loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Americans found themselves with a lot of money in the bank, and as they spent that money on goods, demand collided with a global supply chain that was too fragile to catch up.

Virus outbreaks shut down factories, ports faced backlogs and a dearth of truckers roiled transit routes. Americans still managed to buy more goods than ever before in 2021, and foreign factories sent a record sum of products to U.S. shops and doorsteps. But all that shopping wasn’t enough to satisfy consumer demand.

stop spending at the start of the pandemic helped to swell savings stockpiles.

And the Federal Reserve’s interest rates are at rock bottom, which has bolstered demand for big purchases made on credit, from houses and cars to business investments like machinery and computers. Families have been taking on more housing and auto debt, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows, helping to pump up those sectors.

But if stimulus-driven demand is fueling inflation, the diagnosis could come with a silver lining. It may be easier to temper consumer spending than to rapidly reorient tangled supply lines.

People may naturally begin to buy less as government help fades. Spending could shift away from goods and back toward services if the pandemic abates. And the Fed’s policies work on demand — not supply.

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Inflation Hits the Fast Food Counter

On a chilly Tuesday afternoon this month, James Marsh stopped by a Chipotle near his suburban Chicago home to grab something to eat.

It had been a while since Mr. Marsh had been to Chipotle — he estimated he goes five times a year — and he stopped cold when he saw the prices.

“I had been getting my usual, a steak burrito, which had been maybe in the mid-$8 range,” said Mr. Marsh, who trades stock options at his home in Hinsdale, Ill. “Now it was more than $9.”

He walked out.

“I figured I’d find something at home,” he said.

The pandemic has led to price spikes in everything from pizza slices in Manhattan to sides of beef in Colorado. And it has led to more expensive items on the menus at fast-food chains, traditionally establishments where people are used to grabbing a quick bite that doesn’t hurt their wallet.

government data. And, in some cases, portions have shrunk.

“In recent years, most fast-food restaurants had, maybe, raised prices in the low single digits each year,” said Matthew Goodman, an analyst at M Science, an alternative data research and analytics firm. “What we’ve seen over the last six-plus months are restaurants being aggressive in pushing through prices.”

This comes at a time when the hypercompetitive fast-food market is booming.

Chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Wingstop were big winners of the pandemic as consumers, stuck at home working and tired of cooking multiple meals for their families, increasingly turned to them for convenient solutions. But in the past year, as the cost of ingredients rose and the average hourly wage increased 16 percent to $16.10 in November from a year earlier, according to government data, restaurants began to quietly bump up prices.

But making customers pay more for a burger or a burrito is a tricky art. For many restaurants, it involves complex algorithms and test markets. They need to walk a fine line between raising prices enough to cover expenses while not scaring away customers. Moreover, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Chains that are operated by franchisees typically allow individual owners to decide pricing. And national chains, like Chipotle and Shake Shack, charge different prices in various parts of the country.

When Carrols Restaurant Group, which operates more than 1,000 Burger Kings, raised prices in the second half of last year, the number of customers actually improved from the third to the fourth quarter. “Over time, we generally have not seen a whole lot of pushback from consumers” on the higher prices, Carrols’ chief executive, Daniel T. Accordino, told analysts at a conference in early January.

Menu prices are likely to continue to climb this year. Many restaurants say they are still paying higher wages to attract employees and expect food prices to rise.

“We expect unprecedented increases in our food basket costs versus 2021,” Ritch Allison, the chief executive of Domino’s Pizza, told Wall Street analysts at a conference this month. While Domino’s hasn’t raised prices, it is altering its promotions — offering the $7.99 pizza deal only to customers ordering online and shrinking the number of chicken wings in certain promotions to eight from 10 — in an effort to maintain profit margins.

Despite the higher food and labor costs, some restaurants are seeing sales and profits rebound past prepandemic levels.

When McDonald’s reports earnings this month, Wall Street analysts expect that its revenues will have hit a five-year high of more than $23 billion, a $2 billion increase from 2019. Net income is predicted to top $7 billion, up from $6 billion in 2019. Other chains like Cracker Barrel and Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, have resumed dividend payments or cash buybacks of stock after suspending those activities early in the pandemic to conserve cash.

And next month, when Chipotle reports results for 2021, analysts expect revenues to top $7.5 billion, a 34 percent jump from 2019. Net income is expected to almost double from prepandemic levels. In the third quarter, the company repurchased nearly $100 million of its stock. Chipotle declined to make an executive available for an interview, citing the quiet period ahead of its earnings release.

While Chipotle executives blamed higher labor costs for a 4 percent price increase in menu items this summer, the company has been looking for ways to boost its profitability.

One way was to charge higher prices for delivery. Delivery orders through vendors like DoorDash and Uber Eats exploded for Chipotle and other fast-food chains during the pandemic. But so did the commission fees that Chipotle paid the vendors. So in the fall of 2020, it began running tests to see what would happen if it raised the prices of burritos and guacamole and chips that customers ordered for delivery, executives told Wall Street analysts in an earnings call. It essentially meant the customer covered Chipotle’s side of the delivery costs.

The company discovered customers were willing to pay for the convenience of delivery. Now, customers ordering Chipotle for delivery pay about 21 percent more than if they had ordered and picked the food up in the stores, according to an analysis by Jeff Farmer, an analyst at Gordon Haskett Research Advisors.

“I would say that our ultimate goal, so this would be over the long term, maybe the medium term, is to fully protect our margins,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle, on a call with Wall Street analysts last fall. “When you look at our pricing versus other restaurant companies’ for the quality of the food, the quantity of the food, and the quality and convenience of the experience, we offer great value. So we believe we have room to fully protect the margin.”

That doesn’t mean customers are thrilled about the extra costs.

This month, Jacob Herlin, a data scientist in Lakewood, Colo., placed an order: a steak-and-guacamole burrito for $11.95, a Coca-Cola for $3, and chips and guacamole, which were free with a birthday coupon. The total was $14.95, before tax.

But when he clicked to have the food delivered, the price for the burrito jumped to $14.45 and the soda climbed to $3.65, bringing the total to $18.10 before tax, 21 percent more than if he had picked the food up himself.

There was more. Mr. Herlin was charged a delivery fee of $1 and another “service fee” of $2.32, bringing the total for the delivered meal to $23.20. He tipped the driver an additional $3.

Mr. Herlin said he did not mind paying for delivery and wanted drivers to be paid a decent wage. But he felt that Chipotle wasn’t being upfront with customers about the added costs.

“They’re basically hiding the fees two different ways, through that base price increase and through the hidden ‘service fee,’” Mr. Herlin said in an email. “I would very much prefer if they had the same pricing and were just honest about a $5 delivery fee.”

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Your Inflation Questions, Answered

Inflation is high and has been for months. It’s weighing on consumer confidence, making policymakers nervous and threatening to eat away at household paychecks well into 2022.

This is the first time many adults have experienced meaningful inflation: Price gains had been largely quiescent since the late 1980s. When the Consumer Price Index climbed 7 percent in the year through December, it was the fastest pace since 1982.

Naturally, people have questions about what this will mean for their pocketbooks, their finances and their economic futures.

Closely intertwined with price worries are concerns about interest rates: The Federal Reserve is poised to raise borrowing costs to try to slow down demand and keep the situation under control.

furniture and camping gear.

That rapid consumption is running up against constrained supply. Factories shut down early in the pandemic, and in parts of Asia, they continue to do so as Omicron cases surge. There aren’t enough containers to ship all of the goods people want to buy, and ports have become clogged trying to process so many imports.

expanding their profits.

In theory, competition should eat away at extra earnings over time. New firms should jump into the market to sell that same products for less and steal away the customer. Existing competitors should ramp up production to meet demand.

But this may be a unappealing time for new firms to enter the market. Established companies may be hesitant to expand production if doing so involved a lot of investment, because it is not clear how long today’s strong demand will last.

“It is a very uncertain environment,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank. “A new firm stepping in is a lot of investment, with a lot of financial risk.”

Until companies can produce and transport enough of a given product to go around — as long as shortages remain — companies will be able to raise prices without running much risk of losing customers to a competitor.

In past periods of inflation, do employers typically increase wages or award higher-than-average yearly increases to help employees offset inflation? If so, in what industries is this practice most common? — Annmarie Kutz, Erie, Pa.

There is no standard historical experience with wages and inflation, Mary C. Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said during an interview with The New York Times on Twitter Spaces last week.

lower-wage service industries have been competing mightily for workers in recent months, and pay is climbing faster there.

“The history isn’t so clear that cost of living translates into higher wages, but that’s largely because inflation has been low and stable for a very long time,” Ms. Daly said.

in December projected that price gains will drop back below 3 percent by the end of the year, and will level off to normal levels over the longer term.

are adjusted for inflation, so those should keep pace with price gains. Bonds that pay back fixed rates do less well during periods of inflation, while stock investments — though riskier — tend to rise more quickly than consumer prices. Ms. Benz recommends holding assets across an array of securities, potentially including inflation-protected securities such as some exchange-traded funds or Treasury Inflation Protected Securities, commonly called TIPS.

“It argues against having too much in cash,” Ms. Benz said. “That’s too much dead money.”

We currently have low unemployment, strong wage growth (largely through attrition / voluntary retirements), easy monetary policy and now rising inflation. What are other periods of time when the United States had these conditions? How did things work out then? — Harshal Patel, Moorestown, N.J.

Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, pointed to the post-World War II period as a reference point for the present moment.

“Demand was strong, and supply was constrained,” he said in an interview. “That’s a very instructive path for us.”

The good news about that example is that supply eventually caught up, and prices came down without spurring any greater crisis.

Other, more worried commentators have drawn parallels between now and the 1970s, when the Fed was slow to raise rates as unemployment fell and prices rose — and inflation jumped out of control. But many economists have argued that important differences separate that period from this one: Workers were more heavily unionized and may have had more bargaining power to push for higher wages back then, and the Fed was slow to react for years on end. This time, it’s already gearing up to respond.

about price controls in a recent article, and vocal minority think the 1970s experience unfairly tarnished the idea and that it might be worthwhile to reopen the debate.

“This is a great suppressed topic,” said James K. Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas. “It was absolutely mainstream from the start of World War II until the Reagan administration.”

If inflation is being caused by supply chain problems, how will raising interest rates help? — Larry Harris, Ventura, Calif.

Kristin J. Forbes, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that a big part of today’s inflation ties to roiled supply chains, which monetary policy can’t do much to fix.

But trade is actually happening at elevated levels even amid the disruptions. Factories are producing, ships are shipping, and consumers are buying at a rapid clip. It is just that supply is not keeping up with that booming demand. Higher interest rates can relieve pressure on demand, making it more expensive to buy a boat or a car, cooling off the housing market and slowing business investment.

“A good part of the supply chain problems, you can’t do anything about,” Ms. Forbes said. “But you can affect demand. And it is the combination of the two which determines inflation.”

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Sara Menker and Gro Intelligence Are Tackling Global Hunger

Even if you didn’t experience the famine personally you must have been deeply aware of it and affected by it.

A thousand percent. First of all, you have to remember we come from massive families. My mom has 24 siblings. And you grow up very much aware of it. I grew up in a country where fuel was rationed, where food, sugar, toilet paper was rationed no matter who you are. It didn’t matter if you lived in Addis or outside of Addis. When toilet paper shortages happened during Covid and everybody was running to stock up, I was like, “I don’t know why you’re stocking up. I have like 80 rolls of toilet paper.”

People were like, “Why do you have 80 rolls of toilet paper?” And I was like, “Is that not how one lives in life? In fear that things might run out?” But it is how we were raised, very much aware that you can’t take anything for granted, that anything can disappear. We had neighbors that disappeared.

How did you wind up coming to the United States for college?

I studied really, really hard. I wanted to get out. My parents sacrificed absolutely everything to send us to the best school in the country, and I knew every day that my obligation to them was to do well, because they gave up most of their income to make sure we went to that school.

Also, my dad was born in an Italian prison. My grandfather orchestrated the plot to kill General Graziani when Mussolini tried to colonize Ethiopia, and it ended up costing his life. They assassinated my grandfather when my grandmother was pregnant with my dad, and they took her as a prisoner of war to Italy, and she gave birth to my dad in an Italian prison. So I was raised in a pretty strong family, in that fighting for survival kind of way, and I just felt like I owed it to my family to do well in life.

When you joined Morgan Stanley did you figure you wanted to be in finance for the rest of your life, or were you saying, “I got to get out of here as fast as I can”?

I decided that the only job I would take in finance would be to work in commodities. It was the only section of finance that I felt was connected to the real world and all the things I cared about. One day I got up and I decided I was ready to trade. So I went to my boss and said, “Hey, you’re going to hire me to trade natural gas.” He was like, “I’m not hiring.” And I was like, “No, no, you’re going to hire me.” And he did, so I started trading gas, and then he got promoted, and I took over that business.

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Fed’s Moves in 2022 Could End the Stock Market’s Pandemic Run

For two years, the stock market has been largely able to ignore the lived reality of Americans during the pandemic — the mounting coronavirus cases, the loss of lives and livelihoods, the lockdowns — because of underlying policies that kept it buoyant.

Investors can now say goodbye to all that.

Come 2022, the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates to fight inflation, and government programs meant to stimulate the economy during the pandemic will have ended. Those policy changes will cause investors, businesses and consumers to behave differently, and their actions will eventually take some air out of the stock market, according to analysts.

“It’s going to be the first time in almost two years that the Fed’s incremental decisions might force investors or consumers to become a little more wary,” said David Schawel, the chief investment officer at Family Management Corporation, a wealth management firm in New York.

At year’s end, the overarching view on Wall Street is that 2022 will be a bumpier ride, if not quite a roller coaster. In a recent note, analysts at J.P. Morgan said that they expected inflation — currently at 6.8 percent — to “normalize” in coming months, and that the surge of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was unlikely to lower economic growth.

16 percent gain during the first year of the pandemic. The index hit 70 new closing highs in 2021, second only to 1995, when there were 77, said Howard Silverblatt, an analyst at S&P Dow Jones Indices. Shares on Friday fell slightly.

The market continued to rise through political, social and economic tensions: On Jan. 7, the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the S&P set another record. Millions of amateur investors, stuck at home during the pandemic, piled into the stock market, too, buying up shares of all kinds of companies — even those that no one expects will earn money, like the video game retailer GameStop.

Wall Street also remained bullish on business prospects in China despite Beijing’s growing tension with the United States and tightening grip on Chinese companies. Waves of coronavirus variants, from Delta to Omicron, and a global death toll that crossed five million did not deter the stock market’s rise; its recovery after each bout of panic was faster than the previous one.

“2021 was a terrific year for the equity markets,” said Anu Gaggar, the global investment strategist for Commonwealth Financial Network, in an emailed note. “Between federal stimulus keeping the economy going, easy monetary policy from the Fed keeping markets liquid and interest rates low, and the ongoing medical improvement leading to surprising growth, markets have been in the best of all possible worlds.”

400 private companies raised $142.5 billion in 2021. But investors had sold off many of the newly listed stocks on the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq by the end of the year. The Renaissance IPO exchange-traded fund, which tracks initial public offerings, is down about 9 percent for the year.

Shares of Oatly, which makes an oat-based alternative to dairy milk, soared 30 percent when the company went public in May but are now trading 60 percent lower than their opening-day closing price. The stock-trading start-up Robinhood and the dating app Bumble, two other big public debuts, were down about 50 percent for 2021.

supply chain disruptions stemming from the pandemic. Prices for used cars skyrocketed amid a global computer chip shortage. As Covid-19 vaccination rates improved, businesses trying to reopen had to raise wages to attract and retain employees. Consumer prices climbed 5.7 percent in November from a year earlier — the fastest pace since 1982.

But even when “inflation” had become a buzzword worthy of a headline in The Onion, the stock market appeared slow to react to price increases.

“The market is on the side that inflation is transitory,” said Harry Mamaysky, a professor at Columbia Business School. “If it’s not and the Fed needs to go in and raise interest rates to tame inflation, then things could get a lot worse in terms of markets and economic growth.”

And that is what the Fed has signaled it will do in 2022.

When interest rates go up, borrowing becomes more expensive for both consumers and companies. That can hurt profit margins for companies and make stocks less attractive to investors, while sapping consumer demand because people have less money to spend if their mortgage and other loan payments go up. Over time, that tends to deflate the stock market and reduce demand, which brings inflation back under control.

loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation costs and toys.

Mr. McBride said the values of many stocks were being supported by extremely low yields on Treasury bonds, especially the 10-year yield, which has held to about 1.5 percent.

“If that yield moves up, investors are going to re-evaluate how much they’re willing to pay for per dollar of earnings for stocks,” he said. Even if corporate profits — which were strong in 2021 — continue to grow in 2022, he added, they are unlikely to expand “at a pace that continues to justify the current price of stocks.”

quicken the pace of pulling back on that aid, set to finish in March.

“The nightmare scenario is: The Fed tightens and it doesn’t help,” said Aaron Brown, a former risk manager of AQR Capital Management who now manages his own money and teaches math at New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Mr. Brown said that if the Fed could not orchestrate a “soft landing” for the economy, things could start to get ugly — fast.

And then, he said, the Fed may have to take “very aggressive action like a rate hike to 15 percent, or wage and price controls, like we tried in the ’70s.”

By an equal measure, the Fed’s moves, even if they are moderate, could also cause a sell-off in stocks, corporate bonds and other riskier assets, if investors panic when they realize that the free money that drove their risk-taking to ever greater extremes over the past several years is definitely going away.

Sal Arnuk, a partner and co-founder of Themis Trading, said he expected 2022 to begin with something like “a hiccup.”

“China and Taiwan, Russia and Ukraine — if something happens there or if the Fed surprises everyone with the speed of the taper, there’s going to be some selling,” Mr. Arnuk said. “It could even start in Bitcoin, but then people are going to start selling their Apple, their Google.”

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Workers in Europe Are Demanding Higher Pay as Inflation Soars

PARIS — The European Central Bank’s top task is to keep inflation at bay. But as the cost of everything from gas to food has soared to record highs, the bank’s employees are joining workers across Europe in demanding something rarely seen in recent years: a hefty wage increase.

“It seems like a paradox, but the E.C.B. isn’t protecting its own staff against inflation,” said Carlos Bowles, an economist at the central bank and vice president of IPSO, an employee trade union. Workers are pressing for a raise of at least 5 percent to keep up with a historic inflationary surge set off by the end of pandemic lockdowns. The bank says it won’t budge from a planned a 1.3 percent increase.

That simply won’t offset inflation’s pain, said Mr. Bowles, whose union represents 20 percent of the bank’s employees. “Workers shouldn’t have to take a hit when prices rise so much,” he said.

Inflation, relatively quiet for nearly a decade in Europe, has suddenly flared in labor contract talks as a run-up in prices that started in spring courses through the economy and everyday life.

reached 4.90 percent, a record high for the eurozone.

Austrian metalworkers wrested a 3.6 percent pay raise for 2022. Irish employers said they expect to have to lift wages by at least 3 percent next year. Workers at Tesco supermarkets in Britain won a 5.5 percent raise after threatening to strike around Christmas. And in Germany, where the European Central Bank has its headquarters, the new government raised the minimum wage by a whopping 25 percent, to 12 euros (about $13.60) an hour.

fell for the first time in 10 years in the second quarter from the same period a year earlier, although economists say pandemic shutdowns and job furloughs make it hard to paint an accurate picture. In the decade before the pandemic, when inflation was low, wages in the euro area grew by an average of 1.9 percent a year, according to Eurostat.

The increases are likely to be debated this week at meetings of the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. E.C.B. policymakers have insisted for months that the spike in inflation is temporary, touched off by the reopening of the global economy, labor shortages in some industries and supply-chain bottlenecks that can’t last forever. Energy prices, which jumped in November a staggering 27.4 percent from a year ago, are also expected to cool.

interview in November with the German daily F.A.Z., adding that it was likely to start fading as soon as January.

In the United States, where the government on Friday reported that inflation jumped 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years, officials are not so sure. In congressional testimony last week, the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, stopped using the word “transitory” to describe how long high inflation would last. The Omicron variant of the coronavirus could worsen supply bottlenecks and push up inflation, he said.

In Europe, unions are also agitated after numerous companies reported bumper profits and dividends despite the pandemic. Companies listed on France’s CAC 40 stock index saw margins jump by an average of 35 percent in the first quarter of 2021, and half reported profits around 40 percent higher than the same period a year earlier.

raised in October by 2.2 percent.

Crucially, executives also agreed to return to the bargaining table in April if a continued upward climb in prices hurts employees.

At Sephora, the luxury cosmetics chain owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, some unions are seeking an approximately 10 percent pay increase of €180 a month to make up for what they say is stagnant or low pay for employees in France, many of whom earn minimum wage or a couple hundred euros a month more.

€44.2 billion in the first nine months of 2021, up 11 percent from 2019, raised wages at Sephora by 0.5 percent this year and granted occasional work bonuses, said Jenny Urbina, a representative of the Confédération Générale du Travail, the union negotiating with the company.

Sephora has offered a €30 monthly increase for minimum wage workers, and was not replacing many people who quit, straining the remaining employees, she said.

“When we work for a wealthy group like LVMH no one should be earning so little,” said Ms. Urbina, who said she was hired at the minimum wage 18 years ago and now earns €1,819 a month before taxes. “Employees can’t live off of one-time bonuses,” she added. “We want a salary increase to make up for low pay.”

Sephora said in a statement that workers demanding higher wages were in a minority, and that “the question of the purchasing power of our employees has always been at the heart” of the company’s concerns.

At the European Central Bank, employees’ own worries about purchasing power have lingered despite the bank’s forecast that inflation will fade away.

A spokeswoman for the central bank said the 1.3 percent wage increase planned for 2022 is a calculation based on salaries paid at national central banks, and would not change.

But with inflation in Germany at 6 percent, the Frankfurt-based bank’s workers will take a big hit, Mr. Bowles said.

“It’s not in the mentality of E.C.B. staff to go on strike,” he said. “But even if you have a good salary, you don’t want to see it cut by 4 percent.”

Léontine Gallois contributed reporting from Paris.

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Supply-Chain Kinks Force Small Manufacturers to Scramble

“We are not going to assemble iPhones in the U.S.,” Mr. Shih said.

Some experts believe the problems will persist. “Our findings indicate the disruption could be for up to three years,” said Manish Sharma, group chief executive of operations services at the consulting firm Accenture.

Even Two-One-Two New York, a strictly domestic manufacturer of apparel with a plant on Long Island, is being forced to do things differently, said Marisa Fumei-South, the company’s owner and president.

The company has accumulated larger stocks of yarn and other raw materials in response to rising prices and higher shipping costs. “We’re sitting with a lot of inventory,” Ms. Fumei-South said. “We’re waiting to see how this evolves.”

That kind of behavior feeds on itself, Mr. Shih said. As companies buy up supplies to get ahead of rising prices, it contributes to the inflationary dynamic. “People are ordering more than they need, and that’s aggravating shortages,” he said.

American Giant, a maker of hoodies, T-shirts and other clothing, has sidestepped the worst of the supply chain problems because it makes its products in North Carolina and other domestic locations, said its founder and president, Bayard Winthrop.

The company’s apparel, sold through its own stores and online, falls between products sold by retailers like Old Navy or Lands’ End and more expensive brands. A full-zip sweater for men sells for $128, while a woman’s slub turtleneck goes for $70.

But American Giant can’t escape higher labor costs and surging cotton prices, Mr. Winthrop said. While he expects cotton prices to eventually come down, he’s not so sure how long it will take.

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Supply Chain Shortages Help a North Carolina Furniture Town

HICKORY, N.C. — Six months into the coronavirus pandemic, as millions of workers lost their jobs and companies fretted about their economic future, something unexpected happened at Hancock & Moore, a purveyor of custom-upholstered leather couches and chairs in this small North Carolina town.

Orders began pouring in.

Families stuck at home had decided to upgrade their sectionals. Singles tired of looking at their sad futons wanted new and nicer living room furniture. And they were willing to pay up — which turned out to be good, because the cost of every part of producing furniture, from fabric to wood to shipping, was beginning to swiftly increase.

More than a year later, the furniture companies that dot Hickory, N.C., in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, have been presented with an unforeseen opportunity: The pandemic and its ensuing supply chain disruptions have dealt a setback to the factories in China and Southeast Asia that decimated American manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s with cheaper imports. At the same time, demand for furniture is very strong.

In theory, that means they have a shot at building back some of the business that they lost to globalization. Local furniture companies had shed jobs and reinvented themselves in the wake of offshoring, shifting to custom upholstery and handcrafted wood furniture to survive. Now, firms like Hancock & Moore have a backlog of orders. The company is scrambling to hire workers.

12 percent nationally through October. Furniture and bedding make up a small slice of the basket of goods and services that the inflation measure tracks — right around 1 percent — so that increase has not been enough to drive overall prices to uncomfortable levels on its own. But the rise has come alongside a bump in car, fuel, food and rent costs that have driven inflation to 6.2 percent, the highest level in 31 years.

The question for policymakers and consumers alike is how long the surge in demand and the limitations in supply will last. A key part of the answer lies in how quickly shipping routes can clear up and whether producers like the craftsmen in Hickory can ramp up output to meet booming demand. But at least domestically, that is proving to be a more challenging task than one might imagine.

container ships cannot clear ports quickly enough, and when imported goods get to dry land, there are not enough trucks around to deliver everything. All of that is compounded by foreign factory shutdowns tied to the virus.

With foreign-made parts failing to reach domestic producers and warehouses, prices for finished goods, parts and raw materials have shot higher. American factories and retailers are raising their own prices. And workers have come into short supply, prompting companies to lift their wages and further fueling inflation as they increase prices to cover those costs.

Chad Ballard, 31, has gone from making $15 per hour building furniture in Hickory at the start of the pandemic to $20 as he moved into a more specialized role.

according to data from Zillow.

toilet paper to new cars. The disruptions go back to the beginning of the pandemic, when factories in Asia and Europe were forced to shut down and shipping companies cut their schedules.

“We have a labor market that is tight and getting tighter,” said Jared Bernstein, a White House economic adviser. Mr. Bernstein said the administration was predicting that solid wage growth would outlast rapid inflation, improving worker leverage.

domestic manufacturing. This moment could help that agenda as it exposes the fragility of far-flung supply networks.

But pandemic employee shortages, which are happening across the United States in part because many people have chosen to retire early, could also serve as a preview of the demographic shift that is coming as the country’s labor force ages. The worker shortages are one reason that ambitions to bring production and jobs back from overseas could prove complicated.

Hickory’s furniture industry was struggling to hire even before the coronavirus struck. It has a particularly old labor force because a generation of talent eschewed an industry plagued by layoffs tied to offshoring. Now, too few young people are entering it to replace those who are retiring.

Local companies have been automating — Hancock & Moore uses a new digital leather cutting machine to save on labor — and they have been working to train employees more proactively.

Several of the larger firms sponsor a local community college’s furniture academy. On a recent Thursday night, employers set up booths at a jobs fair there, forming a hopeful ring around the doorway of the school’s warehouse, welcoming potential candidates with branded lanyards and informational material. It was the first furniture-specific event of its kind.

But progress is slow, as companies try to assure a new — and smaller — generation of young people that the field is worth pursuing. Corporate representatives far outnumbered job seekers for much of the night.

“It’s such a tough market to find people,” said Bill McBrayer, human resources manager at Lexington Home Brands. Companies are turning to short-term workers, but even firms specializing in temporary help cannot find people.

“I’ve been in this business 35 years,” he said, “and it’s never been like this.”

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High Gas Prices Force Sacrifices, Like Travel and Dining Out

A driver in Belleville, N.J., cut his cable and downsized his apartment to save money for gas. A retiree in Vallejo, Calif., said he had stopped driving to go fishing because the miles cost too much in fuel. An auto repairman in Toms River, N.J., doesn’t go to restaurants as often. And an Uber Eats deliveryman said he couldn’t afford frequent visits to his family and friends, some of whom live 60 miles away.

“Times are tough right now,” Chris Gonzalez, 31, the Uber Eats driver, said as he filled up his tank at a Safeway gas station off Interstate 80 in California.

Millions of American drivers have acutely felt the recent surge in gas prices, which last month hit their highest level since 2014. The national average for a gallon of gas is $3.41, which is $1.29 more than it was a year ago, according to AAA. Even after a recent price dip in crude oil, gasoline remains 7 cents more per gallon than it was a month ago.

While consumers are seeing a steady rise in the prices of many goods and services, the cost of gas is especially visible. It is displayed along highways across the country, including in areas where a gallon has climbed as high as $7.59.

survey from the fuel savings platform GasBuddy.

instructed the Federal Trade Commission this week to investigate why prices at the pump haven’t declined as much as might be expected, citing the possibility of “illegal conduct” by oil and gas companies. The administration is also facing calls from Congress to tap the country’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said would help struggling Americans.

Gas prices have gone up in part because of fluctuations in supply and demand. Demand for oil fell precipitously in the early months of the pandemic, so the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other oil-producing nations cut production. In the United States, reduced demand led to a substantial decline in drilling; the country’s oil rig count was down nearly 70 percent in summer 2020.

But over the past year, demand for oil recovered far faster than OPEC restored its production, and crude oil prices doubled to as much as $84 a barrel. (Since Nov. 9, the price has declined to just over $76.)

higher in the past; in 2008, the national average rose above $4.10 per gallon. (Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to $5.16 today.) They’re optimistic that the increase in travel and gas demand is a reflection of the economy’s rebound from the pandemic, though they worry that rising prices could make people cut back on other spending.

“If gas prices rise so much that it affects consumers’ disposable incomes, this would weigh on discretionary spending,” said Fawad Razaqzada, a market analyst at ThinkMarkets. “It would be bad news for retailers.”

In California, where the average price of a gallon is the highest in the nation, at more than $4.60, drivers said they were changing their behavior. Some sought out cheaper spots, like Costco and Safeway gas stations, to save a few dollars.

At an Arco station in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a line of cars extended into the crowded street on Thursday. Some drivers searched for change. Others grumbled about the prices, which have shot up to as much as $4.49 at the Arco — known locally for its normally cheap rates — and up to $5.85 in the most expensive part of the city.

Keith Crawford, 57, who was filling up his Kia Optima, said he had taken to getting smaller amounts of gas twice a week to soften the blow to his bank account.

“You have to spread it out in order to stay afloat,” said Mr. Crawford, a concierge. “It’s part of the budget now.”

Thirty miles northeast of San Francisco in Vallejo, drivers lined up at the Safeway gas station off I-80, where the price was $4.83 per gallon. Several put the blame for their bills on the Biden administration.

“It’s Biden, Gavin Newsom — look at the gas taxes we pay,” said Kevin Altman, a 54-year-old retiree, referring to California’s governor.

Mr. Altman paid $50 to fill up his Jeep and estimated the gas would last him just two days. He said he had stopped driving to go fishing in nearby Benicia to avoid using too much gas, and would do all his Christmas shopping online this year.

The cost can be especially challenging for people who own businesses that depend on transit. Mahmut Sonmez, 33, who runs a car service, spends nearly $800 on gas out of the $2,500 he earns each week driving people around New Jersey. To save money, he moved in September into a Belleville apartment that is $400 cheaper than his previous home. He also cut his cable service and changed cellphone plans.

If gas prices keep rising, Mr. Sonmez said, he will consider changing jobs after nine years in the industry. “Somehow we’ve got to pay the rent,” he said.

In New Jersey, which bans self-service gas, some drivers are directing their ire toward station attendants.

“Every day they’re cursing me out,” said Gaby Marmol, 25, the assistant manager of a BP station in Newark, adding that when she sees how much the customers spend on both gas and convenience store items — $1.19 for ring pops that used to be 50 cents — she feels sympathetic. “We’re just doing our jobs, but they think we set the prices.”

Cheik Diakite, 62, an attendant at a Mobil station in Newark, doesn’t get as many tips as he did before the pandemic, he said, and grows frustrated listening to customers attribute the high prices to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Diakite typically passes afternoons by looking out for his most loyal customers. Bebi Amzad, who works at a nearby school, always has the same request for him: “Fill it up.” But when she pulled in on Thursday, she asked him to give her just $30 worth of gas.

“Today I’m not filling up all the way because I have other expenses,” said Ms. Amzad, 54, who commutes to Newark from Linden, N.J. “Everybody is hurting.”

Because she spends so much on gas and groceries, Ms. Amzad continued, she can’t afford many indulgences. “I don’t go to Marshalls anymore.”

Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.

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Retail Sales Jumped 1.7 Percent in October

“Everybody believed during 2021 that we’d see a significant shift away from goods back to services as the economic environment opened up as we got our arms around the pandemic,” Craig Menear, Home Depot’s chief executive, told analysts after the company reported its earnings Tuesday. “Clearly, we have not seen that.”

Strong October sales may partly reflect an early start to the holiday shopping season. In mid-September, L.L. Bean added a banner to its website warning customers about holiday shipping delays and shortages and urging early shopping. Best Buy offered its Black Friday deals well before Halloween, from Oct. 19 to Oct. 22. Target started “early Black Friday” deals on Oct. 31.

“I’m sure some folks started looking earlier because of worries that they won’t be able to find the item they’re looking for once everybody gets out to shop,” said Beth Ann Bovino, chief U.S. economist at S&P Global.

There are some signs, however, that shortages are beginning to ease, in part because retailers, too, shopped early this year. At the Port of Los Angeles, holiday orders usually begin arriving in late August or early September; this year, they began arriving in June, Gene Seroka, executive director of the port, said at an event on Tuesday with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

Economists warned that if consumers simply got a head start on holiday spending, that could lead to disappointing sales in November and December. But most forecasters expect spending to remain strong because of the improved public health picture and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.

Unemployment has fallen to 4.6 percent, from close to 20 percent at the height of the pandemic, and wages are rising, particularly for low-income workers. Households are sitting on a collective $2.5 trillion in savings built up during the pandemic — and, unlike last Christmas, when the pandemic reduced the appeal of browsing, fitting rooms and lingering indoors, many Americans feel comfortable going out and spending.

Tom Nolan, chief executive of Kendra Scott, a fashion jewelry business with 119 locations, said that its sales were up “materially” over both last year and 2019 and that he expected the performance to continue through the end of the year.

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