one-to-one parity between the currencies sounded the close of a chapter in Britain’s history nearly as much as the metronomic footfalls of the procession that carried the queen’s funeral bier up the pavement to Windsor Castle.“The queen’s death for many people brought to an end a long era of which the soft power in the United Kingdom” was paramount, said Ian Goldin, professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford. “The pound’s demise to its lowest level is sort of indicative of this broader decline in multiple dimensions.”The immediate cause of the pound’s alarming fall on Monday was the announcement of a spending and tax plan by Britain’s new Conservative government, which promised steep tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthiest individuals along with expensive measures to help blunt the painful rise in energy prices on consumers and businesses.The sense of crisis ramped up Wednesday when the Bank of England intervened, in a rare move, and warned of “material risk to U.K. financial stability” from the government’s plan. The central bank said it would start buying British government bonds “on whatever scale is necessary” to stem a sell-off in British debt.The Bank of England’s emergency action seemed at odds with its efforts that began months ago to try to slow the nearly 10 percent annual inflation rate, which has lifted the price of essentials like petrol and food to painful levels.Rising Inflation in BritainInflation Slows Slightly: Consumer prices are still rising at about the fastest pace in 40 years, despite a small drop to 9.9 percent in August.Interest Rates: On Sept. 22, the Bank of England raised its key rate by another half a percentage point, to 2.25 percent, as it tries to keep high inflation from becoming embedded in the nation’s economy.Energy Bills to Soar: Gas and electric charges for most British households are set to rise 80 percent this fall, further squeezing consumers and stoking inflation.Investor Worries: The financial markets have been grumbling with unease about Britain’s economic outlook. The government plan to freeze energy bills and cut taxes is not easing concerns.The swooning pound this week has carried an unmistakable political message, amounting to a no-confidence vote by the world’s financial community in the economic strategy proposed by Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor of the Exchequer, Kwasi Kwarteng.To Mr. Goldin, the pound’s journey indicates a decline in economic and political influence that accelerated when Britain voted to leave the European Union in 2016. In many respects, Britain already has the worst performing economy, aside from Russia, of the 38-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.“It’s just a question of time before it falls out of the top 10 economies in the world,” Mr. Goldin said. Britain ranks sixth, having been surpassed by India.Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, said this latest plunge had delivered a bracing blow to Britain’s standing. A series of “self-inflicted wounds,” including Brexit and the government’s latest spending plan, have accelerated the pound’s slide and further endangered London’s status as a global financial center.Dozens of currencies, including the euro, the Japanese yen and the Chinese renminbi, have slumped in recent weeks. Rising interest rates and a relatively bright economic outlook in the United States combined with turmoil in the global economy have made investments in dollars particularly appealing.But the revival by the Truss government of an extreme version of Thatcher and Reagan-era “trickle-down” economic policies elicited a brutal response.“The problem isn’t that the U.K. budget was inflationary,” wrote Dario Perkins, a managing director at TS Lombard, a research firm, on Twitter. “It’s that it was moronic.”To some, the pound’s journey indicates a decline in Britain’s economic and political influence.Suzie Howell for The New York TimesDuring the more than 1,000 years in which the pound sterling has reigned as Britain’s national currency, it has suffered its share of ups and downs. Its value in the modern era could never match the value of an actual pound of silver, which in the 10th century could buy 15 cows.Over the centuries, British leaders have often gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the pound’s value, viewing its strength as a sign of the country’s economic power and influence. King Henry I issued a decree in 1125 ordering that those who produced substandard currency “lose their right hand and be castrated.”In the 1960s, the Labour government under Harold Wilson so resisted devaluing the pound — then set at a fixed rate of $2.80, high enough to be holding back the British economy — that he ordered cabinet papers discussing the idea to be burned. In 1967, the government finally cut its value by 14 percent to $2.40.Other economic crises thrashed the pound. In the 1970s, when oil prices skyrocketed and Britain’s inflation rate topped 25 percent, the government was compelled to ask the International Monetary Fund for a $3.9 billion loan. In the mid-1980s, when high U.S. interest rates and a Reagan administration spending spree jacked up the dollar’s value, the pound fell to a then record low.The pound’s dominance has been waning since the end of World War II. Today, the global economy is experiencing a particularly tumultuous time as it recovers from the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, supply chain breakdowns, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an energy shortage and soaring inflation.As Richard Portes, an economics professor at London Business School, said, currency exchanges have enormous swings over time. The euro was worth 82 cents in its early days, he recalled, and people referred to it as a “toilet paper” currency. But by 2008, its value had doubled to $1.60.What might cause the pound to revive is not clear.The Truss government’s economic program has forcefully accelerated the pound’s slide — the latest in a series of what many economists consider egregious economic missteps that peaked with Brexit.Much depends on the Truss government.“The plunge in the pound is the result of policy choices, not some historical inevitability” said Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Whether this is a new, grim era or just an unfortunate interlude depends on whether they reverse course or are kicked out at the next election.”As it happens, the Bank of England is preparing to issue new pound bank notes and coins featuring King Charles III, at the very moment that the pound has dropped to record lows.“The death of the queen and the fall of the pound do seem jointly to signify decisively the end of an era,” Mr. Prasad of Cornell said. “These two events could be considered markers in a long historical procession in the British economy and the pound sterling becoming far less important than they once were.” More

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    To Calm Markets, Bank of England Will Buy Bonds ‘On Whatever Scale is Necessary’

    The purchases are designed “to restore orderly market conditions,” the central bank said, after days of turmoil that followed the government’s plan for sweeping tax cuts and higher borrowing.The Bank of England said on Wednesday that it would temporarily buy British government bonds, a major intervention in financial markets after the new government’s fiscal plans sent borrowing costs soaring higher over the past few days.The news brought some relief to the bond market, but the British pound resumed its tumble, falling 1.7 percent against the dollar, to $1.05, back toward the record low reached on Monday.The British government’s plans to bolster economic growth by cutting taxes, especially for high earners, while spending heavily to protect households from rising energy costs has been resoundingly rejected by markets and economists, in part because of the large amount of borrowing it will require at a time of rising interest rates and high inflation. The International Monetary Fund unexpectedly made a statement about the British economy on Tuesday, urging the government to “re-evaluate” its plans.The sell-off in British assets since Friday, when the government’s plan was announced, has particularly affected bonds with long maturities, the Bank of England said. “Were dysfunction in this market to continue or worsen, there would be a material risk to U.K. financial stability,” it said in a statement. This would lead to a reduction of the flow of credit to businesses and households, it added.“The purpose of these purchases will be to restore orderly market conditions,” the central bank added in its statement, which had an immediate effect on markets. “The purchases will be carried out on whatever scale is necessary to effect this outcome.”Rising Inflation in BritainInflation Slows Slightly: Consumer prices are still rising at about the fastest pace in 40 years, despite a small drop to 9.9 percent in August.Interest Rates: On Sept. 22, the Bank of England raised its key rate by another half a percentage point, to 2.25 percent, as it tries to keep high inflation from becoming embedded in the nation’s economy.Energy Bills to Soar: Gas and electric charges for most British households are set to rise 80 percent this fall, further squeezing consumers and stoking inflation.Investor Worries: The financial markets have been grumbling with unease about Britain’s economic outlook. The government plan to freeze energy bills and cut taxes is not easing concerns.Bond auctions would take place from Wednesday until Oct. 14.The yield on 10-year British government bonds on Wednesday climbed as high as 4.58 percent — the highest since early 2008 — before the central bank’s statement. Thirty-year yields had exceeded 5 percent for the first time since 2002.After the announcement bond yields dropped sharply, with the 30-year yield falling by more than half a percentage point to about 4.35 percent.The central bank’s statement has echoes of a famous promise by Mario Draghi in 2012, when as head of the European Central Bank he vowed to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro, which had come under severe pressure in the markets.Wednesday’s intervention in Britain came after a central bank committee had warned of the risks to Britain’s financial stability from dysfunction in the government bond market.The British government’s sweeping fiscal plan, presented without an independent fiscal and economic assessment, has sent investors fleeing from British assets. The pound fell to a record low against the U.S. dollar on Monday, and traders suspected that the central bank would be forced to raise rates quickly, which pushed up short- and long-term borrowing costs.The speed of the rise in bond yields had disrupted Britain’s mortgage market, with some lenders pulling offers on new mortgages because they had become too difficult to price.“A decision by the government to scrap some of the tax cuts, or to cut spending sharply, would help to alleviate the stress in” currency and bond markets, Samuel Tombs, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note. “But its actions to date have eroded confidence among global investors, which cannot be easily restored. Accordingly, a painful recession driven by surging borrowing costs lies ahead.”The market turmoil and the central bank’s intervention reveal the extent to which the government’s plans are at odds with the bank’s monetary policy goals. The government is trying to quickly generate economic demand, while the bank is trying to cool it to lower inflation.On Tuesday, Huw Pill, the chief economist of the Bank of England, said the government’s fiscal plans would be met with a “significant” response by officials at the Bank of England, who are scheduled to meet again in early November.Just last Thursday, the central bank said it would initiate its plan to sell bonds back to the market as it tried to end the long era of easy money in its fight against inflation. It had insisted there would be a “high bar” for the bank to deviate from the plan, which would over the next year reduce its holdings of bonds by £80 billion through sales and redemptions, to £758 billion. On Wednesday, the bank said it was postponing the start of sales until the end of October. More

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    Inflation Has Hit Tenants Hard. What About Their Landlords?

    Publicly traded corporate landlords are reporting some of their highest margins ever, while smaller operators say rent increases are eaten up by costs.Of all the categories driving inflation in recent months, among the largest — and most persistent — is rent.In buildings with more than 50 units, tenants in one-bedroom apartments have been handed new leases costing about 17 percent more on average than they did in March 2020, according to CoStar Group, a Washington-based real estate data company. The Labor Department’s rent indicator — which includes ongoing leases, not just renewals — has steadily risen, to 6.7 percent last month over the previous August.So while tenants absorb rent increases that often exceed their income gains, are landlords minting money? It depends on the landlord.Publicly traded owners of sprawling real estate portfolios, like Invitation Homes, have enjoyed some of their best returns over the past few quarters. Things look very different, however, for Neal Verma, whose company manages 6,000 apartments in the Houston area.Earlier this year, Mr. Verma experimented with raising rents enough to cover the cost of spiking wages, property taxes, insurance and maintenance. Turnover doubled in the properties where he tried it, as people left for nearby buildings.“It’s crushing our margins,” Mr. Verma said. “Our profits from last year have evaporated, and we’re running at break-even at a number of properties. There’s some people who think landlords must be making money. No. We’ve only gone up 12 to 14 percent, and our expenses have gone up 30 percent.”Overall, the ferocious run-up in rents has been driven by tenants’ desire for more space and location flexibility created by remote work; rising interest rates that have locked would-be buyers out of the for-sale market; and cost increases on delayed maintenance. But the one factor landlords track most closely is their customers’ ability to absorb higher rents.Higher-earning tenants, who flock to newer buildings with more amenities, have been more willing to accept rent increases. Low-income renters, while seeing faster wage growth, have borne the brunt of higher prices for necessities like groceries and gasoline, and rents in older buildings are rising at a slower rate than in newer, nicer ones.“The reality is that rents can only rise as incomes rise,” said Jay Parsons, chief economist at the real estate data firm RealPage, noting that rent averages 23 percent of the monthly incomes across the apartments that RealPage tracks. “If people can’t afford it, you can’t lease it.”Geography also matters. Even among the largest landlords, those with a presence in Sun Belt cities such as Miami, Tampa, Nashville and Phoenix saw far faster rent growth than high-cost coastal markets like San Francisco, where rents fell substantially during the pandemic lockdowns as white-collar workers fled for remote locations.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More