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Congressional Budget Office says inflation to last into 2023

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Congressional Budget Office released an economic outlook Wednesday saying that high inflation will persist into next year, likely causing the federal government to pay higher interest rates on its debt.

The nonpartisan agency expects that the consumer price index will rise 6.1% this year and 3.1% in 2023. This forecast suggests that inflation will slow from current annual levels of 8.3%, yet it would still be dramatically above a long-term baseline of 2.3%.

The 10-year estimates do contain positive news as this year’s annual budget deficit will be $118 billion lower than forecast last year. That’s a byproduct of the end of pandemic-related spending and the solid job growth it helped to spur. As a share of the total economy, publicly held debt will drop through 2023. Still, the accumulated federal debt will likely continue to grow over the next decade to be equal to roughly 110% of U.S. gross domestic product.

The Federal Reserve has been trying to reduce inflation by raising its benchmark interest rates, causing the interest charged on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes to increase substantially in recent months. One consequence is that the government will be spending more money this year to service its debt. By 2032, the yearly interest payments will nearly be $1.2 trillion, or more than what the federal government spends on defense.

Still, the CBO cautions that its numbers “are subject to considerable uncertainty, in part because of the ongoing pandemic and other world events,” including Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine. The report accounts at least for the first few months of the war, according to CBO.

Economists have said coronavirus relief programs issued by both the Biden and Trump administrations have contributed to higher inflation levels. But high prices have also been fueled by a delay in action by the Fed, supply chain disruptions and the tumult produced after Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

Ben Harris, the Treasury Department’s assistant secretary for economic policy, tweeted on Tuesday that the factors driving inflation also include soaring corporate profits, driven by a lack of business competition — as well as business not being fully prepared for the reopening of the economy as pandemic restrictions were lifted. The administration has emphasized that its plan put the U.S. economy into a stronger place relative to the rest of the world because unemployment is a low 3.6%.

“The American Rescue Plan has fostered an extraordinarily fast recovery and leaves us in a strong position to address the global challenges posed from supply chains and the economic fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he tweeted.

The report says beyond 2032, “if current laws remained generally unchanged, deficits would continue to grow relative to the size of the economy over the following 20 years, keeping debt measured as a percentage of GDP on an upward trajectory throughout that period.”

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, told The Associated Press ahead of the release that the pandemic, war in Ukraine and other factors point to the importance of reducing the annual deficit.

“Unfortunately, the underlying story here is one of fiscally unsustainable positions and on top of that, we have this added challenge of inflation and a reminder that external shocks continue to come at us,” she said.

Fatima Hussein, The Associated Press

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Economy

Sri Lanka’s crisis rings alarm for other troubled economies

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By Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok

BANGKOK (AP) — Sri Lanka is desperate for help with weathering its worst crisis in recent memory. Its schools are closed for lack of fuel to get kids and teachers to classrooms. Its effort to arrange a bailout from the International Monetary Fund has been hindered by the severity of its financial crisis, its prime minister says.

But it’s not the only economy that’s in serious trouble as prices of food, fuel and other staples have soared with the war in Ukraine. Alarm bells are ringing for many economies around the world, from Laos and Pakistan to Venezuela and Guinea.

Some 1.6 billion people in 94 countries face at least one dimension of the crisis in food, energy and financial systems, and about 1.2 billion of them live in “perfect-storm” countries, severely vulnerable to a cost-of-living crisis plus other longer-term strains, according to a report last month by the Global Crisis Response Group of the United Nations Secretary-General.

The exact causes for their woes vary, but all share rising risks from surging costs for food and fuel, driven higher by Russia’s war on Ukraine, which hit just as disruptions to tourism and other business activity from the coronavirus pandemic were fading. As a result, the World Bank estimates that per capita incomes in developing economies will be 5% below pre-pandemic levels this year.

The economic strains are fueling protests in many countries, as meanwhile, short-term, higher interest borrowing to help finance pandemic relief packages has heaped more debt on countries already struggling to meet repayment obligations. More than half of the world’s poorest countries are in debt distress or at high risk of it, according to the U.N.

Some of the worst crises are in countries already devastated by corruption, civil war, coups or other calamities. They muddle along, but with an undue burden of suffering.

Here’s a look at a few of the economies that are in dire straits or at greatest risk.

AFGHANISTAN

Afghanistan has been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control as the U.S. and its NATO allies withdrew their forces last year. Foreign aid — long a mainstay — stopped practically overnight and governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government. The Biden administration froze $7 billion in Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves held in the United States. About half the country’s 39 million people face life-threatening levels of food insecurity and most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have been unpaid for months. A recent earthquake killed more than 1,000 people, adding to those miseries.

ARGENTINA

About four of every 10 Argentines are poor and its central bank is running perilously low on foreign reserves as its currency weakens. Inflation is forecast to exceed 70% this year. Millions of Argentines survive largely thanks to soup kitchens and state welfare programs, many of which are funneled through politically powerful social movements linked to the ruling party. A recent deal with the IMF to restructure $44 billion in debt faces questions over concessions that critics say will hinder a recovery.

EGYPT

Egypt’s inflation rate surged to almost 15% in April, causing privation especially for the nearly one-third of its 103 million people living in poverty. They were already suffering from an ambitious reform program that includes painful austerity measures like floating the national currency and slashing subsidies for fuel, water and electricity. The central bank raised interest rates to curb inflation and devalued the currency, adding to difficulties in repaying Egypt’s sizable foreign debt. Egypt’s net foreign reserves have fallen. Its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged $22 billion in deposits and direct investments as assistance.

LAOS

Tiny, landlocked Laos was one of the fastest growing economies until the pandemic hit. Its debt levels have surged and like Sri Lanka, it is in talks with creditors on how to repay billions of dollars worth of loans. That’s an urgent issue given the country’s weak government finances. Its foreign reserves are equal to less than two months of imports, the World Bank says. A 30% depreciation in the Lao currency, the kip, has worsened those woes. Rising prices and job losses due to the pandemic threaten to worsen poverty.

LEBANON

Lebanon shares with Sri Lanka a toxic combination of currency collapse, shortages, punishing levels of inflation and growing hunger, snaking queues for gas and a decimated middle class. It, too, endured a long civil war, its recovery hampered by government dysfunction and terror attacks.

Proposed taxes in late 2019 ignited longstanding anger against the ruling class and months of protests. The currency began to sink and Lebanon defaulted on paying back worth about $90 billion at the time, or 170% of GDP — one of the highest in the world. In June 2021, with the currency having lost nearly 90% of its value, the World Bank said the crisis ranked as one of the worst the world has seen in more than 150 years.

MYANMAR

The pandemic and political instability have buffeted Myanmar’s economy, especially after the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. That brought Western sanctions targeting commercial holdings controlled by the army, which dominate the economy. The economy contracted by 18% last year and is forecast to barely grow in 2022. More than 700,000 people have fled or been forced from their homes by armed conflicts and political violence. The situation is so uncertain, a recent global economic update from the World Bank excluded forecasts for Myanmar for 2022-2024.

PAKISTAN

Like Sri Lanka, Pakistan has been in urgent talks with the IMF, hoping to revive a $6 billion bailout package that was put on hold after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government was ousted in April. Soaring crude oil prices pushed up fuel prices which in turn raised other costs, pushing inflation to over 21%. A government minister’s appeal to cut back on tea drinking to reduce the $600 million bill for imported tea angered many Pakistanis. Pakistan’s currency, the rupee, has fallen about 30% against the U.S. dollar in the past year. To gain the IMF’s support, Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif has raised fuel prices, abolished fuel subsidies and imposed a new, 10% “super tax” on major industries to help repair the country’s tattered finances. As of late March, Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves had fallen to $13.5 billion, equivalent to just two months of imports. “Macroeconomic risks are strongly tilted to the downside,” the World Bank warned in its latest assessment.

TURKEY

Worsening government finances and a growing trade and capital account deficit have compounded Turkey’s troubles with high and rising debt, inflation — at over 60% —and high unemployment. The Central Bank resorted to using foreign reserves to fend off a currency crisis, after the beleaguered lira fell to all-time lows against the U.S. dollar euro in late 2021. Tax cuts and fuel subsidies to cushion the blow from inflation have weakened government finances. Families are struggling to buy food and other goods, while Turkey’s foreign debt is about 54% of its GDP, an unsustainable level given the high level of government debt.

ZIMBABWE

Inflation in Zimbabwe has surged to more than 130%, raising fears the country could return to the hyperinflation of 2008 that reached 500 billion percent and heaping problems on its already fragile economy. Zimbabwe struggles to generate an adequate inflow of greenbacks needed for its largely dollarized local economy, which has been battered by years of de-industrialization, corruption, low investment, low exports and high debt. Inflation has left Zimbabweans distrustful of the currency, adding to demand for U.S. dollars. And many skip meals as they struggle to make ends meet.

____

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan and Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.

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Alberta

First test production of plastic a milestone for Heartland Petrochemical Complex

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CALGARY — The $4.3-billion Heartland Petrochemical Complex, which has been under construction northeast of Edmonton since 2018, has produced its first plastic pellets.

Owner and operator Inter Pipeline Ltd. said Tuesday the newly commissioned facility has been producing test pellets steadily since late June, an important milestone en route to the expected start of full commercial operation sometime this fall.

The Heartland Petrochemical Complex will convert Alberta propane into 525,000 tonnes per year of polypropylene beads, an easily transported form of plastic that is used in the manufacturing of a wide range of finished products.

Steven Noble, spokesman for Calgary-based Inter Pipeline, said the facility will be the first integrated propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene production facility in North America. He said approximately 70 per cent of Heartland’s total production capacity has been already contracted out to long-term customers.

“Through the duration of the project’s construction, we’ve seen demand for polypropylene increase significantly … including at one point hitting an all-time record (market price),” Noble said in an interview. “The demand that we initially forecast certainly hasn’t gone away.”

The Heartland facility is being built with the support of a $408-million grant from Alberta’s provincial government. The cash grant, part of an incentive program aimed at growing the province’s petrochemicals sector, is to be paid to Inter Pipeline in equal instalments over three years once the complex is operational.

Noble said by creating a new market for propane, the Heartland facility is an example of how natural resource development in Alberta is diversifying.

“The fact that we’re now looking at our raw resources in a different way, and figuring out different ways to get value out of them and create other refined products right here at home … is really the part of the story that everyone here is excited about,” he said.

The Heartland Petrochemical Complex is expected to employ 300 people once fully operational.

The polypropylene produced at the facility will be branded as Heartland Polymers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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