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    U.S. Employers Added 253,000 Jobs Despite Economic Worries

    Employers added 253,000 jobs in April and unemployment fell to 3.4 percent, but the labor market’s strength complicates the Fed’s inflation fight.The labor market is still defying gravity — for now.Employers added 253,000 jobs in April on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department reported Friday, in a departure from the cooling trend that had marked the first quarter and was expected to continue.The unemployment rate was 3.4 percent, down from 3.5 percent in March, and matched the level in January, which was the lowest since 1969. Wages also popped slightly, growing 4.4 percent over the past year.The higher-than-forecast job gain complicates the Federal Reserve’s potential shift toward a pause in interest rate increases. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Wednesday that the central bank might continue to raise rates if new data showed the economy wasn’t slowing enough to keep prices down.It’s also an indication that the failure of three banks and the resulting pullback on lending, which is expected to hit smaller businesses particularly hard, hasn’t yet hamstrung job creation.“All these things are telling us it’s not a hard stop; it’s creating a headwind, but not a debilitating headwind,” said Carl Riccadonna, the chief U.S. economist at BNP Paribas. “A gradual downturn is happening, but it sure is stubborn and persistent in the trend.” Despite the strong showing in April, the labor market continues to gently descend from blistering highs.Downward revisions to the previous two months’ data meaningfully altered the spring employment picture, subtracting a total of 149,000 jobs. That brings the three-month average to 222,000 jobs, a clear slowdown from the 400,000 added on average in 2022. Most economists expect a more marked downshift later in the year.Jobs increased across industriesChange in jobs in April 2023, by sector More

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    Powell Bets the Fed Can Slow Inflation Despite Recession Fears

    Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, thinks his central bank can defy history to clinch slower inflation and a soft economic landing.The Federal Reserve’s push to slow the economy and bring inflation under control is often compared to an airplane descent, one that could end in a soft landing, a bumpy one or an outright crash.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, is betting on something more akin to the Miracle on the Hudson: a touchdown that is gentle, all things considered, and unlike anything the nation has seen before.The Fed has raised rates sharply over the past year, pushing them just above 5 percent on Wednesday, in a bid to cool the economy to bring inflation under control. Staff economists at the central bank have begun to forecast that America is likely to tip into a recession later this year as the Fed’s substantial policy moves combine with turmoil in the banking sector to snuff out growth.But Mr. Powell made it clear during a news conference on Wednesday that he does not agree.“That’s not my own most likely case,” he said, explaining that he expects modest growth this year. That sunnier forecast has hinged, in part, on trends in the labor market.America’s job market is still very strong — with rapid job growth and unemployment hovering near a 50-year low — but it has shown signs of cooling. Job openings have dropped sharply in recent months, falling to 9.6 million in March from a peak of more than 12 million a year earlier. Historically, such a massive decline in the number of available positions would have come alongside layoffs and rising joblessness, and prominent economists had predicted a painful economic landing for exactly that reason.But so far, unemployment has not budged.Relationship Status: It’s ComplicatedJoblessness usually increases when job openings fall. But that relationship is in question now as job openings drop while unemployment remains low.

    Note: Data is seasonally adjustedSource: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York Times“It wasn’t supposed to be possible for job openings to decline by as much as they have declined without unemployment going up,” Mr. Powell said this week. While America will get the latest update on unemployment when a job market report is released Friday, unemployment has yet to rise meaningfully. Mr. Powell added that “there are no promises in this, but it just seems to me that it is possible that we can continue to have a cooling in the labor market without having the big increases in unemployment that have gone with many prior episodes.”America’s economic fate rests on whether Mr. Powell’s optimism is correct. If the Fed can pull it off — defying history to wrangle rapid inflation by sharply cooling the labor market without causing a big and painful jump in joblessness — the legacy of the post-pandemic economy could be a tumultuous but ultimately positive one. If it can’t, taming price increases could come at a painful cost to America’s employees.The Fed has raised rates sharply over the past year, pushing them just above 5 percent as of their meeting this week, in a bid to cool the economy in order to wrestle inflation under control.Hiroko Masuike/The New York TimesSome economists are skeptical that the good times can last.“We haven’t seen this trade-off, which is fantastic,” said Aysegul Sahin, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin. But she noted that productivity data appeared glum, which suggests that companies got burned by years of pandemic labor shortages and are now hanging onto workers even when they do not necessarily need them to produce goods and services.“This time was different, but now we are getting back to the state where it is a more normal labor market,” she said. “This is going to start playing out the way it always plays out.”The Fed is in charge of fostering both maximum employment and stable inflation. But those goals can come into conflict, as is the case now.Inflation has been running above the Fed’s 2 percent goal for two full years. While the strong labor market did not initially cause the price spikes, it could help to perpetuate them. Employers are paying higher wages to try to hang onto workers. As they do that, they are raising prices to cover their costs. Workers who are earning a bit more are able to afford rising rents, child care costs and restaurant checks without pulling back.In situations like this, the Fed raises interest rates to cool the economy and job market. Higher borrowing costs slow down the housing market, discourage big consumer purchases like cars and home improvement projects, and deter businesses from expanding. As people spend less, companies cannot keep raising prices without losing customers.But setting policy correctly is an economic tightrope act.Policymakers think that it is paramount to act decisively enough to quickly bring inflation under control — if it is allowed to persist too long, families and businesses could come to expect steadily rising prices. They might then adjust their behavior, asking for bigger raises and normalizing regular price increases. That would make inflation even harder to stamp out.On the other hand, officials do not want to cool the economy too much, causing a painful recession that proves more punishing than was necessary to return inflation to normal.Striking that balance is a dicey proposition. It is not clear exactly how much the economy needs to slow to fully control inflation. And the Fed’s interest rate policy is blunt, imprecise and takes time to work: It is hard to guess how much the increases so far will ultimately weigh on growth.That is why the Fed has slowed its policy changes in recent months — and why it appears poised to pause them altogether. After a string of three-quarter point rate moves last year, the Fed has recently adjusted borrowing costs a quarter point at a time. Officials signaled this week that they could stop raising rates altogether as soon as their mid-June meeting, depending on incoming economic data.Hitting pause would give central bankers a chance to see whether their rate adjustments so far might be sufficient.It would also give them time to assess the fallout from turmoil in the banking industry — upheaval that could make a soft economic landing even more difficult.Three large banks have collapsed and required government intervention since mid-March, and jitters continue to course through midsize lenders, with several regional bank stocks plummeting on Wednesday and Thursday. Banking troubles can quickly translate into economic problems as lenders pull back, leaving businesses less able to grow and families less able to finance their consumption.The labor market could be in for a more dramatic slowdown, given the bank tumult and the Fed’s rate moves so far, said Nick Bunker, the director of North American economic research at the job site Indeed.He said that while job openings have been coming down swiftly, some of that might reflect a shift back to normal conditions after a bout of pandemic-inspired weirdness, not necessarily as a result of Fed policy.For instance, job openings in leisure and hospitality industries had spiked as restaurants and hotels reopened from lockdowns. Those were now disappearing, but that might be more about a return to business as usual.“A soft landing is happening, but how much of that is gravity and how much of it is what the pilot is doing with the plane?” Mr. Bunker said. Going forward, it could be that the normal historical relationship between declining job openings and rising joblessness will kick in as policy begins to bite.Or this time truly could be unique — as Mr. Powell is hoping. But whether the Fed and the American economy get to test his thesis could depend on whether the banking system issues clear up, Mr. Bunker said.“We might not get the answer if the financial sector comes and tips the table over,” he said. More

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    After Pandemic Rebound, U.S. Manufacturing Droops

    The pandemic had a bright silver lining for Elkhart, Ind.The city, renowned as the capital of recreational vehicle production, had a surge in demand as cooped-up families took to the highways and avoided hotels. The cluster of manufacturers enjoyed record profits, and workers benefited as well: The metropolitan area’s unemployment rate sank to 1 percent in late 2021, and average weekly wages jumped 35 percent from their level in early 2020.That frenzy, however, has turned to a chill. Dealers, who stocked up on as many trailers and vans as they could, have been discounting them to clear their lots — and new orders have dried up. The area has lost nearly 7,000 manufacturing jobs over the past year, and unemployment is now above the national average. Thor Industries, which owns a wide portfolio of RV brands, saw its sales tumble 39.4 percent from the quarter a year ago.“In 2022, manufacturers overproduced, and you’re seeing some of the impact of that from the staffing standpoint,” said Chris Stager, chief executive of the Economic Development Corporation of Elkhart County. He foresees new projects propelled by recent federal energy and infrastructure legislation, but rising interest rates are taking a toll in the meantime.“It’s not bad, but it’s not what it was,” Mr. Stager said.That’s manufacturing in America in 2023.Factory construction is proceeding more rapidly than at any time in recent memory, heralding what may be a resurgence in domestic production powered by a move away from long, fragile supply chains and by the infusion of billions of dollars in public investment.At the same time, after an extraordinary boom fed by cooped-up consumers, manufacturing is suffering something of a hangover as retailers burn through bloated inventories. Inflation-fighting efforts by the Federal Reserve, which is expected to announce another interest-rate increase on Wednesday, have squelched big-ticket purchases. New orders have been declining since last summer, and a widely followed index of purchasing activity has been downbeat for six months.Working on sponge rubber automotive HVAC drain seals at Colonial.Whitten Sabbatini for The New York TimesManufacturing employment bounced back quickly after the pandemic — which is unusual for recessions — but has contracted for two months. While layoffs in the industry remain low, job openings and hires have sunk from recent highs.“It’s not one of these really concerning plunges, where we’re shedding a bunch of manufacturing jobs, but it seems kind of stalled,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing. “And I think the longer that lasts, the harder it’s going to be to rev things up.”A bigger question for the American economy is whether this heralds a broader downturn, since cooling demand for goods usually signifies that consumers are feeling financially strained. “Manufacturing is always at the forefront of the recession,” notes Barbara Denham, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.To understand the current slump, it’s important to dissect the manufacturing moment from which America is emerging.For example: Those new manufacturing jobs weren’t all for people making steel coils and oak cabinets. The production of consumable items — including food, beverages, and pharmaceuticals — represented an outsize portion of the job growth from 2020 through 2022. But it tends to pay less well, requires less training and has fewer unions than heavy manufacturing in airplanes and automobiles. And it can disappear more quickly as demand returns to normal.Factory employment bounced back, but is now leveling off Number of manufacturing jobs as a percentage of the total in February 2020

    Source: Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesThe pandemic-era manufacturing boom also didn’t happen equally in all places. States like Nevada, Arizona, Florida and Texas surged far above their prepandemic baselines, while longtime manufacturing centers — Michigan, Illinois, New York and Ohio — have not fully bounced back. That imbalance reflects recent migration trends, as people have moved out of urban areas for more space, more sunshine and a lower cost of living.The factory construction underway is poised to further reshape the geography of American manufacturing, with the largest increases in investment happening in the Mountain West.LaDon Byars, who runs Colonial Diversified Polymer Products, said reinforcing domestic supply chains would be worth the effort.Whitten Sabbatini for The New York TimesAll that new building is propelled by several factors. Former President Donald J. Trump’s trade war raised the cost of importing from China and other countries, while the pandemic snarled ports and idled suppliers, hurting manufacturers who depended on far-flung sourcing networks.In recent months, the war in Ukraine — for which the United States has furnished more than $36 billion in weaponry — has generated more long-term contracts for defense manufacturers, mostly restricted to domestic production.Steve Macias, a co-owner of a small machine shop in Phoenix, said orders from the semiconductor industry have slowed as the demand for home electronics crested. But in the past few weeks, he has been busy serving military clients — because the Defense Department has been getting planes and ships back into fighting shape, as well as refilling empty stores of munitions.“There was a lot of deferred maintenance,” Mr. Macias said. “So you’ve got two things going on — this kind of catch-up, and this war that broke out that nobody was really anticipating.”Finally, over the last two years the passage of three major bills — the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act — made available hundreds of billions of dollars for the production of items like semiconductors, solar panels, wind turbines and bridge spans. Private funders have rushed to capitalize on the opportunity, even if much of it is still in the planning stages.“A lot of manufacturers are reacting to what they see as a lot of long-term structural factors in their industry,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at the Economic Innovation Group, an entrepreneurship-focused think tank. “They’re seeing more demand for domestic production long term. That’s a bet on the future. It’s going to take a while to really translate to employment.”Even when it does, however, that investment might not yield as many jobs as factories with similar levels of output did in the past.Freshly built production lines tend to be more automated and more efficient than those designed in the 1950s and ’60s — which they need to be, to compete with the lower cost of labor overseas. And some companies are adding robots to their plants, given the difficulty of attracting and retaining enough skilled workers to replace those retiring. The median age of workers in manufacturing is two years older than the national median.“These facilities are desperate to try to get the work force,” said Mark Farris, chief executive of the Greenville Area Development Corporation in Greenville, S.C. “And instead, I think they’re convincing the officers of the company, ‘Let’s think about robotics, let’s think about 3-D printing, the technology investment that would take the place of those workers we cannot find.’”Employers’ ferocious need for factory workers is easingManufacturing job openings surged in 2021, but have receded.

    Bureau of Labor StatisticsBy The New York TimesFor businesses that depend on industries related to fossil fuels, the ramp-up in federal investment may just be enough to keep them afloat even as demand shifts to clean energy.Automobile manufacturers are important clients, and Ms. Byars is encouraged as federally funded projects are required to find their parts and raw materials in the United States.Whitten Sabbatini for The New York TimesLaDon Byars runs Colonial Diversified Polymer Products, which employs about 75 people in western Tennessee. The company has survived many cycles of outsourcing and offshoring, making molded rubber products like gaskets and mats for a variety of customers. Automobile manufacturers are important clients, and Ms. Byars knows that demand for parts that go into cars with internal combustion engines will start to wane.She has been encouraged, however, by the number of solicitations she has received as a result of rules that require federally funded projects to find their parts and raw materials in the United States, rather than overseas. It may be difficult and impede progress at first, but she thinks reinforcing domestic supply chains will work out better in the end, just like building new roads.“It takes a while before they get that intersection through — it’s a mess and traffic is backed up,” Ms. Byars said. “And then when they finally open it up, everything works so much smoother and better, and you don’t have the long delays. We might not even see the impact of not being dependent on other countries, and not having the supply chain disruptions, but I do think that’s what the long-term best interest for the American people is.” More

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    Fed Will Decide Next Rate Move After Bank Jitters

    The Federal Reserve will release a policy decision on Wednesday on the heels of another bank collapse.WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve officials are widely expected to lift borrowing costs by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, the 10th consecutive rate increase since March 2022. But investors and economists think that this could be the central bank’s last move before it pauses.Fed officials face a complicated backdrop going into this week’s meeting: Risks to the financial system loom large, but inflation also remains stubborn.The banking system has been in turmoil since the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on March 10. Government officials spent this past weekend racing to find a buyer for First Republic, which had been struggling for weeks and was sold to JPMorgan Chase in a deal announced early Monday morning.Some of the banking sector tumult stems from the Fed’s rapid interest rate increases over the past year. Central bankers are expected to lift rates to just above 5 percent this week, up from near-zero as recently as March 2022. After that quick series of adjustments, many lenders are facing losses on older securities and loans, which pay relatively low interest rates compared with newer securities issued in a higher-rate world.Despite the Fed’s moves — which were meant to rein in quick inflation by slowing the economy — the job market has maintained some momentum and price increases have shown concerning staying power. Companies continue to hire at a solid clip, and data released last week showed that wages continued to climb quickly at the start of the year. While inflation has been slowing, it is increasingly driven by service price increases that have shown little sign of cooling off — which could make it difficult to wrestle price increases the whole way back to the Fed’s slow and steady goal.Policymakers will give the public a sense of how they are thinking about the fraught economic moment on Wednesday in their post-meeting statement at 2 p.m. Because the Fed will not release fresh economic projections at this meeting — those come out just once a quarter — investors will look to a news conference with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, at 2:30 p.m. for clues about what comes next.The Fed could hint at a pauseWhen Fed policymakers released their economic estimates in March, they expected to raise interest rates to a range of 5 to 5.25 percent in 2023.If officials adjust policy as expected this week, they will have lifted rates to that level. The question now is whether they deem that sufficient, or whether policymakers think that the economy and inflation are resilient enough that they will need to adjust borrowing costs more to cool things down and lower inflation fully.Mr. Powell could offer some signal during his news conference, or he could opt to leave the Fed’s options open — which is what some economists expect.“They don’t need to rule anything out,” said Blerina Uruci, chief U.S. economist at T. Rowe Price. “The worst scenario for them would be to signal that they’re done, then have the data force them to do a U-turn.”Investors expect Fed officials to stop after this week, hold rates steady for a few months and then begin to lower them — perhaps substantially, to a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent by the end of the year.Fed policymakers, however, have been adamant that they do not expect to lower rates imminently. And some have hinted that more increases might be warranted if inflation and economic strength show staying power.“Monetary policy needs to be tightened further,” Christopher Waller, a Fed governor and one of the central bank’s more inflation-focused members, said in an April 14 speech. “How much further will depend on incoming data on inflation, the real economy and the extent of tightening credit conditions.”Bank turmoil will influence policyFed officials have been clear that the upheaval in the banking system could slow the economy — but policymakers do not know by how much.Banking trouble is different from other types of business distress, because banks are like the yeast in the sourdough starter of the economy: If they aren’t working, nothing else grows. They lend out money to would-be home buyers, people who want to buy new cars or garage additions, and businesses that want to expand and hire.It is pretty clear that banks are going to pull back their lending at least somewhat in response to the recent turmoil. Anecdotal signs are already surfacing around the country. The question is how acute that shift will be.“If the response to recent banking problems leads to financial tightening, monetary policy has to do less,” Austan Goolsbee, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said in an April 11 speech. “It’s not clear by how much less.”He noted that private-sector estimates suggested that the hit to growth from the banking turmoil could be equivalent to one to three quarter-point rate increases. That estimate came well before First Republic’s demise, but after its troubles started.The economy’s resilience will be criticalOne big question for the Fed — and which will matter for everyone — is whether the U.S. economy will squeak through this episode without plunging into a painful recession.Fed staff members said at the central bank’s March meeting that they expected the economy to experience a “mild recession” in the wake of the recent banking turmoil. And Fed officials — including Mr. Powell — have suggested that a recession is possible as officials try to slow the economy enough to bring inflation under control.But if a recession hits, it is not obvious how painful it will be. Some economists warn that downturns usually build on themselves, as people respond to a little bit of economic weakness by pulling back on spending a lot: It may be hard to push the unemployment rate up just a little bit without pushing it significantly.Others point out that the post-pandemic economy is a weird one, characterized by unusually strong corporate profits and lots of job openings. Because there may be room to squeeze margins and cut unfilled positions, the economy may be able to cool down more gently than in the past — a so-called “soft landing.”Mr. Powell will get a chance to weigh in on which outcome he thinks is most likely on Wednesday. More

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    Late-Night Negotiating Frenzy Left First Republic in JPMorgan’s Control

    The resolution of First Republic Bank came after a frantic night of deal making by government officials and executives at the country’s biggest bank.Lawmakers and regulators have spent years erecting laws and rules meant to limit the power and size of the largest U.S. banks. But those efforts were cast aside in a frantic late-night effort by government officials to contain a banking crisis by seizing and selling First Republic Bank to the country’s biggest bank, JPMorgan Chase.At about 1 a.m. Monday, hours after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had been expected to announce a buyer for the troubled regional lender, government officials informed JPMorgan executives that they had won the right to take over First Republic and the accounts of its well-heeled customers, most of them in wealthy coastal cities and suburbs.The F.D.I.C.’s decision appears, for now, to have quelled nearly two months of simmering turmoil in the banking sector that followed the sudden collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank in early March. “This part of the crisis is over,” Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, told analysts on Monday in a conference call to discuss the acquisition.For Mr. Dimon, it was a reprise of his role in the 2008 financial crisis when JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual at the behest of federal regulators.But the resolution of First Republic has also brought to the fore long-running debates about whether some banks have become too big too fail partly because regulators have allowed or even encouraged them to acquire smaller financial institutions, especially during crises.“Regulators view them as adults and business partners,” said Tyler Gellasch, president of Healthy Markets Association, a Washington-based group that advocates greater transparency in the financial system, referring to big banks like JPMorgan. “They are too big to fail and they are afforded the privilege of being so.”He added that JPMorgan was likely to make a lot of money from the acquisition. JPMorgan said on Monday that it expected the deal to raise its profits this year by $500 million.JPMorgan will pay the F.D.I.C. $10.6 billion to acquire First Republic. The government agency expects to cover a loss of about $13 billion on First Republic’s assets.`Normally a bank cannot acquire another bank if doing so would allow it to control more than 10 percent of the nation’s bank deposits — a threshold JPMorgan had already reached before buying First Republic. But the law includes an exception for the acquisition of a failing bank.The F.D.I.C. sounded out banks to see if they would be willing to take First Republic’s uninsured deposits and if their primary regulator would allow them to do so, according to two people familiar with the process. On Friday afternoon, the regulator invited the banks into a virtual data room to look at First Republic’s financials, the two people said. The government agency, which was working with the investment bank Guggenheim Securities, had plenty of time to prepare for the auction. First Republic had been struggling since the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, despite receiving a $30 billion lifeline in March from 11 of the country’s largest banks, an effort led by Mr. Dimon of JPMorgan.By the afternoon of April 24, it had became increasingly clear that First Republic couldn’t stand on its own. That day, the bank revealed in its quarterly earnings report that it had lost $102 billion in customer deposits in the last weeks of March, or more than half what it had at the end of December.Ahead of the earnings release, First Republic’s lawyers and other advisers told the bank’s senior executives not to answer any questions on the company’s conference call, according to a person briefed on the matter, because of the bank’s dire situation.The revelations in the report and the executives’ silence spooked investors, who dumped its already beaten-down stock.When the F.D.I.C. began the process to sell First Republic, several bidders including PNC Financial Services, Fifth Third Bancorp, Citizens Financial Group and JPMorgan expressed an interest. Analysts and executives at those banks began going through First Republic’s data to figure out how much they would be willing to bid and submitted bids by early afternoon Sunday.Regulators and Guggenheim then returned to the four bidders, asking them for their best and final offers by 7 p.m. E.T. Each bank, including JPMorgan Chase, improved its offer, two of the people said.Regulators had indicated that they planned to announce a winner by 8 p.m., before markets in Asia opened. PNC executives had spent much of the weekend at the bank’s Pittsburgh headquarters putting together its bid. Executives at Citizens, which is based in Providence, R.I., gathered in offices in Connecticut and Massachusetts. But 8 p.m. rolled by with no word from the F.D.I.C. Several hours of silence followed.For the three smaller banks, the deal would have been transformative, giving them a much bigger presence in wealthy places like the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. PNC, which is the sixth-largest U.S. bank, would have bolstered its position to challenge the nation’s four large commercial lenders — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo.Ultimately, JPMorgan not only offered more money than others and agreed to buy the vast majority of the bank, two people familiar with the process said. Regulators also were more inclined to accept the bank’s offer because JPMorgan was likely to have an easier time integrating First Republic’s branches into its business and managing the smaller bank’s loans and mortgages either by holding onto them or selling them, the two people said.As the executives at the smaller banks waited for their phones to ring, the F.D.I.C. and its advisers continued to negotiate with Mr. Dimon and his team, who were seeking assurances that the government would safeguard JPMorgan against losses, according to one of the people.At around 3 a.m., the F.D.I.C. announced that JPMorgan would acquire First Republic.An F.D.I.C. spokesman declined to comment on other bidders. In its statement, the agency said, “The resolution of First Republic Bank involved a highly competitive bidding process and resulted in a transaction consistent with the least-cost requirements of the Federal Deposit Insurance Act.” The announcement was widely praised in the financial industry. Robin Vince, the president and chief executive of Bank of New York Mellon, said in an interview that it felt “like a cloud has been lifted.”Some financial analysts cautioned that the celebrations might be overdone.Many banks still have hundreds of billions of dollars in unrealized losses on Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities purchased when interest rates were very low. Some of those bond investments are now worth much less because the Federal Reserve has sharply raised rates to bring down inflation.Christopher Whalen of Whalen Global Advisors said the Fed fueled some of the problems at banks like First Republic with an easy money policy that led them to load up on bonds that are now performing poorly. “This problem will not go away until the Fed drops interest rates,” he said. “Otherwise, we’ll see more banks fail.”But Mr. Whalen’s view is a minority opinion. The growing consensus is that the failures of Silicon Valley, Signature and now First Republic will not lead to a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis that brought down Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual.The assets of the three banks that failed this year are greater than of the 25 banks that failed in 2008 after adjusting for inflation. But 465 banks failed in total from 2008 to 2012.One unresolved issue is how to deal with banks that still have a high percentage of uninsured deposits — money from customers well in excess of the $250,000 federally insured cap on deposits. The F.D.I.C. on Monday recommended that Congress consider expanding its ability to protect deposits.Many investors and depositors are already assuming that the government will step in to protect all deposits at any failing institution by invoking a systemic risk exception — something they did with Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. But that’s easy to do when it is just a few banks that run into trouble and more difficult if many banks have problems.Another looming concern is that midsize banks will pull back on lending to preserve capital if they are subject to the kind of bank runs that took place at Silicon Valley Bank and First Republic. Depositors might also move their savings to money market funds, which tend to offer higher returns than savings or checking accounts.Midsize banks also need to brace for more exacting oversight from the Fed and the F.D.I.C., which criticized themselves in reports released last week about the bank failures in March.Regional and community banks are the main source of financing for the commercial real estate industry, which encompasses office buildings, apartment complexes and shopping centers. An unwillingness by banks to lend to developers could stymie plans for new construction.Any pullback in lending could lead to a slowdown in economic growth or a recession.Some experts said that despite those challenges and concerns about big banks getting bigger, regulators have done an admirable job in restoring stability to the financial system.“It was an extremely difficult situation, and given how difficult it was, I think it was well done,” said Sheila Bair, who was chair of the F.D.I.C. during the 2008 financial crisis. “It means that big banks becoming bigger when smaller banks begin to fail is inevitable,” she added.Reporting was contributed by More

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    G.D.P. Report: U.S. Economy Grew at 1.1% Rate in First Quarter

    The gross domestic product increased for the third straight quarter as consumer spending remained robust despite higher interest rates.Higher interest rates took a toll on the U.S. economy in early 2023, but free-spending consumers are keeping a recession at bay, at least for now.Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, rose at a 1.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. That was down from a 2.6 percent rate in the last three months of 2022 but nonetheless represented a third straight quarter of growth after output contracted in the first half of last year.The figures are preliminary and will be revised at least twice as more complete data becomes available.Growth in the first quarter was dragged down by weakness in housing and business investment, both of which are heavily influenced by interest rates. The Federal Reserve has raised rates by nearly five percentage points since early last year in an effort to tamp down inflation.Consumers, however, have proved resilient in the face of both rising prices and higher borrowing costs. Inflation-adjusted spending rose at a 3.7 percent annual rate in the first quarter, up from 1 percent in the prior period. Consumers have been buoyed by a strong job market and rising wages, which have helped offset high prices.Spending slowed as the quarter progressed, however, and forecasters warn that it could weaken further amid headlines about layoffs, bank failures and warnings of a possible recession.“Consumer spending is still moving up, but I don’t know how long that can last,” said Ben Herzon, an economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence. “Confidence is weak and has been weakening. You’ve got to wonder, will that soon translate into a pullback in spending?”A gradual slowdown would be welcomed by Fed policymakers, who have been trying to cool off the economy enough to bring down inflation, but not by so much that it leads to widespread layoffs and unemployment.“It’s not a free fall,” said Dana Peterson, chief economist at the Conference Board, a business group. “It’s a controlled descent, and that’s what the Fed is trying to achieve with higher interest rates.” More

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    Unemployment Is Low. Inflation Is Falling. But What Comes Next?

    Despite hopeful signs, economists worry that a recession is on the way or that the Federal Reserve will cause one in trying to rein in inflation.There are two starkly different ways of looking at the U.S. economy right now: what the data says has happened in the past few months, and what history warns could happen next.Most of the recent data suggests that the economy is strong. The job market is, incredibly, better today than it was in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic ripped a hole in the global economy. More people are working. They are paid more. The gaps between them — by race, gender, education or income — are smaller.Even inflation, long the black cloud in the economy’s sunny sky, is showing signs of dissipating. Government data released on Wednesday showed that consumer prices were up 5 percent in March from a year earlier, the slowest pace in nearly two years. Over the past three months, prices have risen at the equivalent of a 3.8 percent annual rate — faster than policymakers would like, but no longer the five-alarm fire it was at its peak last year.Yet for all the good news, economists remain worried that a recession is on the way or that the Federal Reserve will cause one in trying to rein in inflation.“The data has been reassuring,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard economist and former Treasury official. “The things that we’re nervous about are all the things that we don’t have a lot of hard data about.”Beginning with the banks: Most of the recent data predates the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and the upheaval in the banking system that followed. Already, there are signs that small and midsize lenders have begun to tighten their credit standards in response to the crisis, which, in turn, could push the businesses that are their clients to cut back on hiring and investment. The extent of the economic effects won’t be clear for months, but many forecasters — including economists at the Fed — have said that the turmoil has made a recession more likely.The Fed began raising interest rates more than a year ago, but the effect of those increases is just beginning to show up in many parts of the economy. Only in March did the construction industry begin to shed jobs, even though the housing market has been in a slump since the middle of last year. Manufacturers, too, were adding jobs until recently. And consumers are still in the early stages of grappling with what higher rates mean for their ability to buy cars, pay credit card balances and take on other forms of debt.The economic data that paints such a rosy picture of the economy is “a look back into an old world that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics.The Federal Reserve began raising interest rates more than a year ago, but the effect of those increases is just beginning to show up in many parts of the economy.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesMr. Shepherdson expects overall job growth to turn negative as soon as this summer, as the combined impact of the Fed’s policies and the bank-lending crunch hit the economy, leading to job cuts. Fed policymakers “have done more than enough” to tame inflation, he said, but appear likely to raise rates again anyway.Other economists, however, argue that the Fed has little choice but to keep raising rates until inflation is definitively in retreat. The recent slowdown in consumer price growth is welcome, they argue, but it is partly a result of the declines in the price of energy and used cars, both of which appear poised to resume climbing. Measures of underlying inflation, which strip away such short-term swings, have fallen only gradually.“Inflation is coming down, but I’m not sure that the momentum will continue if they don’t do more,” said Raghuram Rajan, an economist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a former governor of India’s central bank.The Fed’s goal is to do just enough to bring down inflation without causing such a severe pullback in borrowing and spending that it leads to widespread job cuts and a recession. Striking that balance perfectly, however, is difficult — especially because policymakers must make their decisions based on data that is preliminary and incomplete.“It is going to be extremely hard for them to fine-tune the exact point,” Mr. Rajan said. “They would love to have more time to see what’s happening.”A miss in either direction could have serious consequences.The recovery of the U.S. job market over the past three years has been nothing short of remarkable. The unemployment rate, which neared 15 percent in April 2020, is down to the half-century low it achieved before the pandemic. Employers have added back all 22 million jobs lost during the early weeks of the pandemic, and three million more besides. The intense demand for labor has given workers a rare moment of leverage, in which they could demand better pay from their bosses, or go elsewhere to find it.The strong rebound has especially helped groups that are frequently left behind in less dynamic economic environments. Employment has been rising among people with disabilities, workers with criminal records and those without high school diplomas. The unemployment rate among Black Americans hit a record low in March, and pay gains have in recent years been fastest among the lowest-paid workers.All of that progress, critics say, could be lost if the Fed goes too far in its effort to fight inflation.Consumers are still in the early stages of grappling with what higher rates mean for their ability to buy cars, make credit card payments and take on other forms of debt.Gabby Jones for The New York Times“For this tiny moment, we finally see what a labor market is supposed to do,” said William Spriggs, a Howard University professor and chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. And the workers benefiting most from the labor market’s current strength, he said, will be the ones who suffer most from a recession.“You should see from this moment what you are truly risking,” Mr. Spriggs said. With inflation already falling, he said, there is no reason for policymakers to take that risk.“The labor market is finally hitting its stride,” he said. “And instead of celebrating and saying, ‘This is fantastic,’ we have the Fed hanging over everybody and casting shade on this unbelievable set of circumstances and saying, ‘Actually this is bad.’”But other economists caution that there are also risks in the Fed’s doing too little. So far, businesses and consumers have treated inflation mostly as a serious but temporary challenge. If they instead begin to expect high rates of inflation to continue, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as companies set prices and workers demand raises in anticipation of higher costs.If that happens, the Fed may need to take much more aggressive action to bring inflation to heel, potentially causing a deeper, more painful recession. That, at least according to many economists, is what happened in the 1970s and 1980s, when the Fed, under Paul Volcker, brought inflation under control at the cost of what was, outside of the Great Depression and the pandemic, the highest unemployment rate on record.The real debate isn’t between the relative evils of inflation or unemployment, argued Jason Furman, a Harvard economist and former top adviser to President Barack Obama. It is between some unemployment now and potentially much more unemployment later.“You’re risking losing millions of jobs if you wait too long,” Mr. Furman said.There have been some encouraging — though still tentative — signs in recent weeks that the Fed may be succeeding at the delicate task of slowing the economy just enough but not too much.Data from the Labor Department this month showed that employers were posting fewer open positions and that workers were changing jobs less frequently, both signs that the job market was beginning to cool. At the same time, the pool of available workers has grown as more people have rejoined the labor force and immigration has rebounded.The combination of increased supply and reduced demand should, in theory, allow the labor market to come back into balance without leading to widespread job cuts. So far, that appears to be happening: Wage growth, which the Fed fears is contributing to inflation, has slowed, but layoffs and unemployment remain low.Jan Hatzius, chief economist for Goldman Sachs, said the recent job market data made him more optimistic about avoiding a recession. And while that outcome is far from certain, he said, it is worth keeping the current debate in perspective.“Given the incredible downturn in the economy that we saw in 2020 — with obvious fears of a much, much, much worse outcome — if you actually manage to get back to a reasonable inflation rate and high employment levels in, say, a three- to four-year period, it would be a very good outcome,” Mr. Hatzius said. 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    California Economy Is on Edge After Tech Layoffs and Studio Cutbacks

    As recession fears persist, the troubles in major industries have hurt tax revenues, turning the state’s $100 billion surplus into a deficit.California has often been at the country’s economic forefront. Now, as fears of a national recession continue to nag, the state is hoping not to lead the way there.While the California economy maintains its powerhouse status, outranking even those of most countries, the state’s most-powerful sectors — including tech companies and supply chain logistics — have struggled to keep their footing, pummeled by high interest rates, investor skittishness, labor strife and other turmoil.Even the weather hasn’t cooperated. Severe flooding throughout much of the winter, caused by atmospheric rivers, has left farming communities in the Central Valley devastated, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in crop losses.Thousands of Californians have been laid off in the last few months, the cost of living is increasingly astronomical, and Gov. Gavin Newsom revealed in January that the state faced a $22.5 billion deficit in the 2023-24 fiscal year — a plummet from the $100 billion surplus a year ago.“It’s an EKG,” Mr. Newsom said at the time, comparing a graph of the state’s revenue to the sharp spikes and drops of the heart’s electrical activity. “That sums up California’s tax structure. It sums up the boom-bust.”The structure, which relies in large part on taxing the incomes of the wealthiest Californians, often translates into dips when Silicon Valley and Wall Street are uneasy, as they are now. Alphabet, the parent company of Google, one of the state’s most prominent corporations, said in January that it was cutting 12,000 workers worldwide, and Silicon Valley Bank, a key lender to tech start-ups, collapsed last month, sending the federal government scrambling to limit the fallout.This has coincided with a drop in venture capital funding as rising interest rates and recession fears have led investors to become more risk-averse. That money, which declined 36 percent globally from 2021 to 2022, according to the management consulting firm Bain & Company, is critical to Silicon Valley’s ability to create jobs.“The tech sector is the workhorse of the state’s economy, it’s the backbone,” said Sung Won Sohn, a finance and economics professor at Loyola Marymount University. “These are high earners who might not be able to carry the state as much as they did in the past.”Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, said in January that the state faced a $22.5 billion deficit in the 2023-24 fiscal year, after a $100 billion surplus a year ago.Lipo Ching/EPA, via ShutterstockEntertainment, another pillar of California’s economy, has also been in retreat as studios adjust to new viewing habits. Disney, based in Burbank, announced in February that it would eliminate 7,000 jobs worldwide.In California alone, employment in the information sector, a category that includes technology and entertainment workers, declined by more than 16,000 from November to February, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, which predates a recent wave of job cuts in March.A recent survey from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found widespread pessimism about the economy. Two-thirds of respondents said they expected bad economic times for the state in the next year, and a solid majority — 62 percent — said they felt the state was already in a recession.When Mr. Newsom announced the deficit earlier in the year, he vowed not to dip into the state’s $37 billion in reserves, and instead called for pauses in funding for child care and reduced funding for climate change initiatives. Joe Stephenshaw, director of the California Department of Finance, said in an interview that he and top economists had begun to spot points of concern — persistent inflation, higher interest rates and a turbulent stock market — on the state’s horizon during the second half of last year.“Those risks became realities,” said Mr. Stephenshaw, an appointee of the governor.He acknowledged that the problem was driven largely by declines in high earners’ incomes, including from market-based compensation, such as stock options and bonus payments. As activity slowed, he said, interest rates rose and stock prices fell.But the state’s problems aren’t limited to the tech industry.Cargo processing at the Port of Los Angeles in February was down 43 percent from the year before.Alex Welsh for The New York TimesCalifornia’s robust supply chain, which drives nearly a third of the state’s economy, has continued to buckle under stresses from the pandemic and an ongoing labor fight between longshoremen and port operators up and down the West Coast, which has prompted many shipping companies to rely instead on ports along the Gulf and East Coasts. Cargo processing at the Port of Los Angeles, a key entry point for shipments from Asia, was down 43 percent in February, compared with the year before.“The longer it drags on, the more cargo will be diverted,” said Geraldine Knatz, a professor of the practice of policy and engineering at the University of Southern California, who was executive director of the Port of Los Angeles from 2006 to 2014. Still, wherever the economic cycle is leading, California heads into it with some strengths. Although unemployment in February, at 4.3 percent, was higher than in most states, it was lower than the rate a year earlier. In the San Francisco and San Jose metropolitan areas, unemployment was below 3.5 percent, better than the national average.Over decades, California’s economy has historically seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, part of the state’s boom-bust history. During the recession of the early 1990s, largely driven by cuts to aerospace after the end of the Cold War, California was hit much harder than other parts of the country.Zeeshan Haque is looking for a job after losing his position as a software engineer at Google. “It’s just very competitive at this time because of so many layoffs,” he said.Mark Abramson for The New York TimesIn March, the U.C.L.A. Anderson Forecast, which provides economic analysis, released projections for both the nation and California, pointing to two possible scenarios — one in which a recession is avoided and another in which it occurs toward the end of this year.“Even in our recession scenario we have a mild recession,” said Jerry Nickelsburg, director of the Anderson Forecast.Regardless of which scenario pans out, California’s economy is likely to be better off than the national one, according to the report, which cited increased demand for software and defense goods, areas in which California is a leader. Mr. Nickelsburg also said the state’s rainy-day fund was healthy enough to withstand the decline in tax revenues. But that shortfall could complicate the speed at which Mr. Newsom can carry out some of his ambitious, progressive policies. In announcing the deficit, Mr. Newsom scaled back funding for climate proposals to $48 billion, from $54 billion.The fiscal outlook also casts a cloud over progressive proposals, widely supported by Democrats, who have a supermajority in the Legislature.A state panel that has been debating reparations for Black Californians is set to release its final report by midyear. Economists have projected that reparations could cost $800 billion to compensate for overpolicing, housing discrimination and disproportionate incarceration rates. Once the panel releases its report, it will be up to lawmakers in Sacramento to decide how much state revenue would support reparations — a concept that Mr. Newsom has endorsed.Through all this, one thing has remained constant: Many Californians say their biggest economic concern is housing costs.The median value for a single-family home in California is about $719,000 — up nearly 1 percent from last year, according to Zillow — and recent census data shows that some of the state’s biggest metro areas, including Los Angeles and San Francisco Counties, have continued to shrink. (In Texas, where many Californians have relocated, the median home value is about $289,000.)Still, some Californians remain optimistic.Zeeshan Haque, a former software engineer at Google, learned in January that he was being laid off. His last day was March 31.“It was out of nowhere and very abrupt,” said Mr. Haque, 32, who recently moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.He bought a $740,000 house in the city’s Chatsworth neighborhood in February and spent time focusing on renovations. But in recent weeks, he has begun to look for a new job. He recently updated his LinkedIn avatar to show the hashtag #opentowork and said he hoped to land a new job soon.“It’s just very competitive at this time because of so many layoffs,” he said.Ben Casselman More