Fed cuts rates on 7-3 vote, gives mixed signals on next move

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point for the second time this year on Wednesday in a widely expected move meant to sustain a decade-long economic expansion, but gave mixed signals about what may happen next.

The central bank also widened the gap between the interest it pays banks on excess reserves and the top of its policy rate range, a step taken to smooth out problems in money markets that prompted a market intervention by the New York Fed this week.

In lowering the benchmark overnight lending rate to a range of 1.75% to 2.00% on a 7-3 vote, the Fed’s policy-setting committee nodded to ongoing global risks and “weakened” business investment and exports.

Though the U.S. economy continues growing at a “moderate” rate and the labor market “remains strong,” the Fed said in its policy statement that it was cutting rates “in light of the implications of global developments for the economic outlook as well as muted inflation pressures.”

With continued growth and strong hiring “the most likely outcomes,” the Fed nevertheless cited “uncertainties” about the outlook and pledged to “act as appropriate” to sustain the expansion.

U.S. stocks, lower ahead of the statement, dropped further, and Treasury yields ticked up from their lows of the day. The S&P 500 was last down 0.64% and the 10-year Treasury note yield inched up to 1.77%.

The dollar gained ground against the euro and yen.

“Another rate cut from the Fed to try to shield the U.S. economy from global headwinds,” said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington. “Today’s move was more of a hawkish easing in that the Fed’s median forecasts for rates suggested no more cuts this year, while some officials dissented.”

New projections showed policymakers at the median expected rates to stay within the new range through 2020. However, in a sign of ongoing divisions within the Fed, seven of 17 policymakers projected one more quarter-point rate cut in 2019.

Five others, in contrast, see rates as needing to rise by the end of the year.

The divisions were reflected in dissents that came from both hawks and doves.

St. Louis President James Bullard wanted a half-point cut while Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren and Kansas City Fed President Esther George did not want a rate cut at all.

There was little change in policymakers’ projections for the economy, with growth seen at a slightly higher 2.2% this year and the unemployment rate to be 3.7% through 2020. Inflation is projected to be 1.5% for the year, below the Fed’s 2% target, before rising to 1.9% next year.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT (1830 GMT) to elaborate on the policy decision.

The rate cut fell short of the more aggressive reduction in borrowing costs that President Donald Trump had demanded from Fed officials, whom he has insulted as “boneheads” who have put the economic recovery in jeopardy.

The Fed also cut rates in July, the first such move since 2008.

Fed officials have said the rate cuts are justified largely because of risks raised by Trump’s trade war with China, a global economic slowdown and other overseas developments.

Their aim, they say, is to balance the potential need for lower rates against the risk that cheaper money may cause households and businesses to borrow too much, as happened in the run-up to the financial crisis more than a decade ago.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Additional reporting by Richard Leong in New York; Editing by Paul Simao and Dan Burns)

Trump threatens new tariffs as U.S.-China trade tensions spike again

FILE PHOTO: Farmer Dave Walton holds soybeans in Wilton, Iowa, U.S. May 22, 2019. Picture taken May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Kia Johnson

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday moved to impose a 10% tariff on a remaining $300 billion list of Chinese imports starting Sept. 1, after U.S. and Chinese negotiators failed to kickstart trade talks between the world’s two largest economies.

The levies – which would hit a wide swath of consumer goods from cell phones and laptop computers to toys and footwear – ratchet up tensions in a war of tit-for-tat tariffs that have disrupted global supply chains and roiled financial markets for more than a year.

U.S. stocks fell after the news and oil prices plummeted, and further fallout was expected. The IMF has warned that tariffs already in place will shave 0.2% off global economic output in 2020.

The benchmark S&P 500, which had been in solidly positive territory on Thursday afternoon, lost significant ground after Trump tweeted about the tariffs, and was last down 0.6% on the day. Benchmark U.S. Treasury yields also fell.

“Trade talks are continuing, and during the talks the U.S. will start, on September 1st, putting a small additional Tariff of 10% on the remaining 300 Billion Dollars of goods and products coming from China into our Country. This does not include the 250 Billion Dollars already Tariffed at 25%,” Trump tweeted.

Trump also faulted China for not making good on promises to buy more American agricultural products and criticized China’s President Xi Jinping for failing to do more to stem sales of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

The president’s tweets followed a briefing by Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on their talks in Shanghai, their first face-to-face meeting with Chinese officials since Trump and Xi agreed to a trade ceasefire at a G20 summit in June.

The talks ended on Wednesday with little sign of progress, although both countries described the negotiations as constructive. Another round of meetings between the negotiators has been scheduled for September.

Trump had been pressing Xi to crack down on a flood of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances from China, which U.S. officials say is the main source of a drug blamed for most of more than 28,000 synthetic opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States in 2017.

Xi promised Trump at a summit in Argentina in December that Beijing would take action. China had pledged that from May 1 it would expand the list of narcotics subject to state control to include the more than 1,400 known fentanyl analogs, which have a slightly different chemical makeup but are addictive and potentially deadly, as well as any new ones developed in the future.

Talks between the United States and China collapsed in May after U.S. officials accused China of pulling back from earlier commitments. Washington sharply hiked tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods and Beijing retaliated, escalating the trade dispute.

Trump subsequently threatened to impose 25% sanctions on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports, prompting warnings from Walmart and other major U.S. retailers of a sharp spike in consumer prices. Thursday’s tweets indicated those goods would face a lower tariff rate than initially threatened.

While the United States bemoans the lack of larger Chinese agricultural purchases, Beijing has been pressing Washington to relax restrictions on sales to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei as it had promised.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Thursday confirmed private sales to China of 68,000 tonnes of soybeans in the week ended July 25.

The sale was the first to a private buyer since Beijing offered to exempt five crushers from the 25% import tariffs imposed more than a year ago. Soybean futures opened lower on Thursday as traders shrugged off the small amount, and losses accelerated after Trump’s tweets.

(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu and Beijing Monitoring Desk; additional reporting by David Lawder, Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal in Washington and Mark Weinraub and Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

U.S. economy slows in second quarter; consumer spending accelerates

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers carry bags of purchased merchandise at the King of Prussia Mall in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. economic growth slowed less than expected in the second quarter as a surge in consumer spending blunted some of the drag from declining exports and a smaller inventory build, which could further allay concerns about the economy’s health.

The fairly upbeat report from the Commerce Department on Friday will probably not deter the Federal Reserve from cutting interest rates next Wednesday for the first time in a decade, given rising risks to the economy’s outlook, especially from a trade war between the United States and China.

Despite the better-than-expected GDP reading, business investment contracted for the first time in more than three years and housing contracted for a sixth straight quarter. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell early this month flagged business investment and housing as areas of weakness in the economy.

But robust consumer spending, together with a strong labor market, further diminish expectations of a 50 basis point rate cut and could raise doubts about further monetary policy easing this year.

Gross domestic product increased at a 2.1% annualized rate in the second quarter, the government said. The economy grew at an unrevised 3.1% pace in the January-March quarter. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP increasing at a 1.8% rate in the second quarter.

The economy has expanded for 10 years, the longest run in history. Activity is slowing largely as the stimulus from the White House’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades. The tax cuts together with more government spending and deregulation were part of measures adopted by the Trump administration to boost annual economic growth to 3.0% on a sustained basis.

The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 and growth this year is expected to be around 2.5%. Economists estimate the speed at which the economy can grow over a long period without igniting inflation at between 1.7% and 2.0%.

The GDP report showed a pickup in inflation last quarter, though the trend remained benign. A gauge of inflation tracked by the Fed increased at a 1.8% rate last quarter, just below the U.S. central bank’s 2% target. Inflation increased 1.5% compared the second quarter of 2018.

The government also published revisions to GDP data from 2014 through 2018. The updated data showed growth in the second and third quarters of last year was not as robust as previously estimated, and the economy grew much more slowly in the fourth quarter than had been reported in March. Revised price data showed moderate inflation last year.

The dollar extended gains versus a basket of currencies after the data, while prices for U.S. Treasury fell. U.S. stock index futures pared gains.

STRONG CONSUMER SPENDING

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, surged at a 4.3% rate in the second quarter, the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2017. Consumer spending grew at a 1.1% rate in the first quarter.

Some of the slowdown in consumer spending early in the year was blamed on a 35-day partial shutdown of the government.

Spending is being supported by the lowest unemployment rate in nearly 50 years, which is lifting wages.

The jump in consumer spending helped to offset some of the weakness from exports, which fell at a 5.2% rate last quarter, in a reversal of the strong growth experienced in the first quarter.

The plunge in exports caused a deterioration of the trade deficit. As result, trade subtracted 0.65 percentage point from GDP growth last quarter after contributing 0.73 percentage point in the January-March period.

The acceleration in consumer spending also helped businesses to whittle down an inventory overhang, leading to a smaller inventory build.

Inventory investment increased at a $71.7 billion rate, slowing from the first quarter’s $116.0 billion pace of increase. While inventories cut 0.86 percentage point from GDP growth in the second quarter, the smaller pace of stock accumulation is a potential boost to manufacturing.

Businesses have been placing fewer orders with factories while working through stockpiles of unsold goods, which contributed to undercutting manufacturing production. Inventories added 0.53 percentage point to GDP growth in the first quarter.

Business investment fell at a 0.6% rate in the second quarter, the first contraction since the first quarter of 2016. It was pulled down by a 10.6% pace of decline in spending on structures, which includes oil and gas well drilling.

Investment in structures was depressed by decreases in commercial and healthcare, and mining exploration, shafts and wells. Spending on intellectual products, including research and development, increased. Business spending on equipment rebounded at a 0.7% rate in the second quarter. It is seen constrained by design problems at aerospace giant Boeing.

Boeing reported its biggest-ever quarterly loss on Wednesday due to the spiraling cost of resolving issues with its 737 MAX airplane and warned it might have to shut production of the grounded jet completely if it runs into new hurdles with global regulators to getting its best-selling aircraft back in the air.

The plane was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Production of the aircraft has been reduced and deliveries suspended.

Growth in government investment accelerated, notching its best performance in 10 years, but spending on homebuilding contracted for a sixth straight quarter.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Graphic: America’s economy and wages are cooling but not its female workforce

A female construction worker stands outside a construction site in Manhattan, New York, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Data released on Friday showed a return to strong job growth in the United States, allaying some fears the U.S. economy is on a short path to recession. But the data also reinforced the view that economic growth is slowing.

Here are five take-aways from a report by the U.S. Labor Department on U.S. employment during June.

SLOWING GROWTH

Every month the Labor Department surveys payrolls in the private sector to calculate how many hours employees across the nation worked. Seen as a proxy for economic growth, this index of the national work effort grew 0.2% in June, a rate near the muted gains clocked in recent months. That suggests the U.S. economy, which grew at a 3.1% annual rate in the first quarter of this year, could be cooling.

COOLER WAGE GROWTH?

Growth in private sector average hourly earnings accelerated throughout 2018 and through February of this year, when year-over-year growth hit the strongest rate since 2009 at 3.4%. June’s growth rate, however, was a more modest 3.1%. It is probably too early to tell if there has been a break in the upward trend.

Average earnings graphic

WAGE LAGGARDS

The manufacturing sector added 17,000 jobs in June after several months of weak growth or outright decline. Wage growth in the factory sector, however, has underperformed the national average. Wage growth has also been lower in the education and health jobs category tracked by the Labor Department.

leaders_laggards: https://tmsnrt.rs/2FUH8hw

LABOR FORCE INCREASE

A bright spot for the U.S. economy over the last few years has been the increase in the share of the population that either has a job or is looking for one. This so-called labor force participation rate ticked slightly higher in June, both for a key demographic of people of prime working age and for the general population. But the rate for prime-age workers has been mostly falling since January. This suggests the economy might be running lower on its supply of people available to work, which could depress future job growth.

participation rate graphic

WOMEN LEAD

In June, the participation rate fell for men of prime working age, while it rose for women. This is in line with the trend over the last few years. Indeed, the share of men who have jobs or are looking for one was slightly lower in June than it was in January 2017.

Women lead graphic 

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Fed policymakers promise response if U.S. economy slows

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell poses for photos with Fed Governor Lael Brainard (L) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Signs that the economy is losing momentum hung over a Federal Reserve summit for a second straight day as policymakers hinted they would be ready to cut interest rates if the U.S. trade war threatens a decade-long expansion.

Investors added to bets that the Fed would have to lower borrowing costs multiple times by year-end on Wednesday after a report by a payrolls processor showed private employers added 27,000 jobs in May, well below economists’ expectations and the smallest monthly gain in more than nine years.

The U.S. economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest on record. Strong job gains have been a key feature. But rising trade tensions between the United States and China have led to tit-for-tat tariffs, put a chill on U.S. businesses’ spending and exacerbated a manufacturing slowdown.

Current and threatened U.S.-China tariffs could slash global economic output by 0.5% in 2020, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday as world finance leaders prepare to meet in Japan this weekend.

“We’ll be prepared to adjust policy to sustain the expansion,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in an interview with Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the Fed’s Chicago summit. “The U.S. economy, generally, is in the midst of a very lengthy expansion, the U.S. consumer remains confident, but trade policy is definitely a downside risk.”

Brainard’s remarks follow a pledge on Tuesday by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to react “as appropriate” to trade-war fallout. Other Fed officials struck a similarly cautious tone.

Since the Fed’s last rate-setting meeting, Trump slapped new 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and threatened new import taxes on Mexican goods unless immigration slows. Until recently officials had been largely signaling that they would keep rates at their 2.25-2.50% target range.

The trade war added urgency to what was intended to be a strategy session at the Chicago Fed focused on how the central bank can shore up its policies. Officials worry that economies risk getting stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of low rates and low inflation that will make it harder to rebound from recessions and require increasingly forceful intervention.

To combat those risks, Fed officials are considering whether they want to temporarily welcome inflation a bit above their 2%-a-year target – and keep rates lower for longer – in the hopes that such a strategy will make attaining the central bank’s goals for maximum employment and price stability more likely.

Policymakers are also revisiting exactly what maximum employment means and whether they are doing a good enough job in how they speak to the public. No changes are expected until next year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Writing and additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

U.S. existing home sales surge, boosted by Fed’s signal on rates

FILE PHOTO: An existing home for sale is seen in Silver Spring, Maryland February 21, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. home sales surged in February to their highest level in 11 months, a sign that a pause in interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve was starting to boost the U.S. economy.

The National Association of Realtors said on Friday existing home sales jumped 11.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.51 million units last month.

That was the highest since March 2018 and well above analysts’ expectations of a rate of 5.1 million units. The one-month percentage change was the largest since December 2015. January’s sales pace was revised slightly lower.

February’s surge came as mortgage rates fell following signals from the Federal Reserve that it was no longer eyeing rate hikes. Several years of rising rates had put a brake on parts of the U.S. housing market in 2018.

“(It’s) quite a powerful recovery that’s taking place,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors.

Still, the number of sales in February was 1.8 percent lower than a year ago.

The U.S. housing market has also been held back by land and labor shortages, which have led to tight inventory and more expensive homes.

The PHLX Housing Index extended losses following the release of the figures although its decline was less steep than the broader stock market.

The median existing house price increased 3.6 percent from a year ago to $249,500 in February.

Existing home sales rose in three of the country’s four major regions and were unchanged in the Northeast.

There were 1.63 million previously owned homes on the market in February, up from 1.59 million in January.

At February’s sales pace, it would take 3.5 months to exhaust the current inventory, down from 3.9 months in January. A supply of six to seven months is viewed as a healthy balance between supply and demand.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

The Federal Reserve is prodding Americans to buy more on credit

FILE PHOTO: A sign advertises homes for sale in a new housing development in Dickinson, North Dakota January 21, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve’s decisive statement this week that interest rates are unlikely to rise this year sends a signal to U.S. households: keep buying stuff.

The Fed tries to guide the U.S. economy by controlling the interest rate banks charge one another for overnight loans. Moving this rate up lifts other rates in the economy, making it costlier for people to use their credit cards or to buy homes and cars. Higher rates also make companies rethink investments.

A solid majority of Fed policymakers on Wednesday said higher rates are unlikely this year, leading investors to bet the economy might slowing enough for the Fed to actually cut rates.

The following are some possible consequences for American households:

EASY CREDIT

The Fed’s signal on its interest rate outlook led key market rates to fall, including the yield on 10-year Treasury bonds. That is a sign that rates are also falling for loans used to buy houses and cars. Interest rates for credit cards may also drift lower. Mortgage rates have been falling since November when Fed policymakers made clear they would be patient about rate decisions.

SAVING DISCOURAGED

Lower rates also encourage spending by taking the shine off some common ways to save money. Low yields reduce the return on money in savings accounts as well as in funds made up of safe-haven government bonds. This poses a problem for retirees who depend more on their income from savings and who take a hit from lower rates on Treasury bonds. The Fed has argued that retirees benefit from actions taken to support the broader economy.

RETIREMENT BOOST

Rising stock prices comprise the flip side of lower bond yields. That boosts the value of private retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, particularly those of young people whose accounts tend to be weighted toward stocks.

The benchmark S&P 500 stock index surged after the Fed’s decision, reflecting the view that cheaper borrowing costs would help company profits. It is possible that stock market gains could boost consumer spending because people sometimes loosen their purse strings after a rise in perceived wealth.

BUOYANT LABOR MARKET

The U.S. jobless rate is near its lowest level in 50 years although lately there have been signs of softening in the labor market. Hiring slowed sharply in February and the number of new jobless claims every week has also been ticking higher. The Fed’s action aims to keep the labor market solid. That could help encourage more people to rekindle job searches they had given up when the economy was still weak following the 2007-09 financial crisis.

 

(Reporting by Jason Lange, editing by G Crosse)

Fed says U.S. economy ended 2018 with solid but weakening growth

FILE PHOTO: Flags fly over the Federal Reserve Headquarters on a windy day in Washington, U.S., May 26, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo/File Photo

By Howard Schneider and Pete Schroeder

WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. economy maintained “solid” growth through the second half of 2018, likely expanding “just under” 3 percent for the year, though consumer and business spending had begun to weaken, the Federal Reserve said on Friday in its semi-annual monetary policy report to Congress.

In a document that balanced its mostly positive outlook for a still growing economy against an array of emerging domestic and global risks, the U.S. central bank laid out why it had put further interest rate hikes on hold last month.

From a “deteriorated” appetite for risk among investors to a slowdown in China, the outlook for policy is “more uncertain than earlier,” the Fed said, noting “softer global and economic conditions.”

That may spill into the start of 2019, the Fed said, noting that the recent 35-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government “likely held down GDP growth in the first quarter of this year.”

For 2018, the Fed said: “Consumer spending expanded at a strong rate for most of the second half … though spending appears to have weakened toward year-end.”

“Business investment grew as well, though growth seems to have slowed somewhat,” it added.

Consumer and business confidence remains “favorable,” but “some measures have softened since the fall,” the Fed reported. “Domestic financial conditions for businesses and households have become less supportive of economic growth.”

The Fed noted to Congress that it would continue to reduce the size of its balance sheet, which had declined by about $260 billion since its last report to lawmakers, ending the year at close to $4 trillion. But the central bank also repeated its new openness to adjusting “any of the details” of its balance sheet plan if economic and financial conditions warrant.

POWELL HEADS TO CONGRESS

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will testify before lawmakers in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives on Tuesday and Wednesday to elaborate on the report in what could prove to be an important week for economic data and the central bank’s sense of where the economy is heading.

The report indicated some underlying economic strength, with “ongoing improvements in the labor market,” and solid growth in disposable income, fueled by the Trump administration’s tax cuts, boosting household consumption.

Inflation last year remained close to the Fed’s 2 percent target.

But the Fed noted headwinds, including those tied to the ongoing debate over global trade policy. Overall, net exports “likely subtracted a little from real GDP growth” over 2018, despite the administration’s efforts to improve the U.S. trade position.

At a policy meeting late last month, Fed officials put their three-year push for higher interest rates on hold amid a broad recognition that inflation and global growth had weakened, and that the U.S. outlook was less certain than just a few weeks earlier.

Since then, economic data has been mixed, with weaker retail sales and manufacturing reports balanced by continued strong job growth.

But some important pieces of the puzzle have been missing altogether. Most notably, the report on gross domestic product for the last quarter of 2018 was delayed by the recent government shutdown.

That report is due to be released on Thursday, and will be followed on Friday by the jobs report for February.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Pete Schroeder Editing by Paul Simao) ((howard.schneider@thomsonreuters.com; +1 202 789 8010;))

Shutdown costs pegged at $3 billion as U.S. government reopens

Commuters walk from the Federal Triangle Metro station after the U.S. government reopened with about 800,000 federal workers returning after a 35-day shutdown in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. economy was expected to lose $3 billion from the partial federal government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding, congressional researchers said on Monday as 800,000 federal employees returned to work after a 35-day unpaid furlough.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the cost of the shutdown will make the U.S. economy 0.02 percent smaller than expected in 2019. More significant effects will be felt by individual businesses and workers, particularly those who went without pay.

Overall, the U.S. economy lost about $11 billion during the five-week period, CBO said. However, CBO expects $8 billion to be recovered as the government reopens and employees receive back pay.

The longest shutdown in U.S. history ended on Friday when Trump and Congress agreed to temporary government funding – without money for his wall – as the effects of the shutdown intensified across the country.

Republican Trump had demanded that legislation to fund the government contain $5.7 billion for his long-promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He says it is necessary to stop illegal immigration, human trafficking and drug smuggling, while Democrats call it costly, inefficient and immoral.

A committee of lawmakers from both major parties holds their first open meeting on Wednesday as they try to negotiate a compromise on border security before the Feb. 15 deadline.

The CBO estimated the shutdown reduced gross domestic product in the last quarter of 2018 by $3 billion.

It said that in the first quarter of 2019, the level of real GDP is estimated to be $8 billion lower than it would have been, citing “an effect reflecting both the five-week partial shutdown and the resumption in economic activity once funding resumed.”

Trump said he would be willing to shut down the government again if lawmakers do not reach a deal he finds acceptable on border security. On Sunday, he expressed skepticism such a deal could be made, putting the odds at 50-50.

Trump has also said he might declare a national emergency to get money for the border wall. Democrats would likely challenge that in court.

The CBO report serves as a stark warning to Trump against another shutdown, said U.S. Representative John Yarmuth, the Democratic chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“The CBO confirms that the Trump shutdown had a debilitating effect on our entire economy, and if it were to resume in three weeks, millions of Americans would again share the pain of the 800,000 workers who spent the past month without a paycheck,” he said.

Most employees should be paid by Thursday for back pay, which one study estimated at $6 billion for all those furloughed. Contractors and businesses that relied on federal workers’ business, however, face huge losses, although some lawmakers are pushing legislation to pay contractors back as well.

Federal workers poured off of commuter buses and subway escalators on a block of downtown Washington on Monday. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai greeted employees in the lobby, while the Securities and Exchange Commission offered doughnuts, fruit and coffee.

“I’m ready to go. I’m rested and I’m ready. I’m energized,” Gary Hardy, a manager in the Employee Assistance Program at the Department of Homeland Security.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was reviewing five weeks of auto safety recalls that had been submitted by automakers but has not yet begun posting them publicly. The Federal Aviation Administration said it would assess and prioritize immediate post-shutdown needs.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan; Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Mana Rabiee and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Grant McCool)

Trump-Xi trade armistice clears way for more market gains

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping shake hands after making joint statements at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By Jonathan Spicer and Lewis Krauskopf

NEW YORK (Reuters) – One of the darkest clouds hanging over Wall Street somewhat dissipated on the weekend when China and the United States agreed to shelve any new tariffs and reset discussions, at least temporarily halting an increase in their tensions over trade.

Investors said the agreement, lasting 90 days, between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit, spelled a reprieve for stocks and could pave the way for a positive bookend to a volatile trading year.

U.S. stock index futures jumped as trading for the week began late on Sunday, with benchmark S&P 500 e-mini futures up 1.55 percent. Treasury futures were soft, suggesting an appetite for risk-taking could extend last week’s gains in the stock market.

The trade tension between Washington and Beijing, along with an uncertain outlook for U.S. rate hikes, have for months dogged prospects for equities. The U.S. pledge not to boost tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods could mark the most important deal in years between the world’s top two economies.

“It sets a pretty positive tone (and) stocks should have a decent rally into December,” said Nathan Thooft, Boston-based global head of asset allocation for Manulife Asset Management.

Thooft said he believed the Trump administration was using a threat to raise tariffs to 25 percent on Jan. 1, from 10 percent now as a negotiating tactic. “So when you start to see evidence that there is the ability to come to some type of agreement, that has to be viewed as a positive,” he said.

The stock market logged an official correction after a selloff in October and continued volatility in November that, just over a week ago, had left the benchmark S&P 500  stock index down 10 percent from its all-time high.

Markets rebounded last week on comments perceived as dovish from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, though the S&P was up only 2.4 percent in 2018.

The latest trade standoff began in September when the United States imposed the 10-percent tariffs, prompting China to respond with its own. Ahead of the leaders’ dinner in Argentina, investors had been bracing for a range of outcomes including a worse-case end to talks and more tit-for-tat measures that would have continued to crimp economic and corporate profit growth.

Instead, the Americans and Chinese officially lauded the result.

Beijing agreed to buy what the White House called a “very substantial” amount of agriculture, energy, industrial and other products. While the clock ticks on the 90-day tariff reprieve, the two sides will try to work out thorny issues including technology transfer, intellectual property and cyber theft.

“It’s not solved by any stretch of the imagination,” said Thooft. But risk assets and cyclical U.S. sectors like materials and industrials should benefit, he said on Sunday.

An initial jump late on Sunday of nearly 2 percent in Nasdaq 100 e-mini futures suggested that technology companies, many of which were hardest hit in the selloff, could rebound.

Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, said he was encouraged by the trade talks and warned that raising tariffs to 25 percent as the White House had threatened “would likely hurt consumers, put several American companies out of business and displace thousands of American workers.”

POWELL TESTIMONY

Energy prices could also rebound on Monday since cooling trade tensions could boost the world economy and spur demand.

Oil prices had dropped from a four-year high of about $76 per barrel in early October to just above $50 on Friday. But U.S. crude oil was up 2.7 percent to $52.37 a barrel as of 6:07 p.m. EST (2307 GMT) on Sunday.

Aside from trade policy, Wall Street’s attention has also been trained on Fed policy.

Powell was scheduled to testify on Wednesday to a congressional Joint Economic Committee. But the hearing is expected to be postponed to Thursday because major exchanges will be closed on Wednesday in honor of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, who died on Friday at the age of 94.

Last week, Powell backed the Fed’s gradual tightening but said its policy rate was “just below” a range of estimates of the so-called neutral level that neither stimulates nor cools growth. In response, stocks shot up and largely recovered November’s earlier losses.

In the wake of Powell’s speech, Nicholas Colas, co-founder of DataTrek Research, said: “what happens in Buenos Aires will determine if stocks post a positive 2018.”

The specter of a global trade war has hovered over the market since March when Trump announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. He also recently said the United States was studying auto tariffs, which could ripple through Europe and Japan, while a pact with Canada and Mexico left some investors heartened about potential progress with China.

Nancy Lazar, economist at research firm Cornerstone Macro, said in a note that the 90-day tariff delay and China’s “incremental concessions” are good news.

“But given the stern U.S. stance, we’re certainly not raising our outlook,” she said of a 2.8-percent growth estimate for the fourth quarter, still comfortably above potential.

With U.S. corporate leaders increasingly voicing concerns over rising costs associated with tariffs, Wall Street appeared set on Monday to welcome any development that eases those pressures.

(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Lewis Krauskopf; Editing by Grant McCool and Sandra Maler)