January 27, 2023

As U.S. Trade Deficit Grows, Some Growth Forecasts Drop

The trade deficit rose to $45 billion in May, up 12.1 percent from $40.1 billion in April, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday. It was the largest trade gap since November.

Exports slipped 0.3 percent to $187.1 billion. Sales of American farm products dropped to their lowest point in more than two years. American exports have been hurt by recessions in many European countries.

Imports rose 1.9 percent to $232.1 billion. Imports of autos and other nonpetroleum products rose widely.

The trade deficit is running at an annual rate of $501.2 billion, 6.3 percent lower than last year’s deficit.

Paul Dales, senior United States economist at Capital Economics, said the larger trade deficit for May indicated that economic growth in the second quarter could be even weaker than the sluggish 1.5 percent annual rate that he had forecast.

Economists at Barclays said the higher deficit led them to downgrade their growth forecast for the second quarter to 1 percent, from 1.6 percent.

The American economy expanded at an annual rate of only 1.8 percent in the first three months of the year.

For May, exports to the European Union were up 6.4 percent. But over the last five months, exports to this region have declined 6.3 percent from the same period in 2012. Europe has been hurt by a prolonged debt crisis, which has led to recessions across the Continent.

The United States trade deficit with China jumped 15.6 percent to $27.9 billion in May. That is close to the monthly high set in November. So far this year, the trade deficit with China, the largest with any country, is running 3 percent higher than last year.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/04/business/economy/us-trade-deficit-grew-in-may-analysts-downgrade-forecasts.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Cameron to Outline a Recast European Role for Britain

Weighted down by centuries of entrenched wariness in this island nation toward the Continent — and the knowledge that a gallery of his predecessors as Conservative prime ministers saw their tenures blighted by divisions within the party over the issue — Mr. Cameron is heading for Amsterdam on Friday to set out his vision of a sharply whittled-down role for Britain in the affairs of 21st-century Europe.

The speech in the Netherlands, carefully chosen as a country with a strong historical friendship with Britain, is a watershed moment for Mr. Cameron, and for Britain. It could be a deeply jarring occasion, as well, for other European nations, which have grown increasingly impatient, angry even, with Britain’s policy during the crisis in the euro zone. Some European officials have described as blackmail its use of the crisis — one that Britain, with the pound, has largely escaped — to demand a new, “pick-and-mix” status for itself within the 27-nation European Union.

After months of delay, Mr. Cameron is expected to brush aside the warnings of the Obama administration and European leaders and call for a referendum on whether Britain should remain squarely in Europe or negotiate a more arm’s-length relationship, most likely before the next Parliament’s mandate expires in 2018. In a clamorous House of Commons on Wednesday, the prime minister set out his thinking.

“Millions of people in this country, myself included, want Britain to stay in the European Union,” he said. “But they believe that there are chances to negotiate a better relationship. Throughout Europe, countries are looking at forthcoming treaty change, and asking, ‘What can I do to maximize my national interest?’ That is what the Germans will do. That is what the Spanish will do. That is what the British should do.”

For months, Mr. Cameron has been holding off on a promise to explain just what he wants from Europe. As a reformist Conservative pressing ahead with, among other things, a plan to legalize gay marriage, he has scant common ground with the “little Englanders” in his party, the core of about 100 members who make up a third of its representation in Parliament.

But Mr. Cameron can see votes, too, in the strong anti-Europe currents that run wherever people in Britain gather.

In pubs and bars, on radio and in Parliament itself, talk of the European Union tends to center on the bloc’s real — and, in some cases, apocryphal — abuses: its highhanded, bloated bureaucracy, with nearly 1,000 featherbedded officials earning more than Mr. Cameron’s $230,000 salary as prime minister; its endless proliferation of rules on everything from the length of dog leashes to the shape of carrots; the recent claim by a former high-ranking Cameron aide that government ministers spend 40 percent of their time dealing with the mass of pettifogging European “directives,” many of them widely ignored elsewhere in Europe.

Not only has Mr. Cameron been hemmed in by deep divisions over Europe within the Conservative Party — an issue that helped unseat Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major as prime ministers — but he has also been wary of stirring a fresh wave of anger among other European leaders, particularly Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, a center-right politician and onetime ally in European councils.

Her aides have described her as frustrated with Mr. Cameron’s maneuvering and, as she is said to see it, his bid to take advantage of other European states as they struggle to save the euro and keep the most debt-laden nations, like Greece, Portugal and Spain, from dropping out of the European Union.

Concern about the reactions in Berlin and Paris prompted a last-minute rescheduling of the Amsterdam speech. Germany and France had protested that the original date, next Monday, might overshadow long-planned celebrations that day of the 50th anniversary of the treaty between them, itself a landmark in the building of postwar Europe, that sealed their reconciliation after the wounds of World War II.

Along with this, commentators say, Mr. Cameron has been recalculating the ways in which the European issue can be managed to bolster the Conservatives’ sagging prospects in a general election expected in 2015, in which polls show them lagging as much as 13 percentage points behind the opposition Labour Party. He has also been contending with heavy lobbying by American officials, including President Obama.

The Americans, diplomats say, have told Mr. Cameron squarely in private what made headlines here last week when a senior State Department official, Philip Gordon, who is assistant secretary for European affairs, spoke on the issue with British reporters. Mr. Gordon said a continued “strong British voice” in an “outward-looking” European Union was in America’s interests, and warned specifically against the referendum on Europe that is an important component in Mr. Cameron’s plans. “Referendums,” Mr. Gordon said, “have often turned countries inward.”

For all his delaying, his aides say, Mr. Cameron is ready now to outline a strategy for renegotiating Britain’s status in the European Union in a way that would keep Britain free from the centralizing forces at work. Other major European states, France and Germany in particular, see a new federal Europe with enhanced powers of fiscal oversight as essential to the long-term survival of the tottering euro.

Alan Cowell contributed reporting from Paris, and Stephen Castle from London.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/17/world/europe/cameron-to-outline-a-recast-european-role-for-britain.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Inventories Barely Grew in November

Opinion »

Borderlines: Where is Europe?

As both a concept and a continent, the area known as Europe has changed over time.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=568f9764c53136411fb9d92212e28cb7

Bank Deposits at European Central Bank Reach High for Year

FRANKFURT — Banks from the 17 European Union countries that use the euro stashed 347 billion euros overnight with the European Central Bank on Thursday, in another sign that the Continent’s debt crisis is still putting pressure on the banking system despite central bank support.

The figure announced Friday, equivalent to $453 billion, is the highest for 2011, topping 346.4 billion euros earlier this month.

It is a sign of mistrust in the interbank lending market where banks raise operating funds, suggesting they are depositing money with the central bank at low interest rates because they are afraid to lend it to other banks — for fear they won’t get paid back.

Europe is suffering from a debt crisis marked by concerns that heavily indebted governments, like Italy, may be unable to pay off their bonds. That means trouble for banks because they typically hold government bonds.

The large deposits come despite Wednesday’s big central bank credit operation, in which the European Central Bank let banks borrow as much as they wanted for up to three years. As a result 523 banks took 489 billion euros, the largest package of loans from the central bank in the 13-year history of the euro.

The European Central Bank has stepped up lending to banks to help them get through the crisis. Some of the banks are finding it extremely difficult to raise money elsewhere, so the bank steps in as lender of last resort, a typical role for central banks in times of turmoil.

The bank has refused to play the same role for governments by buying large amounts of their bonds, saying they must get their debts under control through their own efforts and not wait for a central bank rescue.

Italian 10-year bond yields remained elevated Friday at 6.90 percent, another sign that the markets remain fearful of a default by the euro zone’s third-largest economy. Before the crisis spread to Italy, it was able to borrow at under 4 percent as recently as October 2010.

European governments are trying to win back the confidence of bond market investors by reducing deficits, a difficult job in a slowing economy. The Italian prime minister, Mario Monti, won approval Thursday from the Italian Senate for 30 billion euros in additional cutbacks and revenue increases.

Greece is working on a deal to cut its debt by making bondholders accept a bond exchange that would mean a 50 percent reduction in the value of their investments. The bondholders could accept that instead of the larger losses that would come from a disorderly default not agreed in advance.

A top policy maker with the European Central Bank said in an interview published Friday that the bank could use its power to create new money to buy financial assets if a deteriorating economy threatens the euro zone with deflation.

The official, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, who is leaving office next week, was quoted by The Financial Times as saying he saw “no reason” why the bank could not use the technique, called quantitative easing by economists. Both the United States Federal Reserve and the Bank of England have used it after lowering interest rates to record low levels and finding that their economies still needed more stimulus.

The central bank’s mandate is to provide price stability, so fighting deflation could be consistent with that. At the moment, however, inflation is running at 3 percent, well above the bank’s goal of just under 2 percent.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=238b2c663408d15aff6eab4591cdcf74

Moody’s Warns of Possible Downgrade to Some Euro Zone Economies

The announcement follows a similar warning last week by the Standard Poor’s ratings agency, which said it could lower the credit ratings of Germany and France and cut other countries’ credit scores as a possible recession settles over the Continent and a crisis of confidence in Europe’s political management puts pressure on its banks.

S.P. is expected to announce the results of its review as soon as this week. The agency said last week that it hoped to complete its assessment “as soon as possible” after the summit.

Any downgrade in the credit rating of Europe’s governments would raise the fever of the crisis by making it more expensive for the countries to service their debts. It would make it more difficult for banks in those countries to get credit from other banks, causing a possible pullback in lending to consumers and businesses at a time when economic growth is already being squeezed.

Euro zone leaders agreed Friday to sign an intergovernmental treaty that would require them to enforce stricter fiscal discipline in their budgets, a move that addresses the euro area’s governance issues but does little to resolve current problems in the banking system and in the region’s teetering economies.

The leaders also agreed to add €200 billion, or $268 billion, to a bailout fund designed to keep the crisis from spreading.

Gary Jenkins, a strategist at Evolution Securities in London, said Monday that “high levels of debt, the rising risk of a recession and tightening credit conditions are all still with us after the summit and there was little in the way of real action to deal with any of them.”

Financial markets welcomed the plan Friday, pushing stock prices up on the Continent and on Wall Street, and Asian markets opened higher Monday. But a bigger test comes this week as investors digest whether the series agreements by the Europeans still leaves Europe vulnerable to a variety of shocks.

European markets opened lower, with major indexes trading down between 1.5 percent and 2 percent at mid-morning.

Moody’s said Monday that one of its biggest concerns was the widening growth gap between the euro zone’s weaker southern countries and their wealthier neighbors to the north.

Leaders agreed Friday to hew to a German prescription for greater austerity across the entire euro region in order to improve countries’ widening deficits and heavier debt loads. But credit markets remain volatile, and the longer that persists, the greater the risk it will weigh on governments’ efforts to repair their finances, the agency said.

“The crisis is in a critical and volatile stage, with sovereign and bank debt markets prone to acute dislocation which policymakers will find increasingly hard to contain,” the agency warned.

“Moreover, the longer the incremental approach to policy persists, the greater the likelihood of more severe scenarios, including those involving multiple defaults by euro area countries and those additionally involving exits from the euro area,” Moody’s said.

Despite clear political will to bring the euro zone under more centralized management, ratings agencies, banks and businesses are increasingly considering the possibility that countries could default or exit the currency union. Such uncertainty has caused banks worldwide to pull back on the loans they used to make freely to their counterparts in Europe. As a result, a growing number of European financial institutions have turned to the European Central Bank to obtain funding for their operations in recent weeks.

The E.C.B. last week made it easier for banks to continue such borrowing, by taking the unusual step of easing the terms and conditions of the credit it offers. But amid staunch opposition from Germany, Mario Draghi, the E.C.B. president, has not signaled that the central bank would act more aggressively to keep the borrowing costs of countries like Italy from rising by buying more of those governments’ bonds. Investors say that without such help, troubled countries would face greater resistance from financial markets.

That, in turn, would send further ripples through big European banks that hold large amounts of these governments’ bonds. Last week, the European Banking Authority said euro zone banks — including Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank of Germany — needed to raise a total of €115 billion of fresh capital by next summer to insure themselves against a worsening of the storm.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9dca454d77d4bb94c5755f3ad37290cd

It’s the Economy: Translating the European Financial Mess

Yet the bottom line is simple: Europe’s problems are a lot like ours, only worse. Like Wall Street, Germany is where the money is. Italy, like California, has let bad governance squander great natural resources. Greece is like a much older version of Mississippi — forever poor and living a bit too much off its richer neighbors. Slovenia, Slovakia and Estonia are like the heartland states that learned the hard way how entwined so-called Main Street is with Wall Street. Now remember that these countries share neither a government nor a language. Nor a realistic bailout plan, either.

Lack of fluency in financialese shouldn’t preclude anyone from understanding what is going on in Europe or what may yet happen. So we’ve answered some of the most pressing questions in a language everyone can comprehend. Though the word for “Lehman” in virtually any language is still “Lehman.”

Q: Will the euro survive?

It’s a dangerous question to ask out loud. Suppose a credible rumor spread throughout Greece that, rather than accept the harsh terms of another bailout package, the government was plotting to revert to the drachma. Fearing the devaluation of their savings, Greeks would move their money somewhere safer, like a German bank. The Greek banking system would then, in all likelihood, implode.

But Greece’s economy is too small for an isolated collapse to cause any significant damage throughout the continent. (Even a collapse confined to Greece, Ireland and Portugal couldn’t take down Europe.) So the concern about a run on the Greek banking system is largely about whether a panic might spread to Spain or — worse — Italy, which could topple Europe’s financial system. Maybe that’s why the treaty that created the euro doesn’t say anything about a country’s abandoning the currency. Or why European leaders scarcely mentioned the possibility (not in public, at least) until this fall, two years into the crisis.

Q: Why is it such a bad thing for a country to abandon the euro?

If a country did pull off a surprise euro exit — and get out before everybody could take their money out of the banks — there would still be a period of economic chaos. Exports and imports would shut down. Lending would collapse, which would send companies into bankruptcy. Ripple effects would be felt throughout Europe.

The problem is thorny enough that the British chief executive of Next, a European retailer, recently offered a £250,000 prize for the person who comes up with the best plan for countries to leave the euro without destroying the European economy. (Have a brilliant idea? Entries are due early next year.)

Q: Wait a minute: If leaving the eurozone would be so awful, why would anyone do it?

It’s not all bad. Leaving the euro would allow a country to ignore demands from the leaders of other European countries. It could simply refuse to pay its debt.

After the short-run pain, weaker European countries could also see a long-term benefit. If Greece or Portugal went back to the drachma or the escudo, the cost of their exports would fall. Because it would be cheaper for foreign travelers to stay in their hotels and eat in their restaurants, their tourism industries would get a bump, too. The alternative is to spend the next decade as poor countries tied to a rich one’s currency.

Q: Why exactly does Angela Merkel always look so woebegone?

For the euro to survive in the long run, Germany — the zone’s biggest economy — will most likely need to vouch for the debt of struggling eurozone members. And it will become more expensive to borrow money if bond investors fear the country is becoming overextended.

The Germans are also wary of the widespread calls for the European Central Bank to buoy Spain and Italy by buying their bonds. If they know the E.C.B. will bail them out, what will be their incentive to act responsibly in the future? Worse, Germans argue, printing money to pay off government debt (which is what the E.C.B. would essentially be doing) is the first step to hyperinflation.

Q: What happens to the European Union if the euro crumbles?

It turns out that a bunch of vastly different countries, each with control over its own budget but all bound to a common currency, is not a sustainable economic model. And that leaves Europe with two main, and painful, options.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=77258e500030baaca27d953d7c3f33ad

News Analysis: In Debt Crisis, a Silver Lining for Germany

The failed German bond auction on Wednesday might have brought to an end one turbulent chapter in the history of the Continent’s debt crisis, during which Berlin remained insulated from much of the fallout.

Since 2009, Germany and a handful of other countries, like the Netherlands, have benefited significantly from cheaper borrowing costs as investors diverted cash from riskier assets and the bonds of southern European countries to debt issued by the Continent’s fiscal hawks.

According to an estimate by Re-Define, an economic research institute in Brussels, Germany saved around 20 billion euros ($26.7 billion) in borrowing costs from 2009 to 2011, with an additional 20 billion euros in estimated savings locked in for the future. A separate analysis, by the De Volksrant newspaper in the Netherlands, put Dutch savings at around 7.5 billion euros for 2009-11.

The drop in German borrowing costs, which according to Re-Define have fallen by more than half since the crisis hit, is more than a statistical quirk because it has helped shape the way the crisis has been handled within a two-tier euro zone.

It helps explain why Germany has taken a tough line against “budget sinners” in the south like Greece, which have been virtually locked out of bond markets by high borrowing costs, and why Germany has been reluctant to create a “big bazooka” or huge bailout fund to stem the crisis. The bond markets delivered cheap money to Germany, and resulted in something Berlin badly wanted: economic overhauls in Southern Europe. “So in fact, in the German system, they think, ‘It’s not bad that those guys understand that they are really close to the abyss,’ ” said one European official, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The idea that those countries are learning something from the crisis, the official said, is “deep in the mentality” of Germany.

Germany has steadily objected to the creation of the one thing many observers say could temper the crisis: euro bonds backed by all 17 members of the monetary union. Issuing those bonds could drive up Germany’s own borrowing costs as it takes on the risk of less stable countries. Germany’s reluctance to issue the euro bonds has diminished somewhat, though, as the crisis has intensified.

While ministers in Berlin or the Hague may worry at one level about the fate of the euro, they have so far not faced direct pressure over their country’s own borrowing.

“The crisis, to most Germans (and to a lesser extent Dutch and Finns) remains an abstract thing,” wrote Sony Kapoor, managing director at Re-Define. Re-Define’s study notes that the yield on 10-year German government bonds, known as bunds, stood at around 4.7 percent in mid-2008. It now hovers around 2 percent, close to a record low in the 200 years for which records exist. Yields on five-year bonds are 1 percent, with two-year bonds at 0.38 percent.

“The increased demand for German bonds has been driven by both the financial and the euro crisis, with investors fleeing equities, high-yield bonds and, especially in the past two years, also other euro area sovereign bonds for the relative safety of German government bonds,” Re-Define’s report said.

In a letter this month to the Dutch Parliament, the country’s finance minister, Jan Kees de Jager, described De Volksrant’s estimate of a 7.5 billion euros of savings in borrowing costs as “plausible,” adding that there was “no telling how economic variables — including interest rates — would have developed without the crisis.”

Mr. de Jager said the crisis had added other costs to the government, which had increased the national debt.

Meanwhile, the bond markets have, in some senses, proved an ally to Berlin, most recently by pushing out Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister, who presided for years over an economy with a debt level equivalent to 120 percent of gross domestic product.

Though they may not be immune to the wider European downturn, Germany and the Netherlands know that the steep rise in borrowing costs for countries like Italy and Spain is requiring those countries to get their public finances under control and enact painful economic reforms.

“Everybody is feeling the heat, apart from a small number of triple-A-rated countries,” said the European official, speaking anonymously.

While Germany saved 6 billion to 7 billion euros, the sum is small compared with annual German government spending of more than 300 billion euros, said a German government official, who did not want to be identified. Invoking government policy as the reason for not being named, the official added that it was still in Berlin’s interest to resolve the crisis, particularly since Germany was providing the largest guarantee to the euro zone’s bailout fund.

“We may be insulated in terms of interest rates,” the official said, but added “our liabilities are very high.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/25/business/global/german-bond-windfall-may-be-ending-with-euro-crisis.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Room For Debate: A Europe Divided?


euro signHannelore Foerster/Bloomberg News A euro sign sculpture outside the European Central Bank headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany.

“If the euro fails, then Europe too will fail,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany said in May 2010, as the continent faced the exploding debt crisis that rippled out of Greece. Today, with the problems only worsening, the Germans and other prosperous Europeans seem less likely to express such noble sentiments.

In his column on Monday, Paul Krugman criticized what he described as the moralizing streak of the Germans toward the less thrifty economies of Italy and Spain.

The Germans were wary of admitting the so-called Club Med countries into the euro zone in the first place, but with E.U. negotiators pressing Germany and other strong economies to cough up more of their money to pay the debts of the more profligate, the cultural differences and stereotypes are only becoming magnified.

Do these cultural differences threaten the future of the European Union?

 Read the Discussion »


Topics: Europe, Germany, Greece


Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=15fb0de3c98e691612f64700023c8421

U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End

Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.

The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.

“Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” said John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council, a research group in New York. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”

The projections were made by the United Nations population division, which has a track record of fairly accurate forecasts. In the new report, the division raised its forecast for the year 2050, estimating that the world would most likely have 9.3 billion people then, an increase of 156 million over the previous estimate for that year, published in 2008.

Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Denmark.

The director of the United Nations population division, Hania Zlotnik, said the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help finance their development, face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning.

Though they were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, such programs have stagnated in many countries, caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society. Conservatives have attacked such programs as government meddling in private decisions, and in some countries, Catholic groups fought widespread availability of birth control. And some feminists called for less focus on population control and more on empowering women.

Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptives — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor, but the budget compromise in Congress last month cut international family planning programs by 5 percent.

“The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group.

Dr. Zlotnik said in an interview that the revised numbers were based on new forecasting methods and the latest demographic trends. But she cautioned that any forecast looking 90 years into the future comes with many caveats.

That is particularly so for some fast-growing countries whose populations are projected to skyrocket over the next century. For instance, Yemen, a country whose population has quintupled since 1950, to 25 million, would see its numbers quadruple again, to 100 million, by century’s end, if the projections prove accurate. Yemen already depends on food imports and faces critical water shortages.

In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the report projects that population will rise from today’s 162 million to 730 million by 2100. Malawi, a country of 15 million today, could grow to 129 million, the report projected.

The implicit, and possibly questionable, assumption behind these numbers is that food and water will be available for the billions yet unborn, and that potential catastrophes including climate change, wars or epidemics will not serve as a brake on population growth. “It is quite possible for several of these countries that are smallish and have fewer resources, these numbers are just not sustainable,” Dr. Zlotnik said.

Well-designed programs can bring down growth rates even in the poorest countries. Provided with information and voluntary access to birth-control methods, women have chosen to have fewer children in societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Iran, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

One message from the new report is that the AIDS epidemic, devastating as it has been, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted. Prevalence estimates and projections for the human immunodeficiency virus made for Africa in the 1990s turned out to be too high, and in many populations, treatment with new drug regimens has cut the death rate from the disease.

But the survival of millions of people with AIDS who would have died without treatment, and falling rates of infant and child mortality — both heartening trends — also mean that fertility rates for women need to fall faster to curb population growth, demographers said.

Other factors have slowed change in Africa, experts said, including women’s lack of power in their relationships with men, traditions like early marriage and polygamy, and a dearth of political leadership. While about three-quarters of married American women use a modern contraceptive, the comparable proportions are a quarter of women in East Africa, one in 10 in West Africa, and a mere 7 percent in Central Africa, according to United Nations statistics.

“West and Central Africa are the two big regions of the world where the fertility transition is happening, but at a snail’s pace,” said John F. May, a World Bank demographer.

Some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient. A trial by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia, found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children. Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role, in that literate young women are more likely to understand that family size is a choice.

The new report suggests that China, which has for decades enforced restrictive population policies, could soon enter the ranks of countries with declining populations, peaking at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, then falling to 941 million by 2100.

The United States is growing faster than many rich countries, largely because of high immigration and higher fertility among Hispanic immigrants. The new report projects that the United States population will rise from today’s 311 million to 478 million by 2100.

Neil MacFarquhar contributed reporting.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0c3954b67d8963750b6f14d64201f54e