Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

White House dismisses slump fears despite market turmoil

US stock markets faltered last week due to heightened investor fears over the state of the economy

People walk on Wall St. outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York. The three main US equity market indices dropped 3 per cent last week as fears of an economic slump grew. REUTERS 
People walk on Wall St. outside the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York. The three main US equity market indices dropped 3 per cent last week as fears of an economic slump grew. REUTERS 

White House officials pushed back on Sunday against concerns that economic growth may be faltering, saying they saw little risk of recession despite a volatile week on global bond markets, and insisting their trade war with China was doing no damage to the United States.

"There is no recession in sight," White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Fox News Sunday.

"Consumers are working. Their wages are rising. They are spending and they are saving ... I think we are in pretty good shape."

US stock markets tanked last week on recession fears, with all three major US indices closing down about 3 per cent on Wednesday only to pare their losses by Friday due to expectations that the European Central Bank might cut rates.

For a brief time last week bond investors also demanded a higher interest rate on 2-year Treasury bonds than for 10-year Treasury bonds, often construed as a sign of lost faith in near-term economic growth.

However, trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday likewise dismissed last week's warning signs, saying "good" economic dynamics were encouraging investors to move money to the United States.

"We have the strongest economy in the world and money is coming here for our stock market. It's also coming here to chase yield in our bond markets," Navarro told ABC's This Week.

That sort of 'flight to safety' is typically driven by concerns of global economic trouble - in this case, the possibility that the Trump administration's tariff battle with China may dampen business investment and growth worldwide.

The tariffs on Chinese goods, Navarro said, "are not hurting anybody here".

The US economy does continue to grow and add jobs each month. Retail sales in July jumped a stronger-than-expected 0.7 per cent, the government reported last week, and Kudlow said that number showed that the main prop of the US economy is intact.

However, manufacturing growth has slowed and lagging business investment has also become a drag. Globally, flagging global trade appears to have pushed the German economy towards recession, and dampened growth in China.

A slowdown would be bad news for President Donald Trump, who is building his 2020 bid for a second term around the economy's performance. He told voters at a rally last week they had "no choice" but to vote for him in order to preserve their jobs and investments.

Despite talking up the economy, the president and his advisers have repeatedly accused the US Federal Reserve of undermining the administration's economic policies. On Sunday, Kudlow again pointed the finger at the central bank, describing rate hikes through 2017 and 2018 as "very severe monetary restraint".

The Fed hiked rates seven times over those two years as part of a plan to restore normal monetary policy following the emergency steps taken to battle the 2007-2009 global financial crisis and recession.

Even with those steps, the Fed's target interest rate has remained well below historic norms, and policymakers have started cutting rates in response to growing global risks.

Democratic presidential candidates on Sunday joined the many economic analysts who have said the administration's sometimes erratic policies are to blame for increased uncertainty, disappointing business investment and market volatility.

“I’m afraid that this president is driving the global economy and our economy into recession," Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke said on NBC's Meet the Press.

The China trade war and the imposition of tariffs was “hammering the hell out of farmers across this country."

Updated: August 18, 2019 09:26 PM

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