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    Can Ghana’s Debt Trap of Crisis and Bailouts Be Stopped?

    Emmanuel Cherry, the chief executive of an association of Ghanaian construction companies, sat in a cafe at the edge of Accra Children’s Park, near the derelict Ferris wheel and kiddie train, as he tallied up how much money government entities owe thousands of contractors.Before interest, he said, the back payments add up to 15 billion cedis, roughly $1.3 billion. “Most of the contractors are home,” Mr. Cherry said. Their workers have been laid off.Like many others in this West African country, the contractors have to wait in line for their money. Teacher trainees complain they are owed two months of back pay. Independent power producers that have warned of major blackouts are owed $1.58 billion.The government is essentially bankrupt. After defaulting on billions of dollars owed to foreign lenders in December, the administration of President Nana Akufo-Addo had no choice but to agree to a $3 billion loan from the lender of last resort, the International Monetary Fund.It was the 17th time Ghana has been compelled to turn to the fund since it gained independence in 1957.This latest crisis was partly prompted by the havoc of the coronavirus pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and higher food and fuel prices. But the tortuous cycle of crisis and bailout has plagued dozens of poor and middle-income countries throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia for decades.Joshua Teye, a teacher in Suhum, Ghana. The government’s fiscal crisis has cut investment in schools dangerously short.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesThese pitiless loops will be discussed at the latest United Nations General Assembly, which begins on Tuesday. The debt load for developing countries — now estimated to top $200 billion — threatens to upend economies and unravel painstaking gains in education, health care and incomes. But poor and low-income countries have struggled to gain sustained international attention.In Ghana, the I.M.F. laid out a detailed rescue plan to get the country back on its feet — reining in debt and spending, raising revenue and protecting the poorest — as Accra negotiates with foreign creditors.Still, a nagging question for Ghana and other emerging nations in debt persists: Why will this time be any different?The latest rescue plan outlined for Ghana addresses key problems, said Tsidi M. Tsikata, a senior fellow at the African Center for Economic Transformation in Accra. But so did many of the previous ones, he said, and still crises recurred.The last time Ghana turned to the fund was in 2015. Within three years, the country was on its way to paying back the loan, and was among the world’s fastest-growing economies. Ghana was held up as a model for the rest of Africa.Agricultural production was up, and major exports — cocoa, oil and gold — were rising. The country had invested in infrastructure and education, and had begun a cleanup of the banking industry, which was riddled with distressed lenders.Yet Accra is again desperately in need. The I.M.F. loan agreement, and the delivery of a $600,000 installment in May, have helped stabilize the economy, settle wild fluctuations in currency levels and restore a modicum of confidence. Inflation is still running above 40 percent but is down from its peak of 54 percent in January.Cocoa pods at a cocoa farm. Ghana’s economy is dependent on exports of raw materials like cocoa, oil and gold, which rise and fall wildly in price.Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesDespite the I.M.F.’s blueprint, though, Mr. Tsikata, previously a division chief at the fund for three decades, said the chance that Ghana wouldn’t be in a similar position a few years down the road “rests on a wing and a prayer.”The effects of devastating climate change loom over the problem. Within the next decade, a United Nations analysis estimates, trillions of dollars in new financing will be needed to mitigate the impact on developing countries.In Ghana, the government owed $63.3 billion at the end of 2022 not just to foreign creditors but also to homegrown lenders — pension funds, insurance companies and local banks that believed the government was a safe investment. The situation was so unusual that the I.M.F. for the first time made settling this domestic debt a prerequisite for a bailout. A partial restructuring, which cut returns and extended the due dates, was completed in February. While the haircut may have been necessary, it undermined confidence in the banks.As for foreign lenders, there are thousands of private, semipublic and governmental creditors, including China, which have different objectives, loan arrangements and regulatory controls.The magnitude and type of debt means “this crisis is much deeper than the type of economic difficulties Ghana has faced in the past,” said Stéphane Roudet, the I.M.F.’s mission chief to Ghana.The dizzying proliferation of lenders now characterizes much of the debt burdening distressed countries around the globe — making it also more complex and difficult to resolve.“You don’t have six people in a room,” said Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner and a former chief economist at the World Bank. “You have a thousand people in a room.”Victoria Chrappah, a trader, recounts the unfavorable business climate, as fluctuating exchange rates affect prices of imported goods from China.Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times‘Last Year Was the Worst of All.’Outside Victoria Chrappah’s narrow stall in Makola Market, snaking lines of sellers hawked live chickens, toilet paper packs and electronic chargers from giant baskets balanced on their heads. As restructuring negotiations with foreign lenders continue, households and businesses are doing their best to cope. Ms. Chrappah has been selling imported bathmats, shower curtains and housewares for more than 20 years.“Last year was the worst of all,” she said.Inflation surged, and the cedi lost more than half its value compared with the U.S. dollar — a blow to consumers and businesses when a country imports everything from medicine to cars. The Bank of Ghana jacked up interest rates to cope with inflation, hurting businesses and households that rely on short-term borrowing or want to invest. The benchmark rate is now 30 percent.Because of the rapidly depreciating currency, Ms. Chrappah explained, “you can sell in the morning at one price, and then you have to think of changing the price the following day.”Purchasing power as well as the value of savings has been halved. Doreen Adjetey, product manager for Dalex Swift, a finance company based in Accra, said a bottle of Tylenol to soothe her 19-month-old baby’s teething pain cost 50 cedis last year. Now it’s 110.A month’s worth of groceries cost more than 3,000 cedis compared with 1,000. Before, she and her husband had a comfortable monthly income of 10,000 cedis, worth about $2,000 when the exchange rate was 5 cedis to the dollar. At today’s rate, it’s worth $889.Joe Jackson, the director of business operations at Dalex, said default rates for small and medium-size enterprises “are through the roof,” jumping to 70 percent from 30 percent.The real estate and construction market has also tanked. “There’s been a drastic drop in the number of homes in the first-buyer segment of the market,” said Joseph Aidoo Jr., executive director of Devtraco Limited, a large real estate developer.Construction of an apartment complex in Accra. The real estate and construction market has suffered along with the rise in the cost of borrowing. Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesWhen the pandemic struck in 2020, paralyzing economies, shrinking revenues and raising health care costs, fear of a global debt crisis mounted. Ghana, like many developing countries, had borrowed heavily, encouraged by years of low commercial rates.As the Federal Reserve and other central banks raised interest rates to combat inflation, developing countries’ external debt payments — priced in dollars or euros — unexpectedly ballooned at the same time that prices of imported food, fuel and fertilizer shot up.As Ghana’s foreign reserves skidded toward zero, the government began paying for refined oil imports directly with gold bought by the central bank.Even so, while the series of unfortunate global events may have supercharged Ghana’s debt crisis, they didn’t create it.The current government, like previous ones, spent much more than it collected in revenues. Taxes as a share of total output are also lower than the average across the rest of Africa.To make up the shortfall, the government kept borrowing, offering higher and higher interest rates to attract foreign lenders. And then it borrowed more to pay back the interest on previous loans. By the end of last year, interest payments on debt were gobbling up more than 70 percent of government revenues.“The government is bloated and inefficient,” said E. Gyimah-Boadi, the board chair of Afrobarometer, a research network. Half-completed schools, hospitals and other projects are abandoned when a new administration comes in. Corruption and mismanagement are also problems, several economists and business leaders in Ghana said.More fundamentally, Ghana’s economy is not set up to generate the kind of jobs and incomes needed for broad development and sustainable growth.“Ghana’s success story is real,” said Aurelien Kruse, the lead country economist in the Accra office of the World Bank. “Where it may have been a bit oversold,” though, is that “the fast growth has not been diversified.” The economy is primarily dependent on exports of raw materials like cocoa, oil and gold, which peak and swoop in price.Manufacturing accounts for a mere 10 percent of the country’s output — a decline from 2013. Without a thriving industrial sector to provide steady employment and produce exportable goods, Ghana has no other streams of revenue from abroad, which can build wealth and pay for needed imports.This model — the import of expensive goods and the export of cheap resources — characterized the colonial system.Senyo Hosi, executive chairman of Kleeve & Tove, an investment company based in Accra, said he had an agribusiness that produced rice in the Volta region and worked with more than 1,000 growers. He can’t do required upgrades to equipment, though, because 30 percent interest rates make borrowing impossible. “I stopped production,” he said.Delivery riders for an online food delivery app. Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times‘For Us It Means Shutdown.’As the global financial system struggles to restructure hundreds of billions of dollars in existing debt, the question of how to avoid the debt trap in the first place remains more urgent than ever. Large chunks of money are required to invest in desperately needed roads, technology, schools, clean energy and more. But dozens of countries lack the domestic savings needed to pay for them, and grants and low-cost loans from international institutions are scarce.Road works continue on sections of the National Route Six, a carriageway connecting Ghana’s capital to its second largest city, Kumasi.Francis Kokoroko for The New York Times“The fundamental issue is the need for financing,” said Brahima S. Coulibaly, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.So governments turn to international capital markets, where investors are foraging the world for high returns. Both political leaders and investors often look for short-term wins, whether in the next election or earnings call, said Martin Guzman, a former finance minister of Argentina who handled his country’s debt restructuring in 2020.This free flow of capital around the globe has resulted in a flood of financial crises. “Inequality is embedded in the international financial architecture,” a United Nations Global Crisis Response Group concluded in an analysis.Even worthy investments — and not all of them are — don’t always generate enough revenue to repay the loans. When bad times hit or foreign lenders get spooked, governments are left in the lurch. This process can be accelerated in Africa, where research has found there is an exaggerated perception of risk, which lowers credit ratings and raises financing costs.Without a safety cushion to fall back on, a small government cash crunch can turn into a disaster. Think of a household in a tough stretch that can’t cover next month’s rent and is evicted. Now instead of being a few hundred dollars in debt, the members of the household are homeless.“For us,” said Ken Ofori-Atta, Ghana’s finance minister, a credit downgrade “means shutdown.”Ghana’s finance minister, Ken Ofori-Atta, at his home in Accra: “For us, a credit downgrade means shutdown.”Francis Kokoroko for The New York TimesSeveral organizations have sketched out escape routes from the debt trap, including more low-cost lending from multilateral banks like the World Bank.Debt Justice, which advocates for debt forgiveness, along with many economists, argues that some of the $200 billion in debt must be erased. It has also called for governments and lenders to publicly reveal the amount and terms of loans, and what the money was used for so it can be better tracked and audited.Other research groups have looked at ways to stabilize the evolving African bond market and help governments survive short-term shortfalls as well as boom-and-bust swings in commodity prices.Mr. Ofori-Atta said he had “extreme confidence” that Ghana would have strong growth after it emerged from this debt tunnel.But the problem of finding manageable amounts of low-cost investment capital remains.Where does an African country — or any developing country — get the type of financing it needs to grow? Mr. Ofori-Atta asked.Before the cycle of debt crises is broken, that question will have to be answered. More

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    Job Openings Dropped in July as Labor Market Cooled

    The NewsThe number of job openings continued to drop in July, the Labor Department reported Tuesday, another sign that the U.S. labor market is losing its momentum.There were 8.8 million job openings last month, down from about 9.2 million in June and the lowest level since March 2021, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The amount of people quitting their jobs, a measure of workers’ confidence in the job market, continued to nudge down in July as well.A job fair in Minneapolis last month.Tim Gruber for The New York TimesWhy It Matters: Implications for interest-rate policy.Labor market data is closely watched by policymakers at the Federal Reserve as they combat stubborn inflation.“For workers, this looks like fewer opportunities — if you leave your job now, you’re less likely to land a better one than you were last year at this time,” Elizabeth Renter, a data analyst at the personal finance site NerdWallet, said in an email statement. “For the Fed, this likely looks according to plan.”Fed policymakers lifted interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent in their last meeting in July, the highest since 2001. Only one Fed meeting has passed since March 2022 where the central bank has not raised rates. Some investors hope that signs the labor market is continuing to cool will push the Fed to end its campaign of rate increases sooner.Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, signaled on Friday that the central bank was not ruling out more rate increases.“We are prepared to raise rates further if appropriate, and intend to hold policy at a restrictive level until we are confident that inflation is moving sustainably down toward our objective,” Mr. Powell said at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City’s annual Jackson Hole conference in Wyoming.The new data is likely to be welcomed by the Fed, said Layla O’Kane, a senior economist at Lightcast, a labor market analytics firm. It shows that what the Fed has been doing is working, but policymakers are not likely to declare their mission accomplished just yet, she said.“This is a really good sign for a cooling labor market, but it’s not a cool labor market yet,” Ms. O’Kane said. “There’s some way to go before we think we solved some of the labor market tightness.”Background: A surprisingly robust labor market.The U.S. labor market has defied expectations by remaining strong despite the Fed’s mission to slow down the economy by raising interest rates.Consistently strong labor data initially fueled predictions that the Fed would continue rate increases until the economy fell into a recession. Many have taken a more optimistic view recently as inflation has begun to moderate alongside a strong labor market.Employers are starting to feel the effects of high interest rates, said Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter. Companies are being more judicious in their hiring even if they need more people, in part because of the high cost of labor, she said.“With interest rates this high, some investments don’t pencil out,” Ms. Pollak said. “Businesses that would have opened another location or invested in another truck or another warehouse are taking it slow.”What’s Next: The August jobs report on Friday.The August employment report will be released by the Labor Department on Friday.The unemployment rate dropped to 3.5 percent in July, a sign that although the labor market is cooling, workers are generally still able to find opportunities. The unemployment data for August will be one of the last labor market pulses that Fed policymakers will get before their next meeting on Sept. 19-20. More

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    A Crisis of Confidence Is Gripping China’s Economy

    China’s economy, which once seemed unstoppable, is plagued by a series of problems, and a growing lack of faith in the future is verging on despair.Earlier this year, David Yang was brimming with confidence about the prospects for his perfume factory in eastern China.After nearly three years of paralyzing Covid lockdowns, China had lifted its restrictions in late 2022. The economy seemed destined to roar back to life. Mr. Yang and his two business partners invested more than $60,000 in March to expand production capacity at the factory, expecting a wave of growth.But the new business never materialized. In fact, it’s worse. People are not spending, he said, and orders are one-third of what they were five years ago.“It is disheartening,” Mr. Yang said. “The economy is really going downhill right now.”For much of the past four decades, China’s economy seemed like an unstoppable force, the engine behind the country’s rise to a global superpower. But the economy is now plagued by a series of crises. A real estate crisis born from years of overbuilding and excessive borrowing is running alongside a larger debt crisis, while young people are struggling with record joblessness. And amid the drip feed of bad economic news, a new crisis is emerging: a crisis of confidence.A growing lack of faith in the future of the Chinese economy is verging on despair. Consumers are holding back on spending. Businesses are reluctant to invest and create jobs. And would-be entrepreneurs are not starting new businesses.“Low confidence is a major issue in the Chinese economy now,” said Larry Hu, chief China economist for Macquarie Group, an Australian financial services firm.Mr. Hu said the erosion of confidence was fueling a downward spiral that fed on itself. Chinese consumers aren’t spending because they are worried about job prospects, while companies are cutting costs and holding back on hiring because consumers aren’t spending.In the past few weeks, investors have pulled more than $10 billion out of China’s stock markets. On Thursday, China’s top securities regulator summoned executives at the country’s national pension funds, top banks and insurers to pressure them to invest more in Chinese stocks, according to Caixin, an economics magazine. Last week, stocks in Hong Kong fell into a bear market, down more than 20 percent from their high in January.From its resilience to past challenges, China forged a deep belief in its economy and its state-controlled model. It rebounded quickly in 2009 from the global financial meltdown, and in spectacular fashion. It weathered a Trump administration trade war and proved its indispensability. When the pandemic dragged down the rest of the world, China’s economy bounced back with vigor. The Global Times, a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party, declared in 2022 that China was the “unstoppable miracle.”China’s president, Xi Jinping, speaking at in Shanghai in 2018, when he gave a rousing defense of the economy: “You have every reason to be confident.”Pool photo by Johannes EiseleOne factor contributing to the current confidence deficit is the prospect that China’s policymakers have fewer good options to fight the downturn than in the past.In 2018, with the economy in a trade war with the United States and its stock market nose-diving, Xi Jinping, China’s leader, gave a rousing speech.Mr. Xi was addressing an international trade fair in Shanghai and sought to quell the uncertainty: No one should ever waver in their confidence about the Chinese economy, despite some ups and downs, he said.“The Chinese economy is not a pond, but an ocean,” Mr. Xi said. “The ocean may have its calm days, but big winds and storms are only to be expected. Without them, the ocean wouldn’t be what it is. Big winds and storms may upset a pond, but never an ocean. When you talk about the future of the Chinese economy, you have every reason to be confident.”But in recent months, Mr. Xi has said little about the economy.Unlike past crises that were international in nature, a convergence of long-simmering domestic problems is confronting China — some a result of policy changes carried out by Mr. Xi’s government.After the 2008 financial crisis, China unleashed a huge stimulus package to get the economy moving again. In 2015, when its real estate market was teetering, Beijing handed out cash to consumers to replace run-down shacks with new apartments as part of an urban redevelopment plan that gave rise to another building boom in smaller Chinese cities.Now, policymakers are confronting a far different landscape, forcing them to rethink the usual playbook. Local governments and businesses are saddled with more debt and less leeway to borrow heavily and spend liberally. And after decades of infrastructure investments, there isn’t as much need for another airport or bridge — the types of big projects that would spur the economy.China’s policymakers are also handcuffed because they introduced many of the measures that precipitated the economic problems. The “zero Covid” lockdowns brought the economy to a standstill. The real estate market is reeling from the government’s measures from three years ago to curb heavy borrowing by developers, while crackdowns on the fast-growing technology industry prompted many tech firms to scale back their ambitions and the size of their work forces.When China’s top leaders gathered in July to discuss the rapidly deteriorating economy, they did not deliver a bazooka-style spending program as some had anticipated. Coming out of the meeting, the Political Bureau of the Chinese Communist Party presented a laundry list of pronouncements — many rehashed from previous statements — without any new announcements. It focused, however, on the need to “boost confidence,” without detailing the measures that showed policymakers were ready to do that.“Whether you have confidence in the Chinese economy is actually whether you have confidence in the Chinese government,” said Kim Yuan, who lost his job in the home decoration industry last year. He has struggled to find another job, but he said the economy was unlikely to worsen significantly as long as the government maintained control.

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    China consumer confidence index
    Source: China National Bureau of Statistics via CEIC DataBy The New York TimesConfronted with dwindling confidence, the government has fallen back on a familiar pattern and stopped announcing troubling economic data.This month, China’s National Bureau of Statistics said it would stop releasing youth unemployment figures, a closely watched indicator of the country’s economic troubles. After six straight months of rising joblessness among the country’s 16- to 24-year-olds, the agency said the collection of those figures needed “to be further improved and optimized.”The bureau this year also stopped releasing surveys of consumer confidence, among the best barometers of households’ willingness to spend. Confidence rebounded modestly at the start of the year, but started to plummet in the spring. The government’s statistics office last announced the survey results for April, discontinuing a series it began 33 years ago.Instead of giving people less to worry about, the sudden removal of closely followed data has left some on Chinese social media wondering what they might be missing.Laurence Pan, 27, noticed that something was beginning to go awry in 2018 when customers at the international advertising agency in Beijing where he worked started to scale back budgets. Over the next few years, he hopped from one agency to another, but the caution from clients around spending was the same.He resigned from his last employer three months ago. Mr. Pan said that he had secured new jobs quickly in the past, but that he was struggling to find a position this time. He has applied for nearly 30 jobs since last month and has not received an offer. He said he was considering part-time work at a convenience store or a fast-food restaurant to make ends meet. With so many uncertainties, he has cut back on his spending.“Everyone is having a hard time now, and they have no money to spend,” he said. “This might be the most difficult time I’ve ever been through.”The Shanghai skyline. Consumers in China are holding back on spending, and businesses are reluctant to invest and create jobs. Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock More

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    Fed Officials Avoided a Victory Lap at July Meeting

    Federal Reserve officials raised interest rate at their July 26 meeting, and freshly released minutes showed they remained focused on inflation risks.Federal Reserve officials welcomed a recent slowdown in inflation at their July meeting, minutes released on Wednesday showed, but they stopped short of declaring victory. Instead, officials stressed that inflation remained “unacceptably” high and “most” saw continued risks of higher inflation that might prod the central bank to raise interest rates further.Fed policymakers raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent on July 26, the highest since 2001. Officials have lifted borrowing costs sharply over the past 17 months — first adjusting them rapidly, and more recently at a slower pace — to slow the economy. By making it more expensive to borrow and spend, they have been hoping to cool demand and wrangle inflation.But given how much rates have risen in recent months and how much inflation has recently cooled, investors have been questioning whether policymakers are likely to lift borrowing costs again. Inflation eased to 3.2 percent in July on an overall basis, down sharply from a high of more than 9 percent in mid-2022.Officials at the Fed meeting did welcome recent progress on slowing price increases, but many of them stopped short of signaling that it could prompt them to back down on their campaign to cool the economy. The minutes showed that “a couple” of the Fed’s policymakers did not want to raise interest rates in July, but most supported the move — and suggested that there could still be further adjustment ahead.“Participants noted the recent reduction in total and core inflation rates” but stressed that “inflation remained unacceptably high and that further evidence would be required for them to be confident that inflation was clearly on a path” back to normal, the minutes showed.With inflation still unusually high and the labor market strong, “most participants continued to see significant upside risks to inflation, which could require further tightening of monetary policy,” the minutes added.Still, Fed officials did acknowledge that they would need to take the potential costs to the economy into account. Higher interest rates can slow hiring sharply, partly by making it more expensive for companies to get business loans, potentially pushing up unemployment and even tipping the economy into a recession.“It was important that the committee’s decisions balance the risk of an inadvertent overtightening of policy against the cost of an insufficient tightening,” a “number” of policymakers noted.Fed officials are facing a complicated economic picture as they try to assess whether they have sufficiently adjusted policy to return inflation to 2 percent over time. On one hand, the job market shows signs of cooling and the rate moves that the Fed has already made are still slowly trickling out to restrain the economy. Yet consumer spending remains surprisingly strong, unemployment is very low, and wage growth is solid — momentum that could give companies the wherewithal to charge their customers more.Officials noted that there was a “high degree of uncertainty” about how much the moves they have already made will continue to temper demand. Financial conditions are tight, meaning it is tough and expensive to borrow, which officials thought could weigh on consumption. At the same time, the housing market seems to be stabilizing, and some officials suggested that “the housing sector’s response to monetary policy restraint may have peaked.”The resilience of the economy has prompted the Fed’s staff economists — an influential bunch of analysts whose forecasts inform policymakers — to revisit their previous expectation that the economy would fall into a mild recession late this year.“Indicators of spending and real activity had come in stronger than anticipated; as a result, the staff no longer judged that the economy would enter a mild recession toward the end of the year,” the minutes said. They did still expect a “small increase in the unemployment rate relative to its current level” in 2024 and 2025.It is tricky to guess how quickly inflation will slow going forward, because there are a lot of moving parts. For instance, cheaper gas had been helping to drag price increases lower — but gas costs began to rebound in the second half of July, a trend that has continued into August.At the same time, rental costs continue to ease in official inflation data, which should help calm the overall numbers. And China is growing more slowly than many economists had expected, which could help weigh on global commodity prices and slow American inflation around the edges.“Participants cited a number of tentative signs that inflation pressures could be abating,” the minutes showed. Those included softer increases in goods prices, slowing online price gains, and “evidence that firms were raising prices by smaller amounts than previously,” among other factors.Fed officials have also been shrinking their balance sheet of bond holdings, a process that can take some steam out of asset prices but that will also leave the central bank with a smaller footprint in financial markets. Officials suggested in the minutes that the process of winnowing it could continue even after interest rates begin to come down, something they have forecast to begin next year — illustrating their continued commitment to paring back their holdings.“A number of participants noted that balance sheet runoff need not end when the Committee eventually begins to reduce the target range for the federal funds rate,” the minutes said.Joe Rennison More

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    Wages and Hiring Weigh on Minds of Company Executives

    As companies reported their latest quarterly earnings in recent weeks, hiring, wages and head counts were popular topics as analysts quizzed executives about their plans.Some said they were avoiding expanding their payrolls as rapidly as in the past. Others said that rising wages remained a worry for their bottom lines. And many still looking to hire said that attracting and retaining workers was difficult as the labor market remained robust.“You have to work extra to hire people and to keep people,” Andrew Watterson, the chief operating officer of Southwest Airlines, said on a call with analysts. “Our clients still grapple with labor shortages,” said Martine Ferland, who runs the consultancy Mercer.Even so, the rate of workers quitting their jobs, a measure of workers’ confidence in their prospects and bargaining power, continued to fall in June, according to data released Tuesday. “If you think about our turnover coming down, that means we don’t have as many people we’re hiring as we were before,” said Rick Cardenas, the chief executive of Darden Restaurants, owner of the Olive Garden chain.Wage growth has also cooled in recent months, but remained robust last month, rising 4.4 percent from a year earlier. “We still face above normal levels of wage and benefit cost inflation in our cost structure,” Andre Schulten, the finance chief at the consumer goods company Procter & Gamble, said on a call with analysts.Kathryn A. Mikells, the chief financial officer of Exxon Mobil, said that the oil giant had seen lower prices for some of its materials like chemicals and sand, but “as it relates to things where labor is a high component of the cost, I would say we’re not yet necessarily seeing that deflationary pressure coming through yet.”Anthony Wood, the chief executive of Roku, the streaming device maker, told analysts that the company would continue hiring, but planned to do so outside of the United States, in places where workers “are just less expensive than Silicon Valley engineers.”Other companies, especially in the tech industry, said that they had become more judicious about hiring, with some freezing payrolls or even cutting jobs.Mark Zuckerberg of Meta, which cut tens of thousands of jobs in multiple rounds of layoffs since late last year, said last week that “newly budgeted head count growth is going to be relatively low” at the company, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp. Sundar Pichai of Alphabet said that the tech giant would “continue to slow our expense growth and pace of hiring.” More

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    Job Turnover Eased in June as Labor Market Cooled

    The NewsJob turnover decreased in June, the Labor Department reported on Tuesday, suggesting that the American labor market continues to slow down from its meteoric ascent after the pandemic lockdowns.A flier advertising open positions at a job fair in Minneapolis.Tim Gruber for The New York TimesThe NumbersThere were 9.6 million job openings in June, roughly the same as a month earlier, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS).Employers have tightened the screws on hiring in recent months, with job openings falling to their lowest level since April 2021 as the economy responds to tightening monetary policy.The most notable changes in June were not in job openings but in hiring and quitting. There were 5.9 million hires in June, down from 6.2 million in May. And the quits rate, a measure of workers’ confidence in the job market and bargaining power, decreased to 2.4 percent, from 2.6 percent in May and down from a record of 3 percent in April 2022. The number of workers laid off was 1.5 million, about the same as in May.Quotable: ‘The labor market is unbalanced.’“We’re still in an economy where the labor market is unbalanced,” said Michael Strain, an economist at the American Enterprise Institute, “with the demand for workers substantially outpacing the supply of workers.” There are roughly 1.6 job openings for each unemployed worker.Why It Matters: The economy moves closer to a ‘soft landing.’Over the past 16 months, as they have sought to curb inflation and make sure the economy does not overheat, Federal Reserve policymakers have pursued the coveted “soft landing.” That means bringing down inflation to the Fed’s target of 2 percent by raising interest rates without causing a significant jump in unemployment, avoiding a recession.The June JOLTS report provides more optimism that the Fed is approaching that soft landing, as demand for workers remains robust while tapering gradually. Inflation remains high by historical standards — at 3 percent, according to the latest data — but has eased substantially.“This is a really strong labor market that is staying strong but slowing down,” said Preston Mui, a senior economist at Employ America, a research and advocacy group focused on the job market.At the end of their meeting last Wednesday, policymakers raised rates a quarter-point, and the Fed’s chair, Jerome H. Powell, said its staff economists were no longer projecting a recession for 2023. But Mr. Powell left the door open to further rate increases and said the economy still had “a long way to go” to 2 percent inflation.Background: It’s been a good time to be a worker.As the U.S. economy rapidly rose out of the Covid-19 recession in 2020, a powerful narrative built: “Nobody wants to work.” There was some truth to that hyperbole. Employers had a hard time finding workers, and workers reaped the rewards, quitting their jobs to find better-paying ones (and succeeding).With quit rates falling in recent months, the so-called great resignation appears to be over, if not receding, and the continued downward trajectory of job openings implies that employers are less eager to fill staffing shortages.Employers are not hiring with the fervor they were a few months ago, but they are not yet casting aside workers, who might not lose the gains they have achieved during the pandemic recovery.What’s Next: The July jobs report lands on Friday.The Labor Department will release the July employment report on Friday. The unemployment rate for June sat at 3.6 percent, a dip from 3.7 percent in May but higher than the 3.4 percent recorded in January and April, the lowest jobless rate since 1969.June was the 30th consecutive month of gains in U.S. payrolls, as the economy added 209,000 jobs, and economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected the economy to have added another 200,000 jobs in July. Fed policymakers will be watching the report closely, but one more month’s data will arrive before they next convene Sept. 19-20. More