December 5, 2021

Debt Ceiling Window Is Narrowing, Bipartisan Policy Center Warns

Democrats, in turn, have balked at a Republican demand to use a fast-track process known as budget reconciliation to raise the debt limit without Republican votes. Democrats used the process to pass the coronavirus relief package and they are using it again for the climate, tax and spending plan, but they have argued that Republicans should help keep the government from defaulting.

Aides in both parties, while cautioning that a solution has not been agreed to, noted that party leaders had so far refrained from publicly trading blame over the issue.

As a way of navigating around the impasse, some officials have discussed the possibility of handing the authority of raising the debt limit to the administration, while granting Congress the ability to disapprove the decision with just a simple majority.

Some lawmakers, however, may be unwilling to hand that power to the White House or lose a cudgel often used by the minority party to exert pressure, particularly while 60 votes are needed to end a filibuster in the Senate.

Other officials have floated attaching legislation raising the debt limit to the sprawling annual defense policy bill, which is the last major must-pass piece of legislation that lawmakers plan to approve in December.

But it is unclear whether such a plan would be successful: Attaching a debt ceiling increase could jeopardize the Republican votes needed to counter the bloc of liberal Democrats who typically oppose the defense bill in protest of military spending. Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader, warned on Friday that such a maneuver could tank passage of the entire package.

The Bipartisan Policy Center said that there was additional uncertainty surrounding the debt limit this year because of the pandemic and the various economic relief programs that are still ongoing.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/business/economy/debt-ceiling-xdate.html

Why the November Jobs Report Is Better Than It Looks

But in terms of policy, this increasingly looks like an economy on the right track. The work of macroeconomic stabilization appears to be pretty much complete. At its coming policy meeting, the Federal Reserve will seriously consider winding down its program of bond-buying faster than planned, Chair Jerome Powell said this week.

Despite the soft job creation numbers, the overall November employment report appears to support those plans. Fed officials would like to see a stronger rebound in labor force participation, but that measure was at least heading in the right direction in November. And ultimately it isn’t Fed policy that will decide whether, for example, a 62-year-old who left his job during the pandemic decides to start working again.

If anything, the new numbers support the idea that the Fed has found itself out of position, with a monetary policy that is looser than it should be at a time when the labor market is quite healthy and with inflation far above its target.

Consider this: In the last economic cycle, the Fed began tapering its bond purchases in December 2013, when the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent and inflation was coming in below the Fed’s 2 percent goal. This time, it began when the jobless rate was 4.2 percent and inflation was in the ballpark of 6 percent (November inflation numbers have not yet been released).

Even if you believe the Fed was too quick to tighten monetary policy in 2013 — and the sluggish recovery of the 2010s is evidence that it was — the contrast is striking. In that sense, a more aggressive tapering plan from the Fed will be an effort to adjust its policy stance with the facts on the ground without causing too much disruption to markets or the economy.

If the Fed succeeds, the economy will keep growing steadily and the labor market will continue its gradual improvement. But it’s worth noting just how rapid the improvement has already been. In February, the Congressional Budget Office was forecasting the unemployment rate would be 5.3 percent in the current quarter. It has ended up a full percentage point below that level.

Ultimately, this has been a speedy labor market recovery, and one that appears to have more room to run. Policymakers have every reason to take the win and continue adjusting to that reality.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/upshot/jobs-report-unemployment-falls.html

November 2021 Jobs Report: A Gain of 210,000

The report noted “the growing belief among consumers that no effective policies have yet been developed to reduce the damage from surging inflation.” Shoppers are facing the steepest inflation in 31 years. In October, prices increased 6.2 percent from a year earlier.

Nonetheless, markets remain relatively calm. The major stock indexes are up by impressive levels this year. And bond yields, which tend to move higher in inflationary environments, remain near record lows, indicating that investors don’t see inflation as a longer-term threat to the economy or financial stability.

In recent days, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, has faced pressure from different political camps to focus more tightly on price increases.

Critics of the Fed say the central bank’s “accommodative” bond-buying policies — which have kept borrowing costs low and led to a large and continued increase in the money supply — went on too long and were irresponsible in light of an already aggressive emergency response from Congress. With inflation proving more stubborn than many experts expected, that suite of stimulative monetary policies is now, in the view of Fed detractors, a prime culprit.

Fed officials, including Mr. Powell, still maintain that the price increases mainly reflect pandemic aberrations that will dissipate. But in congressional testimony on Tuesday, Mr. Powell signaled a pivot from revitalizing the economy to keeping a lid on prices.

“The economy is very strong, and inflationary pressures are high,” he said. “It is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases.”

Economists are divided over the potential impact of a winter coronavirus surge. Some say it could cool off the economy, easing inflation, because it could inhibit in-person activities. Others say a new wave could raise prices further by complicating the logistics of supply chains.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/business/economy/november-2021-jobs-report.html

This Is a Tight Labor Market, Not a Loose One

But in terms of policy, this increasingly looks like an economy on the right track. The work of macroeconomic stabilization appears to be pretty much complete. At its coming policy meeting, the Federal Reserve will seriously consider winding down its program of bond-buying faster than planned, Chair Jerome Powell said this week,

Despite the soft job creation numbers, the overall November employment report appears to support those plans. Fed officials would like to see a stronger rebound in labor force participation, but that measure was at least heading the right direction in November. And ultimately it isn’t Fed policy that will decide whether, for example, a 62-year-old who left his job during the pandemic decides to start working again.

If anything, the new numbers support the idea that the Fed has found itself out of position, with a monetary policy that is looser than it should be at a time when the labor market is quite healthy and with inflation far above its target.

Consider this: In the last economic cycle, the Fed began tapering its bond purchases in December 2013, when the unemployment rate was 6.7 percent and inflation was coming in below the Fed’s 2 percent goal. This time, it began when the jobless rate was 4.2 percent and inflation was in the ballpark of 6 percent (November inflation numbers have not yet been released).

Even if you believe the Fed was too quick to tighten monetary policy in 2013 — and the sluggish recovery of the 2010s is evidence that it was — the contrast is striking. In that sense, a more aggressive tapering plan from the Fed will be an effort to adjust its policy stance with the facts on the ground without causing too much disruption to markets or the economy.

If the Fed succeeds, the economy will keep growing steadily and the labor market will continue its gradual improvement. But it’s worth noting just how rapid the improvement has already been. In February — a mere nine months ago — the Congressional Budget Office was forecasting the unemployment rate would be 5.3 percent in the current quarter. It has ended up a full percentage point below that level.

Ultimately, this has been a speedy labor market recovery, and one that appears to have more room to run. Policymakers have every reason to take the win and continue adjusting to that reality.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/03/upshot/jobs-report-unemployment-falls.html

United Auto Workers reformers prevail in vote to choose president by direct election.

Reformers within the U.A.W. have long backed the one member, one vote approach, arguing that it would lead to greater accountability, reducing corruption and forcing leaders to negotiate stronger contracts. A group called Unite All Workers for Democracy helped organize fellow members to support the change in the referendum.

“The membership of our great union has made clear that they want to change the direction of the U.A.W. and return to our glory days of fighting for our members,” Chris Budnick, a U.A.W. member at a Ford plant in Louisville who serves as recording secretary for the reform group, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “I am so proud of the U.A.W. membership and their willingness to step up and vote for change.”

David Witwer, an expert on union corruption at Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, said the experience of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which shifted from voting through convention delegates to direct election in 1991, after an anti-racketeering lawsuit by federal prosecutors, supports the reformers’ claims.

Dr. Witwer said the delegate system allowed seemingly corrupt union leaders to stay in power because of the leverage they had over convention delegates, who were typically local union officials whom top leaders could reward or punish.

“Shifting the national union election process from convention delegates to membership direct voting was pivotal in changing the Teamsters,” he said by email.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/02/business/economy/united-auto-workers-vote.html

Biden Projects Normalcy and Optimism as Omicron Poses New Threat

The president said those fears would prove largely unfounded, claiming progress from his administration’s actions to clear port backlogs and ease the delivery of more goods to market at a time when Black Friday sales jumped nearly a third from the year before.

He cited comments and commitments from a wide range of retail executives he met with on Monday at the White House to discuss inflation and supply issues, saying that physical and online retailers alike had assured him they were well prepared for a rush of spending.

“Those shelves are going to be stocked,” Mr. Biden said.

Mr. Biden also emphasized slight improvement on the price spikes that have depressed consumer confidence and his approval ratings, including increases for food, appliances and gasoline. He said his decision last week to release 50 million barrels of oil from the nation’s emergency reserves had already begun to reduce oil prices worldwide and would soon provide relief at the pump.

The big dip in prices in recent days has come not from the release of reserves, coordinated with several other nations, but from fears that Omicron will once again depress driving and other demand for oil as it rips through the world economy.

Businesses continue to struggle to overcome supply chain delays. According to a new index published by Flexport, a global freight forwarder, shipping times from Asia to the United States and from Asia to Europe remain at or near record highs — and double what they were in March 2019.

A surge in the Omicron variant could lead to further delays, if ports and factories shutter and warehouses and trucking companies have an even harder time finding people to work. This year, China shut down some of its most active ports after small outbreaks of the virus as it sought to quickly contain its spread.

Health experts have not yet determined the answers to crucial questions about how the variant might behave, including whether it might prove more adept at evading vaccines, which would in turn determine how much it might crimp growth or affect inflation. Analysts have warned in recent days that it is throwing new uncertainty into their forecasts.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/01/business/economy/biden-omicron-economy-holiday.html

A Top Official Says the Fed Will ‘Grapple’ With a Faster Bond-Buying Taper

Mr. Williams’s comments are the latest indication that policymakers are growing more concerned about inflation and are weighing how to respond. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, signaled on Tuesday that the central bank could move to withdraw economic support more quickly than it initially expected and suggested that such a decision could come as soon as the Fed’s December meeting.

The Fed had been buying $120 billion in government-backed securities each month throughout much of the pandemic to bolster the economy by keeping money flowing in financial markets. In November, officials announced plans to wind down that program gradually through the end of the year and the first half of 2022, a process known as “tapering.” But Mr. Powell indicated on Tuesday that the central bank could wrap up its bond-buying more quickly.

Mr. Williams, who is vice chair of the Fed’s policymaking Open Market Committee and is a top adviser to Mr. Powell, did not explicitly endorse a faster tapering process, saying that “there’s a lot to learn and digest and think about coming up to the next meeting.”

But he emphasized that the economy had rebounded more strongly this year than he and other officials had been expecting, and said the unemployment rate had fallen quickly. That economic strengthening at a moment of high inflation may warrant less Fed support, he said.

“The question is: Would it make sense to end those purchases somewhat earlier, by maybe a few months, given how strong the economy is?” he said. “That’s a decision, discussion, I expect we’ll have to grapple with.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/01/business/fed-inflation-omicron-covid.html

Powell Says Fed Could Finish Bond-Buying Taper Early

“At this point, the economy is very strong, and inflationary pressures are high,” he said. “It is therefore appropriate in my view to consider wrapping up the taper of our asset purchases, which we actually announced at our November meeting, perhaps a few months sooner.”

His comments further rattled investors, who had already been fretting about Omicron’s potential impact. Stocks, which had been down roughly 0.5 percent for much of the morning, tumbled after Mr. Powell’s comments and the SP closed down 1.9 percent. Short-term bond yields, which are heavily influenced by expectations for Fed rate increases, spiked as investors began to expect what is sometimes referred to as a “hawkish,” or aggressive approach to interest rate policy.

“The tone of his remarks was notably hawkish, suggesting that the Fed’s primary focus is on the risk of more persistent excess inflation,” Krishna Guha, an economist at Evercore ISI, wrote in a research note reacting to the testimony.

Mr. Powell said he expected Fed officials to discuss slowing bond purchases faster “at our upcoming meeting,” which is scheduled for Dec. 14-15. He stressed that between now and then, policymakers will get a better sense of the new Omicron virus variant, a fresh labor market report and updated inflation numbers.

While he emphasized that much is unknown about Omicron, he said experts could get a better sense of it “in about a month,” and will know at least something about the risks “within a week or 10 days.”

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/30/business/powell-bond-buying-taper.html

Supply-Chain Kinks Force Small Manufacturers to Scramble

And while DPS ships by boat whenever possible, it’s hardly cheap — the price of shipping a container has gone from roughly $5,000 to $20,000 in some cases, Mr. Adema said. Overall, raw material costs for DPS are up 10 to 15 percent.

These kind of increases are coursing through the economy, and are a primary reason inflation is running at the fastest pace in 31 years, with a 6.2 percent increase in prices in October from a year earlier. But unlike many other companies, DPS hasn’t been able to pass on the higher costs to consumers.

“Our ski shop customers place their orders in the spring, and they’ve committed to pricing and delivery dates for this upcoming season,” Mr. Adema said. Designed for backcountry touring as well as resort trails, the company’s skis sell for about $800 to $1,400 a pair. Poles begin at $99. “For us to change prices in midstream would not be good for relations with our community,” Mr. Adema added. “We have to absorb the costs.”

Other manufacturers face many of the same issues but have more flexibility on prices. Honey-Can-Do, a maker of housewares like storage carts and shelving in Chicago, has been able to pass along its higher costs, said Steve Greenspon, the company’s owner and chief executive.

“Everybody knows what’s going on,” Mr. Greenspon said. “It’s become commonplace and accepted this year for retailers to accept cost increases. I’ve heard from merchants that over 90 percent of vendors are giving them price increases.”

This trend marks a turnabout from prepandemic days. “If you tried to pass along a major price increase to a big retailer a couple of years ago, there’d be concerns about your relationship,” Mr. Greenspon said. “But in the current atmosphere, it’s the norm.”

Honey-Can-Do’s prices are up roughly 10 percent to 25 percent, depending on the raw materials, freight costs and how much corrugated packaging is used in shipping. Its products include a 65-inch baker’s rack with a cutting board and hanging storage that retails for $119.99 and a toy organizer with 12 bins that sells for $59.99.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/29/business/economy/supply-chain-inflation.html

The Holiday Shopping Season Is Here, but Is It Back?

Stephen Arnold, president of the International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas, a trade group with more than 1,800 members, appeared at only a single tree lighting event last year. It was a frightening time, he said, particularly for a group of elderly men who are often overweight and have diabetes.

But this season, Mr. Arnold said that all five of his tree lighting ceremonies are back, including a splashy event that he loves at Graceland, Elvis Presley’s estate in Mr. Arnold’s hometown, Memphis. He plans to participate in more than 200 appearances, on par with his prepandemic schedule in 2019. At times, he may perform from inside a life-size snow globe like last year, and a sizable chunk of his events will be held virtually, but it’s a world apart from 2020.

“I think almost all of our Santas intend to work a great deal more than they did last year, and a much higher percentage, probably 65 to 70 percent of us, will return to what we consider some kind of normal schedule,” Mr. Arnold, 71, said. “I’m trying to be prepared for a season of relatively close contact.”

This week, Saks Fifth Avenue unveiled its holiday window display and 10-story-tall light show at its New York flagship store. The retailer, which took a pause from its annual tradition of shutting down Fifth Avenue for a musical performance last year, returned to it this year with a performance by the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and an appearance from Michelle Obama. About 22 Nordstrom stores will have “immersive” photo booths.

At the flagship Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street, the store is offering fewer events than the 400-plus it held in 2019, but many more than 2020, when its limited activities were held outdoors. There will be more food and drink for shoppers this season, including Champagne and cups of espresso, though they are being handled more carefully than in years past. The store hosted a performance by Bebe Rexha when it unveiled its holiday windows this month, but kept it to roughly 15 minutes and carefully managed capacity and spacing.

“If you would have talked to me in 2019, we would have had elaborate spreads with caterers coming in and passed hors d’oeuvres and Champagne flowing,” said Frank Berman, Bloomingdale’s chief marketing officer. Now, the food is more likely to be prepackaged, and events like cooking demonstrations have been smaller.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/26/business/holiday-shopping-stores.html