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    G7 Nations Pledge $20 Billion to Ukraine

    KÖNIGSWINTER, Germany — The Group of 7 economic powers agreed on Friday to provide nearly $20 billion to support Ukraine’s economy over the coming months to help keep the country’s government running while it fights to repel a Russian invasion.In a joint statement after two days of meetings, finance ministers from the Group of 7 affirmed their commitment to help Ukraine with a mix of grants and loans. Ukraine needs approximately $5 billion per month to maintain basic government services, according to the International Monetary Fund.The $19.8 billion of financing was agreed on after the United States, which is contributing more than $9 billion in short-term financing, pressed its allies to do more to help secure Ukraine’s future. The statement did not break down how much the other Group of 7 nations will contribute.The European Commission, however, previously agreed to provide up to 9 billion euros of financial assistance. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corporation plan to provide an additional $3.4 billion to Ukrainian state-owned enterprises and the private sector.“We will continue to stand by Ukraine throughout this war and beyond and are prepared to do more as needed,” the statement said.The economic policymakers also acknowledged that more fallout from the war lies ahead, and they pledged on Friday to keep markets open as they combat rising food and energy prices around the world. They also said that their central banks would be closely monitoring inflation measures and the impact that rising prices are having on their economies.“We are very concerned about crises and macroeconomic developments,” Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister, said during a closing news conference on Friday, according to an English translation.The two-day summit on the outskirts of Bonn came at a pivotal time for the world economy, with concern mounting that a combination of war, supply chain problems and the lingering effects of the pandemic could lead to a contraction in global output. Finance ministers discussed ways to keep pressure on Russia while minimizing the damage to their economies as they debated the merits of a European embargo on Russian oil and whether seized Russian assets could be used to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction.“The values of the international community have been totally discarded by Russia,” Mr. Lindner said.Officials from the world’s leading advanced economies discussed other areas for possible collaboration, such as combating climate change and making progress on a global tax agreement that was reached last year but faces implementation problems.But the complicated mix of foreign policy challenges and economic headwinds dominated the meetings.Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned this week that Europe could be vulnerable to a recession because of its exposure to Russian energy. She does not expect a recession in the United States but said on Thursday that a “soft landing” was not guaranteed as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to tame inflation.“I think it’s conceivable there could be a soft landing, that requires both skill and luck,” Ms. Yellen told reporters on the sidelines of the Group of 7 summit. “It’s a very difficult economic situation.” More

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    Russia’s Economic Outlook Grows ‘Especially Gloomy’ as Prices Soar

    LONDON — After sanctions hobbled production at its assembly plant in Kaliningrad, the Russian automaker Avtotor announced a lottery for free 10-acre plots of land — and the chance to buy seed potatoes — so employees could grow their own food in the westernmost fringe of the Russian empire during “the difficult economic situation.”In Moscow, shoppers complained that a kilogram of bananas had shot up to 100 rubles from 60, while in Irkutsk, an industrial city in Siberia, the price of tampons at a store doubled to $7.Banks have shortened receipts in response to a paper shortage. Clothing manufacturers said they were running out of buttons.“The economic prospects for Russia are especially gloomy,” the Bank of Finland said in an analysis this month. “By initiating a brutal war against Ukraine, Russia has chosen to become much poorer and less influential in economic terms.”Even the Central Bank of Russia has predicted a staggering inflation rate between 18 and 23 percent this year, and a falloff in total output of as much as 10 percent.It is not easy to figure out the impact of the war and sanctions on the Russian economy at a time when even using the words “war” and “invasion” are illegal. President Vladimir V. Putin has insisted that the economy is weathering the measures imposed by the United States, Europe and others.Financial maneuvers taken by Moscow helped blunt the economic damage initially. At the start of the conflict, the central bank doubled interest rates to 19 percent to stabilize the currency, and recently was able to lower rates to 14 percent. The ruble is trading at its highest level in more than two years.Empty shelves in a supermarket in Moscow in March. Food prices have shot up, especially for items like imported fruit.Vlad Karkov/SOPA Images/LightRocket, via Getty ImagesAnd even though Russia has had to sell oil at a discount, dizzying increases in global prices are causing tax revenues from oil to surge past $180 billion this year despite production cuts, according to Rystad Energy. Natural gas deliveries will add another $80 billion to Moscow’s treasury.In any case, Mr. Putin has shown few signs that pressure from abroad will push him to scale back military strikes against Ukraine.Still, Avtotor’s vegetable patch lottery and what it says about the vulnerabilities facing the Russian people, along with shortages and price increases, are signs of the economic distress that is gripping some Russian businesses and workers since the war started nearly three months ago.Analysts say that the rift with many of the world’s largest trading partners and technological powerhouses will inflict deep and lasting damage on the Russian economy.“The really hard times for the Russian economy are still in front of us,” said Laura Solanko, a senior adviser at the Bank of Finland Institute for Emerging Economies.The stock of supplies and spare parts that are keeping businesses humming will run out in a few months, Ms. Solanko said. At the same time, a lack of sophisticated technology and investment from abroad will hamper Russia’s productive capacity going forward.The Lukoil refinery in Volgograd. Russia has had to sell oil at a discount, but its tax revenues have risen along with prices.ReutersThe Russian Central Bank has already acknowledged that consumer demand and lending are on a downhill slide, and that “businesses are experiencing considerable difficulties in production and logistics.”Ivan Khokhlov, who co-founded 12Storeez, a clothing brand that evolved from a showroom in his apartment in Yekaterinburg to a major company with 1,000 employees and 46 stores, is contending with the problem firsthand.“With every new wave of sanctions, it becomes harder to produce our product on time,” Mr. Khokhlov said. The company’s bank account in Europe was still blocked because of sanctions shortly after the invasion, while logistical disruptions had forced him to raise prices.“We face delays, disruptions and price increases,” he said. “As logistics with Europe gets destroyed, we rely more on China, which has its own difficulties too.”Hundreds of foreign firms have already curtailed their business in or withdrawn altogether from Russia, according to an accounting kept by the Yale School of Management. And the exodus of companies continued this week with McDonald’s. The company said that after three decades, it planned to sell its business, which includes 850 restaurants and franchises and employs 62,000 people in Russia.“I passed the very first McDonald’s that opened in Russia in the ’90s,” Artem Komolyatov, a 31-year-old tech worker in Moscow, said recently. “Now it’s completely empty. Lonely. The sign still hangs. But inside it’s all blocked off. It’s completely dead.”Nearby two police officers in bulletproof vests and automatic rifles stood guard, he said, ready to head off any protesters.In Leningradsky railway station, at one of the few franchises that remained open on Monday, customers lined up for more than an hour for a last taste of McDonald’s hamburgers and fries.The French automaker Renault also announced a deal with the Russian government to leave the country on Monday, although it includes an option to repurchase its stake within six years. And the Finnish paper company, Stora Enso, said it was divesting itself of three corrugated packaging plants in Russia.A closed McDonald’s in Podolsk, outside Moscow, on Monday. The company said this week it was putting its Russian business up for sale.Maxim Shipenkov/EPA, via ShutterstockMore profound damage to the structure of the Russian economy is likely to mount in the coming years even in the moneymaking energy sector.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 7A far-reaching conflict. More

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    Russian Shipping Traffic Remains Strong as Sanctions Take Time to Bite

    WASHINGTON — Shipping traffic in and out of Russia has remained relatively strong in the past few months as companies have raced to fulfill contracts for purchases of energy and other goods before the full force of global sanctions goes into effect.With the European Union poised to introduce a ban on Russian oil in the coming months, that situation could change significantly. But so far, data show that while commerce with Russia has been reduced in many cases, it has yet to be crippled.Volumes of crude and oil products shipped out of Russian ports, for example, climbed to 25 million metric tons in April, data from the shipping tracker Refinitiv showed, up from around 24 million metric tons in December, January, February and March, and mostly above the levels of the last two years.Jim Mitchell, the head of oil research for the Americas at Refinitiv, said that Russia’s outgoing shipments in April had been buoyed by the global economic recovery from the pandemic, and that they did not yet reflect the impact of sanctions and other restrictions on Russia issued after its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.Crude oil typically trades 45 to 60 days ahead of delivery, he said, meaning that changes to behavior following the Russian invasion were still working their way through the system.“The volume has been slow to decline, because these were contracts that have already been set,” Mr. Mitchell said. Defaulting on such contracts is “a nightmare for both sides,” he said, adding, “which means that even in the current environment nobody really wants to breach a contract.”Russia has stopped publishing data on its imports and exports since Western governments united to announce their array of sanctions and other restrictions. Exports of oil or gas that leave Russia through pipelines can also be difficult for outside firms to verify.But the global activities of the massive vessels that call on Russian ports to pick up and deliver containers of consumer products or bulk-loads of grain and oil are easier to monitor. Ships are required to transmit their identity, position, course and other information through automatic tracking systems, which are monitored by a variety of firms like Refinitiv, MarineTraffic, Kpler and others.These firms say that shipping traffic was relatively robust in March and April, despite the extraordinary tensions with Russia since its invasion of Ukraine. That reflects both how long some of the sanctions issued by the West are taking to come into effect and an enduring profit motive for trading with Russia, especially after prices for its energy products and commodities have cratered.Data from MarineTraffic, for example, a platform that shows the live location of ships around the world using those on-ship tracking systems, indicates that traffic from Russia’s major ports declined after the invasion but did not plummet. The number of container ships, tankers and bulkers — the three main types of vessels that move energy and consumer products — arriving and leaving Russian ports was down about 23 percent in March and April compared with the year earlier.“The reality is that the sanctions haven’t been so difficult to maneuver around,” said Georgios Hatzimanolis, who analyzes global shipping for MarineTraffic.Tracking by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, a maritime information service, shows similar trends. The number of bulk carriers, which transport loose cargo like grain, coal and fertilizer, that sailed from Russian ports in the five weeks after the invasion was down only 6 percent from the five-week period before the invasion, according to the service.In the weeks following the invasion, Russia’s trade with China and Japan was broadly stable, while the number of bulk carriers headed to South Korea, Egypt and Turkey actually increased, their data showed.“There’s still a lot of traffic back and forth,” said Sebastian Villyn, the head of risk and compliance data at Lloyd’s List Intelligence. “We haven’t really seen a drop.”Those figures contrast somewhat with statements from global leaders, who have emphasized the crippling nature of the sanctions. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Thursday that the Russian economy was “absolutely reeling,” pointing to estimates that it faces a contraction of 10 percent this year and double-digit inflation. Earlier this week, Ms. Yellen said that the Treasury Department was continuing to deliberate about whether to extend an exemption in its sanctions that has allowed American financial institutions and investors to keep processing Russian bond payments. Speaking at a Senate hearing, she said that officials were actively working to determine the “consequences and spillovers” of allowing the license to expire on May 25, which would likely lead to Russia’s first default on its foreign debt in more than a century.Global sanctions on Russia continue to expand in both their scope and their impact, especially as Europe, a major customer of Russian energy, moves to wean itself off the country’s oil and coal. Trade data suggest that shipments into Russia of high-value products like semiconductors and airplane parts — which are crucial for the military’s ability to wage war — have plummeted because of export controls issued by the United States and its allies.But many sanctions have been targeted at certain strategic goods, or exempted energy products — which are Russia’s major exports — to avoid causing more pain to consumers at a time of rapid price increases, disrupted supply chains and a growing global food crisis.Truckers lined up to cross into Panemune, Lithuania, near the Russian port of Kaliningrad last month.Paulius Peleckis/Getty ImagesSo far, Western governments have levied an array of financial restrictions, including banning transactions with Russia’s central bank and sovereign wealth fund, freezing the assets of many Russian officials and oligarchs, and cutting off Russian banks from international transactions. Canada and the United States have already banned imports of Russian energy, and also prohibited Russian ships from calling at their ports, but the countries are not among Russia’s largest energy customers.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 7A far-reaching conflict. More

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    Bank of England raises rates to 1 percent amid recession worries.

    As prices for energy, food and commodities rise after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the impact is being felt sharply around the world. In Britain, the central bank pushed interest rates to their highest level in 13 years on Thursday, in an effort to arrest rapidly rising prices even as the risk of recession is growing.The bank predicted that inflation would rise to its highest level in four decades in the final quarter of this year, and that the British economy would shrink by nearly 1 percent.“Global inflationary pressures have intensified sharply in the buildup to and following the invasion,” Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said on Thursday. “This has led to a material deterioration in the outlook,” he added, for both the global and British economies. On an annual basis, the economy would also shrink next year.The Bank of England raised interest rates to 1 percent from 0.75 percent, their highest level since 2009. Three members of the nine-person rate-setting committee wanted to take a more aggressive step and raise rates by half a percentage point. The Bank of England has raised rates at every policy meeting since December.Prices rose 7 percent in Britain in March from a year earlier, the fastest pace since 1992. The central bank predicts the inflation rate will peak above 10 percent in the last quarter of the year, when household energy bills will increase again after the government’s energy price cap is reset in October. Ten percent would be the highest rate since 1982.The rapidly changing landscape was reflected in the prospects for economic growth. In 2023, the bank now predicts, the economy will shrink 0.25 percent instead of growing 1.25 percent, which it predicted three months ago.On Wednesday, policymakers at the U.S. Federal Reserve increased interest rates half a percentage point, the biggest jump in 22 years, in an effort to cool down the economy quickly as inflation runs at its fastest pace in four decades. The U.S. central bank also said it would begin shrinking its balance sheet, allowing bond holdings to mature without reinvestment.On Thursday, the Bank of England said its staff would begin planning to sell the government bonds it had purchased, but a decision on whether to commence these sales hasn’t been made. The bank stopped making new net purchases at the end of last year after buying 875 billion pounds ($1.1 trillion) in bonds. The bank said it would provide an update in August.The outlook for the global economy has been rocked by the war in Ukraine, which is pushing up the price of energy, food and other commodities such as metals and fertilizer. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt trade and supply chains, particularly from shutdowns stemming from China’s zero-Covid policy. Last month, the International Monetary Fund slashed its forecast for global economic growth this year to 3.6 percent from 4.4 percent, which was predicted in January.The challenge for policymakers in Britain is stark. The Bank of England has a mandate to achieve a 2 percent inflation rate. At the same time, there is evidence that the economy is already slowing down, consumer confidence is dropping and businesses are worried that price increases will depress consumer spending, a key driver of economic growth. With inflation at its highest level in three decades and wage growth unable to keep up, British households are facing a painful squeeze on their budgets.Household disposable income, adjusted for inflation, is expected to fall 1.75 percent this year, the second largest drop since records began in 1964, the bank said. The central bank’s challenge is to slow inflation to ease the pressure on households and businesses without cooling the economy too much and tipping it into a recession.“Monetary policy must, therefore, navigate a narrow path between the increased risks from elevated inflation and a tight labor market on one hand, and the further hit to activity from the reduction in real incomes on the other,” Mr. Bailey said on Thursday.Weighing that alternative, policymakers figured that pressures on costs for business and prices for consumers would persist unless they took action. Companies expect to strongly increase the selling prices for their goods and services in the near term, after the sharp rises in their expenses, the bank said. At the same time, inflation could become more entrenched because the unemployment rate is low, forcing companies to raise wages to meet their hiring needs. More

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    Governments Tighten Grip on Global Food Stocks, Sending Prices Higher

    Dozens of countries have thrown up trade barriers in the past two months to protect scarce supplies of food and commodities, but experts say the policies will only exacerbate a global food crisis.WASHINGTON — Ukraine has limited exports of sunflower oil, wheat, oats and cattle in an attempt to protect its war-torn economy. Russia has banned sales of fertilizer, sugar and grains to other nations.Indonesia, which produces more than half the world’s palm oil, has halted outgoing shipments. Turkey has stopped exports of butter, beef, lamb, goats, maize and vegetable oils.Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has unleashed a new wave of protectionism as governments, desperate to secure food and other commodities for their citizens amid shortages and rising prices, erect new barriers to stop exports at their borders.The measures are often well intended. But like the panic-buying that stripped grocery store shelves at various moments of the pandemic, the current wave of protectionism will only compound the problems that governments are trying to mitigate, trade experts warn.Export restrictions are making grains, oils, meat and fertilizer — already at record prices — more expensive and even harder to come by. That is placing an even greater burden on the world’s poor, who are paying an ever-larger share of their income for food, increasing the risk of social unrest in poorer countries struggling with food insecurity.Since the beginning of the year, countries have imposed a total of 47 export curbs on food and fertilizers — with 43 of those put in place since the invasion of Ukraine in late February, according to tracking by Simon Evenett, a professor of international trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen.“Before the invasion, there’s a very small number of attempts to try and restrict exports of food and fertilizers,” Mr. Evenett said. “After the invasion you see a huge uptick.”The cascade of new trade barriers comes as the war in Ukraine, and the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia, are further straining supply chains that were already in disarray from the pandemic. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, pig iron, nickel and natural gas, and a major supplier of coal, crude oil and fertilizer. Ukraine is the world’s largest exporter of sunflower seed oil and a significant exporter of wheat, pig iron, maize and barley.With countries facing severe threats to supplies of basic goods, many policymakers have quickly dropped the language of open markets and begun advocating a more protective approach. Recommendations range from creating secure supply chains for certain critical materials in friendly countries to blocking exports and “reshoring” foreign factories, bringing operations back to their home countries.In a speech last week, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, said the pandemic and the war had revealed that American supply chains, while efficient, were neither secure nor resilient. While cautioning against “a fully protectionist direction,” she said the United States should work to reorient its trade relationships toward a large group of “trusted partners,” even if it meant somewhat higher costs for businesses and consumers.Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, said in a speech on Wednesday that the war had “justifiably” added to questions about economic interdependence. But she urged countries not to draw the wrong conclusions about the global trading system, saying it had helped drive global growth and provided countries with important goods even during the pandemic.“While it is true that global supply chains can be prone to disruptions, trade is also a source of resilience,” she said.The W.T.O. has argued against export bans since the early days of the pandemic, when countries including the United States began throwing up restrictions on exporting masks and medical goods and removed them only gradually.Now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a similar wave of bans focused on food. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” Mr. Evenett said.Protectionist measures have cascaded from country to country in a manner that is particularly evident when it comes to wheat. Russia and Ukraine export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, feeding billions of people in the form of bread, pasta and packaged foods.Mr. Evenett said the current wave of trade barriers on wheat had begun as the war’s protagonists, Russia and Belarus, clamped down on exports. The countries that lie along a major trading route for Ukrainian wheat, including Moldova, Serbia and Hungary, then began restricting their wheat exports. Finally, major importers with food security concerns, like Lebanon, Algeria and Egypt, put their own bans into effect.Mr. Evenett said the dynamic was “still unfolding” and likely to get worse in the months to come. Ukraine’s summer growing season for wheat is being disrupted as fighting keeps farmers away from their fields and pulls workers off to war. And grocery stores in Spain, Greece and Britain are already introducing restrictions on the amount of cereals or oil people can buy.“We’re already feeling the pinch in Europe of limited supplies of these key crops,” he said.Several other consequential export bans on food are unrelated to the war, but they will still play into the global dynamic of rising prices.A palm oil processing plant in Indonesia’s Riau Province. The country has halted outgoing shipments of palm oil, a key ingredient in packaged food.Kemal Jufri for The New York TimesChina began ordering its firms to stop selling fertilizer to other countries last summer, in order to preserve supplies at home, Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, and Yilin Wang, a research analyst at the institute, wrote in a recent blog post. Now that Russia has also cut off exports of fertilizer, China’s ban will be even more harmful.“China’s decision to take fertilizer supplies off world markets to ensure its own food security only pushes the problem onto others,” they wrote, adding that “China’s ongoing export restrictions could hardly come at a worse time.”Indonesia’s restrictions on palm oil, a key ingredient in packaged foods, detergent and cosmetics, are in line with similar bans the country placed on exporting the product before the war in an attempt to keep the price of oil affordable for Indonesian households.Those measures will add to skyrocketing prices for vegetable oils, driven by a disruption in the supply from Ukraine, the world’s largest producer of sunflower oil.Governments that put these restrictions in place often argue that their duty is to put the needs of their own citizens first, and the W.T.O.’s rules allow countries to impose temporary measures for national security or safety. But the measures can easily backfire, helping to push up global prices further.Price increases for food have been felt particularly keenly in poorer countries in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, which depend on imported food.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 6Rising concerns. More

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    Yellen Says Aim Is ‘Maximum Pain’ for Russia Without Hurting U.S.

    WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Wednesday that the United States would continue taking steps to cut Russia off from the global financial system in response to its invasion of Ukraine and argued that the sanctions already imposed had taken a severe toll on the Russian economy.She addressed the House Financial Services Committee as the United States rolled out a new array of sanctions on Russian banks and state-owned enterprises and on the adult children of President Vladimir V. Putin. The White House also announced a ban on Americans making new investments in Russia no matter where those investors are based.“Our goal from the outset has been to impose maximum pain on Russia, while to the best of our ability shielding the United States and our partners from undue economic harm,” Ms. Yellen told lawmakers.The measures introduced on Wednesday included “full blocking” sanctions against Sberbank, the largest financial institution in Russia, and Alfa Bank, one of the country’s largest privately owned banks.Sberbank is the main artery in the Russian financial system and holds over a third of the country’s financial assets. In February, the Treasury announced limited sanctions against Sberbank, but Wednesday’s sanctions, a senior Biden administration official said, will effectively freeze relations between the bank and the U.S. financial system.The administration also announced sanctions against two adult daughters of Mr. Putin: Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Putina, who has been living under an assumed name, Maria Vorontsova. Others connected to Russian officials with close ties to Mr. Putin will also face sanctions, including the wife and daughter of Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and members of Russia’s security council, including former Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev. The official said those people would be effectively cut off from the U.S. banking system and any assets held in the United States.President Biden said on Wednesday that the new sanctions would deal another blow to the Russian economy.“The sense of brutality and inhumanity, left for all the world to see unapologetically,” Mr. Biden said, describing Russia’s actions as war crimes. “Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable, and together with our allies and our partners we’re going to keep raising the economic costs and ratchet up the pain for Putin and further increase Russia’s economic isolation.”Experts suggested that the latest round of sanctions were unlikely to compel Mr. Putin to change course. Hundreds of American businesses have pulled out of Russia in recent weeks, making new investments unlikely.“The asset freezes on the additional banks aren’t nothing, but this isn’t the most significant tranche we’ve seen to date,” said Daniel Tannebaum, a partner at Oliver Wyman who advises banks on sanctions.Other American agencies are joining the effort to exert pressure on Russia.In a news conference on Wednesday, officials from the Justice Department and the F.B.I. also announced a series of actions and criminal charges against Russians, including the takedown of a Russian marketplace on the dark web and a botnet, or a network of hijacked devices infected with malware, that is controlled by the country’s military intelligence agency.Justice Department officials also celebrated the seizing of the Tango, a superyacht owned by the Russian oligarch Viktor F. Vekselberg, and charged a Russian banker, Konstantin Malofeev, with conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions. Mr. Malofeev is one of Russia’s most influential magnates and among the most prominent conservatives in the country’s Kremlin-allied elite. (The indictment renders his surname as Malofeyev.)At the hearing, Ms. Yellen told lawmakers that she believed Russia should be further isolated from the geopolitical system, including being shut out of international gatherings such as the Group of 20 meetings this year, and should be denounced at this month’s meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. She added that the United States might not participate in some G20 meetings that are being held in Indonesia this year if Russians attended.Ms. Yellen, whose department has been developing many of the punitive economic measures, rebutted criticism that the penalties leveled so far had not been effective, in part because there are some exceptions to allow Russia to sell energy.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 6Rising concerns. More

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    March Fed Minutes: ‘Many’ Officials in Favor of a Big Rate Increase

    Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s March meeting showed that central bankers were preparing to shrink their portfolio of bond holdings imminently while raising interest rates “expeditiously,” as the central bank tries to cool off the economy and rapid inflation.Fed officials are making money more expensive to borrow and spend in a bid to slow shopping and business investment, hoping that weaker demand will help to tame prices, which are now climbing at the fastest pace in four decades.Central bankers raised interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point in March, their first increase since 2018 — and the minutes showed that “many” officials would have preferred an even bigger rate move and were held back only by uncertainty tied to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Markets now expect the Fed to make half-point increases in May and possibly June, even as they begin to withdraw additional support from the economy by shrinking their balance sheet.The balance sheet stands at nearly $9 trillion — swollen by pandemic response policies — and Fed officials plan to shrink it by allowing some of their government-backed bond holdings to expire starting as soon as May, the minutes showed. That will help to further push up interest rates, potentially leading to slower growth, more muted hiring and weaker wage increases. Eventually, the theory goes, the chain reaction should help to slow inflation. “They’re very resolute in fighting inflation and moving it lower,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “They are concerned.”While central bankers were hesitant to react to rapid inflation last year, hoping it would prove “transitory” and fade quickly, those expectations have been dashed. Price increases remain rapid, and officials are watching warily for signs that they might turn more permanent.“All participants underscored the need to remain attentive to the risks of further upward pressure on inflation and longer-run inflation expectations,” the minutes showed.Now, officials are trying to cool off the economy as it is growing quickly and the job market is rapidly improving. Employers added 431,000 jobs in March, wages are climbing swiftly, and the unemployment rate is just about matching the 50-year low that prevailed before the pandemic.Central bankers are hoping that the strong job market will help them slow the economy without tipping it into an outright recession. That will be a challenge, given the Fed’s blunt policy tools, a reality that officials have acknowledged.At the same time, Fed officials are worried that if they do not respond vigorously to high inflation, consumers and businesses may come to expect persistently higher prices. That could perpetuate quick price increases and make wrestling them under control even more painful.“It is of paramount importance to get inflation down,” Lael Brainard, a Fed governor who is the nominee to be the central bank’s vice chair, said on Tuesday. “Accordingly, the committee will continue tightening monetary policy methodically through a series of interest rate increases and by starting to reduce the balance sheet at a rapid pace as soon as our May meeting.”Ms. Brainard’s statement that balance sheet shrinking could happen “rapidly” caught markets by surprise, sending stocks lower and rates on bonds higher. Investors also focused their attention on the minutes released on Wednesday.The notes from the March meeting provided more details about what the balance sheet process might look like. Fed officials are coalescing around a plan to slow their reinvestment of securities, the minutes showed, most likely capping the monthly shrinking at $60 billion for Treasury securities and $35 billion for mortgage-backed debt.That would be about twice the maximum pace the Fed set when it shrank its balance sheet between 2017 and 2019, confirming the signal policymakers have been giving in recent weeks that the plan could proceed much more quickly this time around.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 6Rising concerns. More

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    Russia-Ukraine War Is Reshaping How Europe Spends

    Romania is buying iodine pills. Ireland enacted special incentives for its farmers to till essential crops. And military spending is rising across the continent.Nicolae Ciuca spent a lifetime on the battlefield before being voted in as prime minister of Romania four months ago. Yet even he did not imagine the need to spend millions of dollars for emergency production of iodine pills to help block radiation poisoning in case of a nuclear blast, or to raise military spending by 25 percent in a single year.“We never thought we’d need to go back to the Cold War and consider potassium iodine again,” Mr. Ciuca, a retired general, said through a translator at Victoria Palace, the government’s headquarters in Bucharest. “We never expected this kind of war in the 21st century.”Across the European Union and Britain, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is reshaping spending priorities and forcing governments to prepare for threats thought to have been long buried — from a flood of European refugees to the possible use of chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons by a Russian leader who may feel backed into a corner.The result is a sudden reshuffling of budgets as military spending, essentials like agriculture and energy, and humanitarian assistance are shoved to the front of the line, with other pressing needs like education and social services likely to be downgraded.The most significant shift is in military spending. Germany’s turnabout is the most dramatic, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s promise to raise spending above 2 percent of the country’s economic output, a level not reached in more than three decades. The pledge included an immediate injection of 100 billion euros — $113 billion — into the country’s notoriously threadbare armed forces. As Mr. Scholz put it in his speech last month: “We need planes that fly, ships that sail and soldiers who are optimally equipped.”The commitment is a watershed moment for a country that has sought to leave behind an aggressive military stance that contributed to two devastating world wars.“We never thought we’d need to go back to the Cold War and consider potassium iodine again,” said Nicolae Ciuca, prime minister of Romania.Cristian Movila for The New York TimesA wartime mind-set has also spread to sectors aside from defense. With prices soaring for oil, animal feed and fertilizer, Ireland introduced a “wartime tillage” program last week to amp up grain production, and created a National Fodder and Food Security Committee to manage threats to the food supply.Farmers will be paid up to €400 for every additional 100-acre block that is planted with a cereal crop like barley, oats or wheat. Planting additional protein crops like peas and beans will earn a €300 subsidy.“The illegal invasion in Ukraine has put our supply chains under enormous pressure,” Charlie McConalogue, the agriculture minister, said in announcing the $13.2 million package. Russia is the world’s largest supplier of wheat and with Ukraine accounts for nearly a quarter of total global exports.Spain has been running down its supplies of corn, sunflower oil and some other produce that also come from Russia and Ukraine. “We’ve got stock available, but we need to make purchases in third countries,” Luis Planas, the agriculture minister, told a parliamentary committee.Mr. Planas has asked the European Commission to ease some rules on Latin American farm imports, like genetically modified corn for animal feed from Argentina, to offset the lack of supply.Extraordinarily high energy prices have also put intense pressure on governments to cut excise taxes or approve subsidies to ease the burden on families that can’t afford to heat every room in their home or fill their car’s gas tank.Ireland reduced gasoline taxes, and approved an energy credit and a lump-sum payment for lower-income households. Germany announced tax breaks and a $330-per-person energy subsidy, which will end up costing the treasury $17.5 billion.Ireland introduced a “wartime tillage” program last week to increase grain production.Niall Carson – PA Images, via Getty ImagesIn Spain, the government agreed last week to defray the cost of gasoline in response to several days of strikes by truckers and fishermen, which left supermarkets without fresh supplies of some of their most basic items.And in Britain, a cut in fuel taxes and support for poorer households will cost $3.2 billion.The outlook is a change from October, when Rishi Sunak, Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a budget for what he called an “economy fit for a new age of optimism,” with large increases in education, health and job training.In his latest update to Parliament, Mr. Sunak warned that “we should be prepared for the economy and public finances to worsen potentially significantly,” as the country faces the biggest drop in living standards it has ever seen.The energy tax relief was welcomed by the public, but the reduced revenues put even more pressure on governments that are already managing record high debt levels.“The problem is that some countries have quite a big chunk of legacy debt — in Italy and France, it’s over 100 percent of gross domestic product,” said Lucrezia Reichlin, an economics professor at the London Business School, referring to the huge amounts spent to respond to the pandemic. “That is something which is very much new for the economic governance of the union.” European Union rules, which were temporarily suspended in 2020 because of the coronavirus, limit government debt to 60 percent of a country’s economic output.And the demands on budgets are only increasing. European Union leaders said this month that the bill for new defense and energy spending could run as high as $2.2 trillion.The Russia-Ukraine War and the Global EconomyCard 1 of 6Rising concerns. More