What’s Up? (March 27-April 2)
Another Strong Jobs Report
The March report continued the strong gains of recent months, with U.S. employers adding 431,000 jobs. The unemployment rate declined, and now, at 3.6 percent, it is just a touch higher than it was before the pandemic. The economy has recovered more than 90 percent of the 22 million jobs lost in the spring of 2020, far surpassing initial forecasts. March’s showing may help tell a story about the changing attitudes toward the coronavirus, particularly as companies move ahead with return-to-office plans — the share of office workers doing their jobs remotely fell to 10 percent in March — and as tourism and in-person entertainment have largely resumed. The public “may be moving toward the idea that ‘the Covid era’ of the U.S. economy is done,” one economist said.
A Record Release of Oil Reserves
In an effort to push down energy prices that have skyrocketed since Russia went to war in Ukraine, President Biden said Thursday that the United States would release up to 180 million barrels of oil in the coming months from its strategic reserves. The announcement had the desired effect in the immediate term: Oil prices fell on Wednesday night, when Mr. Biden’s plans were first reported, and stayed lower on Thursday after the president spoke about the record release of crude. And on Friday, the International Energy Agency said its 31 member nations had agreed to a new release of emergency oil reserves. OPEC Plus, a group of oil producers that includes Russia, said it would stick to its previous plan for modest monthly increases, however.
Supply Chain Gridlock for Cars
Toyota Motor said its new vehicle sales dropped 15 percent in the first quarter as a chip shortage persisted and slowed production. This isn’t just Toyota’s problem: General Motors also announced a significant decline in sales, and other automakers were also expected to report underwhelming numbers as they continued to face shortages because of tangled supply chains and new challenges from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But Toyota did see strong demand for its hybrid models, and reports that are expected in the coming days from Tesla and Ford Motor could give an indication of whether 2022 will be a tipping point for electric vehicles. Ford is among those trying to compete with Tesla and diversify E.V. offerings to appeal to a broader swath of consumers — Tesla’s minimalist aesthetics aren’t for everyone, one argument goes.
What’s Next? (April 3-9)
A Union Victory
Workers at a huge Amazon warehouse union on Staten Island voted to form a union in a historic victory for labor, becoming the first Amazon location in the United States to unionize. Employees cast 2,654 votes in support of the union and 2,131 against. The result of a union revote at another Amazon warehouse, in Bessemer, Ala., is still pending, with a final tally expected in the coming weeks. The union in Bessemer appears to be heading for a narrow loss, but the election is much closer than it was last year, when workers opposed the union by a more than 2-to-1 ratio. The unexpected strength of union support in both elections foretells more union battles for Amazon, as warehouse workers, like organizing Starbucks workers, may be inspired to start union campaigns at their own locations.
A Possible New Pause on Student Loan Payments
Facing pressure from Democrats and warnings about losses in the midterm elections, President Biden may soon announce another extension of the pause on student loan payments. The pause began under President Donald J. Trump early in the pandemic and was extended several times during both Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Biden’s administrations. Mr. Biden last extended the pause in December amid a surge in coronavirus cases. In anticipation of the new May 1 deadline, more than 90 Democrats in Congress signed a letter urging Mr. Biden to push it back again. Calls for him to cancel student debt are also growing.
Fears of a Potential Recession
The Federal Reserve will release minutes from its March policy meeting this week, and Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, has suggested that they will include plans for the central bank to reduce its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet. Known as quantitative tightening, it’s a maneuver the Fed may consider during times of low unemployment, rising wages and overall growth. But the move, which could involve selling off bonds, for example, can drastically reduce money supply, sending interest rates up and dampening lending and investment. Along with the Fed’s projected rate increases, the possibility of a balance sheet reduction is causing worries that the central bank will hit the brakes too hard and tip the country into a recession. Adding to those fears is the bond market, which has had a terrible start to the year and is sending a potential signal that a significant economic slowdown is ahead.
President Biden’s budget proposal included a tax on billionaires. The S&P 500 rose 3.6 percent in March, regaining more than half its losses from its lowest point this year. And Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, is reportedly in talks to leave for MSNBC.