Household saving has soared in the United States and other high-income countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite widespread declines in wages and other private income streams. This post highlights the role of fiscal policy in driving the saving boom, through stepped-up social benefits and other income support measures. Indeed, in the United States, Japan, and Canada, government assistance has pushed household income above its pre-pandemic trajectory. We argue that the larger scale of government assistance in these countries helps explain why saving in these countries has risen more strongly than in the euro area. Going forward, how freely households spend out of their newly accumulated savings will be a key factor determining the strength of economic recoveries.
Workers’ remittances—funds that migrants send to their country of birth—are an important source of income for a number of economies in Latin America, with the bulk of these funds coming from the United States. Have these flows dried up, given the COVID-19 recession and resulting unprecedented job losses? We find that remittances initially faltered but rebounded in the summer months, performing better than during the last U.S. recession despite more severe job losses. Large government income support payments probably explain some of this resilience. Whether remittances continue to hold up is likely to depend on how quickly the U.S. job market recovers, particularly in hard-hit service industries.
It may be hard to remember given the pandemic, but trade tensions between the United States and China eased in January 2020 with the inking of the Phase One agreement. Under the deal, China committed to a massive increase in its purchases of U.S. goods and services, with targets set for various types of products. At the time of the pact, the U.S. economy was operating near full capacity, and any increase in U.S. exports stemming from the pact would likely have resulted in only a small boost to growth. The environment is now starkly different, with the U.S. economy operating far below potential. While the promised increase in Chinese purchases seems unlikely to be achieved, any appreciable increase in exports from the agreement could deliver a meaningful boost to the economy.
In September 2016, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) changed its policy framework to target the yield on ten-year government bonds at “around zero percent,” close to the prevailing rate at the time. The new framework was announced as a modification of the Bank’s earlier policy of rapid monetary base expansion via large-scale asset purchases—a policy that market participants increasingly regarded as unsustainable. While the BoJ announced that the rapid pace of government bond purchases would not change, it turned out that the yield target approach allowed for a dramatic scaling back in purchases. In Japan’s case, the commitment to purchase whatever was needed to keep the ten-year rate near zero has meant that very little in the way of asset purchases have been required.
The rapid increase in U.S. oil production of recent years was looking difficult to sustain before the pandemic, as evidenced by the limited profitability of the sector. Now, U.S. producers may have to bear the brunt of the global supply adjustment needed over the near term.
Tariffs , of little interest for decades, are again becoming relevant given the increase in the levies charged on Chinese imports. U.S. businesses and consumers are shielded from higher tariffs to the extent that Chinese firms lower their dollar-denominated prices. However, data indicate that prices on goods from China are not falling. As a result, U.S. firms and consumers are paying the tax.
The federal tax cut and the increase in federal spending at the beginning of 2018 substantially increased the government deficit, requiring a jump in the amount of new Treasury securities offerings on financial markets to fund the gap. One question is whether the government will have to rely on foreign investors to buy these securities. Data for the first half of 2018 are now available and, so far, the country has not had to increase the pace of borrowing from abroad. The current account balance, which measures how much the United States borrows from the rest of the world, has been essentially unchanged. Instead, the tax cut has boosted business saving, allowing the United States to finance the higher federal government deficit without increasing the amount borrowed from foreign investors.