US economy likely to pick up, though pain may linger for some

US President Donald Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks after having forced a shutdown over funding for a wall on the Mexico border. (AP)
Updated 27 January 2019

US economy likely to pick up, though pain may linger for some

BALTIMORE: The US economy will likely resume its steady growth now that the government has reopened, though economists say some scars — for the nation and for federal workers — will take time to heal.
Most analysts estimate that the 35-day partial shutdown shaved a few tenths of a percentage point from annual economic growth in the first three month of 2019. They say growth should pick up in the coming months, though some of the money federal workers and contractors didn’t spend in the past five weeks — on such items as movie tickets, restaurants and travel — will never be made up. Having gone without two paychecks, many federal workers were forced to visit food banks or to borrow money. Federal workers will now receive backpay, though some contractors might not.
President Donald Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks after having forced the shutdown in hopes of compelling Democrats to approve billions for a wall on the Mexico border. Trump failed to secure any such money.
During the shutdown, a shortage of airport security and air traffic controllers disrupted travel at such major hubs as LaGuardia Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. The pressure on Trump to reopen the government intensified Friday after a delay of about 3,000 flights by mid-afternoon because six of 13 air traffic controllers didn’t show up to work at a critical center in Virginia.
S&P Global Ratings estimates that the economy lost $6 billion because of the government closure — a sizable but relatively negligible sum in a $19 trillion-plus US economy.
“If the shutdown had lasted much longer, the economic impacts would have snowballed — travel problems, tax refunds, etc.,” said Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.
Still, the damage isn’t likely to lift immediately. And some federal employees had expressed anxiety during the shutdown about the stability and security of their jobs. The most skilled or talented among them may be likelier to leave government service, a potential problem for an economy already facing worker shortages in some areas.
Job searches by employees at multiple federal agencies jumped during the shutdown, according to clicks tracked by the jobs site Indeed. Employees who had gone unpaid at the Department of Homeland Security, Census Bureau, the IRS and the Transportation Safety Administration were much more likely to be hunting for a new job compared with the past two years of searches.
One lingering risk is if Trump chooses to shutter the government again after the three-week agreement lapses on Feb. 15. Should that occur, it would sabotage consumer confidence and hurt the economy, predicted Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.
“It would wipe out confidence,” Zandi said.


Easy credit poses tough challenge for Russian economy minister

Updated 18 August 2019

Easy credit poses tough challenge for Russian economy minister

  • Measures being prepared to help indebted citizens; situation might blow up in 2021

MOSCOW: New machines popping up in Russian shopping centers seem innocuous enough — users insert their passport and receive a small loan in a matter of minutes.

But the devices, which dispense credit in Saint Petersburg malls at a sky-high annual rate of 365 percent, are another sign of a credit boom that has authorities worried.

Russians, who have seen their purchasing power decline in recent years, are borrowing more and more to buy goods or simply to make ends meet.

The level of loans has grown so much in the last 18 months that the economy minister warned it could contribute to another recession.

But it’s a sensitive topic. Limiting credit would deprive households of financing that is sometimes vital, and could hobble already stagnant growth.

The Russian economy was badly hit in 2014 by falling oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in Ukraine, and it has yet to fully recover.

“Tightening lending conditions could immediately damage growth,” Natalia Orlova, chief economist at Alfa Bank, told AFP.

“Continuing retail loan growth is currently the main supporting factor,” she noted.

But “the situation could blow up in 2021,” Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin warned in a recent interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station.

He said measures were being prepared to help indebted Russians.

According to Oreshkin, consumer credit’s share of household debt increased by 25 percent last year and now represents 1.8 trillion rubles, around $27.5 billion.

For a third of indebted households, he said, credit reimbursement eats up 60 percent of their monthly income, pushing many to take out new loans to repay old ones.

Orlova said other countries in the region, for example in Eastern Europe, had even higher levels of overall consumer debt as a percentage of national output or GDP.

But Russian debt is “not spread equally, it is mainly held by lower income classes,” which are less likely to repay, she said.

The situation has led to friction between the government and the central bank, with ministers like Oreshkin criticizing it for not doing enough to restrict loans.

Meanwhile, economic growth slowed sharply early this year following recoveries in 2017 and 2018, with an increase of just 0.7 percent in the first half of 2019 from the same period a year earlier.

That was far from the 4.0 percent annual target set by President Vladimir Putin — a difficult objective while the country is subject to Western sanctions.

With 19 million people living below the poverty line, Russia is in dire need of development.

“The problem is that people don’t have money,” Andrei Kolesnikov of the Carnegie Center in Moscow wrote recently.

“This is why we can physically feel the trepidation of the financial and economic authorities,” he added. Kolesnikov described the government’s economic policy as something that “essentially boils down to collecting additional cash from the population and spending it on goals indicated by the state.”

At the beginning of his fourth presidential term in 2018, Putin unveiled ambitious “national projects.”

The cost of those projects — which fall into 12 categories that range from health to infrastructure — is estimated at $400 billion by 2024, of which $115 billion is to come from private investment.