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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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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How a New Corporate Minimum Tax Could Reshape Business Investments

WASHINGTON — At the center of the new climate and tax package that Democrats appear to be on the verge of passing is one of the most significant changes to America’s tax code in decades: a new corporate minimum tax that could reshape how the federal government collects revenue and alter how the nation’s most profitable companies invest in their businesses.

The proposal is one of the last remaining tax increases in the package that Democrats are aiming to pass along party lines in coming days. After months of intraparty disagreement over whether to raise taxes on the wealthy or roll back some of the 2017 Republican tax cuts to fund their agenda, they have settled on a longstanding political ambition to ensure that large and profitable companies pay more than $0 in federal taxes.

To accomplish this, Democrats have recreated a policy that was last employed in the 1980s: trying to capture tax revenue from companies that report a profit to shareholders on their financial statements while bulking up on deductions to whittle down their tax bills.

reduce their effective tax rates well below the statutory 21 percent. It was originally projected to raise $313 billion in tax revenue over a decade, though the final tally is likely to be $258 billion once the revised bill is finalized.

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

Because of that complexity, the corporate minimum tax has faced substantial skepticism. It is less efficient than simply eliminating deductions or raising the corporate tax rate and could open the door for companies to find new ways to make their income appear lower to reduce their tax bills.

Similar versions of the idea have been floated by Mr. Biden during his presidential campaign and by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts. They have been promoted as a way to restore fairness to a tax system that has allowed major corporations to dramatically lower their tax bills through deductions and other accounting measures.

According to an early estimate from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would most likely apply to about 150 companies annually, and the bulk of them would be manufacturers. That spurred an outcry from manufacturing companies and Republicans, who have been opposed to any policies that scale back the tax cuts that they enacted five years ago.

Although many Democrats acknowledge that the corporate minimum tax was not their first choice of tax hikes, they have embraced it as a political winner. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, shared Joint Committee on Taxation data on Thursday indicating that in 2019, about 100 to 125 corporations reported financial statement income greater than $1 billion, yet their effective tax rates were lower than 5 percent. The average income reported on financial statements to shareholders was nearly $9 billion, but they paid an average effective tax rate of just 1.1 percent.

“Companies are paying rock-bottom rates while reporting record profits to their shareholders,” Mr. Wyden said.

told the Senate Finance Committee last year. “This behavioral response poses serious risks for financial accounting and the capital markets.”

Other opponents of the new tax have expressed concerns that it would give more control over the U.S. tax base to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, an independent organization that sets accounting rules.

“The potential politicization of the F.A.S.B. will likely lead to lower-quality financial accounting standards and lower-quality financial accounting earnings,” Ms. Hanlon and Jeffrey L. Hoopes, a University of North Carolina professor, wrote in a letter to members of Congress last year that was signed by more than 260 accounting academics.

the chief economist of the manufacturing association. “Arizona’s manufacturing voters are clearly saying that this tax will hurt our economy.”

Ms. Sinema has expressed opposition to increasing tax rates and had reservations about a proposal to scale back the special tax treatment that hedge fund managers and private equity executives receive for “carried interest.” Democrats scrapped the proposal at her urging.

When an earlier version of a corporate minimum tax was proposed last October, Ms. Sinema issued an approving statement.

“This proposal represents a common sense step toward ensuring that highly profitable corporations — which sometimes can avoid the current corporate tax rate — pay a reasonable minimum corporate tax on their profits, just as everyday Arizonans and Arizona small businesses do,” she said. In announcing that she would back an amended version of the climate and tax bill on Thursday, Ms. Sinema noted that it would “protect advanced manufacturing.”

That won plaudits from business groups on Friday.

“Taxing capital expenditures — investments in new buildings, factories, equipment, etc. — is one of the most economically destructive ways you can raise taxes,” Neil Bradley, chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement. He added, “While we look forward to reviewing the new proposed bill, Senator Sinema deserves credit for recognizing this and fighting for changes.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.

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With Surge in July, U.S. Recovers the Jobs Lost in the Pandemic

U.S. job growth accelerated in July across nearly all industries, restoring nationwide employment to its prepandemic level, despite widespread expectations of a slowdown as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates to fight inflation.

Employers added 528,000 jobs on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said on Friday, more than doubling what forecasters had projected. The unemployment rate ticked down to 3.5 percent, equaling the figure in February 2020, which was a 50-year low.

The robust job growth is welcome news for the Biden administration in a year when red-hot inflation and fears of recession have been recurring economic themes. “Today’s jobs report shows we are making significant progress for working families,” President Biden declared.

broad industry to lose jobs in July was auto manufacturing, which shed about 2,200 as companies continued to struggle to obtain the parts necessary to produce finished vehicles. The public sector added 57,000 employees, particularly teachers, but remained 2.6 percent below its prepandemic level.

In crucial industries like technology, if some employers begin layoffs, those workers are likely to be absorbed by companies that would have liked to staff up but couldn’t find people. And for many kinds of businesses, if orders slow down more broadly, enough had built up to bolster payrolls into autumn.

For example, with mortgage rates rising and new housing starts and permits beginning to fall, jobs in residential construction would be expected to decline. Nevertheless, the construction industry added 32,000 jobs in July.

27 weeks or more sank to 1.1 million in July, while the share of people quitting their jobs has been steady or falling since February. Small businesses have reported that while hiring remains a top concern, availability of workers has improved slightly in recent months.

“Workers by and large have had the luxury of choice over the past year in terms of deciding which of multiple offers to pick,” said Simona Mocuta, chief economist at State Street Global Advisors. “If indeed the consumer sentiment surveys are right and the sense is that things are starting to shift, maybe there’s an incentive for you to make your choice and be done with it.”

suggests, could be due to the increasing prevalence of debilitating long Covid. John Leer, chief economist at the polling and analytics firm Morning Consult, said surveys showed that infection worries persisted — but also that there might simply not be wide enough awareness of the opportunities available.

job openings is above the national average.

She worked in agricultural marketing until about a decade ago, when she decided to stay home with her children. When she started looking for a job again, she found nothing comparable available in the region, and she has been reluctant to switch fields while the family can get by on her husband’s income.

Increasingly, though, she is open to becoming a paralegal, or even working in restaurants, where wages have risen 18.6 percent — not adjusted for inflation — since the beginning of the pandemic.

“I would start bartending as well, or even going back to being wait staff, because there’s something appealing about just showing up, doing a thing, and leaving,” said Ms. Buckley, who is 52. “Everything’s on the table.”

Ben Casselman contributed reporting.

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China Fines Didi $1.2 Billion as Tech Sector Pressures Persist

For Didi, once hailed as an innovator and disrupter in China’s staid transportation sector, it has been a fast fall from grace. The company was considered the pride of China’s spunky, and valuable, start-up scene in 2016 when it beat its American rival, Uber, and bought the firm’s Chinese operations. At the time, its executives vowed that the data it collected would be used to unsnarl traffic jams and eventually help develop driverless cars.

As Beijing has asserted greater control over internet firms like Didi, it has sought to shape a private sector more in line with the Communist Party’s focus on political security and meeting its policy goals. Popular attitudes about China’s tech sector, once an emblem of future achievement, appear to have shifted, too.

After the punishment was announced, a number of professors and tech commentators took to Weibo to call for even harsher punishments.

Jin Canrong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University, called the revelations of Didi’s violations “really shocking!” Didi “disregarded national security, disregarded national laws and disregarded citizens’ privacy,” he added. Others went further, wondering whether a company that jeopardized national security should be allowed to exist at all.

In the short term, the government will probably relent on Didi, allowing it to restore its apps in stores. But the company will still have to show that it has addressed the regulator’s concerns over data security and other issues, said Linghao Bao, an analyst at Trivium China, a China-focused policy research team.

“Big tech platforms are getting a break as the economy is not doing so well. Regulators are shifting from a campaign-style crackdown toward a more rules-based governance,” he said. “But tech regulation is here to stay over the long term.”

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Economy Is at Risk of Recession by a Force Hiding in Plain Sight

This past week brought home the magnitude of the overlapping crises assailing the global economy, intensifying fears of recession, job losses, hunger and a plunge on stock markets.

At the root of this torment is a force so elemental that it has almost ceased to warrant mention — the pandemic. That force is far from spent, confronting policymakers with grave uncertainty. Their policy tools are better suited for more typical downturns, not a rare combination of diminishing economic growth and soaring prices.

Major economies including the United States and France reported their latest data on inflation, revealing that prices on a vast range of goods rose faster in June than anytime in four decades.

China reported that its economy, the world’s second-largest, expanded by a mere 0.4 percent from April through June compared with the same period last year. That performance — astonishingly anemic by the standards of recent decades — endangered prospects for scores of countries that trade heavily with China, including the United States. It reinforced the realization that the global economy has lost a vital engine.

The specter of slowing economic growth combined with rising prices has even revived a dreaded word that was a regular part of the vernacular in the 1970s, the last time the world suffered similar problems: stagflation.

Most of the challenges tearing at the global economy were set in motion by the world’s reaction to the spread of Covid-19 and its attendant economic shock, even as they have been worsened by the latest upheaval — Russia’s disastrous attack on Ukraine, which has diminished the supply of food, fertilizer and energy.

“The pandemic itself disrupted not only the production and transportation of goods, which was the original front of inflation, but also how and where we work, how and where we educate our children, global migration patterns,” said Julia Coronado, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin, speaking this past week during a discussion convened by the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Pretty much everything in our lives has been disrupted by the pandemic, and then we layer on to that a war in Ukraine.”

Great Supply Chain Disruption.

meat production to shipping exploited their market dominance to rack up record profits.

The pandemic prompted governments from the United States to Europe to unleash trillions of dollars in emergency spending to limit joblessness and bankruptcy. Many economists now argue that they did too much, stimulating spending power to the point of stoking inflation, while the Federal Reserve waited too long to raise interest rates.

Now playing catch-up, central banks like the Fed have moved assertively, lifting rates at a rapid clip to try to snuff out inflation, even while fueling worries that they could set off a recession.

Given the mishmash of conflicting indicators found in the American economy, the severity of any slowdown is difficult to predict. The unemployment rate — 3.6 percent in June — is at its lowest point in almost half a century.

American consumers have enhanced fears of a downturn. This past week, the International Monetary Fund cited weaker consumer spending in slashing expectations for economic growth this year in the United States, from 2.9 percent to 2.3 percent. Avoiding recession will be “increasingly challenging,” the fund warned.

Orwellian lockdowns that have constrained business and life in general. The government expresses resolve in maintaining lockdowns, now affecting 247 million people in 31 cities that collectively produce $4.3 trillion in annual economic activity, according to a recent estimate from Nomura, the Japanese securities firm.

But the endurance of Beijing’s stance — its willingness to continue riding out the economic damage and public anger — constitutes one of the more consequential variables in a world brimming with uncertainty.

sanctions have restricted sales of Russia’s enormous stocks of oil and natural gas in an effort to pressure the country’s strongman leader, Vladimir V. Putin, to relent. The resulting hit to the global supply has sent energy prices soaring.

The price of a barrel of Brent crude oil rose by nearly a third in the first three months after the invasion, though recent weeks have seen a reversal on the assumption that weaker economic growth will translate into less demand.

major pipeline carrying gas from Russia to Germany cut the supply sharply last month, that heightened fears that Berlin could soon ration energy consumption. That would have a chilling effect on German industry just as it contends with supply chain problems and the loss of exports to China.

euro, which has surrendered more than 10 percent of its value against the dollar this year. That has increased the cost of Europe’s imports, another driver of inflation.

ports from the United States to Europe to China.

“Everyone following the economic situation right now, including central banks, we do not have a clear answer on how to deal with this situation,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Norway. “You have a lot of things going on at the same time.”

The most profound danger is bearing down on poor and middle-income countries, especially those grappling with large debt burdens, like Pakistan, Ghana and El Salvador.

As central banks have tightened credit in wealthy nations, they have spurred investors to abandon developing countries, where risks are greater, instead taking refuge in rock-solid assets like U.S. and German government bonds, now paying slightly higher rates of interest.

This exodus of cash has increased borrowing costs for countries from sub-Saharan Africa to South Asia. Their governments face pressure to cut spending as they send debt payments to creditors in New York, London and Beijing — even as poverty increases.

U.N. World Food Program declared this month.

Among the biggest variables that will determine what comes next is the one that started all the trouble — the pandemic.

The return of colder weather in northern countries could bring another wave of contagion, especially given the lopsided distribution of Covid vaccines, which has left much of humanity vulnerable, risking the emergence of new variants.

So long as Covid-19 remains a threat, it will discourage some people from working in offices and dining in nearby restaurants. It will dissuade some from getting on airplanes, sleeping in hotel rooms, or sitting in theaters.

Since the world was first seized by the public health catastrophe more than two years ago, it has been a truism that the ultimate threat to the economy is the pandemic itself. Even as policymakers now focus on inflation, malnutrition, recession and a war with no end in sight, that observation retains currency.

“We are still struggling with the pandemic,” said Ms. Haugland, the DNB Markets economist. “We cannot afford to just look away from that being a risk factor.”

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High Inflation in June Puts Pressure on Interest Rates

Prices surged 9.1 percent in June as consumers faced rapidly rising costs for gas, food and rent, a higher-than-expected reading and bad news for Americans at a moment when their wages are falling further behind the nation’s soaring cost of living.

The fresh Consumer Price Index report released on Wednesday contained particularly worrying signs for the Federal Reserve, providing evidence that price pressures are broad and stubborn in ways that may make them difficult to wrestle under control.

Overall, inflation is likely to moderate in July because gas prices have fallen this month — a gallon of regular gas hit an average of about $5 in June, and the cost is now hovering around $4.63. But fuel prices are volatile, making it impossible to know if today’s lower gas prices will last, and the report suggested that underlying inflation pressures remained intense.

raising interest rates since March in an effort to slow consumer and business demand, hoping to cool the economy and bring inflation back down. The central bank has sped up those rate moves as price increases have proved surprisingly stubborn, and the new inflation report spurred speculation that the Fed might turn even more aggressive.

Officials lifted rates by 0.75 percentage points in June, the biggest move since 1994, and had been expected to make a similarly sized move at its meeting in late July. But after the new inflation data, investors began to expect a percentage-point move, based on market pricing.

Fed officials themselves were hesitant to call for such a large move.

“My most likely posture is 0.75, because of the data I’ve seen,” Mary Daly, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, said in an interview Wednesday night. She explained that she had expected a high number, so the report did not sway her.

“I saw that data and thought: This wasn’t good news, wasn’t expecting good news,” she said.

Ms. Daly said she could see a situation in which a bigger, one-percentage-point increase would be possible should consumer inflation expectations move higher and consumer spending fail to slow down.

Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said on Bloomberg Television on Wednesday night that the new inflation report was “uniformly bad” and that there would be no reason to do less than the 0.75 points that the Fed approved in June. But she also suggested that she would watch incoming data and wait to see how the economy evolved before deciding whether an even larger move might be appropriate. The Fed’s next policy meeting is July 26-27.

Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, told reporters on Wednesday that “everything is in play,” but he, too, made it clear that he was “not wedded to any specific course of action.”

tipping the economy into a recession as it rapidly raises interest rates, because those increases might hit the brakes on the economy so hard that they jar businesses, prompting them to stop hiring and setting off a chain reaction in which households are left with less money to spend.

Stores including Target are already trying to sell off bloated inventories, which could allow retail prices to slow. Costs for goods including sporting equipment and televisions have already begun to cool.

But, for now, hints at and forecasts for a cool-down are likely to be insufficient comfort for economic policymakers when there is little sign in the data that any concerted pullback is kicking in.

“We have to be so humble about forecasting inflation,” said Blerina Uruci, an economist at T. Rowe Price, who does expect inflation pressures to fade. “We’ve just been so wrong, so consistently, in one direction.”

Reporting was contributed by Isabella Simonetti, Jim Tankersley, Emily Cochrane, Ana Swanson and Joe Rennison.

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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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Gas Prices Around the World Threaten Livelihoods and Stability

“NO ES SUFICIENTE” — It’s not enough. That was the message protest leaders in Ecuador delivered to the country’s president this past week after he said he would lower the price of both regular gas and diesel by 10 cents in response to riotous demonstrations over soaring fuel and food prices.

The fury and fear over energy prices that have exploded in Ecuador are playing out the world over. In the United States, average gasoline prices, which have jumped to $5 per gallon, are burdening consumers and forcing an excruciating political calculus on President Biden ahead of the midterm congressional elections this fall.

But in many places, the leap in fuel costs has been much more dramatic, and the ensuing misery much more acute.

Britain, it costs $125 to fill the tank of an average family-size car. Hungary is prohibiting motorists from buying more than 50 liters of gas a day at most service stations. Last Tuesday, police in Ghana fired tear gas and rubber bullets at demonstrators protesting against the economic hardship caused by gas price increases, inflation and a new tax on electronic payments.

largest exporter of oil and gas to global markets, and the retaliatory sanctions that followed have caused gas and oil prices to gallop with an astounding ferocity. The unfolding calamity comes on top of two years of upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, off-and-on shutdowns and supply chain snarls.

World Bank revised its economic forecast last month, estimating that global growth will slow even more than expected, to 2.9 percent this year, roughly half of what it was in 2021. The bank’s president, David Malpass, warned that “for many countries, recession will be hard to avoid.”

ratcheting down gas deliveries to several European countries.

Across the continent, countries are preparing blueprints for emergency rationing that involve caps on sales, reduced speed limits and lowered thermostats.

As is usually the case with crises, the poorest and most vulnerable will feel the harshest effects. The International Energy Agency warned last month that higher energy prices have meant an additional 90 million people in Asia and Africa do not have access to electricity.

Expensive energy radiates pain, contributing to high food prices, lowering standards of living and exposing millions to hunger. Steeper transportation costs increase the price of every item that is trucked, shipped or flown — whether it’s a shoe, cellphone, soccer ball or prescription drug.

“The simultaneous rise in energy and food prices is a double punch in the gut for the poor in practically every country,” said Eswar Prasad, an economist at Cornell University, “and could have devastating consequences in some corners of the world if it persists for an extended period.”

Group of 7 this past week discussed a price cap on exported Russian oil, a move that is intended to ease the burden of painful inflation on consumers and reduce the export revenue that President Vladimir V. Putin is using to wage war.

Price increases are everywhere. In Laos, gas is now more than $7 per gallon, according to GlobalPetrolPrices.com; in New Zealand, it’s more than $8; in Denmark, it’s more than $9; and in Hong Kong, it’s more than $10 for every gallon.

Leaders of three French energy companies have called for an “immediate, collective and massive” effort to reduce the country’s energy consumption, saying that the combination of shortages and spiking prices could threaten “social cohesion” next winter.

increased coal production to avoid power outages during a blistering heat wave in the northern and central parts of the country and a subsequent rise in demand for air conditioning.

Germany, coal plants that were slated for retirement are being refired to divert gas into storage supplies for the winter.

There is little relief in sight. “We will still see high and volatile energy prices in the years to come,” said Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

At this point, the only scenario in which fuel prices go down, Mr. Birol said, is a worldwide recession.

Reporting was contributed by José María León Cabrera from Ecuador, Lynsey Chutel from South Africa, Ben Ezeamalu from Nigeria, Jason Gutierrez from the Philippines, Oscar Lopez from Mexico and Ruth Maclean from Senegal.

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Legal clashes await U.S. companies covering workers’ abortion costs

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June 27 (Reuters) – A growing number of large U.S. companies have said they will cover travel costs for employees who must leave their home states to get abortions, but these new policies could expose businesses to lawsuits and even potential criminal liability, legal experts said.

Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O), Lyft Inc (LYFT.O), Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) and JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) were among companies that announced plans to provide those benefits through their health insurance plans in anticipation of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that had legalized abortion nationwide. read more

Within an hour of the decision being released, Conde Nast Chief Executive Roger Lynch sent a memo to staff announcing a travel reimbursement policy and calling the court’s ruling “a crushing blow to reproductive rights.” Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) unveiled a similar policy on Friday, telling employees that it recognizes the impact of the abortion ruling but remains committed to providing comprehensive access to quality healthcare, according to a spokesman. read more

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Health insurer Cigna Corp (CI.N), Paypal Holdings Inc (PYPL.O), Alaska Airlines Inc (DKS.N) also announced reimbursement policies on Friday.

Abortion restrictions that were already on the books in 13 states went into effect as a result of Friday’s ruling and at least a dozen other Republican-led states are expected to ban abortion.

The court’s decision, driven by its conservative majority, upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks. Meanwhile, some Democratic-led states are moving to bolster access to abortion.

Companies will have to navigate that patchwork of state laws and are likely to draw the ire of anti-abortion groups and Republican-led states if they adopt policies supportive of employees having abortions.

State lawmakers in Texas have already threatened Citigroup Inc (C.N) and Lyft, which had earlier announced travel reimbursement policies, with legal repercussions. A group of Republican lawmakers in a letter last month to Lyft Chief Executive Logan Green said Texas “will take swift and decisive action” if the ride-hailing company implements the policy.

The legislators also outlined a series of abortion-related proposals, including a bill that would bar companies from doing business in Texas if they pay for residents of the state to receive abortions elsewhere.

LAWSUITS LOOMING

It is likely only a matter of time before companies face lawsuits from states or anti-abortion campaigners claiming that abortion-related payments violate state bans on facilitating or aiding and abetting abortions, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor at the University of Illinois and expert on healthcare law.

“If you can sue me as a person for carrying your daughter across state lines, you can sue Amazon for paying for it,” Wilson said.

Amazon, Citigroup and other companies that have announced reimbursement policies did not respond to requests for comment. A Lyft spokesperson said: “We believe access to healthcare is essential and transportation should never be a barrier to that access.”

For many large companies that fund their own health plans, the federal law regulating employee benefits will provide crucial cover in civil lawsuits over their reimbursement policies, several lawyers and other legal experts said.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) prohibits states from adopting requirements that “relate to” employer-sponsored health plans. Courts have for decades interpreted that language to bar state laws that dictate what health plans can and cannot cover.

ERISA regulates benefit plans that are funded directly by employers, known as self-insured plans. In 2021, 64% of U.S. workers with employer-sponsored health insurance were covered by self-insured plans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Any company sued over an abortion travel reimbursement requirement will likely cite ERISA as a defense, according to Katy Johnson, senior counsel for health policy at the American Benefits Council trade group. And that will be a strong argument, she said, particularly for businesses with general reimbursement policies for necessary medical-related travel rather than those that single out abortion.

Johnson said reimbursements for other kinds of medical-related travel, such as visits to hospitals designated “centers of excellence,” are already common even though policies related to abortion are still relatively rare.

“While this may seem new, it’s not in the general sense and the law already tells us how to handle it,” Johnson said.

LIMITS

The argument has its limits. Fully-insured health plans, in which employers purchase coverage through a commercial insurer, cover about one-third of workers with insurance and are regulated by state law and not ERISA.

Most small and medium-sized U.S. businesses have fully-insured plans and could not argue that ERISA prevents states from limiting abortion coverage.

And, ERISA cannot prevent states from enforcing criminal laws, such as those in several states that make it a crime to aid and abet abortion. So employers who adopt reimbursement policies are vulnerable to criminal charges from state and local prosecutors.

But since most criminal abortion laws have not been enforced in decades, since Roe was decided, it is unclear whether officials would attempt to prosecute companies, according to Danita Merlau, a Chicago-based lawyer who advises companies on benefits issues.

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Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Grant McCool and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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