US economy chases disinflation dream amid global headwinds

US Economy
Despite concerns over runaway inflation, the US economy posts robust growth figures to boost the sagging global growth rates.

As world leaders convene in Washington DC for the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, the resilience of the US economy is once again in focus. Amid global economic tremors, the US has showcased remarkable economic vitality, despite facing high inflation and tight monetary policy.

The US economy continues to perform robustly, expanding at a rate of 2.4% in the first quarter of the year. This growth rate exceeds the potential output rate, suggesting an economy firing above its expected capacity. Such performance is a recipe for global expansion, offering a semblance of stability as other major economies grapple with slower growth.

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The dual edges of economic policy

The robust growth of the US economy comes with its complexities. The persistence of inflation above the Federal Reserve’s 2% target introduces a cautionary tone into the growth story. The recent data indicating continued high inflation and robust job growth — with 303,000 new jobs created in March alone — pose significant challenges for policymakers targeting ‘soft landing of the economy. These conditions force a re-evaluation of the anticipated monetary easing, possibly delaying or forgoing expected rate cuts.

Economists envision a golden path where strong growth and declining inflation coexist harmoniously, benefiting not only the US but also other nations closely intertwined with it through trade and financial channels. Yet, there remains the risk that continued strong demand in the US could sustain high inflation, potentially necessitating further rate hikes, a scenario that remains on the table despite not being the baseline expectation.

Structural strengths of US economy

The resilience of the US economy can also be attributed to structural factors. Increased labour participation and significant gains in productivity have been crucial. The Congressional Budget Office’s recent upward revision of the US economic growth potential — citing increased immigration and labour productivity — supports this point. These elements suggest an economy capable of sustaining growth without triggering inflation, a phenomenon some have termed ‘immaculate disinflation’.

The US economy is also bolstered by consumer spending, which accounts for about 70% of economic activity. The unprecedented federal stimulus measures, injecting roughly $5 trillion into the economy, have sustained consumer spending even amid high inflation. This infusion of funds has not only supported individuals and businesses directly affected by the pandemic but has also created a buffer of excess savings for many households. Such robust consumer spending has been a crucial factor in driving the US economy’s growth and is a critical component of its ongoing resilience.

Implications for global economic health

The US economy’s strength has implications for global economic health. With the European Central Bank and other central banks keenly watching the Fed’s moves, the international economic policy remains bound to US outcomes. The divergence in monetary policies between the US and other major economies could lead to shifts in global trade and investment patterns.

Another important aspect of the US economy’s resilience is its energy independence. As a net exporter of energy, the US has been shielded from the harsher economic impacts of global energy price fluctuations, particularly those stemming from geopolitical tensions such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This energy advantage has allowed the US to moderate inflation more effectively than many of its European counterparts which face significant challenges due to dependency on energy imports. The strategic energy posture of the US not only supports domestic economic stability but also enhances its leverage in global economic negotiations.

Investment strategies that bet on the US economy running hotter than anticipated have outperformed, as evident from the surge in corporate profits and record highs in the stock market. This contrast starkly with the previous decade’s more cautious approach to economic recovery, highlighting a dynamic shift in economic strategies and market expectations.

The US economy’s trajectory will influence global economic strategies and expectations. While the risk of recession looms, the US economy’s current indicators suggest a cautious optimism. The resilience demonstrated by robust growth, strong labour markets, and manageable inflation levels positions the US as a critical barometer of global economic health. The ongoing discussions at the IMF and World Bank meetings will undoubtedly seek to harness insights from the US experience to foster broader economic stability and growth.

The US economy continues to be a beacon of stability and a subject of keen analysis for global financial leaders. The world watches and waits to see how the US will survive these challenging times, with hopes that its resilience will help the global economy steady.