By Ann Saphir, Jonnelle Marte and Lindsay Dunsmuir
Federal Reserve policymakers on Thursday signaled the conflict in Ukraine will not budge them from their expected course of rate hikes ahead.
But the impact on the U.S. economy could be felt in sundry ways, from the price people pay for gasoline at the pump to a hit to household wealth. Here is a look at a few of them.
HIGHER ENERGY COSTS
Oil prices rose on Thursday following the attack, with Brent topping $105 a barrel for the first time since 2014. Those higher energy prices could eat in to consumers’ budgets and add more pressure to inflation that is already at the highest levels in 40 years.
If oil prices stay at about $100 a barrel, energy costs for U.S. households could rise by $750 on average this year from last year, leaving them with less money to spend on other goods and services, said Gregory Daco, chief economist for EY-Parthenon. Those added expenses could also be a drag on economic growth, said Daco, who projects that higher oil prices could lift inflation by 0.6 percentage point this year and slow economic growth by 0.4 percentage point.
Consumer prices last month rose 7.5% from a year earlier, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years.
“A lot of people, especially lower-income folks, a huge amount of their income goes towards gasoline,” Richmond Federal Reserve President Thomas Barkin told reporters after an economic symposium in Colonial Heights, Virginia. “So if those prices go up it dampens consumer spending and dampens the economy.”
TRADE AND SUPPLY CHAINS
Russia and Ukraine combined account for much less than 1% of U.S. imports and exports, so there will be no large trade hits on the economy from the conflict. The United States, unlike its European allies, is also a natural gas exporter, which should limit outsized effects on those prices.
But with American consumers already straining against steep rises in the cost of living for everything from autos to food as supply chains continue to be snarled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the invasion and any further escalation in the conflict could help keep inflation pressures elevated.
For example, Russia’s Nornickel is the world’s largest supplier of palladium, used by automakers for catalytic converters and to clean car exhaust fumes. The price of palladium rose to its highest level since July on Thursday, and any disruption of Russian supplies would impact auto production, still suffering from pandemic-related supply shortages of semiconductor chips.
Russia and Ukraine also export more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, and Ukraine is a major corn exporter. Although the knock-on effect of higher agricultural commodities costs to consumer prices tends to be quite weak, it could still add between 0.2 to 0.4 percentage point to headline inflation in developed economies in the next few months, according to a client note by analysts at Capital Economics.
And U.S. trade and foreign investments may be negatively impacted indirectly by any upheaval in Europe, according to AEI economist Michael Strain.
STOCK DROP DRAG
Major U.S. stock indexes dropped in the hours after Russia’s Ukraine invasion, and though they recovered after U.S. President Joe Biden announced sanctions on Russia, “absent any improvement in the situation (in Ukraine), they may have further to run,” wrote Capital Economics’ Jonas Goltermann.
Any drop erodes – at least on paper – a mainstay of U.S. household wealth, potentially dealing a blow to consumer confidence and squelching demand. After an initial plunge at the start of the pandemic, stocks have doubled in value, and direct holdings of stocks and mutual funds swelled to account for a record share of household wealth.
That could drive consumer sentiment gauges – some of which are already at a decade low due to stiff inflation – even lower still and threaten the outlook for consumer spending.
That being said, as Monetary Policy Analytics’ Larry Meyer wrote, “weak demand in the U.S. is far from being a concern,” and with inflation already high, policymakers may be less sanguine about the jump in energy prices than would otherwise be the case. “Should demand weaken substantially, the Fed would certainly have tough decisions to make, and we think the Fed would react,” he wrote. “But today’s risk environment does not afford them the luxury of focusing only on downside risks when it comes to risk management.”
Some analysts clanged alarm bells.
High Frequency Economics’ Carl Weinberg said he expected Vladimir Putin’s move into Ukraine to shift the economies of Europe, and possibly the United States, onto a “wartime footing,” resulting in goods shortages and further upward price pressure. He also warned that Russia could try to counter sanctions with cyber attacks on U.S. or European financial infrastructures, among other possibilities.
Another economist, Carl Tannenbaum of Northern Trust, wrote, “a broader conflict in Eastern Europe could provoke a wholesale reevaluation of the outlook” for monetary policy, fueling uncertainty and pushing down sentiment. But he added: “For now, risks are tilted to the upside, and central banks will be tightening policy in response.”
(Reporting by Ann Saphir in Berkeley, Calif., Jonnelle Marte in New York and Lindsay Dunsmuir; Editing by Dan Burns and Matthew Lewis)