The U.S. economy and labor market continue to be strong but there are “several headwinds,” particularly uncertainty around trade and politics that affect business confidence, the president of the Richmond Federal Reserve said on Thursday.
“I’m particularly concerned about the roller coaster we’ve been on recently,” Thomas I. Barkin, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, told the Risk Management Association in Richmond, Virginia.
“Between Brexit, the ongoing negotiations with China, tensions in the Middle East and the political headlines,” he said, “it’s been tough for business to feel like they’re on solid ground.
GDP growth has slowed in China and stalled in the Eurozone, he said. “There’s a risk that weakness will affect us.”
In 2018, the risk was that the economy seemed to be overheating, he said. The latest market easing “doesn’t mean a recession is imminent,” he said, “nor that we are in a prolonged period of easing.”
Asked how the Fed handle rate decisions in the future, Barkin said by relying on decisions by consensus, as it always has, a commitment to risk modeling and constantly reviewing and revising how it makes decisions.
Barkin also noted concerns about the rising national debt.
“I do now worry about the impact of today’s large federal budget deficits on our resiliency in the downturn,” he said.
The United States is luckier than many other countries in this uncertain trade environment because it gets just 18% of its GDP from trade, Barkin said in the audience question and answer session later.
But if the U.S.-built global trade system starts to falter, it could have a “spiraling effect” on other countries that rely on that system and are more reliant on trade, like South Korea.
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