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Getting hotter: US inflation hits fresh 40-year high of 7.9%

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U.S. consumer price gains accelerated in February to a fresh 40-year high on rising gasoline, food and housing costs, with inflation poised to rise even further following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The consumer price index jumped 7.9% from a year earlier following a 7.5% annual gain in January, Labor Department data showed Thursday. The widely followed inflation gauge rose 0.8% in February from a month earlier, reflecting higher gasoline, food and shelter costs. Both readings matched the median projections of economists in a Bloomberg survey.

Excluding volatile food and energy components, so-called core prices increased 0.5% from a month earlier and 6.4% from a year ago.

The data illustrate the extent to which inflation was tightening its grip on the economy before Russia’s war brought about a spike in commodities, including the highest retail gasoline price on record. Most economists had expected February would be the peak for annual inflation, but the conflict likely means even higher inflation prints in the coming months.

“Inflation is not likely to roll over and begin to come down for several more months,” Michael Gapen, chief U.S. economist at Barclays Plc said on Bloomberg Television. “This sets the stage for where we are now. And we need to see how long this conflict plays out and how disruptive the sanctions regime actually is.”

To combat building price pressures, the Federal Reserve is set to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018. At the same time, the geopolitical situation adds uncertainty to the central bank’s rate hiking cycle over the coming year.

Fed officials could take a more hawkish stance if energy price shocks lead to higher and more persistent inflation, but they also may take a more cautious approach if sinking consumer sentiment and declining real wages begin to weigh on growth as the war drags on.

The February report showed that gasoline prices rose 6.6% from the prior month and accounted for almost a third of the monthly increase in the CPI. Some of that may reflect energy price spikes resulting from the first days of Russia’s invasion during the last week of the month. The impact will be more fully captured in the March CPI report.

So far this month, the retail price of a regular-grade gasoline has increased 19.3% to $4.32 a gallon, according to American Automobile Association data.

Food prices climbed 1% from the prior month, the largest advance since April 2020, the CPI report showed. Compared with February last year, the 7.9% jump was the biggest since 1981.

While the war’s full impact on the U.S. economy remains unclear, soaring costs of oil, grains and metals are likely to feed through to other commodities and ultimately consumer prices. The Biden administration on Tuesday banned Russian oil imports into the U.S., a move that will add to energy price pressures.

Real Earnings
Wage increases as a result of a tight labor market haven’t been keeping up with inflation. Inflation-adjusted average hourly earnings dropped 2.6% in February from a year earlier, the largest drop since May and the 11th straight decrease, separate data showed Thursday.

The report showed that prices for merchandise continued their climb in February, while annual growth in services costs accelerated. On a year-over-year basis, goods inflation rose by 13%, the most since 1980. That included the largest-ever annual increase in prices of new cars and trucks.

Services costs increased 4.8% from a year ago, the biggest advance since 1991.

U.S. inflation has broadened out across spending categories

Shelter costs — which are considered to be a more structural component of the CPI and make up about a third of the overall index — rose 0.5% from the prior month, the most since November. Rent of primary residence increased 0.6% on a monthly basis, the largest advance since 1987.

Motor-vehicle repair costs shot up by a record 4.3% from January, and an index of personal care jumped an unprecedented 1.2%.

The prices of hotel stays and airfares rebounded in February following the omicron-related pullback in economic activity in December and January.

SOURCE: BLOOMBERG

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BUSINESS

US stocks suffer biggest daily drop in almost two years

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US stocks posted the biggest daily drop in almost two years as investors assess the impact of higher prices on earnings and prospects for monetary policy tightening on economic growth. The dollar and Treasuries gained amid a pickup in haven bids.

The selloff sent the S&P 500 down 4%, with the plunge in consumer shares surpassing 6%. Target Corp. tumbled more than 20% in its worst rout since 1987, after trimming its profit forecast due to a surge in costs. Shares of retailers from Walmart Inc. to Macy’s Inc. were caught in the downdraft. The Nasdaq 100 fell the most among major benchmarks, dropping more than 5% as growth-related tech stocks sank. Megacaps Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. slid at least 5%.

Treasuries rose across the board, sending the 10- and 30-year Treasury yields down as much as 11 basis points. The dollar rose against all of its Group-of-10 counterparts, except the yen and Swiss franc. Gold caught bids in the move into havens.

The benchmark S&P 500 is emerging from the longest weekly slump since 2011, but any rebounds in risk sentiment are proving fragile amid tightening monetary settings, Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s Covid lockdowns.

In some of his most hawkish remarks to date, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Tuesday that the US central bank will raise interest rates until there is “clear and convincing” evidence that inflation is in retreat. Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said Wednesday he sees a half-point rate increase at next month’s meeting and “probably thereafter.”

In Europe, new-vehicle sales shrank for a 10th month in a row as the industry remains mired in supply-chain crises, while euro-area inflation plateaued at a record high. Meanwhile, UK inflation rose to its highest level since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister 40 years ago, adding to pressure for action from the government and central bank.

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Netflix lays off 150 employees due to slow revenue growth and business needs

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Netflix is reportedly laying off nearly 150 employees in the coming days due to disappointing earnings and slow revenue growth.

According to a Variety report, the Amazon Prime Video rival might also terminate its contract with contractual contributors.

The layoffs are about 2 per cent of Netflix’s US workforce. “As we explained [in reporting Q1] earnings, our slowing revenue growth means we are also having to slow our cost growth as a company. So sadly, we are letting around 150 employees go today, mostly U.S.-based,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

The statement further revealed that the decision was primarily driven by business needs rather than individual performance. Netflix reported $7.87 billion in Q1, which was short of Wall Street’s estimates of $7.93 billion.

The report further reveals that nearly 70 part-time employees in Netflix’s animation studio will have to pack up and leave. A report by The Verge stated that about 26 contractors working on Netflix’s fan-focused Tudum website might see a termination.

“A number of agency contractors have also been impacted by the news announced this morning. We are grateful for their contributions to Netflix,” the company said.

Netflix, in its recent earnings call, revealed that it lost thousands of subscribers, which is a first for the company in over a decade.

The company expects to lose an additional 2 million in the next quarter due to the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Netflix has shut shop in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

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Dollar breaks N600/$ ceiling ahead of party’s presidential primaries

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Less than two weeks to the presidential primaries of the political parties ahead of the 2023 elections, the US dollar has broken the N600/$ mark at the parallel market and set the tone for a possible uptick in the coming days.

The black market rate had traded between N570/$ and N590/$ since the beginning of the year while the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN)’s intervention at the Nigerian Autonomous Foreign Exchange (NAFEX) has kept its rate under N420/$.

With the latest slump of the naira, the arbitrage between the parallel and NAFEX, which is regarded as the official window, is now inching close to N200/$. The spread measures the deviation of the controlled official rate from the real rate of exchange, with experts calling for liberalisation of the market to enable naira to find its true value.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have also warned of the repercussions of sustaining an artificially high naira while calling on the CBN to embark on market reform.

But the CBN has maintained that Nigeria, with the current high level of importation and underperformance of the industrial sector, cannot afford to float the naira completely as the exchange rate could spill out of control.

At the Lagos street market, yesterday, naira traded between N595/$ and N600/$ band. With the presidential primaries of the two leading political parties scheduled for Abuja next weekend, there is an expectation the demand pressure has not peaked, suggesting that naira is in for a protracted pressure.

At peer-to-peer (P2P) trading platforms, the dollar has been trading above N600 in the past three weeks, which had signaled that the black market rate could break through the psychological ceiling.

With that eventually happening, naira could be on a renewed free fall.

But there is also hope that it is a season to offload warehoused hard currencies for political campaigns to possibly shore up supply.

Experts are not sure where rising demand and supply of foreign exchange would lead the naira to, but the interplay between the movements of the two variables is a key factor in predicting the value of the naira in the tense political season. Godwin Owoh, a professor of applied economics, advised Nigerians to prepare for a steeper fall of the local currency, saying partisan politics and intra-party meetings, which are highly dollarised would bring much pressure to bear.

The CBN has promised to continue to protect the naira but its ability could be constrained by the equally falling reserve. For the first time in eight months, the gross reserves dropped below N39 billion on Monday, when CBN data put the figures at N38.92 billion. Effectively, the country’s reserves have depleted by $160 billion year-to-date.

Bismarck Rewane, an economist, had projected the reserve to collapse to $32 billion in the year as he expected the CBN to spend $8 to $10 billion defending the naira, which is taking much pressure from excessive importation.

The value of Nigeria’s imports increased by 64 per cent last year to N20.84 trillion. Sadly, the value of exports increased at a slower rate – 51 per cent – to N18. 91 trillion in the same period. The falling reserves and rising imports have put the apex bank in dire straits in its efforts to continue to defend the naira.

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