133901

World  

Shutdown risk to economy

At this time of year, John Sprinkle and his wife would normally be planning their summer vacation. Not now. Sprinkle, a furloughed federal employee, is about to miss his second paycheque since the partial government shutdown began just before Christmas.

With no end in sight to the longest shutdown in American history, Sprinkle and his family are postponing all manner of spending.

"We were thinking of getting a new computer, but that's not going to happen," he said. "We're not really eating out like we normally would be. We are not going out to events like we would be."

Multiply those decisions by 800,000 federal employees across the country and hundreds of thousands of government contractors who aren't being paid either, and the shutdown looms as an accelerating threat to the wider economy.

The shutdown's biggest effect on the economy is likely to be the cutback in federal spending. But consumer spending, which is critical to growth, is another important factor.

When government employees spend less, stores and restaurants that serve them suffer. So do landlords and lenders that do business with federal workers. Though spending and growth will rebound once the government reopens, most of the restaurant meals missed and hotel stays cancelled will never be made up.

"Creditors and suppliers hit by the shutdown will become less patient if it drags on," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said in a research note. "People and businesses are being hurt by the shutdown, and the pain will intensify."

If the shutdown drags on through March, annual economic growth could fall to zero in the first three months of the year. Even if the government reopens by the end of the month, the annual pace of growth could be a meagre 1.6 per cent — only half the pace of last quarter, said Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Kevin Hassett, a top White House economist, acknowledged in an interview on CNN that growth could be flat in the first quarter, though Hassett suggested that a "humongous" rebound would follow. Yet some independent economists doubt that the rebound would be enough to offset the initial damage. The economy is already bedeviled by slowing global growth, ongoing trade tensions and higher interest rates, which contributed to a plunge in home sales last month.

Bernard Baumohl, chief economist at the Economic Outlook Group, suggested that once the government reopened, many households would focus on repaying credit card debt and restoring lost savings — trends that would slow the rebound.

For now, there are hints that the shutdown is slowing retail sales. A measure of weekly chain store sales fell 1.3 per cent last week, its second straight drop. Cold weather likely contributed to the fall, said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the consulting firm Retail Economist, but the shutdown may also have contributed.

It's hard to know just how much the shutdown is depressing consumer spending because the Commerce Department, which compiles and reports such data, was itself closed by the shutdown.

Anecdotal evidence, though, suggests that the trend is spreading. Even federal workers with solid finances are holding back. Sprinkle, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, knows he will eventually be paid, and his wife is still earning a paycheque. Their two children are out of the house, in college, and he knows he could borrow against his home equity if he had to.



More World News

World
141041
London Webcam
Webcam provided by webcams.travel
56309
Recent Trending
136853
Soft 103.9
137772
Castanet Proud Member of RTNDA Canada
137398



138647
140992