May 19, 2024

Trade Deficit Rises

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday the trade gap increased 8.5 percent to $40.3 billion. March’s shortfall on the trade balance was revised to $37.1 billion from the previously reported $38.8 billion.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected the trade deficit to rise to $41.0 billion in April.

When adjusted for inflation, the trade gap increased to $47.6 billion from $44.6 billion in March.

Economists said the widening in the so-called real trade deficit indicated that trade continued to weigh on growth early in the second quarter.

“Real trade activity was also softer, suggesting that net trade is continuing to be a drag on domestic economic activity,” said Millan Mulraine, a senior economist at TD Securities in New York.

Trade subtracted a fifth of a percentage point from first-quarter gross domestic product.

U.S. Treasuries held steady at lower levels after the trade data. Stock index futures were little changed.

The economy has hit a speed bump, with higher taxes and government spending cuts crimping consumer spending and weighing on manufacturing activity. Growth estimates for this quarter currently range between a 1.2 percent and 2 percent annual pace.

The economy grew at a 2.4 percent rate in the first three months of the year.

The three-month moving average of the trade deficit, which irons out month-to-month volatility, slipped to $40.42 billion in the three months to April from $41.22 billion in the prior period.

Annual revisions showed the trade deficit in 2012 was smaller than previously reported, with exports revised higher.

In April, imports of goods and services increased 2.4 percent to $227.7 billion. The rebound in imports was mitigated by the lowest value of petroleum imports since November 2010.

Exports of goods and services increased 1.2 percent to $187.4 billion, the second highest on record. The gains came as the value of motor vehicles and parts exports rose to the highest on record.

Exports of consumer goods were also a record high.

Strong export growth helped to lift the economy out of the 2007-09 recession, but momentum has waned in recent months against the backdrop of slowing global demand, especially in China and recession-hit Europe.

The impact from U.S. dollar strength earlier in the year is also taking steam out of export growth.

U.S. exports to the 27-nation European Union fell 7.9 percent in April. Exports to the EU in the first four months of 2013 were down 7.4 percent compared to the same period in 2012.

Exports to the United Kingdom were the lowest since May 2009. Exports to China, which have been growing more slowly than in recent years, declined 4.7 percent in April.

China has been one of the fastest growing markets for U.S. goods, and exports to that country were up 4.8 percent for the first four months of 2013.

Imports from China surged 21.2 percent, lifting the contentious U.S. trade deficit with China to $24.1 billion from $17.9 billion in March.

(Editing by Andrea Ricci)

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Orders for Durable Goods Rose 3.3 Percent in April

Orders for durable goods, items expected to last at least three years, rose 3.3 percent last month from March, the Commerce Department said on Friday. That followed a 5.9 percent decline in March.

A measure of business investment plans increased 1.2 percent, and the government revised the March figure to show a 0.9 percent gain, instead of a slight decrease.

Companies ordered more machinery and electronic products last month, typically signs of confidence. More spending by businesses could ease fears that manufacturing could drag on the economy later this year.

Factories had been counting fewer orders at the start of the year, in part because slower global growth had reduced demand for exports. Economists had also worried that across-the-board federal spending cuts and higher taxes might prompt businesses to cut back on orders.

Paul Ashworth, an economist with Capital Economics, said the April report suggested that economic growth was holding up. He predicts growth in the April-June quarter will be at a rate of 2 to 2.5 percent, close to the 2.5 percent rate reported for the January-March quarter.

Still, the payoff from the pickup in business investment may not come until the end of the quarter, because the government looks at shipments when it measures the gross domestic product, not orders.

In addition, shipments of goods that signal investment plans fell in April, reflecting weaker demand at the start of the year.

“Business investment appears to have started the second quarter on a weak note but should rebound over the final two months of the quarter,” Mr. Ashworth said.

The April increase pushed total orders to $222.6 billion on a seasonally adjusted basis, or 6.5 percent above the level of a year ago.

Orders for transportation goods gained 8.1 percent, reflecting a 16.1 percent jump in demand for commercial aircraft and a 53.3 percent increase in orders for military aircraft. Orders for motor vehicles increased 1.9 percent.

Excluding the volatile transportation category, orders rose 1.3 percent in April. That followed a 1.7 percent decline in March.

Still, other reports showed that factories continued to struggle in April.

The Institute for Supply Management reported that factory activity barely expanded in April, held back by weaker hiring and less company stockpiling.

And manufacturing output dropped 0.4 percent last month, the Federal Reserve reported this month. Auto companies produced fewer cars, factories made fewer consumer goods and most other industries reduced output.

The overall economy grew at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the January-March quarter, buoyed by the fastest rise in consumer spending in more than two years.

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Britain Must Do More for Economy, I.M.F. Warns

LONDON — Britain should do more to fuel economic growth and be prepared to pump more money into its bailed-out banks if necessary, the International Monetary Fund said Wednesday in a report.

The I.M.F. said that some recent economic data from Britain were “encouraging,” but that the data did not point toward a sustainable recovery in the near term. “Activity appears to be improving, but a slow recovery remains likely,” the fund said.

That view stands in contrast to comments by the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn A. King, who said last week that there was “a welcome change in the economic outlook” and that a recovery was “in sight.”

The fund has been a critic of the austerity program designed by George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, saying that the British economy would recover more quickly if the government slowed its spending cuts and tax increases. The I.M.F. reiterated that warning on Wednesday and called for additional public spending. Especially helpful to the economic recovery, the fund said, would be spending on transportation and energy infrastructure and on training for low-skilled workers.

“The U.K. is, however, still a long way from a strong and sustainable recovery,” the I.M.F. said, adding that the low level of capital investment and high youth unemployment remained a concern. “The prospect remains for weak growth,” the report said.

Mr. Osborne has rejected criticism of his austerity plan, saying that the spending cuts were essential to reduce the budget deficit, which in turn would keep Britain’s borrowing costs low and allow for economic growth to return.

A recovery might take even longer if demand from export markets like the euro zone does not pick up, banks continue to be reluctant to lend and the government’s austerity program turns out to be a bigger drag on the economy than anticipated.

Ed Balls, a spokesman on economic issues for the opposition Labour Party, said the report was “the call for action on jobs and growth that the I.M.F. has been threatening to deliver for many months and a stark warning of the consequences if the chancellor refuses to listen.”

In remarks before the I.M.F. released its report, Mr. Osborne said he broadly agreed with its contents but added, “There are no easy answers to problems built up in the U.K. over many years.” He added that it was “a hard road to recovery. But we’re making progress.”

The I.M.F. also said that the government should not shy from bolstering the capital of two bailed-out banks, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group, to ease the process of returning them to private ownership. The government took stakes in both banks during the financial crisis and owns 81 percent of R.B.S. and 39 percent of Lloyds.

In separate statements, R.B.S. and Lloyds said Wednesday that they would increase their capital reserves by retaining earnings and selling assets. Regulators said recently that all of Britain’s largest banks must raise a combined 25 billion pounds, or $38 billion, to make them more stable.

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Government Spending Cuts Contribute to Slower Growth

As chief executive of a small Michigan military contractor, Nanocerox, he had already cut his work force by one-third. But it was not enough. And if the government spending cuts mandated by Congress continue, he said, more people will go in the coming months.

The squeeze Mr. Kelly is facing is one reason markets are jittery about what the Labor Department’s latest report on unemployment and job creation will reveal about the economy on Friday. After a strong start to the year, several economic indicators beginning in March have pointed to much slower growth, largely because of the fiscal headwinds from Washington, economists say.

Job cuts like the kind at Nanocerox remain the exception, rather than the rule. On Thursday, the government said weekly unemployment claims were at a five-year low.

The problem is that companies have not been hiring. This week, a survey of private sector hiring in April came in well below expectations, while indications for everything from retail sales to manufacturing have also been soft recently.

Whatever the data ultimately show for April, economists like Diane Swonk, chief economist for Mesirow Financial in Chicago, say the economy would be showing much more momentum if it were not for the combination of higher payroll taxes that went into effect in January, as well as the process of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration that began to bite last month.

“What’s the biggest drag on the economy? The government,” Ms. Swonk said. “If the government simply did no harm, we could be at escape velocity.”

Without the impact of federal cuts and higher taxes, Ms. Swonk estimates, annual economic growth would be close to 4 percent, above the 2.5 percent pace she is expecting in 2013.

Like most economists, Ms. Swonk says she does not think the economy will fall back into recession or experience a pronounced rise in unemployment. Instead, economists on Wall Street are looking for the economy to have created 140,000 jobs in April, below average compared with the monthly rate of 168,000 jobs added in the first quarter but better than the 88,000 jobs created in March. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 7.6 percent.

That’s down considerably from the 10 percent peak in unemployment recorded in October 2009, but still well above where levels for joblessness should be this far into a recovery. Nearly 12 million Americans are unemployed and looking for work, according to the Labor Department, and almost 40 percent of them have been jobless for more than six months.

As long as the unemployment rate remains above 6.5 percent, the Federal Reserve has vowed to keep buying tens of billions of dollars worth of bonds each month to help stimulate growth. That has buoyed Wall Street, and helped the stock market reach record highs, but it has yet to translate into the kind of job gains the Fed wants to see.

Other central banks have been getting into the act, too. The European Central Bank cut rates on Thursday in a bid to restore growth, and the Bank of Japan recently started an aggressive stimulus effort.

In particular, economists will be watching Friday’s report to see if the manufacturing sector shed more jobs in April. The government is generally furloughing employees rather than laying them off, but private contractors that supply the Pentagon have been trimming their work forces outright.

Julia Coronado, chief North American economist at BNP Paribas, predicted the impact of the sequester would increase in the months ahead. “We’ve seen orders for defense-related goods really slow down,” she said. “There are definitely signs of a cooling.”

“We’re not in a free fall,” she added, “but it highlights the difficult nature of this recovery.”

Although sequestration did not officially go into effect until March, the Pentagon and some other agencies began cutting back last year. At Mr. Kelly’s company, Nanocerox, that has meant a sharp slowdown in orders for powder derived from rare-earth minerals that is used in a wide range of high-technology products, like advanced lasers and air-to-air missiles. With just $2.5 million in revenue, the company, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., had to react quickly as demand from the Pentagon and big contractors like Raytheon evaporated.

“It’s a tough, tough environment,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re trying to sell the company. It’s sad because our technology is the next generation for the military.”

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Economix Blog: Older, but Not Yet Retired



Dollars to doughnuts.

The labor force participation rate has fallen drastically in the last few years, partly because a huge chunk of the American population — the baby boomers — is rolling into retirement age. But the aging of Americans born from 1946 to 1964 has not actually had as big a drag on labor-force participation rates as demographers might have guessed a few decades ago.

That’s because it has become much more common for people over 65 to continue working.

According to a new Census Bureau report, in 2010, 16.1 percent of the population 65 years and older was in the labor force, meaning either working or actively looking for work. Two decades earlier, that share was 12.1 percent.

The increased labor-force participation rate for the most senior Americans is partly tied to more women joining the work force over time, though men have shown large increases too:

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Within the 65-and-over population, those from 65 to 69 had the biggest bump in labor-force participation. Across both genders in this narrower age range, the rate increased to 30.8 percent in 2010 from 21.8 percent in 1990, a 9 percentage point increase. (Interestingly, the share of people from 16 to 64 who were in the labor force moved in the opposite direction during that time, falling to 74 percent in 2010 from 75.6 percent in 1990.)

People may be working longer because they are in better health in their late 60s and expect to live longer than their counterparts a couple of decades earlier. But they may also have greater financial responsibilities today than in the past.

In 2011, of workers who said they would be delaying their retirement, 13 percent explained that they had “inadequate finances or can’t afford to retire” and 6 percent gave the reason of “needing to make up for losses in the stock market,” according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The share of people who said they were having to retire later than expected has also been much higher in the last few years than it was when the economy was good.

Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute. Source: Employee Benefit Research Institute.

To put all these numbers in context, it’s worth remembering that labor-force participation rates for people over 65 used to be much higher in the late 1940s and 1950s:

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics. Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Additionally, people over 65 in the United States are far more likely to be in the labor force than people in most other developed countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development:

Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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Trade Gap Grew in November

WASHINGTON — The trade deficit in the United States expanded in November to its widest point in seven months, the Commerce Department said Friday, driven by a surge in imports that outpaced only modest growth in exports.

The trade gap widened 15.8 percent to $48.7 billion in November from October, the report said.

Imports grew 3.8 percent, to $231.3 billion, led by gains in shipments of cellphones, including Apple’s new iPhone.

Exports increased only 1 percent, to $182.6 billion. And exports to Europe fell 1.3 percent, further evidence of the prolonged debt crisis that has gripped the region.

A wider trade deficit acts as a drag on American growth. It typically means the United States is earning less on overseas sales while spending more on foreign products.

Faster growth in exports helped the economy grow from July through September at an annual rate of 3.1 percent. Most economists estimate growth has slowed in the October-December quarter to an annual rate of less than 2 percent, in part because of weaker exports.

Through the first 11 months of 2012, the trade deficit ran at an annual rate of $546.6 billion, roughly 2.4 percent lower than the 2011 deficit.

Imports of consumer goods grew to $45.3 billion in November, a monthly record. Much of the growth was from cellphones and other household electronics products. Oil imports dropped 2.5 percent, reflecting a fall in prices and lower volume.

Imports of foreign-made autos and auto parts rose a sizable $1.5 billion, to $25.6 billion November, probably reflecting catch-up shipments following port disruptions in October caused by Hurricane Sandy.

The American trade deficit with China, the largest with any country, totaled $29 billion in November. That was down slightly from the monthly record of $29.5 billion in October. But the trade gap with China was still on track to set a new annual record in 2012.

In its latest outlook, a forecasting panel for the National Association for Business Economics predicted that the trade deficit for 2013 will total $533 billion, a slight improvement from the $540 billion deficit they expect when the trade numbers are totaled up for all of 2012.

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Growth Accelerates, but U.S. Has Lots of Ground to Make Up

The nation’s economic output grew at an annualized rate of 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department reported Friday, probably putting to rest last summer’s fears that a second recession was imminent. Other reports this week on manufacturing and consumer sentiment offered similar, if mild, encouragement.

“All in all, it’s not bad, but there’s no oomph,” said Jay Feldman, an economist at Credit Suisse.

Forecasts have called for such slow growth that the Federal Reserve on Wednesday said it planned to keep interest rates near zero through 2014. Even with the pickup in output, the pace last quarter was below the average of economic expansions in the United States since World War II. Given how much ground was lost during the Great Recession, the United States economy needs above-average growth right now.

Government spending is not helping, either. Not because it’s too big — but because it’s shrinking at a rapid pace.

Spending at the federal, state and local levels fell at an annual rate of 4.6 percent last quarter, providing a significant drag on total gross domestic product. At least at the state and local levels, the cuts are likely to continue as municipal governments shed workers and public services.

At the federal level, the biggest cuts were in national defense, which fell at a whopping annual rate of 12.5 percent. That’s an unusually large dip, and economists do not expect to see it repeated in the beginning of 2012.

But legislators may wield the ax elsewhere in the federal budget.

Congress has not decided whether to renew a temporary payroll tax cut and extended unemployment benefits past February, when both are scheduled to expire. Allowing these benefits to lapse would shave a percentage point off gross domestic product growth this year, said Ian Shepherdson, chief United States economist at High Frequency Economics.

“A great deal is at stake,” said Alan B. Krueger, chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. “Continuing that support for household consumption is extremely important for sustaining and strengthening the recovery.”

Growth in the fourth quarter was also driven mostly by companies rebuilding their stockroom inventories, not by consumers who were shopping more or foreign businesses buying more American-made products. And companies are likely to have only so much appetite for refilling their back-room shelves if consumers are still unwilling to buy those products.

Consumer spending rose at an annual pace of 2 percent, slightly better than the 1.7 percent in the previous quarter, Friday’s report showed. But based on early data, it looks as if consumer spending deteriorated toward the end of the year. This may be because of unseasonably warm December weather, which probably lowered families’ household electricity and gas bills. Consumers also benefited from lower gasoline prices, but appear to remain concerned about stagnant incomes.

“We did have some relief on gasoline prices in the fourth quarter, but that didn’t cause people to go out and spend more vigorously,” said Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight. “It just means they didn’t have to dip into savings.”

One of the more positive surprises in the report was in housing. Investments in sectors like home construction and repairs rose 10.9 percent last quarter. The housing sector is so small now, though, that it didn’t provide much energy.

Some economists found signs for optimism in other recent economic reports. New orders for manufactured durable goods, reported on Thursday, exceeded economists’ expectations in December by growing 3 percent.

Credit to small businesses has also been expanding steadily over the last year.

“I talk to banks and I talk to small businesses, and I promise you, credit’s been the main problem, just as it is after every financial crisis,” Mr. Shepherdson said. “Once you see credit start to grow again, provided there are no other encumbrances” — like last year’s Arab Spring, Japanese earthquake or debt ceiling debacle — “we should see small businesses expanding and hiring.”

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, echoed that sentiment, saying that the critical risks to the American economy were a worsening of Europe’s chronic sovereign debt crisis or a rise in tensions between Iran and the international community, which could stoke global oil prices. He said he expected the United States to grow about 2 to 3 percent this year, ahead of the 1.7 percent growth in 2011. Last year was the slowest growth in a nonrecessionary year since 1947, economists at Credit Suisse said.

Many of the bigger American companies have reported strong profits in recent months, too.

Companies like General Electric and Lockheed Martin closed the year with record order backlogs, a sign that, at least for some businesses, demand is so strong that they cannot produce quickly enough. The backlogs portend solid growth in coming quarters, and suggest to some economists that the United States could weather the European debt crisis relatively unscathed after all.

On the other hand, corporate success has not translated into big benefits for American workers and consumers so far in this recovery. Today, the nation produces more than it did when the recession began in 2007, but it manages to do so with six million fewer jobs.

Companies seem reluctant to use their mounting profits to invest in new workers.

“Businesses have been holding much higher levels of cash than they have in past,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economist at RDQ Economics.

Liz Alderman contributed reporting from Davos, Switzerland.

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Wealth Matters: Analysts and Advisers Review 2011 Investment Predictions

I’M not the only one who has seen prognosticators through the years make a wrong call — Dow 36,000! Dow 5,000! But I can’t recall any of them being asked to explain months later why they slipped up.

So last January, I thought it worthwhile to find a group of analysts and advisers who would be accountable for their predictions, a group willing not just to make investment recommendations for 2011 but also amenable to my checking in every quarter to assess how they were doing.

Let me pause and thank the group for being good sports. Only one dropped out, when he left the firm, and one other was miffed when I highlighted a call he had changed.

As for the exercise itself, it did not turn out as I had expected. When 2011 began, many indicators in the United States were pointing to the start of an economic recovery, including improved consumer confidence and increased growth projections. What happened was far different and far more complicated.

Here are just a few of the economic shocks of the year: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan; the revolutions throughout the Arab world; the debt problems in Greece, and now other European countries, that are a drag on the European Union; the spike in stock market volatility from August onward; and the continuing political clashes in the United States over spending and taxes, along with Standard Poor’s downgrade of the country’s credit rating in August.

“This is probably the hardest year I can remember in a very long time for managing money,” said Richard Madigan, chief investment officer for J.P. Morgan’s Global Access Portfolios. In 2008, “you could assess what you thought was happening in the world and dive into the trenches and fight it. This year was tough.”

Still, an analyst’s job is to get things right through thick and thin. So in the final column with this group, I asked the participants to identify their best and worst calls, what surprised them and to predict what lies ahead for 2012.

BEST AND WORST CALLS The one call everyone missed was just how much the prices of United States Treasury bonds would rise, even after Washington almost came to a standstill last summer over raising the debt ceiling and the country’s credit rating was lowered. Beyond that, the best calls were a mix.

Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management, backed dividend-paying stocks at the start of the year and never wavered, though he acknowledged after the third quarter that the reasons this call worked changed as the year went on.

In the beginning, he argued that money was going to move from bonds to stocks, and dividend-paying ones would rally first. Then, he saw a company’s ability to pay dividends as a sign that these companies were well run. After the summer, he and many other analysts pointed out that dividend-paying stocks were a good option for income when the yields on 10-year Treasuries fell to around 2 percent.

Now, Mr. Stone said, the country is in a period of what he called financial repression, where interest rates are lower than inflation, and he said dividend-paying stocks were a good option for generating income and preparing investors for an eventual increase in inflation.

“Dividend-paying stocks at least give you a chance to win over some amount of time,” he said. But the best plan back in January, he said, would have been to have “ignored all that and run to long-term Treasuries, even though it made no logical sense.”

He was not alone in his enthusiasm for this asset class. Mr. Madigan said he had invested $2 billion in dividend-paying stocks in 2011, to good results. He said it was part of a broader strategy of focusing on less volatile investments.

A different rationale motivated Niall J. Gannon, director of wealth management at the Gannon Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, to focus on investing in consumer companies with a global reach, like Procter Gamble or Gillette. (In many cases, these companies also pay dividends.) He remains convinced that the best strategy over the next 10 years is to focus on the middle class in emerging markets (even though his more profitable short-term call this year was on municipal bonds).

“I still have a positive view of humanity,” Mr. Gannon said. “The world welcomed its seven billionth resident. I look at it as the seven billionth consumer. We’re moving in the right direction.”

SURPRISES The big surprise for everyone — after Treasury prices — was just how intense and frequent this year’s crises were. Most members of the group were humbled, if unbowed, by what world events did to their finely wrought analyses.

Marc D. Stern, chief investment officer at Bessemer Trust, said he was glad that he did not get caught up in the emotional swings of the year. “We didn’t panic,” he said. “We made adjustments during the year, but we never went to a position of maximum defensiveness.”

Yet he came across as the most humbled by the swoons of 2011, even though he made some good calls, like predicting solid corporate earnings growth, being skeptical of the value of the euro and adding money to high-yield bonds.

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BP Wins Legal Victory for Its Russian Joint Venture

LONDON — BP won the backing of a Siberian court Friday in its battle against $16 billion in compensation claims brought by a minority shareholder in TNK-BP, the oil giant’s Russian joint venture. It was an unexpectedly swift victory in a court system usually stacked against outsiders, and such cases can drag on for years.

The court in Tyumen rejected lawsuits brought by Andrei Prokhorov, who claimed that BP’s failed deal with Rosneft cost TNK-BP billions in profit. The court rejected the claim for lack of evidence and because Mr. Prokhorov had failed to get the necessary support of more than 1 percent of TNK-BP’s shareholders.

The ruling was a victory for BP in a country whose oil and natural gas accounts for about a quarter of the company’s output, but where it has faced repeated run-ins with its partners and the Kremlin. The recent claims were the basis for a raid by police commandos armed with assault rifles on BP’s offices in Moscow in August.

The timing had raised some eyebrows in the industry because it came a day after Exxon had agreed to take BP’s place in an exploration deal with Rosneft.

Jeremy Huck, president of BP Russia, said in a statement that the company was pleased with the decision.

“I also believe that today’s decision is a positive contribution to the investment climate in Russia,” he added.

BP had to abandon an agreement with Rosneft, a state controlled company, in May that would have given it access to lucrative exploration fields and would have included a share swap between the two companies. The deal fell apart because of challenges from BP’s billionaire partners in the TNK-BP joint venture.

BP had been eager to present a promising growth strategy to its investors after the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.

On Friday, the Siberian court rejected two claims by a group led by Mr. Prokhorov. One, worth about $3 billion, was against the TNK-BP board members Peter Anthony Charow and Richard Scott Sloan; the other, worth about $13 billion, was against BP itself.

“BP have consistently maintained that there is no merit in the lawsuits against them since there were in fact no damages in the form of lost profits,” the company said. It added that Rosneft did not consider TNK-BP as a possible member of the Rosneft partnership because it lacked the required competence.

Mr. Prokhorov, who owns a tiny percentage of the TNK-BP joint venture, plans to appeal the ruling, his attorneys said. He has 30 days to appeal, according to Russian law.

BP is still embroiled in a separate legal dispute with its Russian billionaire partners in TNK-BP about whether the Rosneft deal breached their shareholder agreement. The case is in arbitration in Sweden.

Western business partners of Alfa Group, one of the Russian owners of TNK-BP, have encountered a pattern of being sued by ostensibly independent minority shareholders in their joint ventures, often in Siberian courts. Telenor, the Norwegian cellphone company, spent years grappling with one such Siberian lawsuit that nearly wiped out its business in Russia.

The BP-Rosneft deal failed although Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin had backed it and a top aide presided over the signing, adding to the sense of mystery as to what is needed in Russia to secure an investment. Kremlin watchers suggested later that the faction that had backed the deal fell from favor shortly after the signing.

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Layoff Fears Rise as the Economy Sputters

“I don’t have any more savings or anything like that,” said Terrance Myricks, 21, who was dismissed for the second time in less than three years on Sept. 1. “I’ll probably have to rely on unemployment, which I’d really rather not do. And that’s assuming I can even get it.”

Job growth halted entirely in the nation last month. And as Europe’s debt crisis acts as a drag on global growth and Washington debates another jobs bill, the possibility of a second recession is increasing in the United States along with the prospects of corresponding layoffs. Mr. Myricks’s tale of pain the second time around, economists fear, could become all too familiar.

With headlines like the 30,000 layoffs planned at Bank of America and the United States Postal Service asking Congress to cut 120,000 workers, it is perhaps not surprising that workers’ concerns about job security are near the peak they reached during the last recession, according to a recent Gallup survey. At least one anecdotal study found that layoff announcements were greater in August than a year earlier.

The last workers in the door are often the first out the door. That could make the Americans who have already depleted their support networks and unemployment benefits most vulnerable to layoffs.

“Employers are likely to target the employees who are more junior, as they usually do,” said Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas, Austin. “If you’ve already exhausted your benefits for that benefit year — and Congress has said they want to shorten the duration of benefits — you’re up the creek. That’s one of the most severe worries about all this.”

Right before Labor Day, Mr. Myricks, of La Palma, Calif., near Los Angeles, lost his position as a factory machine operator, a job hard-won after a long spell without work.

That painful loss was an echo of July 2009, when a supermarket eliminated his position as an assistant manager. Mr. Myricks joined the 28 percent of teenage men in the work force — 39.7 percent of black teenage men — who were idle and looking for a job then. He spent over a year looking for work, and moved into a cheaper home with his wife, Briana, 20, to help make ends meet. After a few months delivering pizzas part time for Pizza Hut, he finally secured a full-time job in April 2010 at a box factory where his brother is an assistant manager.

“It is a very, very dangerous job,” Mr. Myricks said of his work at Georgia-Pacific. “There are operators in my plant who are missing fingers, or missing legs. They’re still working there, though.” (James Malone, a spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, said that the plant adhered to all federal and state safety regulations.)

Still, the young worker felt lucky to find a job that paid $14.34 an hour (plus benefits), enough to pay the bills and help support his father, who is battling leukemia.

One reason he took the job was that so little else was available in California and across the country. There are still more than four workers for every job opening, according to United States Department of Labor data, and in some areas the competition is even stiffer.

“It used to be that you’d be compared against a few résumés, but now you’re competing with a thousand applicants for that one job,” said Teresa Cannady, 53, of Fountain Inn, S.C. She lost her job as an office manager for an Allstate insurance agency in May 2009, and spent 15 months looking for work. Then in September 2010, when the economy seemed to be turning, her old boss asked her to come back — only to lay her off again on Sept. 9.

During Mr. Myricks’s first month at Georgia-Pacific, he worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Then he pulled back to five- and six-day weeks. The work, he said, was not only dangerous, but exhausting: he spent his days lifting 50- to 100-pound wooden slabs with razors that cut shapes into cardboard, as well as giant printing plates used to stamp the cardboard.

An old back injury flared up, and he developed sharp pains in his shoulder and ankles. He began looking for other work but was unsuccessful. Over the summer his doctor told him to cut back on his hours. Soon after, the company gave him no choice. When customer orders started to drop off, Georgia-Pacific began announcing furlough days in August.

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