WH: 'Fundamentals' of Economy Strong 08/20 06:09

WH: 'Fundamentals' of Economy Strong   08/20 06:09

   The "fundamentals" of the U.S. economy are solid, the White House asserted, 
invoking an ill-fated political declaration of a decade ago amid mounting 
concern that a recession could imperil President Donald Trump's reelection.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The "fundamentals" of the U.S. economy are solid, the 
White House asserted, invoking an ill-fated political declaration of a decade 
ago amid mounting concern that a recession could imperil President Donald 
Trump's reelection.

   Exhibiting no such concern, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway declared to 
reporters on Monday, "The fact is, the fundamentals of our economy are very 
strong."

   It's a phrase with a history. Republican John McCain was accused of being 
out of touch when he made a similar declaration during the 2008 presidential 
campaign just hours before investment bank Lehman Brothers filed for 
bankruptcy, setting off a stock market crash and global financial decline.

   A case can be made for the White House position. The U.S. job market is 
setting records for low unemployment, and the economy has continued 
uninterrupted growth since Trump took office. But growth is slowing, stock 
markets have swung wildly in recent weeks on recession fears, and indicators in 
the housing and manufacturing sectors have given economists pause. A new survey 
Monday showed a big majority of economists expecting a downturn to hit by 2021 
at the latest, according to a report from the National Association of Business 
Economics.

   Trump begs to disagree.

   "We're doing tremendously well. Our consumers are rich. I gave a tremendous 
tax cut and they're loaded up with money," Trump said on Sunday. "I don't think 
we're having a recession."

   Still, the Republican president took to Twitter on Monday to urge the 
Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy by cutting interest rates and 
returning to "quantitative easing" of its monetary policy, an indication of 
deep anxiety beneath his administration's bravado. And he backtracked last week 
on taking the next step in escalating in his trade war with China, concerned 
that new tariffs on consumer goods could hamper the critical holiday shopping 
season.

   White House aides and campaign advisers have been monitoring the recent 
turbulence in the financial markets and troubling indicators at home and around 
the world with concern for Trump's 2020 chances.

   Any administration has to walk a fine line between reflecting the realities 
of the global financial situation and adopting its historical role as a 
cheerleader for the American economy. For Trump, striking that balance may be 
even more difficult than for most.

   For decades, economic performance has proven to be a critical component of 
presidential job approval, and no American leader so much as Trump has tied his 
political fortunes to it. The celebrity businessman was elected in 2016 
promising to reduce unemployment --- a task at which he has succeeded --- and 
to bring about historic GDP growth, where he has had less success.

   The situation today isn't nearly as dire as in September 2008, when the U.S. 
and the world were heading into the Great Recession. There are no waves of home 
foreclosures, no spike in layoffs, no market meltdowns and no government 
rescues to save powerful banks and financial companies in order to contain the 
damage. What does exist is a heightened sense of risk about the economy's path 
amid slowing global growth and the volatility caused by the trade dispute 
between the United States and China.

   There are other reasons as well for the administration's rosy 
pronouncements, said Tony Fratto, a former Treasury Department spokesman in the 
Bush administration during the onset of the financial crisis. He said he 
sympathized with the Trump administration for having to choose between 
answering "honestly or responsibly" or otherwise about the state of the 
economy, noting that any hint of concern "could be self-fulfilling."

   "So much of the story of the economy is how people feel about it," said 
Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution fellow and former economic adviser to 2012 
GOP nominee Mitt Romney. "And that's an inherently a difficult thing to 
measure."

   Highlighting a disconnect between the nation's broad economic indicators and 
the "personal economies" of voters in swing states is a priority for Democratic 
candidates and outside groups heading into 2020.

   Trump's advisers acknowledge there are few tools at his disposal to avert a 
slowdown or recession if one materializes: Internal concerns over a ballooning 
federal deficit, in part due to the president's 2017 tax law, are stifling talk 
of stimulus spending, and skepticism abounds over the chances of passing 
anything through a polarized Congress ahead of the election. But that hasn't 
stopped the White House from exploring ways to make the political cost less 
painful.

   Seeking to get ahead of a potential slowdown, Trump has been casting blame 
on the Federal Reserve, China and now Democrats, claiming political foes are 
"trying to 'will' the Economy to be bad for purposes of the 2020 Election."

   If the Federal Reserve would reduce rates and loosen its grip on the money 
supply "over a fairly short period of time," he tweeted, "our Economy would be 
even better, and the World Economy would be greatly and quickly enhanced - good 
for everyone!"

   Those actions he's talking about are the sort a central bank would 
traditionally take to deal with or try to stave off a slowdown or full-blown 
recession.

   Strong fundamentals? A lot depends on which ones the administration 
highlights or ignores in public comments.

   Conway and other Trump aides have accurately described the rising retail 
sales and the solid labor market with its 3.7% unemployment rate as sources of 
strength.

   Yet factory output and home sales are declining, while business investment 
has been restricted because of uncertainties from Trump ratcheting up the China 
trade tension.

   Even if the economy avoids a recession, economists still expect growth to 
weaken.

   Federal Reserve officials estimate that the gross domestic product will slow 
to roughly 2% this year, down from 2.5% last year. During his presidential 
campaign, Trump had boasted he would achieve long-term growth of 4 percent, 5 
percent or more.


(KR)

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