Rising home prices and income inequality priced many out of the market, but for strivers who aspired to homeownership, the latest ruptures to the economy hit hard. The release of the new government’s sweeping plan for debt-funded tax cuts led to a big uptick in interest rates this week that roiled the mortgage market. Many homeowners are calculating their potential future mortgage payments with alarm, amid soaring energy and food prices and a general cost-of-living crisis.

Before they were informed they were no longer eligible, the family had been in the final stages of applying for a five-year fixed-rate mortgage on an apartment priced at £519,000, or around $576,000, in the leafy parish of Loughton, a town about 40 minutes north of London by train where the streets fill with students in the afternoon and the properties span from lower-end apartments to million-pound mansions.

according to the Financial Conduct Authority. And more than a third of all mortgages are on fixed rates that expire within the next two years, most likely exposing those borrowers to higher rates, too. By contrast, the vast majority of mortgages in the United States are locked in for 30-year fixed terms.

And the abrupt surge in interest rates could threaten to set off a housing market crisis, analysts at Oxford Economics wrote in a note on Friday, adding that if mortgage rates stayed at the levels now being offered, that would suggest that house prices were around 30 percent overvalued “based on the affordability of mortgage payment.”

“This just adds a significant further strain to finances in the order of hundreds of pounds a month,” said David Sturrock, a senior research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, adding that the squeeze on household budgets will affect the broader economy.

Uncertainty and even panic was clear this week, with many homeowners seeking financial advice. Mortgage brokers said they were receiving a higher volume of inquiries than normal from people stressed about refinancing their loans.

“You can feel the fear in people’s voices,” said Caroline Opie, a mortgage broker working with Ms. Anne who said she had not seen this level of worry in a long time. One couple this week even called her the morning of their wedding, she said, to set an appointment to refinance their mortgage next week.

the war in Ukraine. “Something has got to give,” he said. “Prices are too high anyway.”

To save for the deposit, Mr. Szostek, 37, picked up construction shifts and cleaning jobs when restaurants closed during Covid-19 lockdowns. A £5,000 inheritance from Ms. Anne’s grandfather went into their deposit fund. At a 3.99 percent interest rate, the mortgage repayments were set to be about £2,200 a month.

“I wanted to feel at home for real,” said Ms. Anne, adding she would have been the first in her family to own a property. Mr. Szostek called it “a lifelong dream.”

On Wednesday night, that dream still seemed in reach: The mortgage dealer Ms. Opie had found another loan, which they rushed to apply for.

The higher interest rate — 4.6 percent — will mean their new monthly mortgage payment will be £2,400, the upper limit of what the Szostek family can afford. Still, they felt lucky to secure anything at all, hoping it will mean their promises to their children — of bigger bedrooms, more space, freedom to decorate how they like — will materialize.

They would wait to celebrate, Mr. Szostek said, until they had the keys in hand.

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Strong Dollar Is Good for the US but Bad for the World

The Federal Reserve’s determination to crush inflation at home by raising interest rates is inflicting profound pain in other countries — pushing up prices, ballooning the size of debt payments and increasing the risk of a deep recession.

Those interest rate increases are pumping up the value of the dollar — the go-to currency for much of the world’s trade and transactions — and causing economic turmoil in both rich and poor nations. In Britain and across much of the European continent, the dollar’s acceleration is helping feed stinging inflation.

On Monday, the British pound touched a record low against the dollar as investors balked at a government tax cut and spending plan. And China, which tightly controls its currency, fixed the renminbi at its lowest level in two years while taking steps to manage its decline.

Somalia, where the risk of starvation already lurks, the strong dollar is pushing up the price of imported food, fuel and medicine. The strong dollar is nudging debt-ridden Argentina, Egypt and Kenya closer to default and threatening to discourage foreign investment in emerging markets like India and South Korea.

the International Monetary Fund.

Japanese yen has reached a decades-long high. The euro, used by 19 nations across Europe, reached 1-to-1 parity with the dollar in June for the first time since 2002. The dollar is clobbering other currencies as well, including the Brazilian real, the South Korean won and the Tunisian dinar.

the economic outlook in the United States, however cloudy, is still better than in most other regions.

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 and toys.

A fragile currency can sometimes work as “a buffering mechanism,” causing nations to import less and export more, Mr. Prasad said. But today, many “are not seeing the benefits of stronger growth.”

Still, they must pay more for essential imports like oil, wheat or pharmaceuticals as well as for loan bills due from billion-dollar debts.

debt crisis in Latin America in the 1980s.

The situation is particularly fraught because so many countries ran up above-average debts to deal with the fallout from the pandemic. And now they are facing renewed pressure to offer public support as food and energy prices soar.

Indonesia this month, thousands of protesters, angry over a 30 percent price increase on subsidized fuel, clashed with the police. In Tunisia, a shortage of subsidized food items like sugar, coffee, flour and eggs has shuttered cafes and emptied market shelves.

New research on the impact of a strong dollar on emerging nations found that it drags down economic progress across the board.

“You can see these very pronounced negative effects of a stronger dollar,” said Maurice Obstfeld, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an author of the study.

central banks feel pressure to raise interest rates to bolster their currencies and prevent import prices from skyrocketing. Last week, Argentina, the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Norway raised interest rates.

World Bank warned this month that simultaneous interest rate increases are pushing the world toward a recession and developing nations toward a string of financial crises that would inflict “lasting harm.”

Clearly, the Fed’s mandate is to look after the American economy, but some economists and foreign policymakers argue it should pay more attention to the fallout its decisions have on the rest of the world.

In 1998, Alan Greenspan, a five-term Fed chair, argued that “it is just not credible that the United States can remain an oasis of prosperity unaffected by a world that is experiencing greatly increased stress.”

The United States is now facing a slowing economy, but the essential dilemma is the same.

“Central banks have purely domestic mandates,” said Mr. Obstfeld, the U.C. Berkeley economist, but financial and trade globalization have made economies more interdependent than they have ever been and so closer cooperation is needed. “I don’t think central banks can have the luxury of not thinking about what’s happening abroad.”

Flávia Milhorance contributed reporting from Rio de Janeiro.

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Guaranteed Income Programs Spring Up City by City

Early in the pandemic, Alondra Barajas had a temporary job for the Census Bureau, doing phone work from the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her mother and four younger siblings. When that job ended in late 2020, she struggled to find employment.

But Ms. Barajas learned from an ad on Instagram that she might qualify for an unusual form of assistance: monthly payments of $1,000 for a year.

Since she started receiving the funds this year — while caring for her newborn, searching for a job and looking for a new place to stay — her outlook has seemed brighter.

Oakland pledged to give 600 low-income families $500 for 18 months, and in San Diego, some families with young children will get $500 a month for two years.

Last year, the state set aside $35 million over five years for cities to carry out pilot programs, which can use different criteria, including income level, people leaving the foster care system and residence in low-income neighborhoods. An application process for municipalities to tap into those funds is underway.

one of the country’s first guaranteed income programs in 2019, notes that these payments are not meant to be a sole means of income but aim to provide a buffer for people to break the cycle of poverty.

Mr. Tubbs sees the programs as crucial tools in achieving racial justice for Black people and Latinos.

“The ways in which racism and capitalism have intersected to steal wealth from some communities,” he said, “creates the disparities we see today.”

Damon Jones, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, who has studied such programs, noted that unrestricted cash — including stimulus payments — was used broadly by the federal government to stem the economic devastation of Covid-19.

“Policymakers were surprisingly open to this idea following the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Jones said. Now the emergency aid programs have largely lapsed, ending what for some was a lifeline.

Opponents argue that guaranteed income programs are too expensive and are counterproductive.

Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass, a conservative-leaning think tank, said the case against guaranteed income was not that people “receiving random windfalls can’t benefit from them — in at least some cases, they can and do.”

Los Angeles pilot program, said the goal of her city’s effort was to promote changes to the ways federal public benefit programs were designed.

“Many, if not all, public benefit program regulations contradict each other, are difficult to navigate and are not focused on creating pathways to greater economic opportunity,” Ms. Marquez said. (Some states, including California, have built-in exemptions to ensure that accepting funding from the pilot programs does not put recipients at risk of losing certain state and federal assistance.)

The Los Angeles program received $38 million from the city. A small portion of the money comes from private funds.

According to city data, one-third of adults in Los Angeles are unable to support their families on income from full-time work alone.

“When you provide resources to families that are struggling, it can give them the breathing room to realize goals that many of us are fortunate enough to take for granted,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said when the program began.

That breathing room came at an opportune time for Ms. Barajas. After graduating from high school in 2017, she pushed aside dreams of college and began working a string of retail gigs — Claire’s, Old Navy, Walmart. She set aside $300 from her paycheck each month to help cover her family’s rent.

“I had to work,” she said. “We had no foundation, no money in our pockets.”

Last year, Ms. Barajas, 22, received funds from an extension of the child tax credit. She used some of the money for essentials like clothes and food.

On a recent afternoon in Chatsworth, a Los Angeles neighborhood, Ms. Barajas reflected on how the money from the guaranteed income program was helping her stay afloat. She moved out of her mother’s apartment in April, after an argument. Since then, she and her daughter, now 15 months old, have slept on friends’ couches and sometimes stayed at pay-by-the-week motels.

For now, they are living at a 90-day shelter for women and children. Ms. Barajas hopes to attend community college this fall, but is focused first on finding a job. Many mornings, she scrolls her iPhone looking at postings before her daughter wakes up.

Most of the money from the guaranteed-income payments goes toward food, diapers and clothing, but she’s trying to save several hundred dollars, enough for a security deposit for an apartment she hopes to move into with a friend.

“I’m one emergency away from having to spend money and then live on the streets and become homeless,” she said. “A lot of people are just hanging on with the smallest amount of wiggle room financially.”

Zohna Everett, who was part of the Stockton program, knows how it feels to live within that razor-thin margin.

Before the program began in 2019, she was driving for DoorDash five days a week, bringing in about $100 a day. Her husband at the time worked as a truck driver, and the rent for their two-bedroom apartment was $1,000. To help earn gas money, Ms. Everett sometimes collected recyclables and turned them in for cash.

“The money was a godsend,” Ms. Everett said of the Stockton program, adding that while enrolled in it, she got a contract job at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., on a production line.

Until then, Ms. Everett, 51, had been in a perpetual state of hustle, never stopping long enough to realize her exhaustion. After the payments started, she noticed she was sleeping better than she had in years.

“A weight truly was lifted from me,” she said.

The payments stopped during the pandemic, but she then received stimulus money from the federal government. She had started to save some money, but after a case of Covid left her with persistent fatigue and breathing problems, she recently took a leave from her Tesla job.

“With this pandemic, there is a lot of struggling,” she said. “There needs to be a permanent solution to help people.”

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Retailers Stumble Adjusting to More Selective Shoppers

This hasn’t been the year retailers planned for.

After two years of navigating the pandemic — which brought record online sales and shoppers willing to buy all manners of items, to the point that the global supply chain became strained — executives knew a new normal would take shape.

Sales might slow, the thinking went, but people would still want TVs, fashionable dresses and throw pillows. So, with supply chain issues in mind, companies stocked up. But this spring it became clear that those items weren’t selling quickly enough. As people watched the prices of food and gas rise, their spending became more selective, leaving retailers with shelves of inventory they couldn’t get rid of.

The magnitude of the miscalculation was crystallized this week in a batch of quarterly earnings from major retailers like Walmart and Target, which showed a mix of declining sales of discretionary goods and lower profits. A number revised their guidance, lowering expectations for both sales and profits for the rest of the year. A glut of inventory weighed on companies’ balance sheets: Inventory at Walmart rose 25 percent from this time last year. At Target, it increased 36 percent. And Kohl’s said inventory was up 48 percent.

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 and toys.

“The last two years was great for retailers because consumers were buying everything they had to offer,” Liza Amlani, founder of Retail Strategy Group, which works with brands on their merchandising and planning strategies. “They just can’t do that anymore. You have to understand what the consumer wants more now than ever.”

In July, U.S. retail sales were virtually unchanged, according to data from the Commerce Department released Wednesday. Excluding the sales of gas and cars, retail sales actually increased 0.7 percent. But 85 percent of U.S. consumers said that inflation is altering the way they shop, according to a survey released this week from Morning Consult.

Most retailers are hoping this pullback period is only temporary. In the meantime, companies are trying to signal to customers that it’s worth doing what spending they do in their stores. Kohl’s, for instance, said that its private-label brands outperformed the national ones it carries last quarter, and that shoppers gravitated toward buying more basic apparel that could be worn with many different outfits.

Retailers are also turning to the familiar strategy of discounting merchandise to entice shoppers to open their wallets. It’s one they didn’t have to deploy for most of the pandemic, when people showed they were willing to pay full price for a wide range of items. Target, Walmart and Ross Stores all said they have marked down goods in recent weeks. In turn, retailers like BJ’s Wholesale Club — even if they were content with their balance sheets — said they lowered prices on some categories in order to stay competitive. Robert Eddy, chief executive at BJ’s Wholesale Club, even said that the company was willing to “alter the scope and the depth of those promotions” for the holiday season.

The strategy of discounting might not actually get to the root cause, analysts say.

“There is a point at which lower prices don’t trigger incremental demand because the consumers already have it,” said Simeon Siegel, a managing director at BMO Capital Markets. “It’s not an indication that the company is dead. It’s not an indication that they’re never going to buy it again. They just need the time lag.”

Retailers need to realize that consumers are thinking differently, Mr. Siegel said. Some big-ticket purchases — like an exercise bike, living room couch or patio grill — will happen just once. In other cases, the amount of time between purchasing and replenishing will be longer. A person might now buy a candle every few months, compared to doing it every month in the early stages of the pandemic when they were home more often. And more people are choosing to spend their money on things like air travel and movie tickets this summer compared to last.

With all of these variables, lowering prices might not trigger the demand a retailer wants, Mr. Siegel said. It might simply just cut into a company’s profits.

For the stores that did see sales growth, like the big-box retailers Walmart and Target, most of that volume was attributed to higher food prices. Groceries have narrower margins than, say, a retailer’s private-label dress brand, and the shift in sales from one category to another affects the company’s overall profitability.

Along with pricing, retailers need to figure out how to deal with their inventory issues, especially with the all-important holiday season just a few months away.

“Getting through the inventory levels allows them to have a cleaner store, a cleaner supply chain,” said Bobby Griffin, equity research analyst at Raymond James. “They won’t be able to predict it perfectly, but getting through excess inventory will give them more flexibility to try to adapt to what the holiday is throwing at them.”

For all the challenges, some retailers saw a brighter path ahead. While inventory at TJX, the owner of the T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s chains, was up 39 percent for the quarter, the company said it was comfortable at that level because they had what shoppers actually wanted.

“They’re looking for an exciting treasure hunt, an entertaining shopping experience in stores,” Ernie Herrman, TJX’s chief executive, said in a call with analysts, “and along with that value equation, we continue to provide those two things.”

Isabella Simonetti contributed reporting.

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It Was the Housing Crisis Epicenter. Now the Sun Belt Is an Inflation Vanguard.

A.J. Frank watched the Phoenix real estate market and its entire economy implode as he was graduating from high school in 2009, a scarring experience that has made him a cautious saver. He is again living through a major economic upheaval as the cost of living climbs sharply.

Phoenix — among the hardest-hit cities during the housing crisis — is now on the leading edge of another painful economic trend as the United States faces the most rapid inflation in 40 years. The city is experiencing some of the fastest price increases in the nation, something Mr. Frank has felt firsthand.

His landlord tried to raise his rent nearly 30 percent this year, prompting him to move. Mr. Frank, a 31-year-old engineer, is still paying $250 a month more than he was previously, and rising grocery and gas bills have reduced his disposable income.

national rate of 8.5 percent in July. Prices in the Southern United States have risen 9.4 percent over the past year, the fastest pace of any large region in the nation and more rapid than in the Northeast, where prices are up 7.3 percent.

surged earlier this year. Because many Sun Belt cities depend on cars and air-conditioning, those purchases make up a larger percentage of consumer budgets in the region. And, just as it did in 2008, housing is playing a crucial role — this time, through the rental market, which is a major contributor to overall inflation. In Phoenix, rents are up 21 percent from a year ago, and in Miami, they are up about 14 percent. For urban dwellers nationally, rent is up only about half as much, 6.3 percent.

The Sun Belt’s intense bout of inflation matters for several reasons. While inflation is painful everywhere, it is having a disproportionate impact on families in cities like Tampa Bay, where prices have shot up faster than in areas like New York City. Demand at food banks and for eviction counselors has jumped across the region, providers said, as signs of that distress manifest.

Real-time market rent trackers that reported prices shooting up in Sun Belt cities last year are now showing bigger increases in places like New York, San Jose and Seattle.

Those market rent increases take time to trickle into official inflation figures because of the way the government calculates its data. Much as Phoenix’s official inflation numbers are surging now partly because of the run-up in market rents in 2021, nascent increases in big coastal cities could keep pressure on inflation in months to come. And the effect could be palpable at a national level: New York and its suburbs account for about 11 percent of the nation’s rental housing-related costs in the Consumer Price Index, compared to about 1 percent for Phoenix.

“Even if we get a slowdown in the Sun Belt, it may not be enough to offset what we’re seeing in other markets,” said Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights.

Federal Reserve officials noted that risk at their July meeting, according to minutes released Wednesday, observing that “in some product categories, the rate of price increase could well pick up further in the short run, with sizable additional increases in residential rental expenses being especially likely.”

The Fed has been raising interest rates since March to try to slow consumer and business demand and cool inflation and is expected to lift them again at its meeting in September.

To date, much of the regional divide in price increases — from rents to consumer goods and services — has traced back to migration. People have been flocking to less expensive cities from big coastal ones for years, but that trend accelerated sharply with the onset of the pandemic. The pattern is playing out across both the Mountain West, where inflation is also remarkably high, and the Sun Belt.

experienced some of the biggest population gains in 2021, adding about 221,000 and 93,000 residents through domestic migration. Phoenix and Tampa added newcomers especially rapidly. “As people have basically poured into these Sun Belt metros, that’s put additional demand on the housing market, and supply has struggled to keep up,” said Taylor Marr, an economist at Redfin. “A lot of the inflation variation is pretty correlated with these migration patterns.”

leases are 35 percent more expensive than at the start of the pandemic but have risen only 2 percent in the past six months, for instance.

Adam Kamins, a director at Moody’s Analytics who focuses on regional and local forecasting, said he expected inflation to begin to equalize across the country as price increases in the South fade more swiftly.

“I think there’s going to be some level of convergence in regional inflation,” Mr. Kamins said. “We just haven’t seen it yet.”

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Consumer Data Concerns As Amazon Is Set To Acquire iRobot, Roomba

Antitrust experts worry that the deal is less about selling Roombas and more about finding ways to surveil the most intimate spaces of our lives.

Amazon recently struck a $1.7 billion deal to acquire iRobot — the company behind Roomba — and it’s creating worries about data protection. Amazon told Newsy that protecting customer data is “incredibly important” to the company, but privacy advocates say a recent deal to acquire iRobot would give Amazon a huge source of potentially invasive personal data. 

“When people buy a Roomba, they want something that’s going to clean their floors. They don’t want a little roving robot with a front-facing camera, able to map their entire home and everything in it and deliver that information back to the world’s greatest retail monopolist. This is not what the product is intended to do. And when people buy Roomba, this is not what they expect it to do,” said Ron Knox, a senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The newest Roombas are outfitted with operating systems and cameras that make the robots a very efficient tool to create maps of owners’ homes.  

Knox noted that Roomba could record the inside of your house in real time. 

“Amazon can use that data to do a couple of different things,” he continued. “One, it can try to sell its captured Prime member customers more things that it thinks they want to buy. If it thinks you have a pet, you know, more dog toys, dog food. If you have a kid in your house, it can understand this using the Roomba data.”

Antitrust experts also worry that the deal is less about selling Roombas and more about finding ways to surveil the most intimate spaces of our lives for a marketing advantage. Amazon already controls about 56% of the eCommerce market, and this deal could further that reach. 

“To have this kind of physical data, which is an element that they don’t currently have … you could really see a future where Alexa is pushing a new couch that fits perfectly in the dimensions of your living room,” said Krista Brown, a senior policy analyst at the American Economic Liberties Project. “Then, they also provide a doctor when they see you getting an air purifier. It just has so many elements that can be kind of abused and help them further entrench their dominance.” 

The deal isn’t set in stone quite yet, as it could face scrutiny from the Federal Trade Commission. Chair Lina Khan rose to notability after publishing a Yale Law Journal article on changing antitrust law, with Amazon as the centerpiece of the piece. 

Source: newsy.com

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Inflation Cooled in July, Welcome News for White House and Fed

Inflation cooled notably in July as gas prices and airfares fell, a welcome reprieve for consumers and a positive development for economic policymakers in Washington — though not yet a conclusive sign that price increases have turned a corner.

The Consumer Price Index climbed 8.5 percent in the year through July, a slower pace than economists had expected and considerably less than the 9.1 percent increase in the year through June. After food and fuel costs are stripped out to better understand underlying cost pressures, prices climbed 5.9 percent, matching the previous reading.

The marked deceleration in overall inflation — on a monthly basis, prices barely moved — is another sign of economic improvement that could boost President Biden at a time when rapid price increases have been burdening consumers and eroding voter confidence. The new data came on the heels of an unexpectedly strong jobs report last week that underscored the economy’s momentum.

job market stays strong, Americans may begin to feel better about their personal financial situations.

“It underscores the kind of economy we’ve been building,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday. “We’re seeing a stronger labor market where jobs are booming and Americans are working, and we’re seeing some signs that inflation may be beginning to moderate.”

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 and toys.

Fed officials remain committed to wrestling America’s rapid inflation lower, and they have raised interest rates at the quickest pace since the 1980s to try to slow the economy and bring supply and demand into balance — making supersize rate moves of three-quarters of a percentage point at each of their past two meetings. Another big adjustment will be up for debate at their next meeting in September, policymakers have said.

But investors interpreted July’s unexpectedly pronounced inflation slowdown as a sign that policymakers could take a gentler route, raising rates a half-point next month. Stocks soared more than 2 percent on Wednesday, as Wall Street bet that the Fed might become less aggressive, which would decrease the chances that it would plunge the economy into a recession.

“It was as good as the markets and the Fed could have hoped for from this report,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies. “I do think it removes the urgency for the Fed.”

Still, officials who spoke on Wednesday remained cautious about inflation. Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, called the report the “first hint” of a move in the right direction, while Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said that it was “positive” but that price increases remained “unacceptably high.”

Policymakers have been hoping for more than a year that price increases will begin to cool, only to have those expectations repeatedly dashed. Supply chain issues have made goods more expensive, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent commodity prices soaring, a shortage of workers pushed wages and service prices higher and a dearth of housing has fueled rising rents.

toward $4 in July after peaking at $5 in June, based on data from AAA. That decline helped overall inflation to cool last month. The trend has continued into August, which should help inflation to continue to moderate.

But it is unclear what will happen next. The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects that fuel costs will continue to come down, but geopolitical instability and the speed of U.S. oil and gas production during hurricane season, which can take refineries offline, are wild cards in that outlook.

declined in July, perhaps in part because borrowing costs rose. Mortgage rates have increased this year and appear to be weighing on the housing market, which could be helping to drive down prices for appliances.

slow hiring. Wages are still rising rapidly, and, as that happens, so are prices on many services. Rents, which make up a chunk of overall inflation and are closely linked to wage growth, continue to climb rapidly — which is concerning, because they tend to change course only slowly.

Rents of primary residences climbed 0.7 percent in July from the prior month, and are up 6.3 percent over the past year. Before the pandemic, that measure typically climbed about 3.5 percent annually.

Those forces could keep inflation undesirably rapid even if supply chains unsnarl and fuel prices continue to fall. The Fed aims for 2 percent inflation over time, based on a different but related inflation measure.

“The Covid reopening and revenge travel pressures have eased — and are probably going to continue easing,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, senior U.S. economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives. But she also struck a note of caution, adding: “Under the hood, we’re still seeing pressures in rent. There’s still sticky inflation here.”

And given how high inflation has been for more than a year now, Fed policymakers will avoid reading too much into a single report. Inflation slowed last summer only to speed up again in fall.

“We might see goods inflation and commodity inflation come down, but at the same time see the services side of the economy stay up — and that’s what we’ve got to keep watching for,” Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said during a recent appearance. “It can’t just be a one month. Oil prices went down in July; that’ll feed through to the July inflation report, but there’s a lot of risk that oil prices will go up in the fall.”

Ms. Mester said that she “welcomes” a slowdown in some types of prices, but that it would be a mistake to “cry victory too early” and allow inflation to continue without taking necessary action.

For many Americans who are struggling to adjust their lifestyles to rapidly climbing costs at the grocery store and dry cleaners, an annual inflation rate that is still more than four times its normal speed is unlikely to feel like a big improvement, even as lower gas prices and rising pay rates do offer some relief.

Stephanie Bailey, 54, has a solid family income in Waco, Texas. Even so, she has been cutting back on meals at local Tex-Mex restaurants and new clothes because of the climbing prices, which she sees “everywhere.” At Starbucks, she opts for cold, noncoffee drinks, which in some cases are cheaper.

Her son, who is in his 20s, has moved back in with his parents. Rent had become out of reach on his salary working at a vitamin manufacturer. He is now teaching at a local high school.

“It’s just so expensive, with housing,” Ms. Bailey said. “He was having a hard time making ends meet.”

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LEGO Celebrates Its 90th Anniversary At San Diego Comic-Con

The LEGO Group started in 1932 with wooden toys and eventually introduced plastic bricks, which still holds high over the rest of the toy industry.

This year’s San Diego Comic-Con features a 14-foot-tall “Bowser” from the video game franchise “Super Mario Bros.” He’s made up of over 700,000 LEGO bricks — a symbol of the big celebration happening for Lego’s 90th anniversary.

“A lot of people have these long histories with playing with bricks as a kid and then growing up, so I think we just wanted to pay homage to that,” said Cassidy Najarian, The LEGO Group spokesperson.

The LEGO Group started on August 10, 1932 in Denmark with wooden toys, then eventually the colorful, plastic, interlocking bricks inspired by an existing line of toys from Kiddicraft were introduced.

That means LEGO wasn’t the first of its kind, but it quickly became the most popular. In 1998, LEGO became one of the first toys inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame, and in 2000, LEGO beat the teddy bear and Barbie in winning “Toy of the Century” by the British Association of Toy Retailers.

Today, LEGO continues its reign over the toy industry. The company made $8.4 billion in revenue in 2021, making it the highest-earning toy brand in the world, ahead of Bandai Namco, Hasbro, and Mattel — each of which have their own competing brick toys.  

It’s also one of the most expensive toys on the market, costing parents and families almost double what they would pay for other types of toys like action figures and stuffed animals. In some cases, LEGO sets can cost hundreds of dollars.

That’s because of another hallmark of LEGO’s history: licensing.

In 1998, LEGO negotiated with Lucasfilm for the exclusive rights to create a line of toys for “Star Wars.” Since then, the company has partnered with other major franchises like Marvel and Harry Potter, and even sitcoms like “The Office.”

In many of these cases, LEGO sets aren’t just toys made for kids; they’re for collectors. 

“It’s really become a cultural moment in its own right,” Najarian said. “It’s been able to tap into a lot of different interests of people and honor that but bring it back to the central point of different ways to play and different ways to celebrate play.” 

Over nine decades, LEGO has built its brand brick by brick to include more than just toys. The company now commands several video games, films, and 10 different theme parks all over the world.

Source: newsy.com

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Electric Cars Are Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill

Policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change. But an uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.

Congress has begun trying to address that problem. The climate and energy package passed on Sunday by the Senate, the Inflation Reduction Act, would give buyers of used electric cars a tax credit.

But automakers have complained that the credit would apply to only a narrow slice of vehicles, at least initially, largely because of domestic sourcing requirements. And experts say broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable and to get enough of them on the road to put a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions.

would eliminate this cap and extend the tax credit until 2032; used cars would also qualify for a credit of up to $4,000.

With so much demand, carmakers have little reason to target budget-minded buyers. Economy car stalwarts like Toyota and Honda are not yet selling significant numbers of all-electric models in the United States. Scarcity has been good for Ford, Mercedes-Benz and other carmakers that are selling fewer cars than before the pandemic but recording fat profits.

Automakers are “not giving any more discounts because demand is higher than the supply,” said Axel Schmidt, a senior managing director at Accenture who oversees the consulting firm’s automotive division. “The general trend currently is no one is interested in low prices.”

Advertised prices for electric vehicles tend to start around $40,000, not including a federal tax credit of $7,500. Good luck finding an electric car at that semi-affordable price.

Ford has stopped taking orders for Lightning electric pickups, with an advertised starting price of about $40,000, because it can’t make them fast enough. Hyundai advertises that its electric Ioniq 5 starts at about $40,000. But the cheapest models available from dealers in the New York area, based on a search of the company’s website, were around $49,000 before taxes.

Tesla’s Model 3, which the company began producing in 2017, was supposed to be an electric car for average folks, with a base price of $35,000. But Tesla has since raised the price for the cheapest version to $47,000.

pass the House, would give buyers of used cars a tax credit of up to $4,000. The used-car market is twice the size of the new-car market and is where most people get their rides.

But the tax credit for used cars would apply only to those sold for $25,000 or less. Less than 20 percent of used electric vehicles fit that category, said Scott Case, chief executive of Recurrent, a research firm focused on the used-vehicle market.

The supply of secondhand vehicles will grow over time, Mr. Case said. He noted that the Model 3, which has sold more than any other electric car, became widely available only in 2018. New-car buyers typically keep their vehicles three or four years before trading them in.

SAIC’s MG unit sells an electric S.U.V. in Europe for about $31,000 before incentives.

New battery designs offer hope for cheaper electric cars but will take years to appear in lower-priced models. Predictably, next-generation batteries that charge faster and go farther are likely to appear first in luxury cars, like those from Porsche and Mercedes.

Companies working on these advanced technologies argue that they will ultimately reduce costs for everyone by packing more energy into smaller packages. A smaller battery saves weight and cuts the cost of cooling systems, brakes and other components because they can be designed for a lighter car.

You can actually decrease everything else,” said Justin Mirro, chief executive of Kensington Capital Acquisition, which helped the battery maker QuantumScape go public and is preparing a stock market listing for the fledgling battery maker Amprius Technologies. “It just has this multiplier effect.”

$45 million in grants to firms or researchers working on batteries that, among other things, would last longer, to create a bigger supply of used vehicles.

“We also need cheaper batteries, and batteries that charge faster and work better in the winter,” said Halle Cheeseman, a program director who focuses on batteries at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, part of the Department of Energy.

Gene Berdichevsky, chief executive of Sila Nanotechnologies, a California company working on next-generation battery technology, argues that prices are following a curve like the one solar cells did. Prices for solar panels ticked up when demand began to take off, but soon resumed a steady decline.

The first car to use Sila’s technology will be a Mercedes luxury S.U.V. But Mr. Berdichevsky said: “I’m not in this to make toys for the rich. I’m here to make all cars go electric.” 

A few manufacturers offer cars aimed at the less wealthy. A Chevrolet Bolt, a utilitarian hatchback, lists for $25,600 before incentives. Volkswagen said this month that the entry-level version of its 2023 ID.4 electric sport utility vehicle, which the German carmaker has begun manufacturing at its factory in Chattanooga, Tenn., will start at $37,500, or around $30,000 if it qualifies for the federal tax credit.

Then there is the Wuling Hongguang Mini EV, produced in China by a joint venture of General Motors and the Chinese automakers SAIC and Wuling. The car reportedly outsells the Tesla Model 3 in China. While the $4,500 price tag is unbeatable, it is unlikely that many Americans would buy a car with a top speed of barely 60 miles per hour and a range slightly over 100 miles. There is no sign that the car will be exported to the United States.

Eventually, Ms. Bailo of the Center for Automotive Research said, carmakers will run out of well-heeled buyers and aim at the other 95 percent.

“They listen to their customers,” she said. “Eventually that demand from high-income earners is going to abate.”

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Fed Moves Toward Another Big Rate Increase as Inflation Lingers

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve, determined to choke off rapid inflation before it becomes a permanent feature of the American economy, is steering toward another three-quarter-point interest rate increase later this month even as the economy shows early signs of slowing and recession fears mount.

Economic data suggest that the United States could be headed for a rough road: Consumer confidence has plummeted, the economy could post two straight quarters of negative growth, new factory orders have sagged and oil and gas commodity prices have dipped sharply lower this week as investors fear an impending downturn.

But that weakening is unlikely to dissuade central bankers. Some degree of economic slowdown would be welcome news for the Fed — which is actively trying to cool the economy — and a commitment to restoring price stability could keep officials on an aggressive policy path.

at or near the fastest pace in four decades, and the job market, while moderating somewhat, remains unusually strong, with 1.9 available jobs for every unemployed worker. Fed policymakers are likely to focus on those factors as they head into their July meeting, especially because their policy interest rate — which guides how expensive it is to borrow money — is still low enough that it is likely spurring economic activity rather than subtracting from it.

released Wednesday, made it clear that officials are eager to move rates up to a point where they are weighing on growth as policymakers ramp up their battle against inflation.

The central bank will announce its next rate decision on July 27, and several key data points are set for release between now and then, including the latest jobs numbers for June and updated Consumer Price Index inflation figures — so the size of the move is not set in stone. But assuming the economy remains strong, inflation remains high and glimmers of moderation remain far from conclusive, a big rate move may well be in store.

The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, has said that central bankers will debate between a 0.5- or 0.75-percentage-point increase at the coming gathering, but officials have begun to line up behind the more rapid pace of action if recent economic trends hold.

“If conditions were exactly the way they were today going into that meeting — if the meeting were today — I would be advocating for 75 because I haven’t seen the kind of numbers on the inflation side that I need to see,” Loretta J. Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said during a television interview last week.

they have signaled that they are willing to inflict some economic pain if that is what is needed to wrestle inflation back down.

500,000 jobs per month so far in 2022 and consumer spending — while cracking slightly under the weight of inflation — has been relatively strong.

Meanwhile, officials have been unnerved by both the speed and the staying power of inflation. The Consumer Price Index measure picked up by 8.6 percent over the year through May, and several economists said it probably continued to accelerate on a yearly basis into the June report, which is set for release on July 13. Omair Sharif, the founder of Inflation Insights, estimated that it could come in around 8.8 percent.

“You do probably get a few months of moderation after we get this June report,” he said.

The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the Personal Consumption Expenditures index, may have already peaked, economists said. But it still climbed by 6.3 percent over the year through May, more than three times the central bank’s 2 percent target. Many households are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of housing, food and transportation.

While there are encouraging signs that inflation might slow soon — inventories have built up at retailers, global commodity gas prices have fallen this week and consumer demand for some goods may be beginning to slow — those indicators may do little to comfort central bankers at this stage.

The Fed has been repeatedly disappointed by false dawns. Officials had hoped that inflation peaked last summer, only to watch it reaccelerate into the fall. They have been receiving regular Wall Street predictions that it might be reaching its zenith, but those have yet to prove correct.

have signaled that they expect to push rates up to about 3.4 percent by the end of the year as they try to choke off price increases. They could achieve that by raising rates by 0.75 percentage points at their coming July meeting, 0.5 percentage points in September and 0.25 percentage points in November and December, for instance.

“What you would like to do, if we can, is nip inflation in the bud before it gets entrenched in the economy,” James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said during a presentation in Zurich on June 24.

That is also the logic for making big moves sooner rather than later. Charles L. Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, told reporters a few days earlier that a 0.75 percentage point move in July was “a very reasonable place to have a discussion” and would be likely unless inflation began moderating.

The Fed will have new information by the time of its July meeting, but the central bank may prove less sensitive than usual to incoming data in today’s environment. Minor updates might do little to change a picture in which price increases have been going gangbusters for months on end and officials believe expectations of rising inflation could lurch out of control.

“The data they’re responding to has been accumulating over the past year,” said Mr. Feroli of JPMorgan. “It was realizing that, over the past year, they missed the boat on inflation.”

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