U.S. Economy’s Recovery Gets Tougher as Trump Halts Aid Talks

(Bloomberg) — The collapse of pre-election U.S. stimulus talks threatens to inflict another wave of economic pain on Americans and curtail a recovery that’s already slowed.

© Bloomberg Passengers pass in front of an American Airlines Group Inc. airplane at Tulsa International Airport (TUL) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc.will start laying off thousands of employees as scheduled, spurning Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s appeal for a delay as he negotiates with Congress over an economic relief plan that includes payroll support for U.S. carriers.

President Donald Trump’s decision Tuesday to walk away from talks with Democrats amid differences over the size of a relief package likely ended the chances of stimulus before the Nov. 3 election. Aid might be delayed until January or February, after a new Congress is seated, meaning there could be a period of four or five months without additional support for jobless Americans and small businesses.

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The decision puts the economic rebound at risk of stalling in the fourth quarter, with activity remaining well below its pre-pandemic level amid the coronavirus’s persistent spread and the wait for a vaccine.

“The news means that growth will likely slow to mid-single digits in the fourth quarter from roughly 30% in the third, and it makes the economy more vulnerable if another shock were to hit,” said Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo & Co.

Fed Call

Trump’s tweet announcing an end to talks came hours after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned of longer-lasting economic scars and a weak recovery without sufficient government aid and said too much stimulus wouldn’t be a problem.

“This ups the ante that we fall into the tragic scenario that Chair Powell laid out today, that we get a longer lasting recession with deeper scars on the complexion of our economy, most notably in the labor force,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton.

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Stocks tumbled after Trump’s afternoon tweet, with the S&P 500 falling 1.4% at the close after being up as much as 0.7% earlier in the day.

Still, that drop paled in comparison with the plunge during the financial crisis in September 2008, when Congress’s rejection of bailout funds spurred the sharpest decline in two decades — leading lawmakers to walk back the rejection. Economists said they still expect a stimulus bill within a few months, or speculated that Trump’s move could be a negotiating tactic.

Fed Response

Analysts at Evercore ISI wrote in a note that the president’s announcement could push the Fed into more action.

“We believe the collapse of the fiscal stimulus talks increases the likelihood that the Fed will strengthen its QE program by moving to an open ended economic outcome-based program with a longer duration skew in its purchases in December,” they wrote.

While the Fed is now slightly more likely to step up its own stimulus, the dip in stocks would probably have to be much larger to assure such an outcome, said Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc.

James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has been a vocal contrarian on the need for immediate stimulus. “There may be enough resources right now, at least for 2020,” he said late last month at virtual community banking conference. “You could probably wait until next year and then you could assess the situation.”

Warning Signs

Several reports last week showed the rebound slowing or presented warning signs for the future. Employers added fewer jobs than forecast in September and many Americans quit looking for work. Weekly filings for unemployment claims remain well above pre-pandemic levels and Americans’ incomes fell in August following the end of supplemental jobless benefits.

Also last week, American Airlines Group Inc. and United Airlines Holdings Inc. said they would start laying off 32,000 workers, blaming expiring government aid, the latest in a drumbeat of mass job cuts. Walt Disney Co. is slashing 28,000 workers while Allstate Corp., the fourth-largest car insurer in the U.S., said it will cut about 3,800 jobs, roughly 8% of its workforce.

Corporate executives expressed dismay over the halt in talks.

“It’s serious damage and obviously a lot of pain that’s going to extend through the end of the year and into the holiday season,” said Aneta Markowska, chief U.S. financial economist at Jefferies LLC. “As far as having a lasting consequence for the economy, that depends on what happens in January.”

Economists’ Forecasts

Even before Trump’s announcement, the long deadlock over stimulus had already led many economists, including the teams at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., to write off the prospects of new steps before the election — and lower their economic growth forecasts for the current quarter.

The focus has shifted to the spending measures that might get passed under whatever combination of White House and congressional control emerges from the Nov. 3 vote.

Many Wall Street analysts say a Democratic sweep would deliver the biggest fiscal boost to the economy — because lawmakers will probably approve a big virus-relief bill right after taking office, while Democratic candidate Joe Biden is promising higher government spending than Trump.

In the shorter term, though, the economic effect is simple math: Less money flowing into the bank accounts of Americans and small businesses means less money to spend on goods and services and a diminished ability for employers to keep workers on staff.

“What we’re looking at is a likelihood of a slowing in consumption and it puts the extent of the recovery at risk,” said Joel Naroff, president and chief economist at Naroff Economics LLC.

(Adds analyst note.)

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