Obamacare Ruling May Spare Republicans Some Political Pain

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The practical effect of the decision is likely to be months of delays, pushing the final outcome of the case beyond the 2020 election.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans handed Republicans a Christmas present.

The court had been considering a case with the potential to dismantle the entire Affordable Care Act, an outcome that could have set off waves of chaos and disruption leading up to the November election, and for which there was very little contingency planning.

 

The court had two main options. It could have agreed with the Trump administration, along with a set of Republican state officials and a district court in Texas, and overturned all of the law. Or it could have upheld Obamacare, undermining the arguments of the White House and its allies.

The court found a third way. In a decision at the close of business Wednesday, two of the three judges signaled their support for a key part of the Republicans’ legal argument. The two agreed with a lower court that Obamacare’s individual mandate had been made unconstitutional by a 2017 law that eliminated the financial penalty for remaining uninsured. But the judges punted on the case’s key question of what that meant for the rest of the health law, asking a lower court to reconsider it. The effect is likely to be months of delays, pushing the final outcome of the case beyond the 2020 election.

 

Starting in 2017, the Republicans’ failed effort to repeal and replace large portions of the health law was deeply unpopular and became a central campaign theme of the 2018 election, in which Democrats won a House majority. Democrats cast themselves as the protectors of Obamacare’s most popular provisions, especially its protections for Americans with pre-existing health conditions.

While most Democrats would have favored a court ruling that upheld Obamacare, a reprise of those politics could have given them a lift in an election year. Voters tend to trust Democrats more than Republicans on health care, but much of the debate during the primary season has focused on ambitious new expansions of government coverage. Those proposals do not enjoy the widespread support attached to the preservation of Obamacare’s core consumer protections.

Those dynamics have allowed Republicans to focus on arguments that they will protect private insurance and oppose socialism, without forcing them to articulate their own detailed health plans. President Trump has periodically hinted at an imminent Obamacare replacement plan, but he has yet to produce one. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has declined to produce or advance a major health care bill in the Senate.

 

But if a court had ruled that all of Obamacare had to be wiped off the books, it would have been far harder for Republicans to avoid articulating their vision for health care. The public did not like their previous attempts in 2017, and there has been little progress, even behind the scenes, to produce an alternative plan more palatable to the public. Two concepts have emerged since then, one from a group of conservative think tanks, and one from the House Republican Study Committee. Neither has received much public attention by party leaders, and both share the basic structure of an earlier legislative plan that divided Republican legislators so much that it never made it to a vote.

Meanwhile, Democrats could have retreated to safer ground, by promising to reinstate popular Obamacare provisions.

 

If the court had overturned all of Obamacare, it could have meant major disruptions to the health system. Such a ruling, if upheld by the Supreme Court, would have eliminated consumer protections for people with pre-existing health conditions, and wiped away financial assistance that have helped millions of middle-class Americans buy their own coverage.

It would have erased the Medicaid expansion, which provides health insurance to millions of low-income Americans in three dozen states. It would have reversed Medicare policies that make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors, and Food and Drug Administration rules that have allowed cheaper copies of expensive biologic drugs to enter the market.

It would have undone major experiments in the delivery of care, meant to improve health care quality. It would have rolled back enhanced punishments for Medicare fraud. It would have reduced requirements that workplaces provide space for lactating mothers to pump breast milk, and requirements that chain restaurants post calorie counts for their food.

Around 20 million more Americans would have become uninsured, according to an estimate from the Urban Institute. Experts on Medicare policy said they were not even sure how some of the changes could have been carried out now that they have been enshrined in complex regulations and built on in subsequent laws.

 

None of those effects would have happened immediately, even if the Fifth Circuit had agreed in full with the lower court; the Supreme Court would have probably weighed in. But the prospect of such huge changes had the potential to reset the political conversation about health care in both parties. By avoiding a decision on the case’s consequences, the Fifth Circuit has effectively postponed that shift.

In a statement Wednesday night, President Trump applauded the court’s ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional. But he emphasized that the decision would not result in any meaningful changes to voters’ health care.

“The radical health care changes being proposed by the far left would strip Americans of their current coverage,” he said. “I will not let this happen. Providing affordable, high-quality health care will always be my priority. They are trying to take away your health care, and I am trying to give the American people the best health care in the world.”

 

Such a statement would have been harder to issue if the court panel had agreed with the arguments made by Mr. Trump’s lawyers and called for the reversal of Obamacare’s coverage expansions.

Democrats’ frustration with the court’s indecision was palpable. Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, described the judges’ move as “cowardly.” The decision is “obviously an attempt to shield Republicans from the massive blowback they would receive from the public if the highest court in the land were to strike down the A.C.A. before the upcoming election,” he said in a statement.

It’s possible, of course, that the case will reach a final disposition sooner anyway. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, announced that he and other Democratic state officials involved in the case would be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. Even though the appellate court sent the case back to Texas, the country’s highest court could still choose to take it, should four justices wish to. But the most likely path involves months or years of additional litigation, with lingering uncertainty over the fate of Obamacare.

 

 

 

Provider of the Year: Providence St. Joseph Health

https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/provider-providence-st-joseph-health-dive-awards/566477/

The 51-hospital system, which traces its roots back to the 1850s,​ has maintained a stable ratings outlook amid industry headwinds and pursued tech partnerships this year to bolster its portfolio.

Providence St. Joseph Health, the fourth-largest U.S. nonprofit health system by number of hospitals, marked a busy 2019 with multiple efforts to dive into the tech sector and seek out partnerships to tackle the industry’s biggest challenges.

The Catholic system now operates 51 hospitals in eight states as the result of a July 2016 merger of Providence Health and Services and St. Joseph Health. While the organization is the dominant inpatient provider in all its markets, no single area accounts for more than 30% of its net operating revenue, showing good portfolio diversification, ratings agency have noted.

The system, which can trace its roots back to the 1850s when the Sisters of Providence set up hospitals, schools and orphanages throughout the Northwest, posted $24 billion in operating revenue last year. That metric has shown year-over-year increases since the $18 billion posted in 2014.

Providence CEO Rod Hochman told Healthcare Dive the health system hasn’t shied away from seeking partnerships as the industry swings toward value based care and other systemic changes.

“I think the message is: ‘You can’t do it alone,'” he said. “You can’t go out there and just do it yourself — you don’t have the scale to do it.”

In that vein, the system (which is formally rebranding to Providence over the next few years) was one of the founding members of generic drug company Civica Rx, which opened its headquarters and made its first delivery this year. That’s a coalition of hospitals working to make their own drugs, starting with antibiotics.

It’s also grouping up with One Medical to increase access to primary care and teaming with Cedars-Sinai to build a patient tower in southern California. And in February, the organization launched the population health management company Ayin Health Solutions to provide benefits management as well as risk evaluation and care coordination tools.

Providence has maintained a stable outlook from the three main ratings agencies even as other nonprofits struggled to stay above water. Kevin Holloran, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said the system has managed to think about margins the way a public company must while still adhering to the mission-driven thought process nonprofit organizations trumpet.

“Blending those two thoughts together sounds easy, but it’s not,” Holloran told Healthcare Dive. “It’s hard to do.”

Moody’s Investors Service issued a credit opinion recently on Providence, finding the system’s integrated structure that includes a health plan and 7,600 employed physicians creates “further cashflow diversification, and strengthens the organization’s competitive position.”

The analysts wrote they expect operating margins to continue to improve going into next year as it implements dozens of initiatives updating operating practices, cost structures and revenue systems. They note, however, the organization faces a challenge in transitioning disparate EHRs and its numerous joint ventures “may also entail a certain amount of execution and integration risk.”

Holloran pointed to two relatively recent hires as leading the way for Providence — both poaches from Microsoft. CFO Venkat Bhamidipati joined the organization two years ago and CIO B.J. Moore came on in January.

They migrated from the tech world to the traditionally loathe-to-change healthcare landscape, and have made a difference for Providence.

It puts the company in a strategic place for growth, Holloran said. “Now they’re sort of adding that missing piece, which is optimizing what they’ve got,” he said. “And a big piece of that is the technology, and they’re doing it in a unique and interesting way.”

This year, Providence acquired Lumedic, which uses blockchain tools for revenue cycle management, and Bluetree, an Epic consultancy. The health system also allows patients to schedule appointments through Amazon’s smart speaker Alexa.

In July, the health system announced an agreement with Microsoft to use the tech giant’s cloud and artificial intelligence tools in an effort to foster interoperability, improve outcomes and drive down costs.

The organization still has traditional struggles, however. Hochman, who is also the incoming chairman of the American Hospital Association, said the ongoing litigation surrounding the Affordable Care Act, coupled with payment changes and other CMS changes, creates a chaotic environment for providers.

“Every day they come up with something new, and it’s been the lack of predictability that’s been the biggest problem for us,” he said.

 

 

 

Market Consolidation on Trial

Market Consolidation on Trial

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra alleges that Sutter Health used its pre-eminent market power to artificially inflate prices. Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

As a jury trial draws near in a major class-action lawsuit alleging anticompetitive practices by Northern California’s largest health system (PDF), a new CHCF study shows the correlation between the prices consumers pay and the extensive consolidation in the state’s health care markets. Importantly, the researchers estimated the independent effect of several types of industry consolidation in California — such as health insurers buying other insurers and hospitals buying physician practices. The report, prepared by UC Berkeley researchers, also examines potential policy responses.

While other states have initiated antitrust complaints against large hospital systems and medical groups in the past, the case against Sutter Health is unique in both the expansive nature of the alleged conduct and in the scale of the potential monetary damages. The complaint goes beyond claims of explicit anticompetitive contract terms and argues that by virtue of its very size and structure, the Northern California system imposed implicit or “de facto” terms that led to artificially inflated prices. Sutter Health vigorously denies the allegations.

The formation of large health systems like Sutter is neither new (PDF) nor unique to California (PDF). Several factors seem to be encouraging their growth, including payment models that place health care providers at financial risk for the cost of care, increased expectations from policymakers and payers around the continuum of patient needs that must be managed, and economies of scale for investments in information technology and administrative services. Some market participants also point to consolidation in other parts of the health care system, such as health plans and physician groups, as encouragement for their own mergers.

Economic Consolidation in California

In general, economists study two major categories of market consolidation:

  • Horizontal consolidation: Entities of the same type merge, such as the merger of two hospitals or insurance companies, or the merger of providers into a physician network.
  • Vertical consolidation: Entities of different types merge, such as when a hospital purchases a physician practice or when a pharmacy buys an insurance company.

To measure market consolidation, the CHCF study relied on the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), a metric used by the US Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. An HHI of between 1,500 and 2,500 is considered moderately concentrated, and 2,500 or above is considered highly concentrated. According to this measure, horizontal concentration is high in California among hospitals, insurance companies, and specialist providers (and moderately high among primary care physicians), even though the level of concentration in all but primary care has remained relatively flat from 2010 to 2018.

The percentage of physicians in practices owned by a hospital or health system increased dramatically in California between 2010 and 2018 — from 24% in 2010 to 42% in 2018. The percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital or health system rose even faster, from 25% in 2010 to 52% in 2018.

Consolidation Is Not Clinical Integration

While this study defined and quantified the extent of consolidation across several industry segments in California, it is important to note that it did not define, quantify, or evaluate clinical integration within the state. Clinical integration has been defined by others in many ways, but generally involves arrangements for coordinating and delivering a wide range of medical services across multiple settings.

As the CHCF study authors point out, other analysis has shown that various types of clinical integration can lead to broader adoption of health information technology and evidence-based care management processes. Data from the Integrated Healthcare Association suggests that certain patient benefit designs and provider risk-sharing arrangements associated with clinical integration can lead to higher quality and lower costs.

Crucially, an emerging body of law (PDF) suggests that clinical integration does not require formal ownership and joint bargaining with payers.

Relationship Between Consolidation and Health Insurance Premiums

Among the six variables analyzed in the CHCF study, three showed a positive and statistically significant association with higher premiums: insurance company mergers, hospital mergers, and the percentage of primary care physicians in practices owned by hospitals and health systems. The remaining three variables studied — specialist provider mergers, primary care provider mergers, and the percentage of specialists in practices owned by a hospital and health system — were statistically insignificant.

The figure below shows the independent relationship between market concentration and premiums for these three variables. As the lines move left to right, concentration increases — that is, fewer individual insurers, hospitals, or providers occupy the market. The vertical axis shows the average premiums associated with each level of market concentration. In short, regardless of the industry structure represented by the other variables, insurer consolidation, hospital consolidation, and hospital-physician mergers each lead to higher premiums.

Unexplained Price Variation and Growth

Health insurance premiums rise when the underlying cost of medical care increases. California ranks as the 16th most expensive state on average in terms of the seven common services the researchers studied, after adjusting for wage differences across states. Among all states, California has the eighth-highest prices for normal childbirth, defined as vaginal delivery without complications. Childbirth is the most common type of hospital admission, and the relatively standardized procedure is comparable across states.

Even within California, prices vary widely and are growing rapidly. For example, the 2016 average wage-adjusted price for a vaginal delivery was twice as high in Rating Area 9 (which has Monterey as its largest county) as it was in Rating Area 19 (San Diego) — $22,751 versus $11,387. (See next figure.) Prices for the service are increasing rapidly across counties — rising anywhere from 29% in San Francisco from 2012 to 2016 to 40% in Orange County over the same period.

The authors of the CHCF report investigated the impact of various types of consolidation on the prices of individual medical services in California. For cesarean births without complications, a 10% rise in hospital HHI is associated with a 1.3% increase in price.

Potential Policy Responses to Consolidation

While the study shows significant associations between various types of market concentration and the prices consumers pay, policymakers should carefully consider implementing steps that restrain the inflationary impact of consolidation while allowing the benefits of clinical integration to proliferate. To that end, the authors of the CHCF report offered a series of recommendations, which include:

Enforce antitrust laws. Federal and state governments should scrutinize proposed mergers and acquisitions to evaluate whether the net result is procompetitive or anticompetitive.

Restrict anticompetitive behaviors. Anticompetitive behaviors, such as all-or-nothing and anti-incentive contract terms, should be addressed through legislation or the courts in markets where providers are highly concentrated.

Revise anticompetitive reimbursement incentives. Reimbursement policies that reduce competition, such as Medicare rules that implicitly reward hospital-owned physician groups, should be adjusted.

Reduce barriers to market entry. Policies that restrict who can participate in the health care market, such as laws prohibiting nurse practitioners from practicing independently from a physician, should be changed when markets are concentrated.

Regulate provider and insurer rates. If antitrust enforcement is not successful and significant barriers to market entry exist — including those in small markets unable to support a competitive number of hospitals and specialists — regulating provider and insurer rates should be considered.

Encouraging meaningful competition in health care markets is an exceedingly difficult task for policymakers. It is no easier to promote the benefits of clinical integration while restraining the inflationary aspects of economic consolidation through public policy. Despite these challenges, the rapid rise in health care premiums and prices in the state require a fresh look at the consequences of widespread horizontal and vertical consolidation in California.

 

 

 

Health care is getting more and more expensive, and low-wage workers are bearing more of the cost

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/30/20891305/health-care-employer-sponsored-premiums-cost-voxcare

Is the rapidly rising cost of employer-sponsored health insurance sustainable?

Half of all Americans get their health insurance through work. Trouble is, doing so is becoming less and less affordable — especially for already low-wage workers.

In 2019, the Kaiser Family Foundation Employer Health Benefits Survey — an annual account of roughly 2,000 small and large businesses’ employer-sponsored insurance — found the average annual premium to cover a family through work was a whopping $20,576, and $7,188 for an individual. Employers cover most of that, but families still contributed an average of $6,015 in premiums, and single Americans covered about $1,242 of the annual cost.

The kicker? Over the past 10 years, the cost of the portion of employer-sponsored health insurance premiums that falls on American families has increased by 71 percent. Overall, premiums have gone up 54 percent since 2009. That’s faster than the rate of inflation and faster than the average wage growth.

Nearly half of all Americans get their health insurance through work, a system that covers roughly 153 million people. And for lower-wage workers it’s a system that is increasingly unaffordable.

Workers at companies with a significant number of low-wage employees (which the Kaiser Family survey quantifies as a company in which at least 35 percent of employees are making an annual salary of $25,000 or less) have lower premiums than those who work at companies with fewer low-wage workers, probably because their plans cover less. But at the same time, workers at firms with a significant number of low-wage employees are faced with high-deductible plans, and also pay a larger share of the premium cost than workers at companies with fewer lower-wage employees.

According to the survey, workers at lower-wage companies pay an average of $7,000 a year family plan — $1,000 more than employees at companies with higher salaried workers.

“When workers making $25,000 a year have to shell out $7,000 a year just for their share of family premiums,” Drew Altman, the president of Kaiser Family Foundation, said in a statement, that’s where cost becomes prohibitive. Such employees are putting almost 30 percent of their salaries toward premiums.

The takeaway is clear. Health care is getting more and more expensive, and families and employers are having to bear more of the cost, which research has shown not only has an effect on how much workers are actually getting paid, but how many workers are hired.

As Sarah Kliff reported for Vox, there are a lot of studies spanning decades that show how a rapid rise in health insurance premiums has unfavorable outcomes for workers. This is in large part because employers think of compensation in totality; they lump together an employee’s salary, as well as their benefits as one total cost. So if covering a worker’s health insurance gets more and more expensive, employers see less room to give the worker a raise.

For example, a 2006 study from Katherine Baicker and Amitabh Chandra, both with the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that an overall 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums reduced wages by 2.3 percent and actually reduced the probability of becoming employed by 1.2 percent.

Results such as these, and the high premiums low-wage workers must pay, led the Kaiser survey’s authors to explicitly question the tenability of employer-sponsored insurance: “the national debate about expanding Medicare or creating public program options provides an opportunity to step back and evaluate how well employer­-based coverage is doing in achieving national goals relating to costs and affordability,” the report reads.

The United States is unique in its reliance on employers to provide health insurance. And, as Democratic candidates for president continue to go in circles debating health care, employer-sponsored insurance is often the biggest sticking point.

Several candidates, like Sen. Bernie Sanders, who popularized a plan for Medicare-for-all, a single government-run program, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who supports Sanders’s plan, have called for getting rid of the employer-based system, and private insurance, all together.

But their critics always bring up the same talking point: that the people who like their health insurance plans through work, should be able to keep it. The Kaiser survey raises questions as to how affordable those plans really are, and, as Democrats debate ideas like Medicare-for-all, how sustainable the current trajectory is.

 

 

 

Health-care stocks are in their longest losing streak since 2016

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/10/01/health-care-stocks-are-in-their-longest-losing-streak-since-2016.html?

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The health-care sector just closed out a third straight month in the red, its longest losing streak in three years.

A fourth monthly decline would be its worst stretch since 2011, and one trader says there could be more pain ahead.

“I view the whole sector as a wounded target right now,” said Boris Schlossberg of BK Asset Management on CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Monday. “Health care, in my opinion, is the most bloated, the most bureaucratic, the most inefficient sector of the economy. At 20% of the GDP and at $20,000 premium per capita at this point, they pretty much have squeezed all the rentier profits out of the system that they can at this point.”

The sector also has a target on its back as the 2020 presidential election draws closer. The XLV health care ETF has fallen more than 3% in the past three months as Democratic presidential candidates such as Elizabeth Warren have pushed for a “Medicare For All” solution.

“Even if the Democrats do not win, there’s going to be tremendous amount of pressure to cut costs, control drug prices,” said Schlossberg. “Any way you slice it, basically the sector is a ‘sell the rally’ trade at this point. Any time you have a pop in the sector, it’s going to be a sell for quite a long time.”

Health-care stocks faced similar pressure in 2015 and 2016 as Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton pledged health-care reform. At its worst, the XLV ETF plummeted 11% in the third quarter of 2015.

However, Miller Tabak equity strategist Matt Maley does not see that degree of decline this time.

“I don’t think it’ll be anywhere near as bad as it was four years ago because the setup is much, much different. In the 12 months leading into the summer before the election year the last time around, the XLV had outperformed the S&P by two times,” said Maley on “Trading Nation” on Monday. “This group had become very overbought, and very over-owned.”

This time around, Maley says the XLV ETF had performed in line with the S&P 500 before beginning its breakdown in April.

“I don’t think you’ll have that forced selling or at least that reweighting that you had going forward. So even though I think it’s a problem, it’s not as big a problem,” said Maley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recession Panic May Have Passed. But the Economy Is Still at Risk

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The underlying forces that fueled worry a few weeks ago haven’t gone anywhere.

For one brief, terrifying moment this summer, the word “recession” was on everyone’s lips — the stuff of television segments, front-page articles and Google searches.

Then, just as abruptly, everything started to look pretty much fine.

The trade war with China went into another of its periodic phases of de-escalation, as the Trump administration seemed rattled about the possibility of a faltering economy. The Federal Reserve cut interest rates twice, something of an insurance policy against a recession. Much of the data on the economy, particularly on the job market and the service sector, remained quite solid.

And the proximate cause of many of those August recession warnings, a sharp drop in longer-term interest rates and a yield curve inversion, was partly reversed.

Crisis averted! That, anyway, has been the mood in financial markets in the last few weeks, as stocks have remained near record highs and the fearful tenor of economic commentary has subsided.

But it would be premature to declare a clean bill of health. Public attention may be focused on an impeachment battle in Washington, but the underlying forces that drove recession fears in the summer are still very much here — with some new ones potentially in play.

The latest, starkest reminder was a new manufacturing number published Tuesday. It showed the sector was contracting in September at its fastest rate since 2009. That might have been dragged down in part by a strike at General Motors, but the softness in the factory sector is evident in other data that predates the strike.

For example, in the last six months, the manufacturing industry in the United States has added an average of only 3,000 jobs a month, down from 25,000 a month as recently as the spring of 2018. (The Labor Department will release the latest employment numbers Friday.)

A less noticed piece of data on Friday showed that manufacturing wasn’t the only pocket of weakness.

Spending on nonresidential construction fell 0.4 percent in August, the latest indication that businesses are not investing in new warehouses, factories and office buildings at the rate they were a few months ago.

There is a tendency to think of the economic angst caused by the trade wars as resembling a light switch — something that President Trump can turn on and off. Some even think of it as a “Trump Put,” referring to a financial contract that insures against big losses. That is, there’s an assumption that the administration will ease trade tensions if they start to affect the stock market or the economy too negatively.

As the last few weeks have shown, there’s some truth to that. The spike in recession fears in August seemed to bring a more conciliatory tone from the Trump administration, even if concrete progress in trade negotiations isn’t really in evidence.

But the $20 trillion United States economy is a slow-moving beast, and just as the trade rift between the world’s two largest economies didn’t cause a major disruption overnight, neither do a few conciliatory comments make everything O.K.

We are only starting to see the delayed economic impact of a series of trade escalations over the summer and of a slowdown in the global economy. It’s starting to show up in hiring and capital-spending plans, as the latest numbers demonstrate.

For some time, close watchers of federal policy have been urging businesses to think of the trade disruptions not as one-off headlines, but as the continuing cost of doing business globally.

“This kind of goes to the advice we’re giving clients, and we’ve been trying to do this for a while, ‘no head-in-sand behavior here,’” said Scott McCandless, trade policy leader at the accounting firm PwC. “Be cleareyed about this. This will probably be around a while.”

There is reason to view the seemingly more optimistic signs being flashed by financial markets with skepticism.

The yield on 10-year Treasury bonds fell to 1.45 percent in early September from 2.07 percent in late July, an uncommonly sharp drop, before rebounding to 1.64 percent Tuesday. The big swings can be chalked up to global capital flows that aren’t necessarily reflective of the economic outlook in the United States.

But that doesn’t mean there is no signal in the noise. Lower long-term rates imply lower growth and inflation in the United States in the years ahead. While the bond markets are becoming more stable, yields are settling at levels consistent with an American economy that is growing more sluggishly than it has the last few years — albeit not at recession level.

Even after sharp drops Tuesday and Wednesday, the S&P 500 has remained not far from its record highs. But the market is often slow to reflect a shifting economic landscape. When the first rumblings of what would become the global financial crisis took place in August 2007, for example, the stock market actually peaked in October; the economy fell into recession that December.

“The lights haven’t gone out on the economic outlook yet, but they are certainly growing very dim,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist of MUFG Union Bank, in a research note.

A recession is certainly not a foregone conclusion, and a period of slow growth still looks more likely than an outright contraction. But just because the recession talk is out of the headlines doesn’t mean all is well.

 

 

Federal Reserve announces 2nd consecutive rate cut

https://www.axios.com/federal-reserve-rate-cut-77c504c1-1bed-4336-9c37-490a3452a54f.html?stream=top&utm_source=alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=alerts_all

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The Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter point on Wednesday, bringing the target range for the benchmark Fed Funds rate to 1.75%–2%.

Why it matters: The Fed’s 2nd consecutive rate cut reflects worries about the U.S. economy. The trade war and slowing growth around the world have made corporate executives more worried than they’ve been in years.

  • The move prompted a near-immediate response from President Trump, who called chair Powell a “terrible communicator.” The president has demanded in a series of tweets that the Fed cut interest rates more aggressively.

The big picture: Speaking at a press conference, Powell again cited the trade war as a key risk to the economic outlook. “Our business contacts around the country have been telling us that uncertainty about trade policy has discouraged them from investing in their businesses,” Powell said.

  • Still, new projections showed a division among Fed officials about whether more rate cuts are warranted this year.
  • Powell did note that if “the economy does turn down, then a more extensive sequence of rate cuts could be appropriate.”

Powell also acknowledged the liquidity shortfall in money markets that has forced the Fed to intervene — something that before this week hadn’t happened since the financial crisis.

  • In response to the drama in the short-term funding markets, Powell suggested that the Fed may increase the size of its balance sheet through “organic growth” earlier than expected.