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    What to Watch for as the Federal Reserve Meets This Week

    Central bankers are expected to leave interest rates steady at a 22-year high of 5.25 to 5.5 percent. Investors are looking for hints at what’s next.Federal Reserve officials are widely expected to leave interest rates steady at the conclusion of their two-day meeting on Wednesday. But investors and economists will watch for any hint about whether rates are likely to stay that way — or whether central bankers still think they might need to increase them again in the coming months.Officials will release a statement announcing their policy decision at 2 p.m., followed by a news conference with Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, at 2:30 p.m. Both will offer policymakers a chance to signal what they think might come next for interest rates and the economy.Central bankers have already raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent in a push to tame inflation. That rate setting is up from near-zero as recently as early 2022, and is the highest level in 22 years.Higher borrowing costs are meant to make it more expensive to buy a home, purchase a car or expand a business using a loan. By tapping the brakes on demand and hiring, that slows the broader economy, which can help to put a lid on price increases.Fed officials have widely signaled that they are close to the point where they no longer need to raise interest rates — simply leaving them around this level will cool the economy and help drive inflation back down to their 2 percent goal over time. The question now is twofold: Will policymakers feel it necessary to make one more quarter-point interest-rate move later this year or early next? And once they decide that rates are high enough, how long will they leave them elevated?Here’s what to watch for on Wednesday.Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said in that “at the margin” the recent tightening in financial conditions could reduce the need for further tightening, “though that remains to be seen.”Michelle V. Agins/The New York TimesThe Fed’s language will be in focus.Central bankers will first release their standard monetary policy statement, and markets will carefully watch to see if officials make any changes that suggest they are done raising interest rates.Last time, officials said that “in determining the extent of additional policy firming that may be appropriate,” they would contemplate incoming economic data. If they softened that language to make further policy moves sound less likely, it would be notable.But investors may not find much else to parse in this release. Fed officials will not release fresh quarterly economic projections again until December. Given that, traders will have to watch Mr. Powell’s news conference for more details about what comes next.Recent market moves could be critical.As of the Fed’s latest economic forecasts in September, officials still thought that one more rate increase in 2023 might be appropriate.But something critical has changed in the intervening weeks.Long-term interest rates have climbed notably in markets since the Fed gathered on Sept. 19-20. While central bankers directly set short-term interest rates, longer-term borrowing costs often adjust only at a delay — and the recent jump is making everything from mortgages to business loans much more expensive.That could help slow the economy, doing some of the Fed’s work for it. And some economists think in light of that, central bankers will no longer see a need for another rate increase.Mr. Powell, during a question-and-answer session on Oct. 19, said that “at the margin” the recent tightening in financial conditions could reduce the need for further tightening, “though that remains to be seen.”“I took it to mean that perhaps there isn’t as much urgency to raise interest rates further,” said Blerina Uruci, chief U.S. economist at T. Rowe Price. She said that she didn’t expect officials to rule out another move, but “they need to manage a broad range of risks right now.”If consumer spending remains so strong that companies feel they can raise prices without scaring away customers, it could make it tough to fully wrestle inflation back down to 2 percent.Amir Hamja/The New York TimesStrong consumer spending may keep officials alert.While the Fed is dealing with the possibility that higher market-based interest rates will weigh on the economy, they are also confronting another potential challenge: Economic data have remained surprisingly strong in recent months.On one level, this is good news. Consumers are shopping and companies are hiring at a rapid clip in spite of higher interest rates, and that resilience has come at a time when inflation has moderated substantially. The Fed’s favorite inflation gauge has slowed to 3.4 percent, down from 7.1 percent at its peak in summer 2022.But if consumer spending remains so strong that companies feel they can raise prices without scaring away customers, that could make it tough to fully wrestle inflation back down to 2 percent.That’s why policymakers at the Fed are watching the continued strength closely — and trying to decide whether it suggests that further interest rate increases are needed.Timing is a big question.Officials may decide that they simply need more time to watch economic trends play out.Holding off on further rate moves in November — and possibly beyond — could give officials a chance to see if growth and consumer spending slow in the way companies have been warning they could.Plus, keeping rates on pause will give officials more time to see how looming geopolitical risks shape up. The war between Israel and Hamas could affect the economy in hard-to-predict ways. If it escalates into a regional war, it could shake consumer confidence. But a wider conflict could also cause oil prices to pop, pushing up inflation.At the same time, officials won’t want to fully rule out a future move at a time when market rates could fall, risks could fade and growth could remain quick.“Maintaining optionality makes a lot of sense in the current context,” said Matthew Luzzetti, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank.Wall Street is divided over what will come next. Investors see about a one-in-four chance of a rate move at the Fed’s final 2023 meeting, which takes place on Dec. 13. They see a slightly higher — but far from guaranteed — chance of a move in early 2024.“Nobody is feeling a high degree of confidence about the economic outlook right now,” Ms. Uruci said. More

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    Halloween Shoppers Not Spooked as Economic Slowdown Remains Elusive

    Economists spent much of 2023 warning that a recession could be imminent as the Federal Reserve raised interest rates to the highest level in more than two decades. But for companies like Soergel Orchards in western Pennsylvania, a slowdown is nowhere in sight.“People are buying the decorative things,” said Amy Soergel, manager at the company who explained that gourds and cornstalks were in high demand and that customers were coming out to select pumpkins and apples. “People love to pick — people will pick anything.”Sales are up even though a string of rainy weekends have held back attendance at the farm’s annual fall festival. Demand at the hard cider shop has been solid. And the owners are bracing for a strong season in their store selling Christmas decorations.Soergel’s bustling business is a microcosm of a trend playing out nationwide. Consumer demand has unexpectedly boomed in 2023, defying widespread expectations for a slowdown and helping to fuel strong overall growth. The economy expanded at an eye-popping 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, far faster than the roughly 2 percent pace officials at the Fed think of as its standard growth pace.That is great news for American companies. But it is a also a source of confusion. Why is the economy still growing so quickly more than a year and a half into the Fed’s campaign to slow it down, and how long will the upswing last?Fed officials have lifted interest rates above 5.25 percent, making it more expensive to take out a mortgage, borrow to expand a business or carry a credit card balance. Those moves were meant to trickle out through markets to cool the real economy. Some parts of the economy have felt the squeeze — existing home sales have slowed, for instance. Yet employers continue to hire and families keep spending.Customers were coming to Soergel Orchards to select pumpkins and apples.Ross Mantle for The New York Times“People love to pick — people will pick anything,” a manager said.Ross Mantle for The New York TimesCornstalks and gourds are in high demand at Soergel’s.Ross Mantle for The New York TimesIt is difficult to predict what comes next as the all-important holiday shopping season approaches. A solid job market and cooling inflation could combine to give consumers the wherewithal to keep powering the economy forward. But many companies are being careful not to build up too much inventory or predict too strong a sales outlook, worried that higher borrowing costs could collide with smaller savings piles and the accumulated effects of more than two years of rapid inflation to make Americans thriftier.“Sentiment definitely feels down,” Thomas Barkin, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said during an interview on Oct. 19. “The folks I talk to are still clamping down in preparation for 2024.”What happens with holiday shopping could help shape what the Fed does next.The central bank has been trying to slow growth for a reason: Inflation has been above 2 percent for 30 months now. To get prices under control, policymakers think they need to tamp down demand.The logic is fairly simple. If rapid hiring continues and wage gains prove quick, people who are earning more money are likely to feel confident and keep spending. And if shoppers are eager to buy restaurant dinners, new gadgets and updated wardrobes, it will be easier for companies to protect their profits by raising prices.That is why Fed officials are keeping an eye on how strong consumers and the job market remain as they contemplate what to do next with interest rates. Policymakers are almost sure to leave rates unchanged at their meeting on Nov. 1, and a number of them have suggested that they may be done raising borrowing costs altogether.Soergel’s owners are bracing for a strong season in their store selling Christmas decorations.Ross Mantle for The New York TimesBut top officials have kept alive the possibility of one final quarter-point increase, if economic data were to remain buoyant.“We are attentive to recent data showing the resilience of economic growth and demand for labor,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said in a recent speech, adding that continued surprises “could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”So far, companies offer a mixed picture on the outlook. Many are suggesting that seasonal shopping is off to a strong start. Halloween spending is expected to climb to a record $12.2 billion, up 15 percent from last year’s record of $10.6 billion, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. The group is expected to release its holiday forecast this week.Walmart reported strong sales during its back-to-school season, which its chief executive noted was a good indicator for how spending would look during Halloween and Christmas.“Typically when back-to-school is strong, it bodes well for what happens with Halloween and Christmas,” Doug McMillon, the Walmart chief, said on an earnings call in August.But some companies are uncertain. The Tractor Supply chief executive, Hal Lawton, said during an earnings call last week that the retailer was stocking up on fall and winter décor — selling, for instance, a skeleton cow that was a “TikTok viral sensation.”But “we acknowledge there is a broader range of estimates for holiday, consumer spending than we’ve seen over the last couple of years,” he added.And some analysts think winter shopping could prove weak. Craig Johnson, founder of the retail consultancy Customer Growth Partners, expects holiday sales to grow at 2.1 percent, the slowest since 2012, he said in a report released Oct. 17.“The fact that people had a good Halloween doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to have a good holiday,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s a different buying mentality and there’s not a carryover — you’re not going to see apparel lines from Halloween extend over into Christmas.”Retailers report that they are carefully watching how much inventory they have headed into the holidays, and a Fed survey of business experiences from around the Fed’s 12 districts referenced the word “slow,” “slower” or “slowing” 69 times.Demand at the on-site hard cider shop has been solid.Ross Mantle for The New York TimesPart of the challenge in forecasting is that consumers seem to be splitting into two groups: Wealthier consumers keep spending even as the bottom tier of shoppers either pull back or look for deals.The department store chain Kohl’s says it is seeing this type of bifurcation play out in its customer base and is adjusting its stores accordingly.Shoppers at the Kohl’s in Ramsey, N.J., were greeted with a range of already-discounted Christmas items like miniature snowmen and ornaments at the front of the store. That design was done on purpose — Kohl’s executives want the section to appeal to deal-hungry shoppers.But in a sign that higher earners could fuel growth, it has also started to stock new category items like decanters, wine glasses and electric corkscrews.“We want to make sure we’ve got the right broad breadth of assortment for the breadth of customer base that we’ve got,” said Nick Jones, Kohl’s chief merchandising and digital officer. “And that’s an element of making sure everything’s got to be great value. But great value doesn’t always mean low price.” More

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    Consumers Kept Spending in September, as Inflation Held Steady

    Overall inflation stayed at 3.4 percent in September, down from a peak of around 7 percent.American consumers spent at a robust clip last month, fresh data showed, as the economy continued to chug along even after more than a year and a half of Federal Reserve interest rates increases.The Fed’s policy moves have been intended to slow demand in order to tamp down inflation. Price increases have been slowing down: Friday’s Personal Consumption Expenditures report also showed that overall inflation held steady at 3.4 percent in September.That was in line with what economists had expected, and is down from a peak of 7.1 percent in the summer of 2022. And after stripping out volatile food and fuel for a clearer sense of the underlying inflation trend, a closely-watched core inflation measure eased slightly on an annual basis.Still, Fed officials aim for 2 percent inflation, so the current pace is still much faster than their goal.The question confronting policymakers now is whether inflation can slow the rest of the way at a time when consumer spending remains so strong. Businesses may find that they can charge more if shoppers remain willing to open their wallets. Friday’s report showed that consumer spending climbed 0.7 percent from the previous month, and 0.4 percent after adjusting for inflation. Both numbers exceeded economist forecasts.The strong spending figures are likely not enough to spur Fed officials to react immediately: Policymakers are widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged at their meeting next week, which wraps up on Nov. 1. But such solid momentum could keep them wary if it persists.“You see inflation still generally trending in the right direction, so I think they’re willing to look past this,” said Carl Riccadonna, chief U.S. economist at BNP Paribas. “If this continues for multiple quarters, then I think that maybe it starts to wear a little bit thin: If you have persistent above-trend growth, then you have to start worrying about what the inflation consequences will be.”Fed policymakers have raised interest rates to 5.25 percent, up from near-zero as recently as March 2022, and many officials have suggested that interest rates are likely either at or near their peak.But policymakers have been careful to avoid entirely ruling out the possibility of another rate increase, given the economy’s staying power.A report yesterday showed that the economy grew at a 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, after adjusting for inflation. That was a rapid pace of expansion, and was even faster than what forecasters had expected.“We are attentive to recent data showing the resilience of economic growth and demand for labor,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said in a recent speech, adding that continued surprises “could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”Inflation has slowed over the past year for a number of reasons. Supply chains became tangled during the pandemic, causing shortages that pushed up goods prices — but those have eased. Gas and food prices had shot up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have faded as drivers of inflation this year.Some of those changes have little to do with monetary policy. But in other sectors, the Fed’s higher interest rates could be helping. Pricier mortgages seem to have taken at least some steam out of the housing market, for instance. That could help by spilling over to keep a lid on rent increases, which are a big factor in key measures of inflation.Wrestling inflation down the rest of the way could prove to be more of a challenge. Almost all of the remaining inflation is coming from service industries, which include things like health care, housing costs and haircuts. Such price increases tend to stick around more stubbornly.For now, officials are waiting to see if their substantial rate moves so far will continue to feed through to cool the economy.There are reasons to think that growth could soon slow.“Despite the quarter-to-quarter gyrations in economic data, the Fed feels that it has restrictive policy in place,” said Mr. Riccadonna from BNP. “It’s really just a matter of waiting for the medicine to kick in, to a full degree.”Plus, a recent jump in longer-term interest rates could weigh on the economy. While the Fed sets short term rates directly, those market-based borrowing costs can take time to adjust — and they matter a lot. The jump in long term rates is making it much more expensive to take out a mortgage or for companies to borrow to fund their operations.Plus, consumers have slightly less money to spend: After adjusting for inflation, disposable income declined by 0.1 percent in September, Friday’s report showed. And global instability — including from the war between Israel and Hamas — could add to uncertainty and economic risk.“Despite the quarter-to-quarter gyrations in economic data, the Fed feels that it has restrictive policy in place,” Mr. Riccadonna from BNP. “It’s really just a matter of waiting for the medicine to kick in, to a full degree.” More

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    Inflation Held Steady in September, While Consumers Spent Robustly

    Overall inflation stayed at 3.4 percent in September, down from a peak of around 7 percent.Inflation remained cooler in September even as consumers continued to spend at a rapid clip, a sign that the economy is chugging along despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to contain price increases by weighing on demand.Price increases climbed by 3.4 percent in the year through September, based on the Personal Consumption Expenditures index. That was in line with forecasts, and matched the increase in August.After stripping out volatile food and fuel to get a sense of the underlying trend in prices, a core price measure climbed by 3.7 percent, also in line with economist expectations and down slightly from a revised 3.8 percent a month earlier.Fed officials aim for 2 percent inflation based on the measure released Friday — so prices are still climbing much more quickly than normal. But at the same time, price increases have moderated notably compared to the summer of 2022, when the overall P.C.E. measure eclipsed 7 percent. And encouragingly, inflation has come down even as the economy has remained very strong.Friday’s report provided additional evidence of that resilience. Consumer spending continued to grow at a brisk pace last month, picking up by 0.7 percent from the previous month, and 0.4 percent after adjusting for inflation.The question confronting Fed officials now is whether inflation can slow the rest of the way at a time when consumption remains so strong. Businesses may find that they can charge more if shoppers remain willing to open their wallets.Inflation has slowed over the past year for a number of reasons. Supply chains became tangled during the pandemic, causing shortages that pushed up goods prices — but those have eased. Gas and food prices had shot up after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but have faded as drivers of inflation this year.Some of those changes have little to do with monetary policy. But in other sectors, the Fed’s higher interest rates could be helping. Pricier mortgages seem to have taken at least some steam out of the housing market, for instance. That could help by spilling over to keep a lid on rent increases, which are a big factor in key measures of inflation.But overall, the economy has been surprisingly resilient to higher borrowing costs. That is keeping the possibility of a further Federal Reserve rate move on the table, though investors still think one is unlikely.Policymakers have raised interest rates to 5.25 percent, up from near-zero as recently as March 2022. Many have suggested that interest rates are likely either at or near their peak. Officials are widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged at their two-day gathering next week, which wraps up on Nov. 1.But policymakers have been careful not to rule out the possibility of another rate increase, given the economy’s continued momentum.A report yesterday showed that the economy grew at a 4.9 percent annual rate in the third quarter, after adjusting for inflation. That was a rapid pace of expansion, and was even faster than what forecasters had expected.“We are attentive to recent data showing the resilience of economic growth and demand for labor,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said in a recent speech, adding that continued surprises “could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”For now, officials are waiting to see if their substantial rate moves so far will feed through to cool the economy in coming months, especially because longer-term interest rates in markets have moved up notably in recent months. That is making it much more expensive to take out a mortgage or for companies to borrow to fund their operations, and could cool the economy if it lasts. More

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    U.S. Economic Growth Accelerated in the Third Quarter

    Gross domestic product expanded at a 4.9 percent annual rate over the summer, powered by prodigious consumer spending. But the pace is not expected to be sustained.The United States economy surged in the third quarter as a strong job market and falling inflation gave consumers the confidence to spend freely on goods and services.Gross domestic product, the primary measure of economic output, grew at a 4.9 percent annualized rate from July through September, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. It was the strongest showing since late 2021, defying predictions of a slowdown prompted by the Federal Reserve’s interest rate increases.The acceleration was made possible in part by slowing inflation, which lifted purchasing power even as wage growth weakened, and a job market that has shown renewed vigor over the past three months.It’s a far cry from the recession that many had forecast at this time last year, before economists realized that Americans had piled up enough savings to power spending as the Fed moved to make borrowing more expensive.“There’s been an enormous increase in wealth since Covid,” said Yelena Shulyatyeva, senior economist for the bank BNP Paribas, referring to recent Fed data that showed median net worth climbed 37 percent from 2019 to 2022. “People still take not just one vacation, not just two, but three and four.”That level of spending in turn fueled robust job growth in service industries like hotels and restaurants even as sectors that benefited from pandemic shopping trends, like transportation and warehousing, returned to more normal levels. And with layoffs still near record lows, workers have little reason to hold off on making purchases, even if it means using a credit card — an increasingly pricey option as interest rates drift higher.One beneficiary of those open pocketbooks is Amanda McClements, who owns a home goods store in Washington, D.C., called Salt & Sundry. Sales are up about 15 percent from last year and have finally eclipsed 2019 levels.“People can’t get enough candles; that continues to be our top seller,” Ms. McClements said. They are also “entertaining more post-pandemic, so we do really well in glassware, tableware, beautiful linens.”Ms. McClements said business hadn’t been uniformly strong, though: Her plant store, Little Leaf, never snapped back from the depths of the pandemic, and it closed this year. “We’ve been experiencing a really uneven recovery,” she said.Although consumers propelled the bulk of the economy’s growth in the third quarter, other factors contributed as well. Residential investment, for example, provided a boost even in the face of higher interest rates: Those who already own homes have little incentive to sell, so newly constructed homes are the only ones on the market.“The third quarter would be that sweet spot where higher mortgage rates kept people in place, builders capitalized on the lack of existing supply, and that showed up as an improvement from prior quarters,” said Bernard Yaros, lead U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.The rebound in growth will probably be brief. Pitfalls loom in the fourth quarter, including the depletion of savings, the resumption of mandatory student loan payments and the need to refinance maturing corporate debt at higher rates.But for now, the United States is outperforming other large economies, in part because of its aggressive fiscal response to the pandemic and in part because it has been more insulated from impact of the Ukraine war on energy prices.“We’re talking about the eurozone and U.K. certainly looking like being on the cusp of recession, if not already in recession,” said Andrew Hunter, deputy U.S. economist for Capital Economics, an analysis firm. “The U.S. is still the global outlier.”Jeanna Smialek More

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    How High Interest Rates Sting Bakers, Farmers and Consumers

    Home buyers, entrepreneurs and public officials are confronting a new reality: If they want to hold off on big purchases or investments until borrowing is less expensive, it’s probably going to be a long wait.Governments are paying more to borrow money for new schools and parks. Developers are struggling to find loans to buy lots and build homes. Companies, forced to refinance debts at sharply higher interest rates, are more likely to lay off employees — especially if they were already operating with little or no profits.Over the past few weeks, investors have realized that even with the Federal Reserve nearing an end to its increases in short-term interest rates, market-based measures of long-term borrowing costs have continued rising. In short, the economy may no longer be able to avoid a sharper slowdown.“It’s a trickle-down effect for everyone,” said Mary Kay Bates, the chief executive of Bank Midwest in Spirit Lake, Iowa.Small banks like Ms. Bates’s are at the epicenter of America’s credit crunch for small businesses. During the pandemic, with the Fed’s benchmark interest rate near zero and consumers piling up savings in bank accounts, she could make loans at 3 to 4 percent. She also put money into safe securities, like government bonds.But when the Fed’s rate started rocketing up, the value of Bank Midwest’s securities portfolio fell — meaning that if Ms. Bates sold the bonds to fund more loans, she would have to take a steep loss. Deposits were also waning, as consumers spent down their savings and moved money into higher-yielding assets.Higher Interest Rates Are Here More

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    Powell Says Strong Economic Data ‘Could Warrant’ Higher Rates

    The Federal Reserve may need to do more if growth remains hot or if the labor market stops cooling, Jerome H. Powell said in a speech.Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, reiterated the central bank’s commitment to moving forward “carefully” with further rate moves in a speech on Thursday. But he also said that the central bank might need to raise interest rates more if economic data continued to come in hot.Mr. Powell tried to paint a balanced picture of the challenge facing the Fed in remarks before the Economic Club of New York. He emphasized that the Fed is trying to weigh two goals against one another: It wants to wrestle inflation fully under control, but it also wants to avoid doing too much and unnecessarily hurting the economy.Yet this is a complicated moment for the central bank as the economy behaves in surprising ways. Officials have rapidly raised interest rates to a range of 5.25 to 5.5 percent over the past 19 months. Policymakers are now debating whether they need to raise rates one more time in 2023.The higher borrowing costs are supposed to weigh down economic activity — slowing home buying, business expansions and demand of all sorts — in order to cool inflation. But so far, growth has been unexpectedly resilient. Consumers are spending. Companies are hiring. And while wage gains are moderating, overall growth has been robust enough to make some economists question whether the economy is slowing sufficiently to drive inflation back to the Fed’s 2 percent goal.“We are attentive to recent data showing the resilience of economic growth and demand for labor,” Mr. Powell acknowledged on Thursday. “Additional evidence of persistently above-trend growth, or that tightness in the labor market is no longer easing, could put further progress on inflation at risk and could warrant further tightening of monetary policy.”Mr. Powell called recent growth data a “surprise,” and said that it had come as consumer demand held up much more strongly than had been expected.“It may just be that rates haven’t been high enough for long enough,” he said, later adding that “the evidence is not that policy is too tight right now.”Economists interpreted his remarks to mean that while the Fed is unlikely to raise interest rates at its upcoming meeting, which concludes on Nov. 1, it was leaving the door open to a potential rate increase after that. The Fed’s final meeting of the year concludes on Dec. 13.“It didn’t sound like he was anxious to raise rates again in November,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, explaining that he thinks the Fed will depend on data as it decides what to do in December.“He definitely didn’t close the door to further rate hikes,” Mr. Feroli said. “But he didn’t signal anything was imminent, either.”Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist for Nationwide Mutual, said the comments were “balanced, because there is so much uncertainty.”The Fed chair had reasons to keep his options open. While growth has been strong in recent data, the economy could be poised for a more marked slowdown.The Fed has already raised short-term interest rates a lot, and those moves “may” still be trickling out to slow down the economy, Mr. Powell noted. And importantly, long-term interest rates in markets have jumped higher over the past two months, making it much more expensive to borrow to buy a house or a car.Those tougher financial conditions could affect growth, Mr. Powell said.“Financial conditions have tightened significantly in recent months, and longer-term bond yields have been an important driving factor in this tightening,” he said.Mr. Powell pointed to several possible reasons behind the recent increase in long-term rates: Higher growth, high deficits, the Fed’s decision to shrink its own security holdings and technical market factors could all be contributing factors.“There are many candidate ideas, and many people feeling their priors have been confirmed,” Mr. Powell said.He later added that the “bottom line” was the rise in market rates was “something that we’ll be looking at,” and “at the margin, it could” reduce the impetus for the Fed to raise interest rates further.The war between Israel and Gaza — and the accompanying geopolitical tensions — also adds to uncertainty about the global outlook. It remains too early to know how it will affect the economy, though it could undermine confidence among businesses and consumers.“Geopolitical tensions are highly elevated and pose important risks to global economic activity,” Mr. Powell said.Stocks were choppy as Mr. Powell was speaking, suggesting that investors were struggling to understand what his remarks meant for the immediate outlook on interest rates. Higher interest rates tend to be bad news for stock values.The S&P 500 ended almost 1 percent lower for the day. The move came alongside a further rise in crucial market interest rates, with the 10-year Treasury yield rising within a whisker of 5 percent, a threshold it hasn’t broken through since 2007.The Fed chair reiterated the Fed’s commitment to bringing inflation under control even at a complicated moment. Consumer price increases have come down substantially since the summer of 2022, when they peaked around 9 percent. But they remained at 3.7 percent as of last month, still well above the roughly 2 percent that prevailed before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.“A range of uncertainties, both old ones and new ones, complicate our task of balancing the risk of tightening monetary policy too much against the risk of tightening too little,” Mr. Powell said. “Given the uncertainties and risks, and given how far we have come, the committee is proceeding carefully.”Joe Rennison contributed reporting. More

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    Those Doritos Too Expensive? More Stores Offer Their Own Alternatives.

    Retailers are expanding their own private-label food and beverage offerings, attracting customers looking for less expensive options.The snack chips had become pretty pricey.For years, customers stopping at Casey’s General Stores, a convenience store chain in the Midwest, hadn’t thought twice about snagging a soda and a bag of Lay’s or Doritos chips. But over the past year, as the price of a bag of chips soared and some customers felt squeezed by the high cost of gas and other expenses, they began picking up Casey’s less-expensive store brand.So Casey’s began stocking more of its own chips, in a variety of new flavors. This summer, Casey’s brand made up a quarter of all bags of chips sold, eating into the sales of big brands like Frito-Lay, which is owned by PepsiCo.“As inflation continues to ratchet up, more people are open to trying alternatives,” said Darren Rebelez, the chief executive of Casey’s, which has 350 private-label products and plans to add 45 this year. “If you put the alternative right on the shelf, right next to the expensive option, people may say, ‘What the heck,’ and give it a try.”Large food companies gobbled up market share during the pandemic. With supply chain issues affecting what was on the shelves, people were buying basically whatever they could find. And they kept buying even as prices soared when the food and beverage brands raised prices to maintain their profit levels while still covering rising ingredient and labor costs.But with retailers now expanding their store-owned food and beverage offerings, consumers are slowly shifting their spending. Overall, private-label foods and beverages have crept up to a 20.6 percent share of grocery dollars from 18.7 percent before the pandemic, according to the market research firm Circana.In some categories like canned vegetables and cheese, private-label goods have garnered a significant portion of the market.Andres Kudacki for The New York TimesBut a deeper look at some categories reveals private-label goods are gaining significant ground on national brands. Private labels snagged 38 percent of canned vegetable sales in the three months that ended June 30, according to Numerator, another market research firm. Numerator’s data also shows private-label cheese held 45 percent of the market and coffee nearly 15 percent.The shift in spending reflects a customer base that is nearing or at its tipping point. Inflation, which climbed to 3.7 percent in September, is running at a less-rapid pace than a year ago, but millions of shoppers still face increasingly high prices in grocery stores.The trend is having a greater effect among those with lower incomes, who spend a greater share of their paycheck on food, even as a pandemic-era policy that increased the amount of money that food-stamp recipients received over the last three years has ended. This month, payments on federal student loans, which had been on pause for the pandemic, also resumed. Adding to the financial burden, rates on credit cards and mortgages are rising.Two-thirds of consumers said in July that they bought less-expensive groceries at retailers, an increase of four percentage points from a year earlier, according to the consulting firm McKinsey. The shift, the firm said, was particularly pronounced among those with incomes less than $100,000 in categories such as meat, dairy and staples.“Consumers are trading down,” said Rupesh D. Parikh, an equity analyst at Oppenheimer & Company who covers food, grocery and consumer products. He recently bought a box of Kellogg’s Mini Wheats cereal at Walmart along with the Walmart version. “The Kellogg’s cereal was 75 percent more expensive, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them,” he said.Big brands, in response, are already starting to offer small sale prices on certain foods, like salty snacks. “The question is how deep they are willing to go in promotions,” Mr. Parikh said.The expansion in private-label goods is also a response to a changing grocery landscape. Competition is revving up because of consolidation, led by Kroger’s proposed $24.6 billion merger with Albertsons, and the push into the United States by entrants like the German discount chain Aldi, which stocks 90 percent of its shelves with private-label goods. In August, Aldi agreed to acquire 400 Winn Dixie and Harveys Supermarket stores, giving it a significant presence in the Southeast.Retailers say they need the private-label goods to give consumers a broader array of choices. The store brands are also typically more profitable for the retailers than products from big food companies.But perhaps the biggest factor is a seismic shift in consumer attitudes. Older generations that grew up with “generic” ketchup or soup recall them as bland, tasteless versions of the name brands. Retailers, which have dumped the term “generic,” insist that the quality of the private-label foods and beverages has improved substantially. Social media platforms like TikTok and Reddit are filled with young people hyping their favorite store brand foods at Aldi and Trader Joe’s.“If the food is not good quality, our reputation is at risk,” said Scott Patton, the vice president of national buying for Aldi, who said the chain was seeing increased traffic in all income levels. “If you’re going to sell a store-branded apple cinnamon ice cream, it had better be the best apple cinnamon ice cream you’ve ever had.”Retailers are offering customers “belly fillers,” basic foods at low prices that are virtual clones of national brands, but they are also hunting for ways to differentiate themselves, said Jordan Bouey, the owner of Silver State Baking, a Las Vegas-based manufacturer that makes cookies, bars and breads for grocery chains and retailers.“If there’s a category that doesn’t have a big national brand, retailers are looking to be unique and give the shoppers what they’re looking for, like a protein cookie,” Mr. Bouey said.The private-label pasta carried by Wegmans includes more high-end varieties aimed at “the food enthusiast,” an executive said.Andres Kudacki for The New York TimesAt a Wegmans in Hanover, N.J., the dried pasta aisle was stocked with fettuccine, shells and spaghetti from well-known brands like Barilla and De Cecco. But the vast majority of the pasta on the shelves was Wegmans’ own brand, one line priced at 99 cents a box and another, Amore, that is imported from Italy and $4.99 a box, about $2 more than some of the national brands.“We want our brand to serve the value customer who is on a budget,” said Nicole Wegman, who was named president of Wegmans Brand in 2021. Wegmans has expanded its private-label business in recent years to more than 17,000 products, including deli and prepared meals, frozen vegetables and healthy snacks.“But we also want products, like our cheese and our breads, that are fun for the food enthusiast,” Ms. Wegman said. “They’re specialty items and more expensive to make, so we have to charge more for them.”Indeed, executives at Casey’s, which started dabbling in private-label goods three years ago, said they were trying not to compete with the national brands but rather expand what’s available for customers. In some cases, that means offering flavors the national brands do not.Sales of limited-edition Casey’s chips in flavors like sweet corn, barbecue brisket and jalapeño Cheddar sold well this summer. “Those are the kind of products that a Frito-Lay is not going to make because it is not a national flavor profile that is going to work for their business,” Mr. Rebelez said.But he also acknowledged that some Casey’s customers were simply looking for deals.Take candy bars. For years, retailers would not compete against behemoths like Hershey and Mars because customers remained loyal to the brands they had grown up eating. But as the price of candy bars rose in recent years, some customers stopped buying.So Casey’s created four of its own lower-priced candy bars, including a chocolate with mint and a chocolate caramel.“I was skeptical going in, but those candy bars have performed really well,” Mr. Rebelez said, adding that Casey’s was working on more iterations. “There is a breaking point for consumers, and in certain products and categories we’ll provide an alternative.” More