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    Inflation Expectations Climb, Dogging Federal Reserve Officials

    A key measure of inflation expectations released on Tuesday showed continued acceleration, a survey that came as Richard H. Clarida, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair, indicated that central bankers were alert to the risk of high inflation.The combination underscored that the threat of a longer period of rising prices has become more pronounced.In remarks prepared for the Institute of International Finance’s annual meeting, Mr. Clarida said he believed that the “unwelcome” jump in inflation this year, “once these relative price adjustments are complete and bottlenecks have unclogged, will in the end prove to be largely transitory.”“That said, I believe, as do most of my colleagues, that the risks to inflation are to the upside, and I continue to be attuned and attentive to underlying inflation trends,” he added, “in particular measures of inflation expectations.”Fed officials received bad news on inflation expectations Tuesday morning. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations showed that medium-term inflation expectations — those for three years ahead — climbed to 4.2 percent in September from 4 percent in August. That is the highest since the series started in 2013. Short-term expectations jumped to 5.3 percent, also a new high.Central bankers have said for months that they expect this year’s rapid inflation to fade as consumers and businesses get back to normal because it is the product of surging demand when supply is struggling to catch up thanks to factory shutdowns and shipping bottlenecks. But it has become increasingly clear that the adjustment will be measured in quarters and years rather than weeks and months, and policymakers have increasingly braced for the possibility that quick price gains could last considerably longer than they had first anticipated.Even so, Mr. Clarida and his colleagues at the Fed are moving only gradually to remove their support from the economy, cognizant that millions of jobs are still missing compared with before the pandemic. The Fed signaled in its latest policy decision that it would soon begin to taper its large monthly asset purchases, which it has been using to keep many types of borrowing cheap.Mr. Clarida reiterated that belief on Tuesday, saying Fed officials “generally view that, so long as the recovery remains on track, a gradual tapering of our asset purchases that concludes around the middle of next year may soon be warranted.” But even once that process gets going, interest rates are expected to remain near zero for months or even years.Still, the Fed is staring down a challenging 2022, a year when it may have to decide whether it can keep rates near rock bottom while inflation is taking time to fade. Officials are still hoping price gains will slow to more normal levels, allowing them to be patient in removing policy support. More

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    As Democrats Trim Spending Bill, Some Americans Fear Being Left Behind

    President Biden had an ambitious agenda to remake the economy. But under the duress of negotiations and Senate rules, he has shelved a series of proposals, some of them indefinitely.WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress are curbing their ambitions for President Biden’s economic agenda, and Jennifer Mount, a home health care aide, worries that means she will not get the raise she needs to pay more than $3,000 in medical bills for blindness in one eye.Edison Suasnavas, who came to the United States from Ecuador as a child, has grown anxious about the administration’s efforts to establish a pathway to citizenship, which he hoped would allow him to keep doing molecular tests for cancer patients in Utah without fear of deportation.And Amy Stelly wonders — thanks to a winnowing of Mr. Biden’s plans to invest in neighborhoods harmed by previous infrastructure projects like highways that have harmed communities of color — whether she will continue to breathe fumes from a freeway that she says constantly make her home in New Orleans shudder. She has a message for the president and the Democrats who are in the process of trying to pack his sprawling agenda into a diminishing legislative package.“You come up and live next to this,” Ms. Stelly said. “You live this quality of life. We suffer while you debate.”Mr. Biden began his presidency with an expensive and wide-ranging agenda to remake the U.S. economy. But under the duress of negotiations and Senate rules, he has shelved a series of his most ambitious proposals, some of them indefinitely.He has been thwarted in his efforts to raise the federal minimum wage and create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He has pared back investments in lead pipe removal and other efforts that would help communities of color. Now, as the president tries to secure votes from moderates in his party, he is reducing what was originally a $3.5 trillion collection of tax cuts and spending programs to what could be a package of $2 trillion or less.That is still an enormous spending package, one that Mr. Biden argues could shift the landscape of the economy. But a wide range of Americans who have put their faith in his promises to reshape their jobs and lives are left to hope that the programs they are banking on will survive the cut; otherwise, they face the prospect of waiting years or perhaps decades for another window of opportunity in Washington.“The problem now is this may be the last train leaving the station for a long time,” said Jason Furman, an economist at the Harvard Kennedy School who was a top economic adviser to President Barack Obama. “It could be five, 10, 20 years before there’s another shot at a lot of these issues.”President Biden entered the White House with an expensive and ambitious agenda to remake the U.S. economy. He has pared back those plans.Tom Brenner for The New York TimesMr. Furman and other former Obama administration officials saw firsthand how quickly a presidential agenda can shrink, and how presidential and congressional decisions can leave campaign priorities unaddressed for years. Mr. Obama prioritized an economic stimulus package and the creation of the Affordable Care Act over sweeping immigration and climate legislation in the early years of his presidency.Stimulus and health care passed. The other two did not. A similar fate now could befall Mr. Biden’s plans for home care workers, paid leave, child care subsidies, free prekindergarten and community college, investments in racial equity and, once again, immigration and climate change.If Mr. Biden is able to push through a compromise bill with major investments in emissions reduction, “he’s got an engine that he’s working with” to fight climate change, said John Podesta, a former top aide to Mr. Obama and President Bill Clinton. “If he can’t get it, then I think, you know, we’re really kind of in soup, facing a major crisis.”Republicans have criticized the spending and the tax increases that would help fund it, claiming that the Democratic package would hurt the economy. Democrats “just have an insatiable appetite to raise taxes and spend more money,” Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, said on “Fox News Sunday” this week. “It would kill jobs.”Amy Stelly said she wondered whether she would continue to breathe fumes from the Claiborne Expressway, which is near her home in New Orleans.Edmund D. Fountain for The New York TimesThe threat of Republican filibusters has blocked Mr. Biden’s plans for gun and voting-rights legislation.For now, though, the president’s biggest problem is his own party. He is negotiating with progressives and moderates over the size of the larger tax and spending package. Centrists like Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have pushed for the price tag to fall below $2 trillion. Mr. Manchin has said he wants to limit the availability of some programs to lower- and middle-income earners. Progressive groups are jockeying to ensure that their preferred plans are not cut entirely from the bill.The House has proposed investing $190 billion in home health care, for example, less than half of what Mr. Biden initially asked for. If the price tag continues to decrease, Democrats would almost certainly have to choose between two concurrent aims: expanding access to older Americans in need of caretakers or raising the wages of those workers, a group that is disproportionately women of color.Another proposal included in Mr. Biden’s original infrastructure bill was an investment of $20 billion to address infrastructure that has splintered communities of color, although the funding was slashed to $1 billion through a compromise with Republican senators.Ms. Stelly thought the funds, plus the president’s sweeping proposals to address climate change — which might also be narrowed to appease centrist Democrats — would finally result in elected officials addressing the highway emissions that have filled her lungs and darkened the windows of her home.Ms. Stelly, an urban designer, has since limited her expectations. She said she hoped the funding would be enough to at least issue another study of the highway, which claimed dozens of Black-owned businesses and the once-thriving neighborhood of Tremé.The Claiborne Expressway bisects the residential neighborhood of Tremé in New Orleans. Ms. Stelly said she hoped the funding would be enough for another study on the effects of the highway.William Widmer for The New York TimesSome Democrats are eager to pack as much as they can into the bill because they fear losing the House, the Senate or both in the midterm elections next year. Mr. Podesta has urged lawmakers to see the package as a chance to avoid those losses by giving Democratic incumbents a batch of popular programs to run on, and also giving the president policy victories that could define his legacy.Mr. Biden has promoted some of his policies as ways to reverse racial disparities in the economy and lift families that are struggling in the coronavirus pandemic from poverty.Ms. Mount, who immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago, said she was appreciative of her job helping older Americans and the disabled eat and bathe and assisting them in their homes. But her wages for her long hours — working about 50 hours a week for $400, at times — have made it effectively impossible to stay on top of payments for basic needs.She had hoped Mr. Biden’s plan to raise the minimum wage or salaries for home health care aides meant she would no longer need to choose between her electric bills and her medical expenses. She said the treatment had improved her blindness, but without a salary increase for her field, she is more convinced that she will be working for the rest of her life.“I have to make a choice: Do I go to the grocery store or pay my mortgage? Do I pay my water bill or pay my electric bill?” said Ms. Mount, who lives in Philadelphia. “With that, retirement looks B-L-E-A-K, all uppercase. What do I have there for retirement?”When Mr. Biden initially proposed two years of free community college, Ms. Mount, 64, was encouraged about future opportunities for her six grandchildren in the United States. But she fears that effort could also be cut.“That’s politics from on top,” she said. “At times, they always seem detached.”Protesters gathered in front of the White House in August in support of the DACA program, which protects young immigrants from deportation.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSome measures that Democrats have long promised voters have run afoul of Senate rules that dictate which policies the administration should include in bills that use a special process to bypass the filibuster, including a minimum-wage increase and a plan to offer citizenship to immigrants brought to the United States as children.When the Senate parliamentarian rejected the strategy, it made Mr. Suasnavas, who has lived in the United States since he was 13, consider the prospect of eventually being deported; he would have to leave behind his job as a medical technology specialist, and his 6-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son.“We’ve been having the hopes that politicians in Washington — Democrats and Republicans — will see not only the economic impact we can bring to the country but also we’re still people with families,” said Mr. Suasnavas, 35. “Our hearts have been broken so many times that it feels like another wound in your skin.” More

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    Economic and Earnings Concerns Begin to Weigh on Stocks

    After having few cares about the markets all year, investors are getting nervous as the Fed signals that harsher policies are on the way.Wall Street’s imperviousness to bad news, which enabled stocks to double in value from their pandemic panic lows, may be starting to crack.When the Federal Reserve signaled in September that it would soon tighten monetary policy by curtailing asset purchases, the stock market took it well, but not for long. The S&P 500 rose modestly for a few days before reversing course, pushing the index more than 5 percent below the high it set earlier in the month, which amounted to its biggest drop for the year.Despite that setback, the market managed to eke out a 0.2 percent gain for the third quarter.A stingier Fed is not the market’s only concern. Inflation, dismissed until recently by the Fed as a transitory artifact of the pandemic, is coming to be seen as more persistent as the prices of goods, services and labor increase. What is being acknowledged as transitory, though, is the jolt to economic growth and corporate profits provided by several trillion dollars of added spending by Congress.With a number of threats to prosperity becoming harder to ignore, many investment advisers have become less enthusiastic about stocks. They are revising return expectations down and recommending exposure only to narrow niches.“We’re not bullish today at all,” said David Giroux, head of investment strategy at T. Rowe Price. “What really drives the market is earnings growth,” he said. “We can’t repeat some of the things we’ve done this year. Earnings growth may slow in ’22, maybe dramatically.”After being a colossal boon for the economy, fiscal stimulus — in the form of enormous federal spending — may now prove to be three problems for the stock market in one. Government expenditure focused on the pandemic that boosted growth is ebbing. There is a broad consensus that taxes will rise soon to help pay for that spending. And, because many people took direct stimulus payments and invested them in the stock market, stocks ran up faster than they would otherwise.The positive effects of so much stimulus may have run their course, as domestic stock funds tracked by Morningstar lost 0.6 percent in the third quarter, with portfolios that focus on financial services among the few clear winners.The SPDR S&P 500 E.T.F. Trust, which tracks the index and is the largest exchange-traded fund, returned 0.6 percent in the quarter, beating the average actively managed mutual fund.The very fact that many investors until lately have seemed untroubled by the perils facing the economy is what some find troubling.“There is complacency in a lot of things,” said Luca Paolini, chief strategist at Pictet Asset Management. He enumerated some of his worries: “‘Inflation is temporary.’ Maybe. Maybe not. Six months ago, consumption was booming. People had money and time. Now they have less money and less time. Earnings momentum has peaked, clearly, relative to six months ago. I’m concerned the market isn’t pricing in deterioration in the economic outlook.”By some measures, stocks are as expensive as at almost any time in history. The S&P 500 trades at about 34 times the last 12 months of earnings. Sarah Ketterer, chief executive of Causeway Capital Management, worries that corporate profits face numerous headwinds and that their impact on stocks could be especially high with valuations so rich.“Inflation is up, economic growth is down,” she said. “The supply chain disruption phenomenon is global, creating cost increases and margin pressure.” Companies in many industries have reported trouble sourcing some commodities and important components of manufactured goods, such as semiconductors, hindering production and making what they do produce more expensive.Rising prices have sent interest rates in the bond market higher, driving down bond prices and keeping a lid on bond funds in the third quarter. The average one rose 0.2 percent, dragged down by a 2.9 percent decline in emerging-market portfolios.“I’m hard pressed to find an area of costs that haven’t gone up, and this may continue for some time,” Ms. Ketterer said. “No one knows how long it will take to unravel the tangled supply chain situation.”The situation seems most tangled in Asia, where many raw and intermediate materials originate. China has been the source of several worrying recent events, including power cuts that have impeded manufacturing, and financial instability at the China Evergrande Group, a giant, heavily indebted developer.Some specialists in Asian markets see little chance of Evergrande’s woes spilling over to the wider Chinese financial system, let alone beyond. Matthews Asia, a mutual fund manager, said in a note to investors that mortgage lending standards in China are fairly tight, with large down payments required and the packaging of loans into securities sold to investors minimal.“Evergrande’s problems are unlikely to cause systemic problems and the likelihood of this devolving into a global financial problem is minuscule,” Matthews’s analysts said. But they added that restrictions could be placed on the property sector in coming quarters.Saira Malik, head of equities at Nuveen, an asset manager, likewise does not expect Evergrande to become a global problem, but she cautions that it is not China’s only problem.“The government is focusing on social issues, and some of that is leading to moderation in the growth rate” of China’s economy, she said. While more expansive central bank policies would be helpful, she added, “we think China could get worse before it gets better.”Funds that focus on Chinese stocks got worse in the third quarter, sinking 13.8 percent. International stock funds in general lost 2.9 percent.As prices and risks in stock markets at home and abroad rise, the opportunities for strong, relatively safe gains shrink.Mr. Giroux said he is “buying what the market is concerned about in the short term,” such as stocks in managed care providers, which are trading at a discount to the market because earnings growth has been subdued.He said he would avoid smaller companies, as well as companies that have benefited from fiscal stimulus programs, including automakers, heavy industrial companies and semiconductor manufacturers.Ms. Malik, who said she is “moderately bullish” overall, prefers smaller companies and European stock markets. She also likes makers of office software, such as Salesforce and HubSpot, and high-quality consumer cyclicals like Nike.Mr. Paolini also favors European stocks.“The case for Europe is quite solid,” he said. “Vaccination rates are high; the Covid story is over,” yet government stimulus continues across the region, so “they don’t have the same fiscal cliff as in the U.S. and U.K.”His other recommendations include financial stocks, which tend to benefit from higher interest rates, and drug makers.Ms. Ketterer thinks there is more potential for pandemic recovery stocks to appreciate. In particular, she expects Rolls-Royce, which makes jet engines, to benefit from an operational restructuring, and Air Canada, which cut costs during the pandemic and has a strong balance sheet and little competition, to do well as travel picks up.Ms. Ketterer remains resolute about trying to pick winners when there may not be many winners to pick.“What do we do?” she said. “We’re not going to hide. We don’t want to be in cash, and we don’t want to be in bonds if rates are rising.”Mr. Giroux said he doesn’t care much for bonds or cash — money-market funds — right now, either. He favors bank loans, floating-rate securities created by bundling loans that banks have made to corporate customers. They yield close to 4 percent, and that could increase if market interest rates rise. Default risk is mitigated because bank loans have a high place in corporate capital structures.The troubles in the stock market lately are barely a blip when viewed on a chart of the phenomenal last 18 months, so a single-digit percent return may seem meager. But it may start to look generous if the time has arrived for investors to learn to live with less.“The risk profile for equities over the next three to five years is not as good as it was a year ago because valuations are high, sentiment is good and earnings growth is likely to slow,” Mr. Giroux said. “We pull back on risk assets when things feel pretty good, and right now things feel pretty good.” More

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    The Economy Looks Solid. But These Are the Big Risks Ahead.

    One concern is that political leaders will mismanage things in the world’s largest and second-largest economies.The low-hanging fruit of the pandemic economic recovery has been eaten. As a result, the expansion is entering a new phase — with new risks.For months, the world economy has expanded at a torrid pace, as industries that were shut down in the pandemic reopened. While that process is hardly complete — numerous industries are still functioning below their prepandemic levels — further healing appears likely to be more gradual, and in some ways more difficult.Reopening restaurants and performance arenas is one thing. Fixing extraordinary backups in shipping networks and shortages of semiconductors, among the most vivid examples of supply shortages holding back many parts of the economy, is harder.And a range of risks, including the hard-to-predict dynamics of Covid variants, could throw this transition to a healthy post-pandemic economy off course.One looming risk is if political leaders mismanage things in the world’s largest and second-largest economies. Namely, in the United States, a standoff over raising the federal debt ceiling could bring the nation to the brink of default. And in China, the fallout from the property developer Evergrande’s financial problems is raising questions about the country’s debt-and-real-estate-fueled growth.The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development last week projected that the world economy would grow 4.5 percent in 2022, downshifting from an expected 5.7 percent expansion in 2021. Its forecast for the United States shows an even steeper slowdown, from 6 percent growth this year to 3.9 percent next.Of course, a year of 3.9 percent G.D.P. growth would be nothing to scoff at — that would be much faster growth than the United States has experienced for most of the 21st century. But it would represent a resetting of the economy.“We’ve had liftoff, and now we’re at cruising altitude,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global.After the global financial crisis of 2008-9, the great challenge for the recovery was a shortfall of demand. Workers and productive capacity were abundant, but there was inadequate spending in the economy to put that capacity to work. The post-reopening stage of this recovery is the opposite image.Now there is plenty of demand — thanks to pent-up savings, trillions of dollars in federal stimulus dollars, and rapidly rising wages — but companies report struggles to find enough workers and raw materials to meet that demand.Dozens of container ships are backed up at Southern California ports, waiting their turn to unload products meant to fill American store shelves through the holiday season. Automakers have had to idle plants for want of semiconductors. Builders have had a hard time obtaining windows, appliances and other key products needed to complete new homes. And restaurants have cut back hours for lack of kitchen help.These strains are, in effect, acting as a brake that slows the expansion. The question is how much, and for how long, that brake will be applied.“The kinds of growth rates we are seeing were a bounce-back from a really severe recession, so it’s no surprise that won’t continue,” said Jennifer McKeown, head of the global economics service at Capital Economics. “The risk is that this becomes less about a natural cooling and more about the supply shortages that we’re seeing really starting to bite. That may mean that economic activity doesn’t continue to grow as we’re expecting it to, as instead there is a stalling of activity and price pressures starting to rise.”The problem is that the supply shortages have many causes, and it is not obvious when they will all diminish. Spending worldwide, and especially in the United States, shifted toward physical goods over services during the pandemic, more quickly than productive capacity could adjust. The Delta variant and continued spread of Covid has caused restrictions on production in some countries. And the lagged effects of production shutdowns in 2020 are still being felt.Then there are the risks that lurk in the background — the kinds of things that aren’t widely forecast to be a source of economic distress, but could unspool in unpredictable ways.Debt ceiling brinkmanship in Washington is a prime example. Senate Republicans insist that they will not vote to increase the federal debt limit, and that Democrats will have to do so themselves — while also planning to filibuster Democratic attempts to do so. Failure to reach some sort of agreement would risk a default on federal obligations, and could cause a financial crisis. For that reason, a deal in these cases has always ultimately been done — even if, as in 2011, it created a lot of uncertainty along the way.The risk here is that both sides could be so determined to stick to their stances that a miscalculation happens, like two drivers in a game of chicken who both refuse to swerve. And to those who are closest to American fiscal policymaking, that looks like a meaningful risk.“Chances of a default are still remote, and Congress will likely increase the debt ceiling. but the path to a deal is more murky than usual,” said Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist at Stifel, in a research note. He added that the political game of chicken could spook markets in coming weeks.And on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, the Chinese government has its own challenge, as Evergrande struggles to make payments on $300 billion worth of debt.Real estate has played an outsize role in China’s economy for years. But few analysts expect the problems to spread far beyond Chinese borders. The Chinese banking and financial system is largely self-contained, in contrast to the deep global linkages that allowed the failure of Lehman Brothers in 2008 to trigger a global financial crisis.“Everyone’s learned a trick or two since 2008,” said Alan Ruskin, a macro strategist at Deutsche Bank Securities. “What you have here is the world’s second-largest economy, and one that has lifted all boats, could be slowing more materially than people anticipated. I think that’s the primary risk, rather than that financial interlinkages shift out on a global basis.”All of which could make for a bumpy autumn for the world economy, but which in the most likely scenarios would lead to a solid 2022. If, that is, everything goes the way the forecasters expect. More

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    Could This Covid Wave Reverse the Recovery? Here’s What to Watch.

    Some businesses are still hurting, and federal aid has wound down. But economists see sources of resilience and signs of strength.The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.The one-two punch of a resurgent pandemic and waning aid has led Wall Street forecasters, who were once rosy about the economy’s prospects this fall and winter, to turn increasingly glum. Goldman Sachs said this month that it expected third-quarter data to show a decline in consumer spending, the linchpin of the recovery for the past year. Many economists expect jobs numbers for September to show a second straight month of anemic growth.Yet economists also see important sources of strength that could help the recovery overcome the latest coronavirus wave and possibly fuel a strong rebound on the other side of it. Few believe the overall economy is headed for another recession, let alone a repeat of last year’s collapse.“There’s been a clear deceleration, but I would stress deceleration rather than retrenchment,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist for Wells Fargo. “We certainly think that the expansion will continue.”Rather than posing an immediate threat, what the withdrawal of aid does is leave the recovery with less of a safety net if economists are wrong or if the public health situation worsens — both scenarios that have recurred throughout the pandemic.“I think one should be concerned that we could see the recovery weaken further and that appetite for putting in place more fiscal stimulus has diminished,” said Karen Dynan, a Harvard professor who was a Treasury official under President Barack Obama.And even if the recovery stays on course, it will almost certainly leave out some individuals and businesses, who face an increasingly uncertain fall with little government help. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, it will take months for all the workers who lost benefits this month to find jobs.“Fall will be slower for all of us because we’ve withdrawn the support,” said William E. Spriggs, a Howard University professor and chief economist for the A.F.L.-C.I.O. “There will be a slowdown in the labor market, and it will be disproportionately Black and brown workers who will have to deal with it.”The pandemic isn’t holding back activity as it once did.The Delta variant has caused a clear slowdown in certain sectors, particularly dining and air travel. But so far the decline in activity is nothing like the economywide pullback that the United States experienced in previous Covid waves.State and local government officials have not reimposed the lockdown orders and business restrictions put in place in earlier waves of the pandemic, and they appear disinclined to do so. Consumers appear to have become more careful, but they haven’t abandoned in-person activities, and many businesses have found ways to adapt.Restaurant reservations on OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”One wild card is how the Delta variant could affect the supply of workers. If virus rates remain high, people may hesitate to take jobs requiring face-to-face interaction, particularly where vaccination rates are low. And if schools and day care centers can’t stay open consistently, parents may have difficulty returning to work.The government is still providing a boost.Government aid hasn’t dried up entirely. The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it could soon begin to pare its $120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”Household savings could provide a buffer — if they last.Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”The risk, for individual households and the broader economy, is that aid will run out before the private sector can take the baton.Michael Ernette, 48, lost his job assembling manufactured homes in January and despite applying to four to five jobs a day, he hasn’t found work. He used his last unemployment check to pay off as many outstanding bills as possible, and now he is on a countdown to when he can’t make rent.“I took the last payment that we had and I paid everything and I’m roughly good through the end of October,” said Mr. Ernette, who lives near Pittsburgh. “That gives me 60 more days to find employment.”Businesses are entering a critical period.Eighty percent of small businesses are worried about the impact of the Delta variant, according to a recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”“We pride ourselves on taking hits and getting back up,” said Ken Giddon, co-owner of the men’s clothing store Rothmans.Mohamed Sadek for The New York TimesRothmans, a century-old men’s clothing retailer in New York, is in one of the hardest-hit sectors in one of the nation’s hardest-hit cities. Yet a co-owner, Ken Giddon, is betting on the future: Last week, the company announced it would open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.“We pride ourselves on taking hits and getting back up,” he said.The pandemic has been hard, Mr. Giddon said, but it has also created opportunities by driving down commercial rents and leaving fewer competitors. The Delta variant has delayed the return-to-office boom that retailers had been hoping for, but Mr. Giddon expects workers to return eventually — and to need new clothes when they do.“We don’t really care if people go back to work in suits or jeans,” he said. “We just want men to think about buying new clothes again.”In Minneapolis, however, Nicole Pomije is still struggling to make payroll.Ms. Pomije opened her baking business, the Cookie Cups, in 2018 after several years of selling at farmers’ markets and other events in the area. Much of her revenue came from cooking classes and birthday parties — activities that were virtually impossible for much of the past year and a half.Ms. Pomije closed one of her two locations for good in June. The other is hanging on, but barely — the store restarted cooking classes this year, which brought in some money, but parents are nervous about signing up their unvaccinated children for indoor activities.“I can’t tell you how many payrolls I’ve pulled out of my savings account the past two years,” Ms. Pomije said.Last year, Nicole Pomije introduced a set of baking kits aimed at children, which she is selling online.Caroline Yang for The New York TimesMs. Pomije is trying to adapt. Last year, she created a set of baking kits aimed at children, which she is selling online. The product has been a success — she has sold nearly 3,500 kits, and is expanding her offerings — but she has been plagued by supply-chain issues. A crucial shipment from Asia, containing the boxes she uses to package her kits, was held up at the Los Angeles port complex for 60 days.Ms. Pomije said she would be out of business already if she hadn’t received help from the federal government. Now, with more help unlikely, she is hoping holiday sales will help save her business.“This fourth quarter is going to be really critical to our success,” she said. “If we do sell enough product online even to just pay our payroll, rent and critical bills to stay afloat, with enough inventory still to sell, I think we’ll be fine.”Supply issues are putting policymakers in a bind.Early in the pandemic, economists had a simple message for policymakers: Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said. More

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    Federal Reserve Signals a Shift Away From Pandemic Support

    The Fed said it could soon slow its large-scale purchases of government-backed bonds and indicated it might raise interest rates in 2022.Federal Reserve officials indicated on Wednesday that they expect to soon slow the asset purchases they have been using to support the economy and predicted they might raise interest rates next year, sending a clear signal that policymakers are preparing to curtail full-blast monetary help as the business environment snaps back from the pandemic shock.Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, said during a news conference that the central bank’s bond purchases, which have propped up the economy since the depths of the pandemic downturn, “still have a use, but it’s time for us to begin to taper them.”That unusual candor came for a reason: Fed officials have been trying to fully prepare markets for their first move away from enormous economic support. Policymakers could announce a slowdown to their monthly government-backed securities purchases as soon as November, the Fed’s next meeting, and the program may come to a complete end by the middle of next year, Mr. Powell later said. He added that there was “very broad support” on the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee for such a plan.Nearly 20 months after the coronavirus pandemic first shook America, the Fed is trying to guide an economy in which business has rebounded as consumers spend strongly, helped along by repeated government stimulus checks and other benefits.Yet the virus persists and many adults remain unvaccinated, preventing a full return to normal activity. External threats also loom, including tremors in China’s real estate market that have put financial markets on edge. In the United States, partisan wrangling could imperil future government spending plans or even cause a destabilizing delay to a needed debt ceiling increase.Mr. Powell and his colleagues are navigating those crosscurrents at a time when inflation is high and the labor market, while healing, remains far from full strength. They are weighing when and how to reduce their monetary policy support, hoping to prevent economic or financial market overheating while keeping the recovery on track.“They want to start the exit,” said Priya Misra, global head of rates strategy at T.D. Securities. “They’re putting the markets on notice.”Investors took the latest update in stride. The S&P 500 ended up 1 percent for the day, slightly higher than it was before the Fed’s policy statement was released, and yields on government bonds ticked lower, suggesting that investors didn’t see a reason to radically change their expectations for interest rates.The Fed has been holding its policy rate at rock bottom since March 2020 and is buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month, policies that work together to keep many types of borrowing cheap. The combination has fueled lending and spending and helped to foster stronger economic growth, while also contributing to record highs in the stock market.But now, officials believe the time has come to tiptoe away from such full-fledged support. Late last year, policymakers laid out a lower bar for slowing purchases than for lifting interest rates. They simply wanted to see “substantial further progress” toward their goals of stable inflation and maximum employment before pulling back on asset buying. When it comes to lifting rates, officials indicated they would like to see inflation sustainably at their target and a labor market that is fully healed.Slowing their asset purchases in the near-term could give the Fed more room to be more nimble in the future. Policymakers have signaled that they want to stop buying securities before moving interest rates above zero.But Mr. Powell has tried to clearly separate the two decisions, signaling that changes to the policy interest rate — the Fed’s more traditional and more powerful tool — are not imminent.“You’re going to be well away from satisfying the liftoff test when we begin to taper,” he reiterated on Wednesday.Half of the Fed’s policymakers expect to lift rates from near-zero next year. Officials released a fresh set of economic projections on Wednesday, laying out their predictions for growth, inflation and the funds rate through the end of 2024. Those included the “dot plot” — a set of anonymous individual estimates showing where each of the Fed’s 18 policymakers expect their interest rate to fall at the end of each year.Where the Fed Stands on Future Interest Rates More

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    E.C.B. Will Slow Its Crisis-Era Bond Buying

    The European Central Bank said on Thursday it would slow down the pace of its pandemic-era bond-buying program, one of the main tools it has used to support the eurozone economy through lockdowns, citing “favorable financing conditions” and the inflation outlook.The program, which has lately been purchasing about 80 billion euros, or $95 billion, of mostly government bonds each month, is a way to keep borrowing costs low and encourage economic growth.Other policy measures were left unchanged. Interest rates were held steady, including the so-called deposit rate, which remained at negative 0.5 percent. Policymakers also maintained the size of the bank’s other bond-buying program that was restarted in 2019 to head off a regional recession.In the eurozone, inflation is rising faster than expected, supply chain disruptions and product shortages are pushing costs higher for manufacturers, and there are early signs that the economic recovery is slowing down.It’s a concoction that has created divisions among the central bank’s policymakers about when to slow and then end its enormous bond-buying program. It began in March 2020 as the pandemic spread across Europe, and is meant to buy a total of 1.85 trillion euros in bonds and run until at least next March. The slowdown would help ensure the purchases end on schedule, though the central bank hasn’t ruled out an extension.“Based on a joint assessment of financing conditions and the inflation outlook, the Governing Council judges that favorable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases,” the central bank said in statement on Thursday.Thursday’s decisions are the first test of the central bank’s updated forward guidance. In July, policymakers said they were willing to overlook short-term jumps in inflation and would raise interest rates only once it was clear the annual inflation rate would reach 2 percent “well ahead” of the end of the central bank’s projection horizon and stay around that level over the medium term.New projections for inflation and economic growth will be published later on Thursday when the central bank’s president, Christine Lagarde, will hold a press conference.. The previous forecasts, in June, predicted inflation would peak at 2.6 percent in the fourth quarter and decline to 1.5 percent in 2022 and 1.4 percent in 2023.But inflation has already risen to 3 percent in August, the highest in nearly 10 years, the region’s statistics agency said last week. So far, policymakers have been betting that the jump in inflation will be temporary, like other central banks around the world.In recent years preceding the pandemic, the inflation rate was below the bank’s 2 percent target.“The stars are much better aligned than they have been for a long time for the return of inflation back to 2 percent,” Klaas Knot, the governor of the Dutch central bank and a member of the governing council at the European Central Bank, said last week.Jens Weidmann, the head of the German central bank, said that policymakers shouldn’t ignore the risk of “excessively high inflation” and that they should not “commit to our very loose monetary policy stance for too long.”But the European Central Bank as a whole has been more cautious than the Federal Reserve and Bank of England about preparing markets for a return to normal policy. While the economy is rebounding — rising 2.2 percent in the second quarter from the first three months of the year — Ms. Lagarde has highlighted the uncertainty posed by the spread of the Delta variant.Recently, Philip Lane, the central bank’s chief economist, said there were headwinds for the economy in the second half of the year, including supply-chain bottlenecks that could be more persistent than expected.While the pandemic-era bond program might be approaching its end, the central bank is expected to maintain its older bond purchase effort, under which the bank buys 20 billion euros in assets a month. Many analysts expect policymakers to increase the size of purchases to keep providing stimulus to the economy even after the immediate impact of the pandemic has passed. More

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    Fed’s Williams hints that bond-buying taper could start even if job gains slow.

    John C. Williams, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and a powerful monetary policy official, hinted on Wednesday that it might be possible for the central bank to begin removing support for the economy before the end of the year even if the job market grows at a lackluster pace in coming months.The Fed has been buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month to help the economy by keeping interest rates low and money flowing. Policymakers have been debating when to begin slowing that program. They said in December that they would do so only once they had made “substantial further progress” toward maximum employment and inflation that averages 2 percent over time.Key policymakers have made it clear that the inflation side of that goal has been satisfied, with prices up markedly this year, but they have been waiting for more progress on employment. Assessing the job market has been complicated by surging coronavirus infections tied to the Delta variant, and payroll gains slowed in August.Mr. Williams, who holds a constant vote on monetary policy and is foremost among the central bank’s 12 regional policymakers, told reporters on Wednesday that he had been looking at the cumulative level of employment progress rather than month-to-month changes — suggesting that weakening jobs growth would not necessarily make impossible a start to the so-called taper. “It’s not a speed condition,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s really about, where are we, relative, on this path back toward maximum employment?”He added that he was looking not just at job gains but also at measures like labor force participation for a “full picture” of how much progress the job market has made.“Some months come in stronger, some not so strong,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s really about accumulation.”He added, “We’ll have to wait and see the data as it comes in.”Mr. Williams said during a speech earlier in the day that if the economy continued to improve as he expected, “it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year.” Pulling back on bond buying will be just a first step in removing support, and the Fed’s policy interest rate is expected to remain at near zero for some time.His comments came just as the Fed released its latest anecdotal survey of business contacts across its regional districts, commonly called the “Beige Book.” “Delta” was referenced 32 times as employers reported that “growth downshifted slightly to a moderate pace in early July through August.” More