Mnuchin sees virus causing US slowdown but no recession

Washington (AFP) –


Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday the impact of the coronavirus pandemic was producing a "slowdown" in the American economy but that he did not expect a full-blown recession.

Asked by an ABC interviewer if the country was already in recession, he replied, "I don't think so."

"We're clearly going to have a slowdown," Mnuchin said, while adding that "later in the year, obviously the economic activity will pick up as we confront this virus."

Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser to President Donald Trump, separately told the Fox Business network that "I think the decisions we make over the next week or two will determine whether we have a significant downturn or not."

Several experts have predicted that the consequences of the far-reaching pandemic -- which has led to temporary business closings, travel bans and cancellations and a slowdown in consumer activity -- are likely to plunge the US into recession.

For Mnuchin, however, "The real issue is what economic tools are we going to use to make sure we get through this. Because this is a unique situation. We have a situation where travel has been grinding to a halt."

He said he was in continuing talks with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House of Representatives, about ways to support airlines, hotels, cruise lines and small and medium companies, by providing greater liquidity and some type of stimulus.

- Intense negotiations -

The House early Saturday overwhelmingly approved a series of measures aimed at alleviating the impact of the virus on the country's economy, following days of intense discussions between administration officials and Democratic leaders in Congress.

Mnuchin said he had also been in talks with Federal Reserve officials ahead of their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday and Wednesday.

"They have certain tools. We have certain tools. Certain tools were taken away that I'm going to go back to Congress and ask for.

"And again, we are fully coordinated," Mnuchin insisted, despite Trump's vocal criticism Saturday of the way Fed chief Jerome Powell has responded to the crisis.

Mnuchin was also asked about a special website being developed by a Google subsidiary, Verily, to help ordinary Americans determine whether they should be tested for the coronavirus and, if so, how they can go about it.

Trump said Friday that Google had made "tremendous progress" on developing the site and that it would be ready "very quickly."

Google reportedly was blindsided by that announcement, and the following day Verily said the project was "in the early stages of development," and needed to be tested in the San Francisco area before being expanded more widely "over time."