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US consumers unlikely to get respite from inflation in May

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US gasoline prices are hitting new records daily amid a surge in inflation worldwide
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The torrid pace of US inflation may have eased slightly in May, but prices have remained high to the detriment of Americans’ wallets, sending President Joe Biden and the Federal Reserve racing to help.

Consumer prices in the world’s largest economy have soared by the fastest pace in more than four decades, with gas prices at the pump hitting new records daily amid the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as ongoing supply chain challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Biden, whose popularity has taken a hit as prices surge, has made fighting inflation his top domestic priority, but is finding he has few tools to directly impact prices.

“Inflation is the bane of our existence,” Biden acknowledged in an interview Wednesday with late-night television host Jimmy Kimmel.

The Labor Department is set to release the May consumer price index (CPI) data on Friday, which analysts expect will show a slightly higher monthly increase than in the prior month, but potentially saw a modest slowdown in the torrid annual pace.

US consumer prices jumped 8.3 percent in the 12 months ending in April, and though economists say the rate probably peaked in March at 8.5 percent, it is likely to remain high for months to come, something the White House has acknowledged.

“We estimate the 12-month change in overall CPI eased only slightly” to 8.2 percent, said Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics.

Sam Stovall of CFRA expects the rate slow to 8.1 percent but warned further declines are likely to be “glacial.”

However, a consensus forecast sees the rate holding steady at the 8.3 percent the pace seen April.

Biden has tried to hammer home his optimistic message about the economic progress in the wake of the pandemic, including rapid GDP growth and record job creation, while pressing Congress to take action to lower costs on specific products, and go after firms such as shipping companies that are taking advantage of limited competition to impose steep price hikes.

“We have the fastest-growing economy in the world,” he said. “That’s allowed us at least to stay on top of and a little bit ahead of what’s happening around the world.”

– Inflation remains ‘elevated’ –

The United States has come roaring back from the economic damage inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, helped by bargain borrowing costs and massive government stimulus measures.

But with the pandemic still gripping other parts of the world, global supply chain snarls have caused demand to far outstrip resources. Meanwhile, the conflict in Ukraine has sent global oil prices above $100 a barrel.

The Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates aggressively, with another big hike expected next week, as policymakers attempt to combat inflationary pressures without triggering a recession.

The White House acknowledged inflation is likely to remain “elevated” in May, though Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday the administration continues “to believe the economy can transition from what has been a historic recovery… to stable steady growth.”

In a video posted on Twitter on Thursday, Biden urged Congress to pass a bill aimed at easing the cost of shipping containers to US ports, which in turn would bring down prices.

The bill passed the Senate in March, and the House of Representatives is set to vote on the legislation next week.

Another step Washington could take is to lift some of the punitive tariffs Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump imposed on China, which supporters argue would help ease price pressures by making imports cheaper.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told lawmakers Wednesday that such a move was under “active consideration” and the administration would provide more information in “in coming weeks.”

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Grammys add new categories including best video game score

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The Grammy Awards will feature some new categories in 2023
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The 2023 Grammy Awards will feature new honors including for the year’s best video game soundtrack and Songwriter of the Year, the Recording Academy said Thursday.

In the year’s most significant change, the Songwriter of the Year prize will not be open to performing or producing artists, but rather focus on working songwriters who often receive little recognition for their contributions, and have lobbied for years for such a tweak to the prestigious music awards.

Artists will also be able to submit their work for Best Alternative Music Performance, Best Americana Performance and Best Spoken Word Poetry Album, a field that will now be separate from the always eccentric audiobook category.

The Recording Academy will also give out a special merit award, chosen by a designated committee, for Best Song For Social Change, which seeks to celebrate tracks that “contain lyrical content that addresses a timely social issue and promotes understanding, peacebuilding and empathy.”

The changes follow several years of Grammy category reworks as the academy attempts to quell criticism that its award picks are not inclusive and don’t reflect evolutions in the music industry.

“We’re so excited to honor these diverse communities of music creators through the newly established awards and amendments, and to continue cultivating an environment that inspires change, progress and collaboration,” said Harvey Mason Jr., the academy’s CEO, in a statement.

In 2020, the Los Angeles-based institution made a number of category name swaps, including changing the controversial “urban contemporary” to “progressive R&B.”

The move came amid growing concern in the music industry that “urban” was far too general to encompass the genres including hip-hop and R&B that it came to describe, and belittled the innovations of Black musicians.

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US Chamber of Commerce summit swag Made in China

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Made in China: Swag given out by the US Chamber of Commerce was produced in the People's Republic
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The swag bag dished out by the American Chamber of Commerce to promote US industry at an international summit isn’t quite on message — with some gifts bearing the slogan “Made in China.”

Delegates and hangers-on at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles this week are being plied with all manner of freebies and samples from various groups wanting to push their agenda.

A sideline gathering dubbed the “CEO Summit” has seen the great and the good from industry and politics mount the stage to talk about how business can help to boost development in impoverished parts of Central and South America.

Attendees, who have included Google boss Sundar Pichai, US President Joe Biden and Meta number three Nick Clegg, have been able to avail themselves of a blue bag of goodies provided by hosts the American Chamber of Commerce.

But a closer inspection reveals that its contents are not exactly born in the USA.

An insulated metal drinking bottle in the bag is stamped with a capitalized CHINA on the bottom, denoting its origin in the People’s Republic.

And while delegates might welcome the free pair of shades to stop them squinting under California’s perpetually sunny skies, the “Made in China” message on the label isn’t quite living the American dream.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which describes itself as a “non-profit membership organization representing the unified interests of US business,” did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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‘Nothing to suggest’ US will have a recession: Yellen

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US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen (pictured June 7, 2022) said there is a risk of recession in the US economy but does not think it is likely to happen
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The United States is unlikely to suffer an economic downturn, despite sky-high inflation, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said Thursday.

“There’s nothing to suggest that there’s a recession in the works,” she said during an interview at The New York Times’ economic forum.

The US economy has recovered strongly from the Covid-19 damage, but the highest inflation in four decades and supply chain snarls exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are increasing pessimism.

The US Labor Department is set to release the May consumer price index (CPI) report on Friday, and analysts expect the data could potentially show a modest slowdown in the torrid 8.3 percent annual pace.

The Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates aggressively, with another big hike expected next week, as policymakers attempt to combat inflationary pressures without triggering a recession.

Yellen expressed confidence they will be successful.

“I believe there is a path through this that entails a soft landing,” she said.

But the swiftness of the Fed’s planned moves has increased fears of a recession, generally defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

At the forum, Yellen was asked to respond to rapper Cardi B’s tweet about a possible downturn.

“Is there a recession risk? Of course there’s a recession risk,” the Treasury secretary said. “But is it likely? I don’t think so.”

When asked if she knew who Cardi B was, Yellen quipped: “I don’t have a lot of time for her, but I am alive.”

Fed Chair Jerome Powell and President Joe Biden have each sought to assuage recession fears, with Powell saying the US economy is strong enough to weather higher borrowing costs.

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