More stories

  • in

    America Set to Hit Its Borrowing Limit Today, Raising Economic Fears

    The milestone will not immediately affect markets or growth, but it sets the stage for months of entrenched partisan warfare.WASHINGTON — The United States is expected to hit a congressionally imposed borrowing limit on Thursday, requiring the Treasury Department to engage in accounting maneuvers to ensure the federal government can keep paying its bills.The milestone of hitting the country’s $31.4 trillion debt cap is the product of decades of tax cuts and increased government spending by both Republicans and Democrats. But at a moment of heightened partisanship and divided government, it is also a warning of the entrenched partisan battles that are set to dominate Washington in the months to come, and that could end in economic shock.Newly empowered Republicans in the House have vowed that they will not raise the borrowing limit again unless President Biden agrees to steep cuts in federal spending. Mr. Biden has said he will not negotiate conditions for a debt-limit increase, arguing that lawmakers should lift the cap with no strings attached to cover spending that previous Congresses authorized.Treasury officials estimate the measures that they will begin employing on Thursday will enable the government to keep paying federal workers, Medicare providers, investors who hold U.S. debt and other recipients of federal dollars at least until early June. But economists warn that the nation risks a financial crisis and other immediate economic pain if lawmakers do not raise the limit before the Treasury Department exhausts its ability to buy more time.The episode has prompted fears in part because of the lessons both parties have taken from more than a decade of debt-limit fights. A bout of brinkmanship in 2011 between House Republicans and President Barack Obama nearly ended in the United States defaulting on its debt before Mr. Obama agreed to a set of caps on future spending increases in exchange for lifting the limit.Most Democrats have solidified in their position that negotiations over the debt limit only enhance the risks of economic calamity by encouraging Republicans to use it as leverage. That is particularly true of Mr. Biden, who successfully stared down Republicans and won an increase in 2021 with no stipulations.Newly elected Republicans, emboldened by anger among their base and conservative advocacy groups over failures in the past to exact concessions for raising the limit, have pledged not to let that happen again.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has dismissed ideas for lifting the borrowing cap unilaterally, such as minting a $1 trillion coin, as fanciful.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesIn reality, both parties have approved policies that fueled the growth in government borrowing. Republicans repeatedly passed tax cuts when they controlled the White House over the last 20 years. Democrats have expanded spending programs that have often not been fully offset by tax increases. Both parties have voted for large economic aid packages to help people and businesses endure the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 pandemic recession.Federal spending declined from its pandemic high in 2022, reaching nearly $6 trillion in the fiscal year, or just under 24 percent of the economy. The federal budget deficit, which is the shortfall between what the United States spends and what it takes in through taxes and other revenue, topped $1 trillion for the year. That is a decline from the past two years as emergency pandemic spending expired, though the Biden administration predicts the deficit will rise again in the current fiscal year.Understand the U.S. Debt CeilingCard 1 of 4What is the debt ceiling? More

  • in

    Why Japan’s Sudden Shift on Bond Purchases Dealt a Global Jolt

    The world has relied on ultralow interest rates in Japan. What will happen if they rise?Japan is the world’s largest creditor. At the end of 2021, it held roughly $3.2 trillion in foreign assets, 30 percent more than No. 2 Germany. As of October, it owned over a trillion dollars of U.S. government debt, more than China. Japanese banks are the world’s largest cross-border lenders, with nearly $4.8 trillion in claims in other countries.Late last month, the world got an unexpected reminder of how integral Japan is to the global economy, when the country’s central bank unexpectedly announced that it was adjusting its stance on bond purchases.To those unversed in the intricacies of monetary policy, the significance of Japan’s decision to raise the ceiling on its 10-year bond yields may not have been immediately clear. But for the finance industry, the surprising change raised expectations that the days of rock-bottom Japanese interest rates could be numbered — potentially further squeezing global credit markets that were already tightening as the world economy slows.Since this summer, the Bank of Japan has been an outlier, keeping its interest rates ultralow even as other central banks raced to keep up with the Federal Reserve, which has ratcheted up lending costs in an effort to tame high inflation.As global rates have diverged from those in Japan, the value of the yen has fallen as investors sought better returns elsewhere. That has put pressure on the Bank of Japan to shift the world’s third-largest economy away from its decade-long commitment to cheap money, a policy known as monetary easing.Japan’s deep integration into global financial networks means that there is a lot of money riding on the timing of any move away from that policy, and investors have spent years fruitlessly waiting for a sign.As of mid-December, the overwhelming expectation was that the bank would hold off on any changes until next spring, when Haruhiko Kuroda, the Bank of Japan’s governor and an architect of its current policies, is set to step down.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

  • in

    Democrats Spent $2 Trillion to Save the Economy. They Don’t Want to Talk About It.

    Polls show voters liked direct payments from President Biden’s 2021 economic rescue bill. But they have become fodder for Republican inflation attacks.In the midst of a critical runoff campaign that would determine control of the Senate, the Rev. Raphael Warnock promised Georgia voters that, if elected, he would help President-elect Biden send checks to people digging out of the pandemic recession.Mr. Warnock won. Democrats delivered payments of up to $1,400 per person.But this year, as Mr. Warnock is locked in a tight re-election campaign, he barely talks about those checks.Democratic candidates in competitive Senate races this fall have spent little time on the trail or the airwaves touting the centerpiece provisions of their party’s $1.9 trillion economic rescue package, which party leaders had hoped would help stave off losses in the House and Senate in midterm elections. In part, that is because the rescue plan has become fodder for Republicans to attack Democrats over rapidly rising prices, accusing them of overstimulating the economy with too much cash.The economic aid, which was intended to help keep families afloat amid the pandemic, included two centerpiece components for households: the direct checks of up to $1,400 for lower- to middle-class individuals and an expanded child tax credit, worth up to $300 per child per month. It was initially seen as Mr. Biden’s signature economic policy achievement, in part because the tax credit dramatically reduced child poverty last year. Polls suggested Americans knew they had received money and why — giving Democrats hope they would be rewarded politically.Liberal activists are particularly troubled that Democratic candidates are not focusing more on the payments to families.“It’s a missed opportunity and a strategic mistake,” said Chris Hughes, a founder of Facebook and a senior fellow at the Institute on Race, Power, and Political Economy at The New School, who is a co-founder of the liberal policy group Economic Security Project Action. “Our public polling and our experience suggest the child tax credit is a sleeper issue that could influence the election, a lot more than a lot of candidates realized.”Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who has surveyed voters in detail on the child credit, said data suggest the party’s candidates should be selling Americans on the pieces of Mr. Biden’s policies that helped families cope with rising costs.“We have a narrative on inflation,” Ms. Lake said in an interview. “We just aren’t using it.”Many campaign strategists disagree. They say voters are not responding to messages about pandemic aid. Some Democrats worry that voters have been swayed by the persistent Republican argument that the aid was the driving factor behind rapidly rising prices of food, rent and other daily staples.Economists generally agree that the stimulus spending contributed to accelerating inflation, though they disagree on how much. Biden administration officials and Democratic candidates reject that characterization. When pressed, they defend their emergency spending, saying it has put the United States on stronger footing than other wealthy nations at a time of rapid global inflation.Republicans have spent nearly $150 million on inflation-themed television ads across the country this election cycle, according to data from AdImpact. The State of the 2022 Midterm ElectionsWith the primaries over, both parties are shifting their focus to the general election on Nov. 8.The Final Stretch: With less than one month until Election Day, Republicans remain favored to take over the House, but momentum in the pitched battle for the Senate has seesawed back and forth.A Surprising Battleground: New York has emerged from a haywire redistricting cycle as perhaps the most consequential congressional battleground in the country. For Democrats, the uncertainty is particularly jarring.Arizona’s Governor’s Race: Democrats are openly expressing their alarm that Katie Hobbs, the party’s nominee for governor in the state, is fumbling a chance to defeat Kari Lake in one of the most closely watched races.Herschel Walker: The Republican Senate nominee in Georgia reportedly paid for an ex-girlfriend’s abortion, but members of his party have learned to tolerate his behavior.In Georgia alone, outside groups have hammered Mr. Warnock with more than $7 million in attack ads mentioning inflation. “Senator Warnock helped fuel the inflation squeeze, voting for nearly $2 trillion in reckless spending,” the group One Nation, which is aligned with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, says in an ad that aired in the state in August.Democrats have tried to deflect blame, portraying inflation as the product of global forces like crimped supply chains while touting their efforts to lower the cost of electricity and prescription drugs. They have aired nearly $50 million of their own ads mentioning inflation, often pinning it on corporate profit gouging. “What if I told you shipping container companies have been making record profits while prices have been skyrocketing on you?” Mr. Warnock said in an ad aired earlier this year.Candidates and independent groups that support the stimulus payments have spent just $7 million nationwide on advertisements mentioning the direct checks, the child tax credit or the rescue plan overall, according to data from AdImpact.Far more money has been spent by Democrats on other issues, including $27 million on ads mentioning infrastructure, which was another early economic win for Mr. Biden, and $95 million on ads that mention abortion rights..css-1v2n82w{max-width:600px;width:calc(100% – 40px);margin-top:20px;margin-bottom:25px;height:auto;margin-left:auto;margin-right:auto;font-family:nyt-franklin;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1v2n82w{margin-left:20px;margin-right:20px;}}@media only screen and (min-width:1024px){.css-1v2n82w{width:600px;}}.css-161d8zr{width:40px;margin-bottom:18px;text-align:left;margin-left:0;color:var(–color-content-primary,#121212);border:1px solid var(–color-content-primary,#121212);}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-161d8zr{width:30px;margin-bottom:15px;}}.css-tjtq43{line-height:25px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-tjtq43{line-height:24px;}}.css-x1k33h{font-family:nyt-cheltenham;font-size:19px;font-weight:700;line-height:25px;}.css-ok2gjs{font-size:17px;font-weight:300;line-height:25px;}.css-ok2gjs a{font-weight:500;color:var(–color-content-secondary,#363636);}.css-1c013uz{margin-top:18px;margin-bottom:22px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz{font-size:14px;margin-top:15px;margin-bottom:20px;}}.css-1c013uz a{color:var(–color-signal-editorial,#326891);-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;font-weight:500;font-size:16px;}@media only screen and (max-width:480px){.css-1c013uz a{font-size:13px;}}.css-1c013uz a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.Learn more about our process.Mr. Warnock has not cited any of the rescue plan’s provisions in his advertisements, focusing instead on issues like personal character, health care and bipartisanship, according to AdImpact data.Senator Raphael Warnock, who is locked in a tight re-election campaign this year, barely mentions the relief checks.Nicole Craine for The New York TimesFor months after the rescue plan’s passage, Democratic leaders were confident that they had solved an economic policy dilemma that has vexed Democrats and Republicans stretching back to the George W. Bush administration: They were giving Americans money, but voters weren’t giving them any credit.Tax cuts and direct spending aid approved by Mr. Bush, President Barack Obama and President Donald J. Trump failed to win over large swaths of voters and spare incumbent parties from large midterm losses. Economists and strategists concluded that was often because Americans had not noticed they had benefited from the policies each president was sure would sway elections.That was not the case with the direct checks and the child tax credit. People noticed them. But they still have not turned into political selling points at a time of rapid inflation.As the November elections approach, most voters appear to be motivated by a long list of other issues, including abortion, crime and a range of economic concerns.Mr. Warnock’s speech last week to a group of Democrats in an unfinished floor of an office space in Dunwoody, a northern Atlanta suburb, underscored that shift in emphasis.He began the policy section of the rally with a quick nod to the child credit, then ticked through a series of provisions from bills that Mr. Biden has signed in the last two years: highways and broadband internet tied to a bipartisan infrastructure law, semiconductor plants spurred by a China competitiveness law, a gun safety law and aid for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. He lingered on one piece of Mr. Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act: a cap on the cost of insulin for Medicare patients, which Mr. Warnock cast as critical for diabetics in Georgia, particularly in Black communities.The direct payments never came up.When asked by a reporter why he was not campaigning on an issue that had been so central to his election and whether he thought the payments had contributed to inflation, Mr. Warnock deflected.“We in Georgia found ourselves trying to claw back from a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in our lifetime, which created an economic shutdown,” he said. “And now, seeing the economy open up, we’ve experienced major supply chain issues, which have contributed to rising costs.”Direct pandemic payments were begun under Mr. Trump and continued under Mr. Biden, with no serious talk of another round after the ones delivered in the rescue plan. Most Democrats had hoped the one-year, $100 billion child credit in the rescue plan would be made permanent in a new piece of legislation.But the credit expired, largely because Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a key swing vote, opposed its inclusion in what would become the Inflation Reduction Act, citing concerns the additional money would exacerbate inflation.Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, was one of the Senate’s most vocal cheerleaders for that credit and an architect of the version included in the rescue plan. His campaign has aired Spanish-language radio ads on the credit in his re-election campaign, targeting a group his team says is particularly favorable toward it, but no television ads. In an interview last week outside a Denver coffee shop, Mr. Bennet conceded the expiration of the credit has sapped some of its political punch.“It certainly came up when it was here, and it certainly came up when it went away,” he said. “But it’s been some months since that was true. I think, obviously, we’d love to have that right now. Families were getting an average of 450 bucks a month. That would have defrayed a lot of inflation that they’re having to deal with.”Mr. Biden’s advisers say the rescue plan and its components aren’t being deployed on the trail because other issues have overwhelmed them — from Mr. Biden’s long list of economic bills signed into law as well as the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade that has galvanized the Democratic base. They acknowledge the political and economic challenge posed by rapid inflation, but say Democratic candidates are doing well to focus on direct responses to it, like the efforts to reduce costs of insulin and other prescription drugs.Ms. Lake, the Democratic pollster, said talking more about the child credit could help re-energize Democratic voters for the midterms. Mr. Warnock’s speech in Dunwoody — an admittedly small sample — suggested otherwise.Mr. Warnock drew cheers from the audience after he called the child tax credit “the single largest tax cut for middle- and working-class families in American history.”But his biggest ovation, by far, came when the economics section of his speech had ended, and Mr. Warnock had moved on to defending abortion rights. More

  • in

    US National Debt Tops $31 Trillion for First Time

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

  • in

    Economic Aid, Once Plentiful, Falls Off at a Painful Moment

    Food insecurity is rising again as relief provided by President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package wanes.PORTLAND, Ore. — For the better part of last year, the pandemic eased its grip on Oregon’s economy. Awash in federal assistance, including direct checks to individuals and parents, many of the state’s most vulnerable found it easier to afford food, housing and other daily staples.Most of that aid, which was designed to be a temporary bridge, has run out at a particularly bad moment. Oregon, like states across the nation, has seen its economy improve, but prices for everything from eggs to gas to rent have spiked. Demand is growing at food banks like William Temple House in Northwest Portland, where the line for necessities like bread, vegetables and toilet paper stretched two dozen people deep on a recent day.“I’m very worried, like I was in the first month of the pandemic, that we will run out of food,” said Susannah Morgan, who runs the Oregon Food Bank, which helps supply William Temple House and 1,400 other meal assistance sites.In March 2021, President Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion aid package aimed at helping people stay afloat when the economy was still reeling from the coronavirus. In addition to direct checks, the package included rental assistance and other measures meant to prevent evictions. It ensured free school lunches and offered expanded food assistance through several programs.Those programs helped the U.S. economy recover far more quickly than many economists had expected, but they have run their course as prices soar at the fastest pace in 40 years. The Federal Reserve, in an attempt to tame inflation, is rapidly raising borrowing costs, slowing the economy’s growth and stoking fears of a recession. While the labor market remains remarkably strong, the Fed’s interest rate increases risk slamming the brakes on the economy and pushing millions of people out of work, which would hurt lower-wage workers and risk adding to evictions and food insecurity.Several factors have driven prices higher in the last year, including a shift in spending toward goods like couches and cars and away from services. Supply chain snarls, a buying frenzy in the housing market and an oil price spike surrounding the Russian invasion of Ukraine have also contributed. While gas prices have fallen in recent months, rent continues to rise, and food and other staples remain elevated.Another factor fueling inflation, at least in small part, is the stimulus spending that helped speed the economy’s recovery and keep people out of poverty. More money in people’s bank accounts translated into more consumer spending.While the extent to which the rescue package fed inflation remains a matter of disagreement, almost no one, in Washington or on the front lines of helping vulnerable people across the country, expects another round of federal aid even if the economy tips into a recession. Lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned that more stimulus could exacerbate rising prices.In the meantime, the progress that the Biden administration hailed in fighting poverty last year has faded. The national child poverty rate and the food hardship rate for families with children, which dipped in 2021, have both rebounded to their highest levels since December 2020, according to researchers at Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy. Two in five Americans surveyed by the Census Bureau at the end of July said they had difficulty paying a usual household expense in the previous week, the highest rate in two years of the survey.What is happening at the William Temple House is emblematic of the economic situation. Demand for food is swelling again, and officials here blame rising prices and lost federal aid. The people seeking help come from a wide variety of backgrounds: parents, retirees struggling to stretch Social Security benefits, immigrants who speak Mandarin, college graduates with jobs.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5Inflation F.A.Q.What is inflation? More

  • in

    In an Unequal Economy, the Poor Face Inflation Now and Job Loss Later

    For Theresa Clarke, a retiree in New Canaan, Conn., the rising cost of living means not buying Goldfish crackers for her disabled daughter because a carton costs $11.99 at her local Stop & Shop. It means showering at the YMCA to save on her hot water bill. And it means watching her bank account dwindle to $50 because, as someone on a fixed income who never made much money to start with, there aren’t many other places she can trim her spending as prices rise.“There is nothing to cut back on,” she said.Jordan Trevino, 28, who recently took a better paying job in advertising in Los Angeles with a $100,000 salary, is economizing in little ways — ordering a cheaper entree when out to dinner, for example. But he is still planning a wedding next year and a honeymoon in Italy.And David Schoenfeld, who made about $250,000 in retirement income and consulting fees last year and has about $5 million in savings, hasn’t pared back his spending. He has just returned from a vacation in Greece, with his daughter and two of his grandchildren.“People in our group are not seeing this as a period of sacrifice,” said Mr. Schoenfeld, who lives in Sharon, Mass., and is a member of a group called Responsible Wealth, a network of rich people focused on inequality that pushes for higher taxes, among other stances. “We notice it’s expensive, but it’s kind of like: I don’t really care.”Higher-income households built up savings and wealth during the early stages of the pandemic as they stayed at home and their stocks, houses and other assets rose in value. Between those stockpiles and solid wage growth, many have been able to keep spending even as costs climb. But data and anecdotes suggest that lower-income households, despite the resilient job market, are struggling more profoundly with inflation.That divergence poses a challenge for the Federal Reserve, which is hoping that higher interest rates will slow consumer spending and ease pressure on prices across the economy. Already, there are signs that poorer families are cutting back. If richer families don’t pull back as much — if they keep going on vacations, dining out and buying new cars and second homes — many prices could keep rising. The Fed might need to raise interest rates even more to bring inflation under control, and that could cause a sharper slowdown.In that case, poorer families will almost certainly bear the brunt again, because low-wage workers are often the first to lose hours and jobs. The bifurcated economy, and the policy decisions that stem from it, could become a double whammy for them, inflicting higher costs today and unemployment tomorrow.“That’s the perfect storm, if unemployment increases,” said Mark Brown, chief executive of West Houston Assistance Ministries, which provides food, rental assistance and other forms of aid to people in need. “So many folks are so very close to the edge.”America’s poor have spent part of the savings they amassed during coronavirus lockdowns, and their wages are increasingly struggling to keep up with — or falling behind — price increases. Because such a big chunk of their budgets is devoted to food and housing, lower-income families have less room to cut back before they have to stop buying necessities. Some are taking on credit card debt, cutting back on shopping and restaurant meals, putting off replacing their cars or even buying fewer groceries.But while lower-income families spend more of each dollar they earn, the rich and middle classes have so much more money that they account for a much bigger share of spending in the overall economy: The top two-fifths of the income distribution account for about 60 percent of spending in the economy, the bottom two-fifths about 22 percent. That means the rich can continue to fuel the economy even as the poor pull back, a potential difficulty for policymakers.The Federal Reserve has been lifting interest rates rapidly since March to try to slow consumer spending and raise the cost of borrowing for companies, which will in turn lead to fewer business expansions, less hiring and slower wage growth. The goal is to slow the economy enough to lower inflation but not so much that it causes a painful recession.Officials at West Houston Assistance Ministries said its food bank served 200 households on Friday.Meridith Kohut for The New York TimesBut job growth accelerated unexpectedly in July, with wages climbing rapidly. Consumer spending, adjusted for inflation, has cooled, but Americans continue to open their wallets for vacations, restaurant meals and other services. If solid demand and tight labor market conditions continue, they could help to keep inflation rapid and make it more difficult for the Fed to cool the economy without continuing its string of quick rate increases. That could make widespread layoffs more likely.“The one, singular worry is the jobs market — if demand is constrained to the point that companies have to start laying off workers, that’s what hits Main Street,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at the job market data provider ADP. “That’s what hits low-income workers.”8 Signs That the Economy Is Losing SteamCard 1 of 9Worrying outlook. More

  • in

    Stock Market Drop Accelerated as Recession Seemed More Likely

    Further losses may be on the way, even after a 20 percent drop in the first half of the year, as Wall Street continues to price in the Fed’s aggressive interest rate policy.Investors had an awful start to the year as stocks twice entered bear market territory, falling more than 20 percent. Stocks didn’t hang there long the first time, but the second drop has proved more durable, as Wall Street has come to accept that inflation is more persistent and that the Federal Reserve will have to be more aggressive in combating it.The S&P 500 lost 16.4 percent in the second quarter, leaving it 20.6 percent below its level at the end of 2021.Where to now? While a bounce in stocks certainly seems due, investment advisers say a lasting recovery is unlikely for now. They warn that a recession is probably on the way, if it’s not here already, and that valuations remain high, even after the big decline.“I think we’re in for a lot more pain, probably, in U.S. stocks,” said Meb Faber, chief investment officer of Cambria Investment Management. “Just to get back to historical valuations, we could easily go down a third from here.”Ella Hoxha, a manager of global bond portfolios for Pictet Asset Management, said expectations still haven’t been adjusted to incorporate the likely risk of a recession. It may seem surprising that a recession could catch Wall Street by surprise when the conversation there is about little else. But until recently, Wall Street played down its chances and talked up the prospects of a soft landing, in which growth slows but the economy avoids major, prolonged disruption.“The odds of a recession have gone up, but the markets have not fully priced in the recession case yet,” Ms. Hoxha said. “Not only is the Fed having to correct being too dovish last year, it has to unwind its balance sheet” by selling the bonds and other securities it bought to support the economy and markets.Mutual FundsHighlights of mutual fund performance in the second quarter. More

  • in

    Inflation Expected to Remain High Even as Economy Slows and Layoffs Rise

    Kat Johnston didn’t expect the pandemic to make her less stressed about her finances. After all, she temporarily lost her job at the library where she worked full time. But, like many Americans, she found an unexpected reprieve from money worries: Months at home limited her spending, and she received expanded unemployment insurance and two one-time checks from the government.“When I first came back to work, I had probably $2,200 in savings — which I know is not much, but it’s more than I’d had in a while,” she said. But it was no match for the inflation that has come since. “That savings is pretty much gone now. As things have gotten so expensive, it’s been almost a paycheck-to-paycheck life.”Ms. Johnston, 31, lives in the Dallas area in a studio apartment and had hoped to upgrade to a one-bedroom — her cat will occasionally use her bed as a litter box, so being able to shut the door would be good. Yet rent is increasing enough that she is considering moving in with a roommate instead.Gas is so expensive that she is buying just a quarter of a tank at a time. Her $65,000 in student loans from undergraduate and graduate school were in forbearance before the pandemic because she was struggling to afford them on her roughly $40,000 annual income. She has been able to continue not paying them because of a government moratorium, but she knows that may not last forever.She’d like to find a better-paying job, but she’s unsure about leaving a secure position — and embarking on a draining job search — at a moment when economists and investors warn of an impending recession. “It does feel like whatever I was thinking I was going to do is on hold,” she said.Kat Johnston has returned to work full time but her savings are depleted and she is thinking about getting a roommate as rents in the Dallas area climb sharply.Dylan Hollingsworth for The New York TimesMillions of Americans are feeling similarly stuck as their savings run low and their cost of living runs high. Now, the economy appears poised to slow — potentially sharply — in ways that could limit wage growth and cause job losses even as prices remain elevated. But instead of rushing to the economy’s aid by giving Americans money, as they did in March 2020, policymakers are engineering this slowdown. Then, the problem was a global pandemic; now, it’s stubbornly high inflation, and the main way the government knows to solve that is by inflicting some economic pain.In other words, the long-predicted “cliff” may finally have arrived.When the first round of pandemic aid programs began to expire in the summer of 2020, economists warned of a looming cliff facing both Americans who still needed government help and the pandemic-addled economy that was not yet ready to stand on its own. They repeated those warnings last fall, when Congress allowed unemployment benefits to expire for millions of workers, and again in January, when monthly payments for families with children came to an end.The loss of those programs and others, including enhanced nutrition benefits, was painful for many families. But for the economy as a whole, the cliffs turned out to be more like potholes. Consumers kept on spending, in part because trillions in government aid had allowed many Americans to build up at least a small financial buffer — as Ms. Johnston did — and in part because a record-setting recovery in the job market gave workers an income boost that helped offset the loss in government aid.Now, as savings run dry and consumers struggle under the weight of higher prices and rising interest rates, early cracks are beginning to show — and are likely to widen from here.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Greedflation: Some experts contend that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.For Investors: At last, interest rates for money market funds have started to rise. But inflation means that in real terms, you’re still losing money.Pay gains have been falling behind inflation for months. Credit card balances, which fell early in the pandemic, are rising toward a record high. Subprime borrowers — those with weak credit scores — are increasingly falling behind on payments on car loans in particular, credit bureau data show. Measures of hunger are rising, even with unemployment still low and the overall economy still strong.“It’s a grim picture already,” said Elizabeth Ananat, an economist at Barnard College who has studied the pandemic’s impact on low-income families. “Families are doing much worse than they were a few months ago.”Matrice Moore-Carr, a registrar at a public hospital in Nashville, Tenn., kept her job during the pandemic, and even managed to get a bit ahead, thanks to stimulus checks that helped her pay off her electric bill and stop worrying, at least for a little while, about whether she could afford gas for her car.When prices began to rise last year, Ms. Moore-Carr took on overtime shifts in the emergency room to make ends meet. When that wasn’t enough, she took a part-time job as a hotel receptionist. Now she is working seven days a week, often multiple jobs in one day, and still struggling to pay her bills.“That’s what’s been helping me keep the gas in the car and food on the table and the electricity going,” she said. “I’ve been making it work. I’m tired, I’ll tell you that. I’m so sleepy.”Ms. Moore-Carr, 52, owns her home, which she said is the only thing that allows her to keep living in Nashville, where both rents and home prices have soared in the pandemic. But the price of everything else has gone up — she joked about buying a horse to save on gas. On Tuesday, she stopped by the bank and turned in $47 in pennies.What she said she really worries about is the prospect of losing her overtime hours.“I don’t know what I’m going to do if anything gets any worse than it is now,” she said. “Am I going to have to cut my meals back? Am I going to have to eat once a day as opposed to three? I don’t know. It’s just tough.”Low-income households, at least on average, emerged from the first two years of the pandemic in remarkably strong financial shape. Trillions of dollars in government aid ensured that poverty fell in 2020, despite the loss of tens of millions of jobs. New rounds of assistance in 2021, including monthly payments through an expanded Child Tax Credit, led to a sharp drop in measures of childhood poverty and hunger. Those programs came from a very different economic moment, however. In 2020, and to a lesser degree in 2021, the needs of individual households and the needs of the broader economy were aligned: Stimulus checks and other forms of government aid helped jobless workers and their families avoid eviction, while at the same time helping businesses avoid bankruptcy, landlords avoid foreclosure, and cities and states avoid a collapse in their tax revenue.Today, that alignment has broken down. Giving people money now might help them pay their bills, but it could also make inflation worse by adding to demand as businesses are already failing to produce enough goods and hire enough workers.The Federal Reserve is instead trying to cool off the economy by raising interest rates, making it more expensive to borrow money to buy a house or expand a company. Weaker business activity will slow hiring, leading to slower wage growth and, most likely, more layoffs. It could also allow America’s goods and services — limited for more than a year by supply chain snarls and labor shortages — to catch up to demand, putting a damper on rising prices.Fed policymakers argue that this strategy is necessary to put the economy on a more sustainable path. But even as conditions take a turn for the worse, inflation will probably take a while to slow, and Fed officials themselves think it will still be elevated at the end of the year.“The transition is going to be very difficult,” said Seth Carpenter, global chief economist at Morgan Stanley and a former Fed economist. “At least historically, it takes a really long time for inflation to come down, even after the economy slows.”Even if the Fed can avoid causing a recession, a weakening labor market will bring hardship for many. Job losses can be devastating, often setting off a downward spiral of eviction and debt. Those who keep their jobs are likely to get fewer hours of work and to lose bargaining power.“Low-income workers, workers with low levels of education, Black and brown workers are the first to lose their jobs and the last to get them back,” said Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, a Northwestern University economist who studies anti-poverty programs.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More