U.S.-China trade talks will likely conclude in next two weeks: Mulvaney

FILE PHOTO: Mick Mulvaney testifies before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/File Photo

By Matt Scuffham and Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) – Talks between the United States and China aimed at resolving their trade dispute will likely be resolved “one way or the other” in the next two weeks, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Tuesday.

“It won’t go on forever. I think, at some point, in any negotiation, you realize we’re close to getting something done so we’re going to keep going,” Mulvaney said at the Milken Institute Global Conference. “On the other hand, at some point, you can think this is not going to get anywhere. I think you will know, one way or the other, in the next couple of weeks.”

Mulvaney spoke only days after data came out showing that the United States economy grew stronger than expected 3.2 percent during the first three months of the year and said that strong growth is going to help support President Donald Trump as he prepares for the 2020 election.

“We think the economy has been good for everyone,” Mulvaney said. “We can ride that to the 2020 election. People know what is good for them.”

Mulvaney said policymakers are focusing on solving wage inequality.

He said the White House plans to make strong economic growth, at a time the expansion is well into its 10th year, healthcare and trade into key topics for the campaign. He also said Trump, a Republican, will benefit from the fact that Democrats have more than a dozen candidates running for president and “we have weak competitors.”

Mulvaney currently is acting chief of staff but he said he expects to keep the job permanently and that he has improved morale in the White House since replacing John Kelly in the job in January.

He said he does not expect a lot of change in top administration positions before the election. The Trump administration has had an especially high rate of turnover with his homeland security secretary being among the most recent to leave.

(Reporting by Matt Scuffham and Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Bill Trott)

Twelve charts to watch for signs of the next U.S. downturn

FILE PHOTO: The Dow Jones Industrial average is displayed on a screen after the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

By Megan Davies

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Economists and investors are watching for signs they hope can predict when the wheels will come off a near-record U.S. economic expansion and equities bull market.

Some are already worried about a flattening Treasuries yield curve and slowing housing market, even as other economic vital signs remain healthy.

U.S. economic growth will probably slow gradually over the next two years and the threat of a trade war has made a recession more likely, a recent Reuters poll predicted.

A majority of bond market experts in a separate poll now predict a yield curve inversion in the next one to two years, a red flag for those who believe short-term yields rising above longer-term yields means an imminent recession.

“Almost every client meeting includes questions about where the economy and markets sit in the cycle,” JPMorgan head of cross-asset fundamental strategy John Normand wrote in a recent research note.

The U.S. economy is a year away from surpassing the record 120-month 1991-2001 expansion, according to data from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The stock market bull run is also nearing a record. Bull markets are typically measured retroactively, but U.S. equities could hit their longest bull run in history on Aug. 22, according to S&P.

The U.S. economy is “late cycle” but a recession is not imminent, a number of economists and strategists say.

“We believe that the U.S. economic expansion is entering the final third of its cycle,” wrote analysts at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, although they said various indicators do not suggest a recession this year.

1. THE YIELD CURVE

The U.S. yield curve plots Treasury securities with maturities ranging from 4 weeks to 30 years. The spread between two-year and 10-year notes is typically used when discussing yield curve inversion. The gap between long- and short-dated yields turning negative has been a reliable predictor of recessions. The yield curve has been flattening in recent months.

2. SHORT-TERM BILLS

An alternative yield curve measures the difference in the current interest rate on 3-month Treasury bills and expectations for the yields 18 months from now. Federal Reserve officials have found this measure is a stronger predictor of recession in the coming year. The measure currently suggests little recession risk.

3. UNEMPLOYMENT

The unemployment rate and initial jobless claims ticked higher just ahead or in the early days of the last two recessions before rising sharply. Unemployment hit an 18-year low in May of 3.8 percent but nudged up to 4 percent in June.

4. OUTPUT GAP

The output gap between the economy’s actual and potential gross domestic product has fallen ahead of the last two recessions.

“Currently we estimate that the output gap is nearly closed, but not yet in the ‘overheating’ territory,” wrote Kathy Bostjancic, head of U.S. investor services at Oxford Economics, in May.

FILE PHOTO: A trader works in a work space on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A trader works in a work space on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

5. STOCK MARKETS

Falling equity markets can signal a recession is looming or has already started to take hold. Markets turned down before the 2001 recession and tumbled at the start of the 2008 recession.

On a 12-month rolling basis, the market has turned down ahead of the last two recessions. The 12-month rolling average percent move is now below its 2018 peak but higher than recent lows.

6. BOOM-BUST BAROMETER

The Boom-Bust Barometer devised by Ed Yardeni at Yardeni Research measures spot prices of industrials inputs like copper, steel and lead scrap, and divides that by initial unemployment claims. The measure fell before or during the last two recessions and is below its 2018 peak.

7. HOUSING MARKET

Housing starts and building permits have fallen ahead of some recent recessions. Housing starts and permits fell to the lowest level since September 2017 in June.

8. EARNINGS GROWTH

S&P 500 earnings growth dipped ahead of the last recession. Earnings growth is expected to slow slightly this year and more next year, but remain in the high single digits or low double digits in 2019.

9. SOUTH KOREA EXPORTS

South Korean exports fell during the last recession and before the previous recession.

Those exports, which include cars, phones, steel and other products, tend to be a leading indicator, said Bank of America Merrill Lynch chief investment strategist Michael Hartnett. Exports from China are also increasingly important as weak Asian exports tend to coincide with weak global and U.S. growth.

South Korea’s export growth came to a halt in June. China, the world’s largest exporter, reported exports accelerated in June.

The United States and China have fired the first shots in what could become a protracted trade war. The United States and South Korea agreed in March to revise a trade pact.

10. HIGH-YIELD SPREADS

The gap between high-yield and government bond yields rose ahead of the 2007-2009 recession and then widened dramatically. Credit spreads typically widen when perceived risk of default rises. Spreads have fallen slightly this year.

11. INVESTMENT-GRADE YIELDS

Risk premiums on investment-grade corporate bonds over comparable Treasuries have topped 2 percent during or just before six of the seven U.S. recessions since 1970. Spreads on Baa-rated corporate bonds rose to 2 percent this month based on Moody’s Investors Services data, according to Leuthold Group’s chief investment strategist Jim Paulsen.

12. MISERY INDEX

The so-called Misery Index adds together the unemployment rate and the inflation rate. It typically rises during recessions and sometimes prior to downturns. It has nudged higher in 2018 but is still relatively low.

(Additional reporting by Richard Leong, Dan Burns, Jenn Ablan and Howard Schneider; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

U.S. job growth cools as labor market nears full employment; wages rise

Job seekers line up to apply during "Amazon Jobs Day," a job fair being held at 10 fulfillment centers across the United States aimed at filling more than 50,000 jobs, at the Amazon.com Fulfillment Center in Fall River, Massachusetts, U.S., August 2, 2017.

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job growth slowed more than expected in December amid a decline in retail employment, but a pick-up in monthly wage gains pointed to labor market strength that could pave the way for the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates in March.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 148,000 jobs last month after surging by 252,000 in November, the Labor Department said on Friday. Retail payrolls decreased by 20,300 in December, the largest drop since March, despite reports of a strong holiday shopping season.

The unemployment rate was unchanged at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast payrolls rising by 190,000 in December. The economy needs to create 75,000 to 100,000 jobs per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population.

“We do not think that today’s employment report will keep the Federal Reserve from tightening again at the March policy meeting, given other strong recent economic data,” said David Berson, chief economist at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio.

Job growth surged in October and November after being held back in September by back-to-back hurricanes, which destroyed infrastructure and homes and temporarily dislocated some workers in Texas and Florida.

Taking some sting out of the moderation in job gains, average hourly earnings rose 9 cents, or 0.3 percent, in December after a 0.1 percent gain in the prior month. That lifted the annual increase in wages to 2.5 percent from 2.4 percent in November.

Prices of U.S. Treasuries were mostly flat while the U.S. dollar <.DXY> was slightly stronger against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock indexes opened at fresh record highs.

Employment gains in December were below the monthly average of 204,000 over the past three months. Job growth is slowing as the labor market nears full employment, but could get a temporary boost from a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts passed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last month.

The lift from the fiscal stimulus, which includes a sharp reduction in the corporate income tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, is likely to be modest as the stimulus is occurring with the economy operating almost at capacity. There are also concerns the economy could overheat.

“With the tax cuts we get solid GDP growth in the near-term and then a fiscal hangover, which will likely put the economy at a greater risk of recession,” said Ryan Sweet, senior economist at Moody’s Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

NEAR FULL EMPLOYMENT

Data ranging from housing to manufacturing and consumer spending have suggested solid economic growth in the fourth quarter, despite a widening of the trade deficit in both October and November, which could subtract from gross domestic product.

In a separate report on Friday, the Commerce Department said the trade gap widened 3.2 percent in November to $50.5 billion, the highest level since January 2012.

The deficit was boosted by record high imports, which offset the highest exports in three years. The economy grew at a 3.2 percent annualized rate in the third quarter.

For all of 2017, the economy created 2.1 million jobs, below the 2.2 million added in 2016. Economists expect job growth to slow further this year as the labor market hits full employment, which will likely boost wage growth as employers compete for workers.

Economists are optimistic that annual wage growth will top 3.0 percent by the end of this year. The December employment report incorporated annual revisions to the seasonally adjusted household survey data going back five years.

There was no change in the unemployment rate, which declined by seven-tenths of a percentage point last year.

Economists believe the jobless rate could drop to 3.5 percent by the end of this year. That could potentially unleash a faster pace of wage growth and translate into a much stronger increase in inflation than currently anticipated.

That, according to economists, would force the Fed to push through four interest rate increases this year instead of the three it has penciled in. The U.S. central bank raised borrowing costs three times in 2017.

“If the unemployment rate declines and wages rise faster, which is likely, the Fed is going to start worrying about wage inflation,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Employment gains were largely broad-based in December. Construction payrolls increased by 30,000 jobs, the most since February, reflecting recent strong increases in homebuilding. Manufacturing employment increased by 25,000 jobs.

Manufacturing is being supported by a strengthening global economy and a weakening dollar. Employment in the utilities sector fell for a second straight month.

General merchandise stores payrolls tumbled by 27,300 in December, with employment at clothing stores dropping by 3,800 jobs.

For all of 2017, retail employment dropped by 67,000 jobs after rising by 203,000 in 2016. Further job losses are likely this year as major retailers, facing stiff competition from online sellers like Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>, close stores.

Sears Holdings Corp said on Thursday it was shuttering 103 unprofitable Kmart and Sears stores. Macys Inc also announced 11 store closures, which could leave 5,000 workers unemployed.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Fed interest rate hike expected next week, three hikes expected in 2018/poll

The Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington September 16 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

By Shrutee Sarkar

BENGALURU (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Reserve is almost certain to raise interest rates later this month, according to a Reuters poll of economists, a majority of whom now expect three more rate rises next year compared with two when surveyed just weeks ago.

The results, from a survey taken just before the U.S. Senate voted to pass tax cuts that are expected to add about $1.4 trillion to the national debt over the next decade, show economists were already becoming more convinced that rates will need to go even higher.

While about 80 percent of economists surveyed in October said such tax cuts were not necessary, the passage of the bill, President Donald Trump’s first major legislative success, means the forecast risks have shifted toward higher rates, and faster.

The poll’s newly raised expectations for three rate rises next year are now in line with the Fed’s own projections. But they come despite a split among U.S. policymakers on the outlook for inflation, which has remained persistently low.

That is a similar challenge faced by other major central banks, who are generally turning away from easy monetary policy put in place since the financial crisis, looking through still-weak wage inflation and overall price pressures for now.

The core personal consumption expenditures price index (PCE), which excludes food and energy and is the Fed’s preferred inflation measure, has undershot the central bank’s 2 percent target for nearly 5-1/2 years.

The latest Reuters poll results suggest it is expected to average below 2 percent until 2019.

While the U.S. economy expanded in the third quarter at a 3.3 percent annualized rate, its fastest pace in three years, the latest Reuters poll – taken mostly before the release of that data – suggested that may be the best growth rate at least until the second half of 2019.

The most optimistic growth forecast at any point over the next year or so was 3.7 percent, well below the post-financial crisis peak of 5.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Still, all the 103 economists polled, including 19 large banks that deal directly with the Fed, said the federal funds rate will go up again in December by 25 basis points, to 1.25-1.50 percent.

“This is about just getting back to a neutral level where monetary policy is neither encouraging growth or pushing against growth,” said Brett Ryan, senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, which recently shifted its view to four rate rises next year.

“The Fed is still accommodative at the moment and we are still some ways away from the neutral fed funds rate which would in the Fed’s view be closer to 2.75 percent. The Fed can hike without slowing the economy.”

Financial markets are also pricing in over a 90 percent chance of a 25 basis-point hike in December, largely based on the falling unemployment rate and reasonably strong economic growth this year.

Asked what is the primary driver behind the Fed’s wish to raise rates further, over 40 percent of respondents said it was to tap down future inflation.

However, almost a third of economists said it is to gather enough ammunition to combat the next recession.

“At some point we are going to have a downturn and they (the Fed) are going to need to react and it is harder to do that when rates are closer to zero,” said Sam Bullard, an economist at Wells Fargo.

The remaining roughly 30 percent had varied responses, including some who said higher rates were needed to avoid risks to financial stability.

Over 90 percent of the 66 economists who answered another question said that the coming changes at the Fed – a new Fed Chair along with several new Fed Board members – will also not alter the current expected course of rate hikes.

“Both the rate tightening outlook and balance sheet reduction program will remain in place as the Fed officials fill open seats. Easing of financial regulation is likely the area that has the most forthcoming changes,” Bullard said.

 

(Additional reporting and polling by Khushboo Mittal and Mumal Rathore; Editing by Ross Finley and Hugh Lawson)