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    Federal Reserve Keeps Rates Unchanged but Cites ‘Progress’ Toward Goals

    The central bank gave the clearest hint yet that it will soon begin to shift bond-buying from emergency mode.The chair, Jerome H. Powell, said the Fed was keeping interest rates unchanged and would continue to buy large amounts of government debt, but suggested that these purchases could taper off as recovery continued.Stefani Reynolds for The New York TimesThe Federal Reserve on Wednesday offered the most direct signal yet that it will begin to dial back its emergency support for the economy in the near future, as its chair, Jerome H. Powell, made it clear that policymakers will do so deliberatively and with plenty of warning.Fed officials voted to leave both of their key policy supports intact before wrapping up their two-day July meeting, holding interest rates near zero and continuing government-backed bond purchases unabated. Those two tools fuel economic demand by making money cheap to borrow and spend.But they spent the meeting debating when and how to slow the bond-buying program, which is expected to be the first step toward a more normal policy setting as the economy rebounds strongly from its pandemic stupor. A decision isn’t imminent, but officials used their July policy statement to signal that one is coming.The Fed had said in December that it would keep buying bonds at a steady pace — $120 billion per month — until it had made “substantial” further progress toward its two targets, stable inflation and maximum employment.“Since then, the economy has made progress toward these goals, and the committee will continue to assess progress in coming meetings,” the Fed’s policy-setting committee said in its postmeeting statement on Wednesday.Mr. Powell offered an even more detailed outlook for the purchase program during his subsequent news conference. He explained that officials had not yet decided on the pace or structure of the coming slowdown, and that there were a “range of views” on when it should happen.“We’re going to continue to try to provide clarity as appropriate,” Mr. Powell said, adding that this meeting had involved the first deep-dive discussion on those issues.Mr. Powell delivered another message: The Fed isn’t ready to withdraw support just yet. He said that while the economy was progressing toward “substantial” progress, “we have some ground to cover on the labor market side.”Investors have been keenly watching for any news on when and how the Fed will begin to withdraw from buying assets, worried that the announcement of a tapering program might whipsaw markets. Fed critics have been asking why the central bank continues to buy bonds, fueling an already-scorching housing market and pushing up sky-high stock prices.Fed officials are trying to strike a balance, ensuring they are prepared to slow stimulus measures as the economy strengthens while avoiding an abrupt pullback. The latter could undermine the Fed’s credibility and potentially roil markets, causing lending to dry up and slowing the recovery when millions of prepandemic jobs are still missing and risks to the economy persist.“They don’t want to cause a sharp and fast increase in interest rates — that would be detrimental,” said Roberto Perli, head of global policy research at Cornerstone Macro. “The labor market is still not where it should be.”Lingering threats to the outlook have been underscored by rising coronavirus cases in the United States and around the world tied to the Delta variant.Mr. Powell acknowledged risks from the variant, but he suggested that any economic pullback it drove might not be as severe as last year’s. Still, he said, “it might weigh on the return to the labor market,” noting that the Fed will be monitoring that “carefully.”But the Fed chair conveyed a generally optimistic tone about the economy on Wednesday.While he pointed out that the labor market had a lot of room left to heal, he also suggested that workers were lingering on the sidelines because they were afraid of the virus, had caregiving duties or were receiving generous unemployment insurance benefits. Those factors should fade as life returns to normal.The United States is on a path to a strong labor market, and “it shouldn’t take too long, in macroeconomic time, to get there,” Mr. Powell said.He discussed at length another reality of the reopening era: rising prices. As economic growth roars back, with strong consumer spending supported by repeated government stimulus checks, inflation is surging. That is partly the result of data quirks, but also because demand for washing machines, electronics, cars and housing is outstripping what producers can supply.The Consumer Price Index picked up by 5.4 percent in June compared with a year earlier, the quickest pace since 2008. The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge has been slightly more muted, at 3.9 percent in May, but that, too, is well above the central bank’s 2 percent average inflation goal.“Inflation has increased notably” Mr. Powell said, adding that it is likely to remain elevated in coming months. But as supply bottlenecks abate, he said, “inflation is expected to drop back toward our longer-run goal.”Price gains could turn out to be higher and more persistent than Fed officials expect, Mr. Powell acknowledged. But expectations of where prices might head next seem consistent with the Fed’s goal, he said.When Fed officials say they expect today’s pressures to prove “transitory,” Mr. Powell said, they mean that increases today will not lead to ever-higher prices down the road.To put it even more plainly: A bag of flour might cost 5 cents more this year, but if the increase is transitory, it will not keep going up 5 cents with each passing year.“The increases will happen — we’re not saying they will reverse,” Mr. Powell said, but “the process of inflation will stop.”For now, officials are monitoring price increases but also staying focused on a different set of risks: About 6.8 million jobs are still missing compared with February 2020 levels. Workers are taking time to sort back into suitable employment, and the central bank wants to make sure the economic recovery is robust as they try to do that.Even when the Fed begins to dial back bond-buying, interest rates are likely to remain low. Long-running forces, including the aging population and rising inequality, have pushed them down naturally, and the central bank is expected to keep its main policy rate — the federal funds rate — at rock bottom, where it has been since March 2020.Officials have signaled that, barring a sustained burst in inflation or financial stability risks, they would like to leave interest rates near zero until the job market has returned to full employment. Their latest economic projections, released in June, suggested that most officials did not expect the economy to meet that high bar until 2023.Mr. Powell reiterated a commitment to seeing the recovery through.“The labor market has a ways to go,” he said. “We at the Fed will do everything we can to support the economy for as long as it takes to complete the recovery.” More

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    Fed Considers Tapering Bond Purchases as Economy Grows

    Federal Reserve officials are gathering in Washington this week with monetary policy still set to emergency mode, even as the economy rebounds and inflation accelerates.Economists expect the central bank’s postmeeting statement at 2 p.m. Wednesday to leave policy unchanged, but investors will keenly watch a subsequent news conference with the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, for any hints at when — and how — officials might begin to pull back their economic support.That’s because Fed policymakers are debating their plans for future “tapering,” the widely used term for slowing down monthly purchases of government-backed debt. The bond purchases are meant to keep money chugging through the economy by encouraging lending and spending, and slowing them would be the first step in moving policy toward a more normal setting.Big and often conflicting considerations loom over the taper debate. Inflation has picked up more sharply than many Fed officials expected. Those price pressures are expected to fade, but the risk that they will linger is a source of discomfort, ramping up the urgency to create some sort of exit plan. At the same time, the job market is far from healed, and the surging Delta coronavirus variant means that the pandemic remains a real risk. Policy missteps could prove costly.The Fed’s balance sheet has grown, thanks to bond-buying.The Federal Reserve has swollen its balance sheet by buying bonds to bolster the economy during the pandemic, making it a bigger player in markets.

    Source: Federal ReserveBy The New York TimesHere are a few key things to know about the bond-buying, and key details that Wall Street will be watching:The Fed is buying $120 billion in government backed bonds each month — $80 billion in Treasury debt and $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities.Economists mostly expect the central bank to announce plans to slow those purchases this year, perhaps as soon as August, before actually dialing them back late this year or early next. That slowdown is what Wall Street refers to as a “taper.”There’s a hot debate among policymakers about how that taper should play out. Some officials think the Fed should slow mortgage debt buying first because the housing market is booming. Others have said mortgage security buying has little special effect on the housing market. They have hinted or said they would favor tapering both types of purchases at the same speed.The Fed is moving cautiously, and for a reason: Back in 2013, markets convulsed when investors realized that a similar bond-buying program after the financial crisis would slow soon. Mr. Powell and crew do not want to stage a rerun.Bond-buying is just one of the Fed’s policy tools, and is used to lower longer-term interest rates and to get money chugging around the economy. The Fed also sets a policy interest rate, the federal funds rate, to keep borrowing costs low. It has been near zero since March 2020.Central bankers have been clear that tapering off bond purchases is the first step toward moving policy away from an emergency setting. Increases in the funds rate remain off in the distant future. More

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    Will the Delta Variant Wreck the Recovery?

    Probably not. But there are potential challenges with both supply and demand that put the economy at risk.Empty streets in downtown Boston last month. If the Delta variant plays havoc with companies’ return-to-work plans, such scenes could continue.Philip Keith for The New York TimesThe good economic news, when it comes to the ascendant Delta variant of the coronavirus, is that it puts the economy at risk in only two ways. The bad news: They are supply and demand.So far, the recovery remains robust by most available data. Real-time indicators of business activity show little evidence that Americans are pulling back their economic activity in any meaningful way.But while there is no reason to expect a repeat of the huge disruption of 2020, the new variant puts at risk the kind of rapid recovery that has been underway for months. Just as major parts of the economy were figuring out how to return to full functioning, this may amount to throwing sand in the gears.The emergence of the variant has already caused several wobbly days on Wall Street. And the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, is likely to face questions about the economic implications of Delta in a news conference Wednesday afternoon after a meeting of the Fed’s policy committee.At the White House, officials are monitoring the variant closely, but see no evidence that it is hurting the recovery — or that policymakers will need to inject another dose of short-term fiscal stimulus anytime soon.“Overall it looks like the risks are considerably diminished compared to the height of the crisis,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics. “But I do think you have to worry about the macroeconomic risks, and our experience over the last 18 months has shown that.”As economists and policymakers game out the nature of those risks, what stands out is not the chance of a major shutdown. Instead, the concerns are the constraints on the availability of workers and on the supply and demand for many services.On the supply side, there are already severe disruptions in many supply chains, especially those that rely on goods imported from Asia. These create ripple effects for the United States, such as a shortage of computer chips that is in turn hindering automobile production and contributing to high inflation.Many Asian nations — especially those behind the curve on vaccinating their populations — are putting in lockdowns to try to stop the spread of the Delta variant, which threatens to make those shortages and price spikes worse.“We had already expected that semiconductor shortages would continue into 2022, and that’s virtually assured now,” said Sara Johnson, the executive director of global economics for I.H.S. Markit. She noted that new restrictions were limiting production activity in countries including Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia.A more domestically focused supply-side risk comes with the U.S. labor supply.Employers have been complaining about labor shortages, and if the renewed risk of illness makes even vaccinated adults reluctant to enter or re-enter the work force, those shortages could worsen.That is particularly true if schools were to return to remote learning — even for brief periods — making it all the harder for parents to work.“What happens if you have a flare-up?” Ms. Bostjancic said. “Do you shut school for a week? That’s very disruptive to parents who want to return to the labor force.”On the demand side, there is some comfort in the seemingly robust spending from American consumers, who are flush with accumulated savings from the pandemic, federal stimulus dollars and rising wages.The consumer confidence index rose slightly in July, the Conference Board said Tuesday, suggesting that the emergence of the variant has so far done no major damage to consumers’ willingness to spend.There is even a perverse twist that could reduce the variant’s impact on demand for things like restaurant meals and concert tickets. The rate of infection has remained relatively low in places with high vaccination rates. In the places where infections are skyrocketing, public sentiment tends to be overwhelmingly against anything resembling a lockdown.Still, as noted by two Bank of America economists, Stephen Juneau and Anna Zhou, Michigan saw a pullback in consumer spending on services during its surge of infections earlier this year, even absent formal restrictions on activity.“So far we have seen little evidence of the Delta variant significantly affecting economic activity or spending on services,” they wrote in a recent research note. “However, survey data point to increased hesitancy of being in physical locations and concerns over the virus.”That could prove particularly relevant in a few segments of the economy that have been slowest to recover from the pandemic recession.Many white-collar employers have been on the verge of bringing workers back to offices. If those plans change because of the variant, offices and downtown streets risk staying emptier for longer, implying less demand for office space and downtown restaurant meals.There is a similar story in the business travel sector, which has lagged leisure travel in returning to health. Will conferences and trade shows return with the kind of robust attendance many hotels, convention centers and event planners have been hoping for?One particularly tricky thing is that the solution to these potential economic ripples lies in the public health arena. If the recovery stalls, fiscal and monetary policy are unlikely to play much of a constructive role. Already, enough money is flowing through the economy to make overheating and inflation a top-of-mind concern.There may be a demand shortfall for very specific things, like sandwiches from a downtown restaurant or rooms in a convention center hotel. But it is hard to argue in the summer of 2021 that there is much risk of inadequate aggregate demand.White House officials say vaccinations over the past several months — and strong support from the federal government for people and businesses — have set the foundation for the economy to maintain momentum even as Delta spreads. And they believe consumers will react differently this time to the spreading virus.In past waves, people who worried about a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 could either assume that risk and keep up their normal economic activities, or pull back spending in places like retail stores and restaurants. Now, the officials say, spooked consumers have a third choice. They can get vaccinated and largely maintain their typical routines — or, if they’re already vaccinated, just keep spending the way they have been.All of that means that the policy response to the Delta variant, as for Covid all along, relies more heavily on getting the best possible public health outcomes, with conventional economic policy a secondary concern.Just when it seemed that the pandemic policy story was finally winding down, in other words, it is starting to repeat itself.Jim Tankersley contributed reporting. More

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    I.M.F. World Economic Outlook Forecasts 6 Percent Global Growth

    The International Monetary Fund warned on Tuesday that the gap between rich and poor countries was widening amid the pandemic, with low vaccination rates in emerging economies leading to a lopsided global recovery.The I.M.F. maintained its 2021 global growth forecast of 6 percent in its latest World Economic Outlook report, largely because advanced economies, including the United States, expect slightly faster growth than the global body previously forecast. Economic growth in developing countries is expected to be more sluggish, and the global body said the spread of more contagious variants of the virus posed a threat to the recovery. It called on nations to work together to accelerate the protection of their citizens.“Multilateral action is needed to ensure rapid, worldwide access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics,” Gita Gopinath, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, wrote in the report. “This would save countless lives, prevent new variants from emerging and add trillions of dollars to global economic growth.”The I.M.F. projected that the U.S. economy will expand 7 percent in 2021. The euro area was projected to expand 4.6 percent and Japan 2.8 percent. Rapid expansion was expected for China, at 8.1 percent, and India, 9.5 percent, but both of their outlooks have been downgraded since April. The outlook in China was lowered because of a scaling back of public investment, while India was downgraded because of a severe second wave of the virus slowing the recovery.The global expansion in 2022 was projected to be stronger than previously forecast, with growth of 4.9 percent. That, too, will be led by advanced economies, the I.M.F. predicted.More than a year after the coronavirus emerged, economic fortunes are closely tied to how successfully governments have been at providing fiscal support and acquiring and deploying vaccines. The I.M.F. said about 40 percent of the population in advanced economies had been fully vaccinated, while that figure is just 11 percent or less in emerging markets and low-income developing economies. Varying levels of financial support from governments are also amplifying the divergence in economic fortunes.The I.M.F.’s executive board announced this month that it had approved a plan to issue $650 billion worth of reserve funds that countries could use to buy vaccines, finance health care and pay down debt. If finalized in August, as expected, the funds should provide additional support to countries that have been lagging behind in combating the health crisis.Concerns about price increases have grabbed headlines in the United States and elsewhere, but the I.M.F. said it continued to believe that the recent bout of inflation was “transitory.” The organization noted that jobless rates remained below their prepandemic levels and that long-term inflation expectations remained “well anchored.” Ms. Gopinath said that predicting the path of inflation was subject to much uncertainty because of the unique nature of the economic shock that the world had faced.“More persistent supply disruptions and sharply rising housing prices are some of the factors that could lead to persistently high inflation,” Ms. Gopinath said.As the Federal Reserve prepared to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday, she advised central banks to be nimble in setting monetary policy and urged them not to raise interest rates too soon.“Central banks should avoid prematurely tightening policies when faced with transitory inflation pressures but should be prepared to move quickly if inflation expectations show signs of de-anchoring,” Ms. Gopinath added.During a press briefing on Tuesday, I.M.F. officials said they had been observing how supply shortages were depressing manufacturing activity and hurting sectors such as the automobile industry.While the I.M.F. expects inflation in the United States to remain high this year and normalize by next year, it is looking for signs that rising prices could “de-anchor” from the Fed’s 2 percent target. That will become clear, it said, if medium-term inflation expectations begin to rise and if higher prices become locked into wages and business contracts. Officials are also watching to see if the recent sharp increase in house prices continues to lead to higher rents, which would lift the inflation outlook.Mutations of the virus remain the most daunting challenge facing the global economy. The I.M.F. projected that highly infectious variants, if they emerged, could derail the recovery and wipe out $4.5 trillion in gross domestic product by 2025.The brunt of that pain would most likely be felt in the poorest parts of the world, which have been hardest hit by the initial waves of the pandemic.“It was already diverging, and that has exacerbated in this period,” Ms. Gopinath said of global inequality. “It is a reflection of some very big fault lines that are growing.” More

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    Inflation Has Arrived, but Washington Isn’t Racing to Limit Price Pops

    Policymakers, now more attuned to the costs of choking off growth early, are sticking by a patient approach as prices rise.Inflation has long been the boogeyman haunting the nightmares of economic policymakers from both parties — and controlling it has been a top economic priority. But as the economy reopens from pandemic shutdowns and prices spike, it is becoming clear just how much that conventional wisdom has shifted in recent years.After three decades of relative price stability and a long stretch of weak price gains, many economists and lawmakers had in recent years come to believe that trying too hard to avoid overheating the economy created its own risk by prematurely cooling growth and leaving workers on the sidelines.The tools that policymakers used to prevent overheating — raising interest rates and reining in government spending — also contributed to less hiring and slower wage growth. Policymakers have paid increasing attention to those trade-offs, especially as chronically slow price gains across the globe made government efforts to control inflation seem somewhere between futile and self-defeating.That view has remained mostly intact at the Federal Reserve and the White House even as prices pop, virus variants threaten to perpetuate supply-chain bottlenecks and some price increases, like rising rents, create the risk that high inflation might last for a while.The Biden administration is emphasizing the benefits of the current moment, which include higher wages and more bargaining power for workers, as it insists that inflation will fade over time. The Fed, which meets this week, is openly nervous about rising prices, but it isn’t doing anything abrupt to counteract them. It says it needs to weigh the risk of inflation against the threat of slowing a labor market that is still missing nearly seven million jobs compared with prepandemic levels.Republicans are condemning rising prices, warning that the administration needs to rein in its spending plans and that the Fed should withdraw support. Even some left-leaning economists have warned that things could get out of control and that central bank officials need to be on watch.Here is a snapshot of what is happening with inflation, including the risks, the rewards and how policymakers are thinking through a strange economic moment.Prices are up this year, and pretty markedly.Inflation is up across a variety of measures, and by significantly more than economists predicted earlier this year.The Consumer Price Index, a Labor Department gauge of how much a basket of goods and services costs to buy, rose 5.4 percent in the year through June. The Fed prefers a separate measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditures index. That gauge tracks both out-of-pocket expenses and the cost of things people consume but don’t directly pay for, like medical care. It climbed 3.9 percent through May.Prices have risen by more than Fed officials expected, based on both their public statements and their economic projections this year.Why the big jump? Some of it owes to temporary data quirks, which were expected to push inflation higher this year. Part of it has come as prices for airline tickets, hotel rooms and other pandemic-affected purchases rebound from last year, also as anticipated. But the surprisingly large part of the increase has come from a surge in consumer demand that is straining delivery routes and outstripping available supply for electronics, housing and laundry machines.That portion of the inflation is more tied to government policies, which put money into consumers’ pockets — and its future trajectory is a lot less predictable. Economists think the bottlenecks will fade, but by how much and how long it will take is uncertain.Those price increases could have a downside.Whether today’s inflation matters and warrants a response will depend on several factors.If, as the White House predicts, quick price gains fade as the economy returns to normal, they shouldn’t be terribly problematic. Households are likely to have to spend a little bit more on some goods and services but may also find that they are earning more. Workers are now seeing decent wage gains, though not quite enough to outpace price gains, and the labor market is expected to continue strengthening as inflation fades.The biggest price gains have also been concentrated in just a few categories, like used cars. Most families do not buy automobiles that often, so the hit from higher costs will not be as salient for consumers as an across-the-board rapid rise in prices for everything consumers buy, like clothing and milk.But if consumers and businesses come to expect higher prices and start accepting bigger price tags and demanding higher wages, that could broaden inflation and keep it elevated. That would be a problem. Rapid inflation makes life hard for people who live on savings, like retirees. If it outstrips pay gains, it can erode a consumer’s ability to buy goods and services. And if inflation becomes hard to predict, as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, it makes planning for the future hard for businesses and households.There are risks that inflation could take time to get back to normal.There are real reasons to worry that inflation could stick around. Supply-chain snarls are expected to fade with time, but new Covid-19 variants and renewed lockdowns in some countries could keep global trade chains from getting back to normal. That could keep prices for goods elevated. (On the flip side, Jason Furman at Harvard points out that renewed lockdowns would also probably drag down consumer demand, which could lead to softer price pressures.)There are other hot inflation risks. Wages are rising, which might feed into faster prices as employers try to cover costs. Rents — which were depressed — are accelerating, potentially a stickier source of inflationary pressure.If inflation becomes pernicious, the Fed has tools to contain it. The central bank is already coming up with a plan to slow its big bond purchases, which keep longer-term borrowing cheap and lift markets. It could also raise its main interest rate, which would trickle through the economy to slow lending and spending.“One way or another, we’re not going to be going into a period of high inflation for a long period of time, because, of course, we have tools to address that,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, testified this month. “But we don’t want to use them in a way that is unnecessary, or that interrupts the rebound of the economy.”A job fair in St. Louis last month. The Fed is nervous about rising prices, but it says it also needs to weigh the risk of slowing a labor market still missing seven million workers.Whitney Curtis for The New York TimesBut there are also real risks to premature action.As Mr. Powell alluded to, policymakers do not want to move too hastily in response to the recent data. Many officials argue that it does not make sense to react to what is expected to be a short-lived price pickup by dialing back fiscal ambitions or weakening monetary support — policy changes that would reduce demand and lead to slower hiring down the road.Should the Fed pull back support for the economy before many of the 6.8 million jobs that have gone missing since the start of the pandemic return, it could lead to a painful situation in which workers end up stuck out of work.That would cost families paychecks, hurt the country’s potential for growth and tip the economic scales toward employers, who benefit when many available workers are competing for jobs.For decades, “the sensible adult consensus — that the most important thing was to protect against inflation — had a huge cost, and that cost was wages stagnating,” said Benjamin Dulchin, director of the organizing group Fed Up. “The Fed can err on the side of corporate interests and keeping wages lower, or it can err on the side of workers’ interests.”Today’s inflation could offer benefits.Inflation does have some winners. People who owe debts find that they are easier to pay off, and middle-class households who own houses may find that their values appreciate. Research has suggested that inflation in advanced economies can shrink inequality, for instance.But that isn’t even the argument the Fed and the White House are making: They simply do not expect the higher prices to last forever, and they think the short-term costs are worth the long-term benefits of helping the economy through a tough period.Some Democrats think that voracious hiring bolstered by government spending and central bank support will give workers the power to bargain for higher wages — an ability that might last beyond the inflationary phase. And they have been trying to foster a swift recovery from the pandemic downturn, getting people back into jobs and businesses back into full swing quickly.Officials are being patient, even as inflation surprises them.Government officials are setting economic policy today with an eye on the last battle. After the deep 2007-9 recession, the government cut back on spending early and monetary policymakers lifted interest rates before price gains had returned to their 2 percent annual inflation goal. Price gains proceeded to get stuck below that target, and the labor market recovery may have taken longer than it needed to, since the economy had less support.As that episode underlined, slow-moving global trends — including aging demographics and free trade — seem to keep a lid on price gains these days. In Japan and in Europe, policymakers have spent years battling to coax inflation higher. They are worried in part by the looming threat of deflation, which discourages consumption and crushes debtors, who find their pay stagnating or declining as their debt loads remain unchanged.America’s current bout of price pressures actually seems to be helping to guide consumer expectations, which had been slipping lower, back into the comfort zone.And a few heady inflation numbers are a good problem to have, if you ask Kenneth Rogoff, a Harvard economist. The globe just experienced a devastating pandemic that was expected to wreck the economy.“In the current situation, the fact that the economy is booming and they didn’t quite plan for it is still a blessing,” he said. “It’s a rich man’s problem that we’re getting inflation.” More

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    Rising Rents Threaten to Prop Up Inflation

    Officials at the Federal Reserve and White House thought fast price gains would pass. Rent increases could make it a slow fade.Kaitlin Cindrich is facing a $200 monthly increase in rent this August if she and her husband can renew their apartment lease in Provo, Utah. That 25 percent jump is not something she expected, and the 21-year-old fears she may have to skip doctor appointments for her autoimmune disease to keep up with the payments.Still, she acknowledges there isn’t much choice but to pay more. “We are hoping to stay because everything is so expensive right now that I would be paying the same whether I’m here or somewhere else,” Ms. Cindrich said.The rental market, which slumped during the pandemic, has snapped back more quickly than many economists predicted, and renters across the country are facing sticker shock. When the pandemic hit, many people who lost their jobs discontinued their apartment leases to live with parents or roommates temporarily. Others fled big cities out of health concerns. Apartments went empty, and landlords began offering incentives, such as a free month, to entice tenants.Now, as people move out on their own again or return to cities and office jobs, and as existing renters find they can’t afford to buy a home in a booming housing market, demand for apartments and single-family rentals is rebounding — and even looking hot in some places. Rents last month rose 7 percent nationally from a year earlier, Zillow data shows. While that was measured against a weak June 2020, the gain was also a robust 1.8 percent from May.“After a year, jobs are coming back strongly, and this is recreating the housing demand for rental units and occupancy is rising,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at the National Association of Realtors.If rents continue to take off, it could be bad news both for those seeking housing and for the nation’s inflation outlook. Rental costs play an outsize role in the Consumer Price Index, so a meaningful rise in them could help keep that closely watched government price gauge, which has picked up sharply, higher for longer. Rents are only about half as important to the Federal Reserve’s preferred Personal Consumption Expenditures inflation index, but a long bout of high C.P.I. inflation may influence consumers’ expectations for future price gains, which could in turn quicken them.Consumer prices jumped a rapid 5.4 percent in the year through June, but much of the increase was tied back to the economy’s reopening from the pandemic. Policymakers at the Fed and White House have maintained that today’s strong price pressures should fade as the economy gets back to normal, as one-off problems pushing up used car prices are resolved and as a spike in demand that’s elevating furniture and washing machine costs begins to abate.Yet that’s where housing costs could kick in. Measures of rent and what’s called “owners’ equivalent rent” — which uses rental data to try to put a price on how much owners would pay for their housing if they hadn’t bought a home — make up nearly one-third of the Consumer Price Index. Both tend to move slowly, but are defying expectations that they would take time to bounce back.“We’re seeing owners’ equivalent rent move up fairly sharply already,” said Alan Detmeister, an economist at UBS and a former Fed staff official. “I expect it’s going to get worse later this year and into early next.”He and other economists said it was too early to tell to what extent, and for how long, rents would prop up overall prices.“I do think we’ll see some upside from rents, and that will offset some of the declines in goods categories,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. But the “only way” that rents rise enough to keep inflation uncomfortably high, she added, is “if wages are persistently higher.”How much landlords can charge hinges on how much tenants can afford. Lower-paid workers are seeing strong pay gains, but many economists expect those to fade as the economy gets through reopening.Another key factor, Mr. Yun said, is whether “homebuilders are being active to supply new homes and apartments to match up with this rise in rent.”Data do suggest that a substantial new supply of apartments should be on the way this year, but it’s unclear whether they will match up with the demand in location and timing.For now, the rental experience diverges across markets. Rents have appreciated rapidly in places like Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; and Phoenix, while big cities on the coasts have lagged, based on Zillow data. Rents in New York City and San Francisco are recovering quickly but remain cheaper than two years ago.In New York, “the rental market was crushed,” said Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Miller Samuel, a local real estate appraisal firm. But the pace of new leases over the past three months, with tales of bidding wars, is turning that around. Mr. Miller expects rents to fully recover as companies bring workers back to the office this autumn, pulling them back from far-flung remote work locations, he said.“There’s going to be another wave,” he added. “We’re just past peak Zoom.”Data from Apartment List, a listing site, confirms the trend visible in the Zillow numbers: So far in 2021, rental prices nationally have grown 9.2 percent, compared with the 2 to 3 percent that is typical from January to June. According to the most recent data available, prices were higher than economists at Apartment List would have expected had prepandemic trends persisted.Movers in New York City last summer. “In the short run, prices are going to continue to soar,” said Igor Popov, an economist at Apartment List.OK McCausland for The New York Times“In the short run, prices are going to continue to soar, because occupancy rates are sky high right now,” said Igor Popov, an economist at Apartment List. He said that price gains should moderate as supply increased, but that it was unclear when that would happen.In the meantime, the hot housing market should keep rental demand strong.“Rents are a trailing spouse to house price appreciation,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at the employment data provider ADP, who previously worked at the real estate company Redfin. “You have a housing market that is chronically undersupplied, and has been for a decade. That isn’t going away.”Higher rental costs can have a big impact on people’s lives. Christine Gitau, 23, of Homewood, Ala., is going back to live with her parents because she can’t afford the $100 increase to renew her lease on the $530-a-month apartment she started renting last July.“I’m very frustrated, angry and stressed because of the rent hike,” Ms. Gitau said.Ms. Cindrich in Provo, a full-time student at Brigham Young University, worries she will have to apply for more student loans to pay for her apartment or cut expenses in other areas.“I have a severe autoimmune disease, and I spend hundreds of dollars each month on medication,” she said. “The rent hike probably means I might not be able to go to my monthly doctor appointments.”That human impact makes rising rent a political challenge, especially when the Biden administration is already fending off attacks from Republicans over the burst in inflation.Administration officials say they are watching housing prices and their effects on inflation. They continue to insist that most of the price pressures in the economy are temporary.The officials, and President Biden himself, have also pushed for additional spending measures that would over time increase the supply of housing and, the officials say, hold down rental increases, spikes in housing prices and inflationary pressure.Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda includes $213 billion to help jump-start more affordable housing. Those efforts were not included in the bipartisan infrastructure agreement that he struck with centrist lawmakers, but they could end up, at least in part, in a go-it-alone spending bill that Democrats plan to push this summer in Congress.Even if they succeed, those efforts would take years to bear fruit.Some, like Dr. Popov, expect recent gains to moderate on their own this year. Others said bigger increases might lay ahead: Many consumers are flush with cash from government stimulus checks, and the Fed’s cheap-borrowing policies are heating up the housing market.“There’s a tremendous amount of stimulus, and I think that has potential to create upward pressure on rent prices,” Mr. Miller, the appraisal executive, said. More

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    What to Know About Gas Prices

    What to Know About Gas PricesCoral Murphy-MarcosReporting on the economyGas prices often peak in the summer as Americans plan road trips and outdoor holiday activities.The rise in gas prices has also comes as oil prices climbed steadily. Crude oil rose to its highest level in more than three years earlier this month, and is currently trading for about $70 a barrel.Goldman Sachs forecasts that oil prices could reach $80 a barrel this summer. Other analysts forecast a barrel could reach $100 in the coming years. More