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    Three Lessons From a Surprisingly Resilient Job Market

    The recovery from the pandemic lockdowns has prompted economists to consider whether their playbook is outdated or just missing a page.The pandemic created an economic crisis unlike any recession on record. So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the aftermath, too, has played out in a way that almost no economists expected.When unemployment soared in the first weeks of the pandemic, many feared a repeat of the long, slow rebound from the Great Recession: years of joblessness that left many workers permanently scarred. Instead, the recovery in the labor market has been, by many measures, the strongest on record.In early 2021, some economists foresaw a surge in inflation. Others were skeptical: Similar predictions in recent years — in some cases from the same forecasters — had failed to come true. This time, however, they were right.And when the Federal Reserve began trying to tamp down inflation, there were warnings that the job market was sure to buckle, as it had threatened to do every time policymakers began raising interest rates too rapidly in the decade before the pandemic. Instead, the central bank has raised rates to their highest level in decades, and the job market is holding steady, or perhaps even gaining steam.The final chapter on the recovery has not been written. A “soft landing” is not a done deal. But it is clear that the economy, particularly the job market, has proved far more resilient than most people thought probable.Interviews with dozens of economists — some of whom got the recovery partly right, many of whom got it mostly wrong — provided insights into what they have learned from the past two years, and what they make of the job market right now. They didn’t agree on all the details, but three broad themes emerged.

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    Unemployment usually rises when job openings fall. Not this time.
    Notes: Job openings are shown as a share of employment. Unemployment is shown as a share of the labor force. All data is seasonally adjusted.Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York Times

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    The racial unemployment gap is narrowing
    Note: Data is seasonally adjusted.Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York Times

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    Job growth has far surpassed prepandemic expectations
    Notes: Change since fourth quarter 2014. Projection based on 2015 Congressional Budget Office forecast.Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Congressional Budget OfficeBy The New York TimesWe are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    ‘Zombie Offices’ Spell Trouble for Some Banks

    Bank tremors serve as a reminder: Just because a crisis hasn’t hit immediately doesn’t mean commercial real estate pain isn’t coming.Graceful Art Deco buildings towering above Chicago’s key business district report occupancy rates as low as 17 percent.A set of gleaming office towers in Denver that were full of tenants and worth $176 million in 2013 now sit largely empty and were last appraised at just $82 million, according to data provided by Trepp, a research firm that tracks real estate loans. Even famous Los Angeles buildings are fetching roughly half their prepandemic prices.From San Francisco to Washington, D.C., the story is the same. Office buildings remain stuck in a slow-burning crisis. Employees sent to work from home at the start of the pandemic have not fully returned, a situation that, combined with high interest rates, is wiping out value in a major class of commercial real estate. Prices on even higher-quality office properties have tumbled 35 percent from their early-2022 peak, based on data from Green Street, a real estate analytics firm.Those forces have put the banks that hold a big chunk of America’s commercial real estate debt in the hot seat — and analysts and even regulators have said the reckoning has yet to fully take hold. The question is not whether big losses are coming. It is whether they will prove to be a slow bleed or a panic-inducing wave.The past week brought a taste of the brewing problems when New York Community Bank’s stock plunged after the lender disclosed unexpected losses on real estate loans tied to both office and apartment buildings.So far “the headlines have moved faster than the actual stress,” said Lonnie Hendry, chief product officer at Trepp. “Banks are sitting on a bunch of unrealized losses. If that slow leak gets exposed, it could get released very quickly.”We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Fed Chair Powell Says Officials Need More ‘Good’ Data Before Cutting Rates

    Federal Reserve officials are debating when to lower rates. An interview with Jerome H. Powell confirms a move is coming, but not immediately.Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, made clear during a “60 Minutes” interview aired on Sunday night that the central bank is moving toward cutting interest rates as inflation recedes, but that policymakers need to see continued progress toward cooler price increases to make the first move.Mr. Powell was interviewed on Thursday, after the Fed’s meeting last week but before Friday’s blockbuster jobs report. He reiterated his message that lower borrowing costs are coming. But he also said that the Fed’s next meeting in March is probably too early for policymakers to feel sure enough that inflation is coming under control to reduce rates.“We think we can be careful in approaching this decision just because of the strength that we’re seeing in the economy,” Mr. Powell said during the interview, based on a transcript released ahead of its airing. He added that officials would want to see a continued moderation in price increases, even after several months of milder readings.The progress on inflation “doesn’t need to be better than what we’ve seen, or even as good. It just needs to be good,” Mr. Powell said.His remarks reaffirm that lower borrowing costs are likely coming this year — a change that could make mortgages, car loans and credit card debt cheaper for Americans. They also underscore how much better today’s economic situation is proving to be than what economists and Fed officials expected just a year ago.Many forecasters had predicted that the Fed’s rapid campaign of interest rate increases, which pushed borrowing costs from near zero to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent from March 2022 to July 2023, would slow the economy so much that it might even spur a recession. Central bankers themselves — including Mr. Powell — believed that some economic pain would probably be needed to cool consumer and business demand enough to prod businesses to stop raising prices so quickly.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber? Log in.Want all of The Times? Subscribe. More

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    Job Market Starts 2024 With a Bang

    U.S. employers added 353,000 jobs in January, far exceeding forecasts, and revised figures showed last year was even stronger than previously reported.The United States produced an unexpectedly sizable batch of jobs last month, a boon for American workers that shows the labor market retains remarkable strength after three years of expansion.Employers added 353,000 jobs in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported on Friday, and the unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent.The report also put an even shinier gloss on job growth for 2023, including revisions that added more than 100,000 to the figure previously tallied for December. All told, employers added 3.1 million jobs last year, more than the 2.7 million initially reported.After the loss of 14 percent of the nation’s jobs early in the Covid-19 pandemic, the labor market’s endurance despite aggressive interest rate increases has caught economists off guard.“I think everyone is surprised at the strength,” said Sara Rutledge, an independent economics consultant. “It’s almost like a ‘pinch me’ scenario.”Ms. Rutledge helped tabulate the National Association for Business Economics’ latest member survey, which found rising optimism that the country would avoid a recession — matching a turnaround in measures of consumer sentiment as inflation has eased.Unemployment has been under 4 percent for 24 monthsUnemployment rate More

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    The Federal Reserve Meets Wednesday. Here’s What to Watch.

    Officials are likely to keep interest rates unchanged at the conclusion of their January meeting. Here’s a look at what might come next.Federal Reserve officials will conclude their two-day meeting on Wednesday, and they are widely expected to keep interest rates steady at a two-decade high when they release their policy decision at 2 p.m.But investors are likely to closely watch the meeting — particularly Chair Jerome H. Powell’s 2:30 p.m. news conference — for hints of when policymakers might begin to lower interest rates. The Fed has held its policy rate in a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent since July, and officials projected in December that they might lower borrowing costs by three-quarters of a percentage point over the course of 2024.But both the timing and the magnitude of those rate cuts remain uncertain. On the one hand, inflation has come down more swiftly than many economists had expected in recent months. On the other, economic growth is proving stronger than anticipated, which could give companies the wherewithal to keep raising prices into the future.Here’s what to know about this meeting.The Fed’s statement could change.The Fed’s post-meeting policy statement has suggested that officials will watch economic data “in determining the extent of any additional policy firming that may be appropriate.” Now that further rate increases are looking less and less likely, that language may be in for a tweak.Powell has a delicate balancing act.Fed officials do not want to keep interest rates so high for so long that they squeeze the economy too much and tip it into a recession. On the other hand, they do not want to cut rates too much too early, allowing the economy to accelerate and risking a renewed pickup in inflation. Mr. Powell could talk about how officials will try to strike that balance.Growth vs. inflation will be critical.A lot of what comes next will hinge on which numbers Mr. Powell and his colleagues decide to focus on — growth or inflation — and investors might get a hint at that this week. Growth and consumer spending are both faster than many economists had expected. But the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge is also below 3 percent for the first time since early 2021, even after stripping out food and fuel costs, which can fluctuate from month to month.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    Global Economy Is Heading Toward ‘Soft Landing,’ I.M.F. Says

    The International Monetary Fund upgraded its growth forecasts and offered a more optimistic outlook for the world economy.The global economy has been battered by a pandemic, record levels of inflation, protracted wars and skyrocketing interest rates over the past four years, raising fears of a painful worldwide downturn. But fresh forecasts published on Tuesday suggest that the world has managed to defy the odds, averting the threat of a so-called hard landing.Projections from the International Monetary Fund painted a picture of economic durability — one that policymakers have been hoping to achieve while trying to manage a series of cascading crises.In its latest economic outlook, the I.M.F. projected global growth of 3.1 percent this year — the same pace as in 2023 and an upgrade from its previous forecast of 2.9 percent. Predictions of a global recession have receded, with inflation easing faster than economists anticipated. Central bankers, including the Federal Reserve, are expected to begin cutting interest rates in the coming months.“The global economy has shown remarkable resilience, and we are now in the final descent to a soft landing,” said Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the chief economist of the I.M.F.Policymakers who feared they would need to hit the brakes on economic growth to contain rising prices have managed to tame inflation without tipping the world into a recession. The I.M.F. expects global inflation to fall to 5.8 percent this year and 4.4 percent in 2025 from 6.8 percent in 2023. It estimates that 80 percent of the world’s economies will experience lower annual inflation this year.The brighter outlook is due largely to the strength of the U.S. economy, which grew 3.1 percent last year. That robust growth came despite the Fed’s aggressive series of rate increases, which raised borrowing costs to their highest levels in 22 years. Consumer spending in America has held strong while businesses have continued to invest. The I.M.F. now expects the U.S. economy to grow 2.1 percent this year, up from its previous prediction of 1.5 percent.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More

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    Why Cut Rates in an Economy This Strong? A Big Question Confronts the Fed.

    The central bank is widely expected to lower interest rates this year. But with growth and consumer spending chugging along, explaining it may take some work.The Federal Reserve is widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged at the conclusion of its meeting on Wednesday, but investors will be watching closely for any hint at when and how much it might lower those rates this year.The expected rate cuts raise a big question: Why would central bankers lower borrowing costs when the economy is experiencing surprisingly strong growth?The United States’ economy grew 3.1 percent last year, up from less than 1 percent in 2022 and faster than the average for the five years leading up to the pandemic. Consumer spending in December came in faster than expected. And while hiring has slowed, America still boasts an unemployment rate of just 3.7 percent — a historically low level.The data suggest that even though the Fed has raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent, the highest level in more than two decades, the increase has not been enough to slam the brakes on the economy. In fact, growth remains faster than the pace that many forecasters think is sustainable in the longer run.Fed officials themselves projected in December that they would make three rate cuts this year as inflation steadily cooled. Yet lowering interest rates against such a robust backdrop could take some explaining. Typically, the Fed tries to keep the economy running at an even keel: lowering rates to stoke borrowing and spending and speed things up when growth is weak, and raising them to cool growth down to make sure that demand does not overheat and push inflation higher.The economic resilience has caused Wall Street investors to suspect that central bankers may wait longer to cut rates — they were previously betting heavily on a move down in March, but now see the odds as only 50-50. But, some economists said, there could be good reasons for the Fed to lower borrowing costs even if the economy continues chugging along.We are having trouble retrieving the article content.Please enable JavaScript in your browser settings.Thank you for your patience while we verify access. If you are in Reader mode please exit and log into your Times account, or subscribe for all of The Times.Thank you for your patience while we verify access.Already a subscriber?  More