using the email address of a burrito shop.

In the Paycheck Protection Program, private banks were supposed to help with the screening, since in theory they were dealing with customers they already knew. But that left out many small businesses, and the government allowed online lenders to enter the program. This year, University of Texas researchers found that some of those “fintech” lenders appeared less diligent about catching fraud.

turning fraud into a franchise — helping other people cook up fake businesses in order to get loans from the Economic Injury Disaster program.

Andrea Ayers advised one client to tell the government she ran a baking business from home, although she was not a baker, prosecutors said.

YouTube videos, where scammers offered to help for a cut of the proceeds. Some used the money on necessities, like mortgage bills or car payments. But many seemed to act out of opportunism and greed, splurging on a yacht, a mansion, a $38,000 Rolex or a $57,000 Pokémon trading card.

responsible for selling the card.

music video on YouTube, bragging in detail about how he had gotten rich by submitting false unemployment claims. His song was called “EDD,” after California’s Employment Development Department, which paid the benefits.

first reported by The Washington Post. In the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, a watchdog found that $58 billion had been paid to companies that shared the same addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts or other data as other applicants — a sign of potential fraud.

“It’s clear there’s tens of billions in fraud,” said Michael Horowitz, the chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which includes 21 agency inspectors general working on fraud cases. “Would it surprise me if it exceeded $100 billion? No.”

The effort to catch fraudsters began as soon as the money started flowing, and the first person was charged with benefit fraud in May 2020. But investigators were quickly deluged with tips at a scale they had never dealt with before. The Small Business Administration’s fraud hotline — which had previously received 800 calls a year — got 148,000 in the first year of the pandemic. The Small Business Administration sent its inspector general two million loan applications to check for potential identity theft. At the Labor Department, the inspector general’s office has 39,000 cases of suspected unemployment fraud, a 1,000 percent increase from prepandemic levels.

But prosecutors face a key disadvantage: While fraud takes minutes, investigations take months and prosecutions take even longer.

pleaded guilty to mail fraud last month. His lawyers declined to comment.

first weeks of the pandemic, when the government gave out 5.8 million advance grants worth $19.7 billion in just over 100 days. In that program, fraud was easy to pull off, according to a government watchdog, which cited numerous loans given to businesses that were ineligible for funding.

Mr. Ware said he recently limited his agents to working 10 cases at a time, telling them: “You’re killing yourself. I have to protect you from you.”

told The New York Times in November.

“It’s a honey trap,” he added. “Richard Ayvazyan fell into that trap.” Mr. Ayvazyan was sentenced to 17 years in prison for participating in a ring that sought $20 million in fraudulent loans.

In the case of Mr. Oudomsine, the Pokémon card buyer, his lawyers argued in March that a judge should be lenient in deciding his sentence because the fraud had taken hardly any time at all.

“It is an event without significant planning, of limited duration,” said Brian Jarrard, who was Mr. Oudomsine’s lawyer at the time.

That did not work.

Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. of U.S. District Court sentenced Mr. Oudomsine to three years in prison, more than prosecutors had asked for, to “demonstrate to the world that this is the consequence” of fraud, according to a transcript of the sentencing.

Now, Mr. Oudomsine is appealing, with a new lawyer and a new argument. Deterrence, the new lawyer argues, is moot here because the pandemic-relief programs are over.

“There’s no way to deter someone from doing it, when there’s no way they can do it any longer,” said the lawyer, Devin Rafus.

Biden administration officials say they are trying to prepare for the next disaster, seeking to build a system that would quickly check applications for signs of identity theft.

“Criminal syndicates are going to look for weak links at moments of crisis to attack us,” said Gene Sperling, the White House coordinator for pandemic aid. He said the White House now aims to build a continuing system that would detect identity theft quickly in applications for aid: “The right time to start building a stronger system to prevent identity theft is now, not in the middle of the next serious crisis.”

In the meantime, the arrests go on.

Last week, prosecutors charged a correctional officer at a federal prison in Atlanta with defrauding the Paycheck Protection Program, saying she had received two loans totaling $38,200 in 2020 and 2021. The officer, Harrescia Hopkins, has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

“You can’t have a system where crime pays,” said Mr. Horowitz, of the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “It undercuts the entire system of justice. It undercuts people’s faith in these programs, in their government. You can’t have that.”

Seamus Hughes contributed reporting.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Analysis: Fed faces balance sheet dilemma as U.S. economy slows

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals!<<<<

The U.S. Federal Reserve Building is pictured in Washington, March 18, 2008. REUTERS/Jason Reed

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

NEW YORK, Aug 15 (Reuters) – With the recent slowdown in inflation, the Federal Reserve is faced with a conundrum ahead of a plan next month to double the rate at which it is shrinking its massive $8.9 trillion balance sheet.

The move to accelerate quantitative tightening (QT), as it’s referred to, is meant to further drain pandemic-era stimulus from the financial system and increase borrowing rates for long-dated assets to weaken inflation. But that is taking place as the U.S. central bank pushes ahead with interest rate hikes to tame stubbornly high inflation, which is currently running at more than three times the Fed’s 2% target.

The double tightening, however, makes it harder for the Fed to achieve a “soft landing” in which the economy slows but avoids a recession.With some investors believing the economy is already in a recession, speculation has grown that if something has to give, it could be the pace at which QT unfolds. The odds, however, remain long that the Fed would change its plan in the near term, some bond investors say.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

“There is some latitude for the Fed to either eventually go on a slow trajectory on quantitative tightening or even end earlier than expected. But it is hard to know (as to how) the Fed balances things out,” said Yung-Yu Ma, chief investment strategist at BMO Wealth Management in Dallas.

“At what point does the Fed view that financial conditions have tightened enough? That’s nebulous … and you don’t really know until after the fact if you have gone too far.”

The U.S. economy contracted in the first and second quarters, amplifying an ongoing debate over whether the country is, or will soon be, in recession. read more

Along with the contractions, two reports last week that suggested inflation had likely peaked in July took some pressure off the Fed to deliver another oversized rate hike at its Sept. 20-21 policy meeting. The annual U.S. consumer price index rose by a weaker-than-expected 8.5% last month, following a 9.1% rise in June, while U.S. producer prices also unexpectedly fell 0.5% on a monthly basis in July. read more

Rising inflation

Traders of futures tied to the federal funds rate, the central bank’s policy rate, are now pricing in a 63.5% chance of a 50-basis-point hike at the September meeting. FEDWATCH

“We really think the Fed slows down sooner rather than later. The data is starting to adjust and we’re seeing a slower economy,” said Kathy Jones, chief fixed income strategist at the Schwab Center for Financial Research in New York.

Still, her base case is for the Fed to run QT as is, but use that as a lever that can be adjusted in conjunction with rate hikes.

“If the rate hikes go fast and furious and they reverse, then they have to stop QT,” Jones said. “If the rate hikes slow and level off, they can continue QT for a longer time period and tighten policy through the back door instead of the front door.”

Following the tamer CPI reading, several Fed officials said it was too early to declare victory on the inflation front. read more

“Inflation remains far, far above anything that could be considered price stability. It remains a very long journey back towards acceptable levels of inflation,” said Jamie Dannhauser, an economist at London-based asset manager Ruffer LLP.

Dannhauser does not believe falling inflation numbers will affect the Fed’s QT plan.

He added that more unexpected good news on inflation, to the extent that it alters the baseline view for monetary policy, will be reflected in the downward shift in Fed forecasts for the central bank’s policy rate.

‘BEHIND THE CURVE’

The Fed’s balance sheet was at nearly $9 trillion as of last week. Its holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities have not declined significantly since June when the Fed started QT, but should come down over time, although it won’t occur in a straight line.

“The effects of QT are very small at the moment,” said Thomas Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York.

Accelerating quantitative tightening

But bank reserves held at the Fed have fallen to $3.3 trillion, down about $1 trillion from a high of $4.3 trillion in December 2021. Analysts said the contraction in reserves has been faster than many anticipated. In the Fed’s previous QT, $1.3 trillion in liquidity was withdrawn over five years. read more

The Fed has not announced a target size for its balance sheet. Gennadiy Goldberg, senior rates strategist at TD Securities, thinks the Fed’s ultimate goal would be to reduce the balance sheet to a point where bank reserves reach around 9% of GDP, which is where they stood prior to the September 2019 liquidity crunch. read more

Slowing down QT would be an option if it creates a shortage of bank reserves that starts to limit bank activities such as lending or market-making, analysts said.

Jay Hatfield, chief investment officer at Infrastructure Capital Management in New York, thinks the Fed should slow the pace of QT, as the market doesn’t need another $1 trillion reduction in bank reserves.

“That would be catastrophic for bonds and stocks,” Hatfield said. “Unfortunately, the Fed almost universally ignores liquidity and money supply. That’s why the Fed is perpetually behind the curve in controlling inflation and anticipating deflation.”

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com

Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Additional reporting by Karen Brettell; Editing by Alden Bentley and Paul Simao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ukraine Live Updates: Griner Appeals Drug Sentence, as U.S. and Russia Discuss Prisoner Swap

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

KYIV, Ukraine — The wedding registration center in the heart of Kyiv was a whirlwind of romance and celebration, a reflection of the defiant optimism on display across the Ukrainian capital these days.

Some people were tying the knot on a summer Saturday, after the war delayed their plans. Others, like Larisa, 31, and Roman, 30, raced to wed, mindful of how quickly things can change.

“We decided that no matter what the situation in the future, we will always be together,” said Larisa, who like others interviewed did not give her full name for safety reasons. “Our family is sure that love always wins, and Ukraine will definitely win.”

Across Kyiv — a city where the future is far from clear but many yearn to find pleasure in the present — Ukrainians are trying to reclaim the rhythms and joys of daily life amid the vagaries, uncertainties and sorrows of war.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

There may be no better place to feel the pulse of Kyiv in the summer than on the banks of the Dnipro River. Before the war, people kayaked and wake-boarded, music boomed from concerts and raves, crowds sunbathed or played sports. That riotous cacophony has not yet returned. But people are coming back.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Alexander Savchenko, a champion bodybuilder, was swimming on Saturday with his coach and his girlfriend, Valeria Baildalia, 27, all of them visiting from Odesa. Ms. Baildalia’s home is in Berdiansk, deep in the heart of the occupied south. She does not know when she will be able to return.

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Valentina Shevchenko, 64, was leading a class in valeology, the science of healthy living through proper exercise and diet. She led a half-dozen devotees in dancing and twisting to a pop song. For several months in the spring, they were unable to meet because of the war. But they have now resumed their routine, with one change: They all wear blue and gold outfits, the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Volodomyr, 79, said they end the class with the phrase: “Glory to Ukraine, health to all her people and thank you to our Western allies.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

On an island in the middle of the river, Petro, a 53-year-old former soldier and retired lawyer, stood on the sandy shores dressed in hip waders, a jar of fly larvae tucked into his pocket. He had come to fish for perch and carp, while also searching for peace of mind.

Six months ago, instead of a fishing rod, Petro carried a machine gun and prepared to defend his home as Russian forces bore down on Kyiv in the initial weeks of their invasion. More than four months since the Russians were forced to retreat from the city’s outskirts, Petro returned to his favorite fishing spot.

“It takes away all the tension from the war and all the negative thoughts,” he said, waiting for a bite. “I just want to switch off my mind. And if I catch a fish, I thank god.”

Credit…Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ukraine Live Updates: Residents Flee Town Near Nuclear Site as Shelling Continues

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

ZAPORIZHZHIA, Ukraine — Artillery fire resumed on Sunday from the direction of a nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine, with shells streaking into a town from which the Ukrainian army has been unable to return fire, for fear of causing a meltdown or releasing radiation at the plant.

Hours before the barrages, there were reports that conditions were unraveling in and near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The flight of civilians from the area accelerated on Saturday.

The plant is the first active nuclear power plant in a combat zone. The United States and European Union have called for the formation of a demilitarized zone, as the fighting in and around the plant and its active reactors and stored nuclear waste has sparked particular worry.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said in his nightly address on Saturday that Russia had resorted to “nuclear blackmail” at the plant, reiterating a Ukrainian analysis that Moscow was using it to slow a Ukrainian counteroffensive toward the Russian-occupied city of Kherson, where Russian conventional military defenses appear increasingly wobbly.

Contrary to the fears of some analysts when Moscow launched its invasion in February, the more urgent nuclear threat in the Ukraine war now appears to be Russia damaging the civilian plant, rather than deploying its own nuclear weapons. Russia says it’s Ukrainian forces who are shelling the plant.

Engineers say that yard-thick reinforced concrete containment structures protect the reactors from even direct hits. International concern, however, has grown that shelling could spark a fire or cause other damage that would lead to a nuclear accident.

The six pressurized water reactors at the complex retain most sources of radiation, reducing risks. After pressurized water reactors failed at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan in 2011, Ukraine upgraded the Zaporizhzhia site to enable a shutdown even after the loss of cooling water from outside the containment structures, Dmytro Gortenko, a former plant engineer, said in an interview.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said that on Saturday, Russian artillery fire hit a pump, damaged a fire station and sparked fires near the plant that could not be immediately extinguished because of the damage to the fire station.

In fields near the Russian-controlled town of Enerhodar, close to the plant, long lines of cars carrying fleeing civilians formed on Saturday, according to social media posts and another former engineer at the plant who has remained in touch with local residents.

“Locals are abandoning the town,” said the former engineer, who asked to be identified by only his first name, Oleksiy, because of security concerns. Residents had been leaving for weeks, but the pace picked up after Saturday’s barrages and fires, he said.

Since Russia captured the plant in March, its army has controlled the facility, while Ukrainian engineers have continued to operate it.

Ukrainian employees are not fleeing but sending their families away, said Oleksiy, who left in June. Enerhodar was built for plant employees in the Soviet period and had a prewar population of about 50,000.

Ukraine has accused Russia of staging artillery attacks targeting Ukrainian towns across the Dnipro River from the plant starting in July, as Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the south ramped up.

Overnight into Sunday morning, Russian howitzers fired on the Ukrainian town of Nikopol, which lies across a reservoir from the power plant, Yevheny Yetushenko, the Ukrainian military governor of the town, said in a post on Telegram.

The Ukrainian military has said it has few options for firing back. In July, it used a self-destructing drone to strike a Russian rocket artillery launcher that sat about 150 yards from one of the plant’s reactors.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Ukrainian Boy Starts a New Life Through Chess

YORK, England — Pints in hand, a group of men sat hunched over chessboards under the sloping ceiling beams of the Eagle and Child pub in York, in northern England.

Among them sat Maksym Kryshtafor, an 8-year-old Ukrainian boy with freckles and an impish smile, who navigated his pieces across the board with intense focus.

The group had moved its weekly meeting to an earlier time to accommodate its young guest’s bedtime, and he was soon impressing these chess aficionados with decades more experience.

the United Nations, each facing the challenges of a life ripped apart by war: a strange land, an unfamiliar language and tenuous ties to support systems like education and health care — if they have any ties all. Finding a pursuit that provides focus and stability can help exiles navigate the anxieties and upheaval of restarting life far from home.

For Maksym, it was chess.

a program that allowed British families to host Ukrainians fleeing the war for six months. So far, despite procedural difficulties, more than 65,000 people have headed to Britain from Ukraine under the program.

Maksym has been enrolled in school, where he is beginning to make friends and is enjoying math, Ms. Kryshtafor said, because even without a strong grasp of English, he can understand it.

Even with hospitable hosts like the Townsends and the security of life far from war, Ms. Kryshtafor said she had found it difficult to adjust to humbling circumstances. She had spent most of her life in Odesa, and despite having two college degrees and a career as a journalist, she is now working as a hotel cleaner.

to unseat the world’s youngest person to reach the prestigious ranking.

But Mr. Townsend and other chess ‌‌aficionados say that goal is a long shot. Still, Maksym is clearly skilled, Mr. Townsend said.

“Does that mean he’s going to become a grandmaster ever, let alone at the age of 12? Not necessarily,” he said.

Still, Maksym is nothing if not determined. He wakes at 5 a.m. each day to practice online before school and until recently had regular online training sessions with a Ukrainian chess grandmaster through the Ukrainian Chess Federation.

So far, his lucky outfit and his hours of training have served him well as he wins competition after competition in England. In late July, he and his mother traveled to Greece for the European Youth Chess Championship, where he won in two categories — rapid and blitz — in his age group.

Like many former Soviet nations, Ukraine has a long tradition of strong chess grandmasters, Mr. Townsend explained, but often the expectation is of total dedication to the game from a young age.

“You would see it as a place where chess is taken a lot more seriously than it is here,” Mr. Townsend said. Parents put young children into rigorous training programs, and school is often second to chess.

“It’s such a massive, culturally different approach to chess playing,” Ms. Townsend said. As a diversion from chess, she has enjoyed showing Maksym how to cook, taking him on nature walks, and building with Lego pieces.

But much of Maksym’s time is still dedicated to chess, and Mr. Townsend has been keen to help him get involved in local tournaments.

On a recent Saturday morning, he took Maksym and Ms. Kryshtafor to a Quaker school in York for a competition involving 120 youths ages 7 to 18. Boards were lined up on tables in a gym, filled with row after row of children tapping clocks and moving pieces.

Some of the children were so small that when seated, their feet swung above the floor. Maksym’s sneakers barely touched it.

He sat, fidgeting slightly, while the organizers rattled off the rules in English. He did not understand much of what was being said, but he knows how to play. His first match was over in under a minute.

He ran into the hall where Ms. Kryshtafor was waiting and embraced her. After the next match, Maksym again went running out to his mother.

“Too easy,” he said with a smile. “I made a checkmate.”

Before the fifth match, Maksym pressed his forehead against his mother’s and she whispered some words of encouragement. His opponent, an older boy, arrived just before play began.

Maksym rested his chin on his hand and smiled until, suddenly, he realized he had made a mistake. He pulled at tufts of his hair, twisting them around his fingers. He eventually lost to the boy, and after they shook hands, he wiped tears from his eyes.

Maksym eventually placed second in the competition. By the end, he seemed more interested in chatting with a group of children who had organized a game of tag outside.

His long hair flew behind him as one of the children chased him.

“He’s just a child,” his mother said as she watched him frolic. “He works so hard with chess that sometimes you forget he’s just a child.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Live Updates: Ukraine Estimates Sharply Higher Russian Casualty Toll in Crimea Blasts

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

BAKHMUT, Ukraine — Ukrainian soldiers scurried around the howitzer in a field one recent morning. In a flurry of activity, one man lugged a 106-pound explosive shell from a truck to the gun. Another, using a wooden pole, shoved it into the breach.

“Loaded!” the soldier shouted, then knelt on the ground and covered his ears with his hands.

The gun fired with a thunderous boom. A cloud of smoke wafted up. Leaves fluttered down from nearby trees. The shell sailed off toward the Russians with a metallic shriek.

It is a scene repeated thousands of times daily along the frontline in Ukraine: artillery duels and long-range strikes from both sides on targets ranging from infantry to fuel depots to tanks.

And what followed the salvo fired on Wednesday morning in eastern Ukraine was also indicative of the rhythm of this war: a coffee break.

This is a war fought in a cycle of opposites — bursts of chaos from outgoing or incoming shelling, and then long lulls in which soldiers undertake the most routine activities. Fighters who minutes before unleashed destructive weapons with a thunderous roar settled in a grove of oak trees around a picnic table of wooden ammunition boxes, boiling water on a camp stove and pouring cups of instant coffee.

They rested in an oak forest, overlooking a field of tall green grass and purple flowering thistles. Elsewhere, soldiers used a lull to smoke or get a haircut.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

On a recent visit, soldiers from the 58th Brigade fighting in and around the city of Bakhmut, where the artillery war is raging, were both attacking and under attack from artillery.

All about on the rolling, grassy hills west of Bakhmut, puffs of brown smoke rose from incoming Russian strikes, aimed at Ukraine’s artillery positions.

The pivotal importance of long-range fire was one reason the United States and other allies rushed NATO-caliber howitzers to Ukraine. Its military is close to depleting the entire stock of Soviet-legacy shells in its own arsenal and from allied countries in Eastern Europe, and it is now shifting to more abundant NATO ammunition.

Russia has vast supplies of artillery ammunition but indications are surfacing that it is dipping into older reserves that more frequently do not detonate on impact.

The Soviet-legacy howitzer the Ukrainian team fires, a model called the D-20 that is nicknamed the “fishing lure,” has held up well, said the commander, Lieutenant Oleksandr Shakin. American-provided long-range weaponry such as the M777 howitzer and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, known as HIMARS, have extended the reach of Ukraine’s army, but the bulk of the arsenal is still Soviet-era guns.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

The cannon they fired was made in 1979, he said, and most of the shells were from the 1980s. Still, Lt. Shakin said, “They have not let me down yet.’’

Typically, he said, he fires around 20 shells a day from each gun, conserving Ukraine’s dwindling supply of 152 millimeter ammunition.

“We have a lot of motivation,” said Captain Kostyantin Viter, an artillery officer. “In front of us are our infantry and we have to cover them. Behind us are our families.”

Inside the city of Bakhmut on Wednesday, at a position where soldiers of the 58th Brigade are garrisoned in an abandoned municipal building, the whistles of their colleagues’ shells could be heard sailing overhead — aimed at Russian forces to the east of town.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

The soldiers stood in a courtyard, smoking and listening to the whizzing of shells overhead and thuds of explosions in the distance.

The buzzing of electric clippers filled the air, too, as one soldier gave another a haircut. A few trucks were parked in the yard and a dozen or so soldiers milled about.

Half an hour or so on, a new noise joined the background of distant booms: the clang of nearby explosions. What had been a languid summer morning became a scene of chaos.

Soldiers dashed for cover or dove to the ground. After a dozen or so booms, it was over. An acrid smoke wafted over the courtyard, and shards of glass lay about. “Is everybody alive?” a soldier shouted.

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

All of the soldiers who had been in the yard escaped unhurt. But the Russian rocket strike killed seven civilians and wounded six others in the neighborhood near the soldiers’ base, the authorities reported later.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

U.S. Gas Prices Fall Below $4 a Gallon, AAA Says. Here’s Why.

Gas prices in the United States fell below $4 a gallon on Thursday, retreating to their lowest level since March, a sign of relief for Americans struggling with historically high inflation and a political boost for President Biden, who has been under pressure to do more to bring down prices.

The national average cost of a gallon of regular gasoline now stands at $3.99, according to AAA. That’s still higher than it was a year ago but well below a peak of nearly $5.02 in mid-June. The average price has fallen for 58 consecutive days.

Energy costs feed into broad measures of inflation, so the drop is also good news for policymakers who have struggled to contain rising prices. It is a welcome development for Mr. Biden, who has spent recent weeks trumpeting the drop in gasoline prices, even as he pledges to do more to bring costs down. Mr. Biden has criticized oil companies for their record profits, and this year he released some of the nation’s stockpile of oil in an effort to reduce price pressures.

cost of gasoline at the pump is determined by global oil prices, which have tumbled to their lowest point since the war in Ukraine began in February, a drop that reflects in part the growing concern of a worldwide recession that will hit demand for crude.

said in a statement, citing it as one example of recent “encouraging economic developments.”

For consumers, falling gas prices offer a respite from a shaky economy, rapid inflation and other worries. “We have new rising diseases and inflation, and people expect a recession,” said Zindy Contreras, a student and part-time waitress in Los Angeles. “If I just had to not worry about my gas tank taking up $70, that’d be a huge relief, for once.”

Ms. Contreras has been filling up her 2008 Mazda 3 only halfway as a result of the higher prices, costing her $25 to $30 each visit to the pump, and she had found opportunities to car-pool with friends. These days, Ms. Contreras usually gets gas twice a week, driving 15 miles to and from work each week and an additional 10 to 50 miles a week, depending on her plans.

The national average price masks wide regional variations. Prices vary according to the health of local economies, proximity to refineries and state taxes, said Devin Gladden, a spokesman with AAA.

weaker demand because of high costs, a sharp decline in global oil prices in recent months and the suspension of taxes on gasoline in a handful of states.

Nearly two-thirds of people in a recent AAA survey said they had altered their driving habits because of high prices, mostly by taking fewer trips and combining errands. On Thursday, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries revised down its forecast for global oil demand this year.

Regardless of the causes, the lower prices are a welcome change for drivers for whom the added expense — often $10 to $15 extra for a tank of gas — had become yet another hurdle as they sought to get their lives back to normal as the coronavirus pandemic eased.

“The affordability squeeze is becoming very real when you see these high prices at the gas pump,” said Beth Ann Bovino, the U.S. chief economist at S&P Global. “So, in that sense, it’s a positive sign certainly for those folks that are struggling.”

That cushion — cash not spent on gasoline that can go elsewhere — also extends to businesses, particularly as the price of diesel fuel drops. Diesel, which is used to fuel, for instance, farm equipment, construction machinery and long-haul trucks, has also fallen from a June record, though at a slower pace than gasoline prices.

The drop in the price of gas is also good news for the economy, as businesses face less pressure to pass energy costs on to their customers — a move that would add to the country’s inflation problem.

hurricanes later this year could damage Gulf Coast refineries and pipelines, choking off supplies.

For now, though, the steady drop in the cost of fuel offers Americans a reprieve.

“If gasoline prices stay at or near the levels they have reached, that would mean much more cushion for households,” Ms. Bovino said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Damage at Air Base in Crimea Worse Than Russia Claimed, Satellite Images Show

Credit…David Guttenfelder for The New York Times

Russian forces killed at least 13 civilians and wounded 11 others in an overnight missile attack in southern Ukraine, a senior Ukrainian military official said on Wednesday, in an escalation of fighting around a key nuclear power plant held by Moscow.

The Russians used Grad missiles in the attack on the Nikopol district, across the Dnipro River from the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, according to the head of the Dnipropetrovsk military administration, Valentyn Reznichenko. He said that Russians had fired 80 rockets on residential neighborhoods, causing damage to apartment blocks, administrative buildings and infrastructure, and leaving 1,000 people without gas.

Russian forces launched a “deliberate and insidious strike when people were sleeping in their homes,” Mr. Reznichenko wrote on the Telegram social messaging app. He said that 10 residents were hospitalized, seven of whom were in serious condition.

In his nightly address on Wednesday, President Volodymr Zelensky said Ukraine would not leave the “Russian shelling of the Dnipropetrovsk region unanswered.”

Credit…State Emergency Service of Ukraine, via Reuters

In recent weeks, Russia has reinforced its positions in Kherson Province, which borders Dnipropetrovsk, and targeted a series of missile attacks there and on nearby provinces. According to Ukrainian officials, those attacks have included shellfire directed at Nikopol from the Zaporizhzhia plant, which Russian forces seized in March soon after invading Ukraine in February.

It was not clear whether the overnight attack had come from the grounds of the nuclear plant. On Saturday, rocket fire struck a dry spent-fuel storage facility at the plant itself. Ukraine and Russia blamed each other for the episode, which prompted the head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, Rafael Mariano Grossi, to express “grave concern” and renew his appeals for a formal inspection of the plant.

The Ukrainian authorities, as well as independent military and nuclear experts, say that the transformation of the plant, the largest in Europe, into a combat zone is almost without precedent. They also say that Russia’s use of the site as a base from which to launch attacks offers a tactical advantage, given that it is extremely difficult for Ukraine to return fire without imperiling the plant’s reactors.

On Wednesday, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven major industrialized democracies, who were meeting in Germany, issued a statement demanding that Russia withdraw its forces from Ukraine and immediately return control of the nuclear complex to Ukraine. The statement blamed Russia’s military actions around the plant for “significantly raising the risk of a nuclear accident or incident,” endangering the entire region.

Fighting in the south is intensifying as Ukrainian forces receive an influx of long-range artillery from the United States and other Western countries, increasing its capacity to strike Russian military infrastructure far behind the front lines. A Ukrainian official said that Ukrainian forces were responsible for a blast on Tuesday at a Russian air base on the western coast of Crimea, the peninsula that Moscow illegally seized in 2014, but said that a domestically manufactured weapon had been used in the strike.

Ukrainian forces have also been trying to mount a counteroffensive in Kherson Province, aimed at retaking the provincial capital, Kherson city, which lies more than 100 miles downstream from the nuclear plant.

Russia’s attacks in the south appear aimed, in part, at raising pressure on Ukraine’s military given the counteroffensive, but they also fit a broader pattern established since the war began of raining fire on civilian areas. Moscow denies targeting civilians.

Russian forces captured the last city in Luhansk Province in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine in early July, after a sustained artillery barrage and street fighting that lasted weeks. Since then, however, their advance in Donetsk Province has slowed and, overall, both sides have been depleted by heavy losses in more than five months of fighting.

A British military intelligence report on Wednesday said that, in response to its losses, Russia has most likely established a major new ground forces formation, the 3rd Army Corps, based east of Moscow. But the new formation is “unlikely to be decisive to the campaign” in Ukraine, the report said, and may struggle to attract enough recruits because of limited public support for the war effort.

“Russian commanders highly likely continue to be faced with the competing operational priorities of reinforcing the Donbas offensive, and strengthening defenses against anticipated Ukrainian counter attacks in the south,” the report said.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

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.”

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<