This Week in Business: Recession Fears

Wednesday was not a great day for the company formerly known as Facebook. First came a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission and then, the company announced its first-ever revenue decline since it went public. The FTC, led by Lina Khan, one of Big Tech’s biggest critics, is suing Meta to block it from buying Within, a virtual reality company that would aid the leap by Meta’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, into the metaverse. In the suit, the FTC accused Meta of trying to buy a company that it should have to compete with. Meta response that the agency had put together a case “based on ideology and speculation.” Later, the company reported that its second-quarter revenue was down 1 percent from the previous year, results that Mr. Zuckerberg put into the context of an “economic downturn that will have a broad impact” on digital advertising. Still, he appears relentless in advancing his vision for the next era of his business, and he has told employees that anyone who is not on board can leave.

The economy shrank for the second consecutive quarter, meeting the criteria for one common definition of a recession. Accounting for inflation, gross domestic product fell 0.2 percent in the second quarter, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. But while closely watched, GDP isn’t the only indicator of a serious downturn: Economists use a broad set of data to determine the condition of the economy, including measures of income, spending and employment, and most maintain that the United States is not in a recession. And seen through the eyes of officials at the Federal Reserve, the latest GDP numbers are a sign that their efforts to slow the economy are working. But the outlook is certainly dimming, particularly with the housing market slowing and a measure of layoffs creeping up.

The Federal Reserve pressed on with its single-minded pursuit of taming rising prices last week as it raised interest rates three-quarters of a percentage point. Policymakers had unanimously agreed on the supersize increase, which followed one of the same size in June, the largest since 1994. The Biden administration has said that it is largely relying on the Fed to bring inflation under control. But a day after the Fed meeting, President Biden announced that an agreement had been reached with Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to advance a package known as the Inflation Reduction Act. Cecilia Rouse, who is the chair of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said the plan would make “a meaningful contribution” to the government’s efforts to ease inflation.

As every other sector struggles with factors like rising production costs, shortages, supply chain snarls, changing consumer habits, the strength of the dollar against foreign currencies — the list goes on — global markets have one clear winner: energy. Shell last week reported $11.5 billion in earnings for the second quarter, another record for the company as soaring oil and gas prices spurred by the war in Ukraine drive huge profits. Exxon Mobil and Chevron followed suit, with record profits in the quarter, and BP will probably release similarly booming results on Tuesday. The company wrote off $25.5 billion for pulling out of Russia in the first quarter but celebrated an “exceptional” performance overall, more than doubling its profits from a year earlier. By the end of this week, the world’s major oil companies will together have reported that they’ve added tens of billions of dollars for their bottom lines, as high energy prices roil.

Job growth in June was higher than expected, indicating a still-booming labor market and growing economy. But that was not necessarily a good outcome for the Fed, whose officials are looking to a range of economic data for signs that the economy is slowing down from its heated pace. On the other hand, a strong jobs report is a useful messaging tool for the Biden administration when faced with questions about whether the economy is in a recession. The jobs report for July comes out on Friday, and economists will have a new number to parse as they try to figure out where the economy stands.

At its last meeting in June, Bank of England officials suggested that they might be less modest about rate increases in August after a series of quarter-point raises. At the moment, its benchmark rate is 1.25, the highest since 2009. But as is the case elsewhere, inflation in Britain is galloping at its fastest pace in decades, and some officials at the central bank are worried they’re not moving quickly enough to address it. In June, three of the nine people on the rate-setting committee voted for a half-point increase but were shut down by the majority. Policymakers may now be feeling pressure from other central banks that are acting more aggressively.

JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines announced plans to merge a day after Spirit broke off merger talks with Frontier Airlines. A Trader Joe’s in Hadley, Mass., became the first of the company’s more than 500 stores to unionize. Instagram backpedaled on some of its product changes after celebrities joined a user-led backlash.

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