August 5, 2021

The anatomy of a growth scare

SO MUCH IS unfamiliar about the pandemic that it has never been easy to make sense of what is going on. Yet in recent days uncertainty has gone into overdrive. Stockmarkets are volatile; uncertainty about the path of inflation and labour markets is high. The fate of the economic recovery seems to hinge on the answers to a number of big questions. Will the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus derail the global recovery? Will underlying weaknesses be revealed as governments unwind stimulus? How enthusiastic are households and firms about spending? But the answers are unclear. And four gauges of the recovery—market prices, “high-frequency” activity indicators, hard data and economists’ forecasts—are all giving mixed signals.

Start with markets. America’s Treasuries are a haven in uncertain times. In March investors sold them off as they took fright at…

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