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    Powell says the Fed is watching for ‘clear and convincing’ signs of inflation fading.

    Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said that the central bank is focused on getting rapid inflation under control and that it is ready to intensify its efforts to tamp down price pressures if they do not begin to ease as policymakers expect.“What we need to see is clear and convincing evidence that inflation pressures are abating and inflation is coming down — and if we don’t see that, then we’ll have to consider moving more aggressively,” Mr. Powell said, speaking Tuesday afternoon on livestream hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “If we do see that, then we can consider moving to a slower pace.”Consumer prices climbed 8.3 percent in April from the prior year, and while inflation eased somewhat on an annual basis, the details of the report suggested that price pressures continue to run hot.The central bank has begun raising interest rates to try and cool the economy, announcing a quarter-point increase in March and a half-point increase earlier this month, which was the Fed’s largest increase since 2000. Mr. Powell and his colleagues have signaled that they will continue to push borrowing costs higher as they attempt to restrain spending and hiring, hoping to bring demand and supply into balance.They could raise rates by half-percentage-point increments at each of the Fed’s next two meetings, Mr. Powell suggested after the central bank’s May meeting. He repeated that message on Tuesday.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what that means for inflation.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.“There was very broad support on the committee for having on the table the idea of doing additional rate increases of that magnitude at each of the next two meetings,” Mr. Powell said. “That’s short of a prediction.”While Mr. Powell emphasized the economic outlook is very uncertain, he and his colleagues have suggested that they want to push interest rates up to a neutral setting — a place where they are neither stoking nor slowing growth — “expeditiously.” But Mr. Powell suggested that officials are willing to raise rates beyond that if it is necessary to do so to control inflation.“We won’t hesitate at all to do that,” he said. “We will go until we feel like we’re at a place where we can say, ‘Yes, financial conditions are at an appropriate place, we see inflation coming down.’”The Fed chair said that the central bank can no longer simply hope that supply chain issues improve and help inflation to fade, and that it has to instead be proactive in trying to restrain prices by cooling down the economy.“We clearly have a job to do on demand — there is an imbalance in the economy broadly between demand and supply,” Mr. Powell said. He pointed in particular to the labor market, where workers are in short supply and wages are rising swiftly as employers compete to hire them.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Retail sales rise for the fourth straight month as prices keep climbing.

    Retail sales rose 0.9 percent in April, increasing for the fourth consecutive month, as consumer prices continue to escalate at their fastest pace in four decades.The increase in spending in the United States last month follows a revised 1.4 percent month-over-month gain in March, when prices for gasoline soared amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices cooled down slightly in April but were still at elevated levels, while oil prices remain volatile.Consumers pulled back on spending at gas stations, where sales fell 2.7 percent in April, the Commerce Department reported on Tuesday, and the report showed that shopping at grocery stores and building material stores dropped last month.Sales at restaurants and bars were up 2 percent in April, while spending at department stores was up 0.2 percent. Spending at car dealers, which has been hampered by supply chain disruptions and a global computer chip shortage, rose 2.2 percent last month.Economists are laser-focused on upcoming reports on spending because they serve as indicators of how consumers are grappling with inflation and higher interest rates.“Despite the surge in prices weighing on their purchasing power, the U.S. consumer now appears to be single-handedly keeping the global economy afloat,” Paul Ashworth, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note.The Commerce Department’s new data, which isn’t adjusted for inflation, was an early estimate of spending during a month when prices rose 0.3 percent from the prior month. The rapid pace of inflation has led companies to raise prices for their goods to cover the higher costs of commodities, labor and transportation. Companies like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have introduced higher prices for their products, and airfares are also climbing.To combat inflation, the Federal Reserve started lifting interest rates from near zero in March. Economists are worried that if interest rates are raised too fast, the move could lead the economy into a recession by slowing down consumer demand too much.“To the extent that markets are worried about a growth slowdown, this is good news,” Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer for Independent Advisor Alliance, wrote in a note, referring to Tuesday’s report. “But it is also a further catalyst for the Fed to raise rates even higher, in order to get inflation under control.” More

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    What Higher Interest Rates Could Mean for Jobs

    Layoffs are up only minimally, and employers may be averse to shedding workers after experiencing the challenges of rehiring.The past year has been a busy one for nearly every industry, as a reopening economy has ignited a war for talent. Unless, of course, your business is finding jobs for laid-off workers.“For outplacement, it’s been a very slow time,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president of the career transition firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. But lately, he has been getting more inquiries, in a sign that the market might be about to take a turn. “We’re starting to gear up for what we anticipate to be a normalization where companies start to let people go again.”Spurred by red-hot inflation fueled partly by competition for scarce labor, the Federal Reserve has begun raising interest rates in an effort to cool off the economy before it boils over. By design, that means slower job growth — ideally in the form of a steady moderation in the number of openings, but possibly in pink slips, too.It’s not yet clear what that adjustment will look like. But one thing does seem certain: Job losses would have to mount considerably before workers would have a hard time finding new positions, given the backlogged demand.So far, the labor market has revealed some clues about what might lie ahead.Challenger’s data, for example, shows that announced job cuts rose 6 percent in April over the same month in 2021. While still far below levels seen earlier in 2020, it was the first month in 2022 to have a year-over-year increase, and followed a 40 percent jump in March over the previous month. Some of those layoffs were idiosyncratic: More than half the layoffs in health care in the first third of this year resulted from workers’ refusal to obey vaccine mandates, with some of the rest stemming from the end of Covid-19-related programs.But other layoffs seem directly related to the Fed’s new direction. Nearly 8,700 people in the financial services sector lost jobs from January through April, Challenger found, mostly in mortgage banking. Rising rates for home loans have torpedoed demand for refinances, while prospective buyers are increasingly being priced out.Theoretically, a Fed-driven housing slowdown might in turn tamp down demand for construction workers. But builders bounced back strongly after a dip in 2020 and have only accelerated since. The National Association of Home Builders estimates that the industry needs to hire 740,000 people every year just to keep up with retirements and growth. Even if housing starts fell off, homeowners feeling flush as their equity has risen would snap up available workers to add third bedrooms or new cabinets.“A big national builder that’s concentrated in a high-cost market, and all they do is single-family exurban construction, yeah, they may have layoffs,” said the association’s chief economist, Robert Dietz. “But then remodelers would come along and say, ‘Oh, here’s some trained electricians and framers, let’s go get them.’”The National Association of Home Builders estimates that the industry needs to hire 740,000 people every year just to keep up with retirements and growth.Matt Rourke/Associated PressAnother sector that is typically sensitive to the cost of credit is commercial construction, which sustained deep losses as office development came to a screeching halt during the pandemic. Nevertheless, cash-rich clients have plowed ahead with industrial projects like power plants and factories, while federal investment in infrastructure has only begun to make its way into procurement processes.“I think that lending rates might be less important right now,” said Kenneth D. Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America. “An increase in either credit market or bank rates isn’t sufficient to choke off demand for many types of projects.”The tech sector, which feeds on venture capital that is more abundant in low-interest-rate environments, has drooped in recent months. Under pressure to burn less cash, some companies are looking to offshore jobs that before the pandemic they thought needed to be done on site, or at least in the country.“We’ve seen several of our clients in the high-growth technology space quickly shift their focus to reducing cost,” said Bryce Maddock, the chief executive of the outsourcing company TaskUs, discussing U.S. layoffs on an earnings call last week. “Across all verticals, the operating environment has led to an acceleration in our clients’ demand for growth in offshore work and a decrease in demand for onshore work.”In the broader economy, however, any near-term layoffs might occur on account of forces outside the Fed’s control: namely, the exhaustion of federal pandemic-relief spending, and a natural waning in demand for goods after a two-year national shopping spree. That could hit manufacturing and retail, as consumers contemplate their overfilled closets. Spending on long-lasting items has fallen for a couple months in a row, even before adjusting for inflation.If spending on durable goods declines sharply, “I could easily see that creating a recession, because suppliers would be stuck with a massive amount of inventory that they wish they didn’t have, and people employed that they wish they didn’t,” said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic policy arm of the Brookings Institution. “Even there, it’s going to be hard to know how much was that the Fed raised interest rates, and how much was the extraordinary surge in demand for goods unwinding.”In general, if the Fed’s path of tightening does prompt firms to downsize, that’s likely to be bad news for Black, Hispanic and female workers with less education. Research shows that while a hot labor market tends to bring in people who have less experience or barriers to employment, those workers are also the first to be let go as conditions worsen — across all industries, not just in sectors that might be hit harder by a recession.So far, initial claims for unemployment benefits remain near prepandemic lows, at around 200,000 per week. But some economists worry that they might not be as good a signal of impending trouble in the labor market as they used to be.The share of workers who claim unemployment, known as the “recipiency rate,” has declined in recent decades to only about a third of those who lose jobs. These days, any laid-off workers might be finding new jobs quickly enough that they don’t bother to file. And the pandemic may have further scrambled people’s understanding of whether they’re eligible.“One possibility is that people are going to think that because they haven’t worked long enough, because they switched employers or stopped working for a period of time, that this would make them ineligible, and they’re going to assume that they can’t get it again,” said Kathryn Anne Edwards, a labor economist at the RAND Corporation. (The other possibility is that the temporary supplements to unemployment insurance during the pandemic might have introduced more people to the system, leading to more claims rather than fewer.)One good sign: Employers may have learned from previous recessions that letting people go at the first sign of a downturn can wind up having a cost when they need to staff up again. For that reason, managers are trying harder to redeploy people within the company instead.John Morgan, president of the outplacement firm LHH, said that while he was getting more inquiries from companies preparing to downsize, he did not expect as large a surge as in past cycles.“Even if they’re driving down on profits, a lot of our customers are trying to avoid the ‘fire and rehire’ playbook of the past,” Mr. Morgan said. “How can they invest in upskilling and reskilling and move talent they have inside the organization? Because it’s just really hard to acquire new talent right now, and incredibly expensive.” More

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    Stocks Return to Earth, With the S&P 500 Nearing a Bear Market

    Until very recently, the stock market seemed to defy gravity, producing double-digit returns that provided many Americans with financial comfort even as everything else crumbled around them.When the pandemic began upending society, the market sank for a few weeks and then recorded one of the greatest rallies in history. Stock prices rose the day rioters breached the U.S. Capitol, and they were up during the week that protests roiled many American cities after the murder of George Floyd. During this time of great upheaval, the market seemed to flash a contrarian signal that things were going to be OK — economically, at least.But real world problems have finally crashed the stock market’s party. Soaring inflation, fueled by rising food prices and the war in Ukraine, has prompted the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates significantly for the first time in many years, which has sent stock prices plummeting to earth.Stocks rose 2.4 percent on Friday, but not enough to make up for a week of declines. It was the sixth consecutive week of losses for the stock market, the first time that has happened since 2011. The S&P 500, which has been flirting with a bear market, or a drop of 20 percent, is down more than 16 percent since its peak in January. It may fall further as inflation persists and a recession looms.Even after the bleeding stops, stock market investors, who include more than 50 percent of Americans, could face years of relatively meager returns that will leave them with substantially less money to pay for their children’s college education and support themselves in retirement.This reckoning comes just months before the midterm elections, deepening problems for Democrats who are already struggling to convince voters that their party and President Joseph R. Biden are steering the economy on the right track.Former President Donald J. Trump often took credit for the stock market’s meteoric rise. Now, Mr. Biden and his party will almost certainly take some of the blame for its recent fall.In reality, the stock market is not a perfect measure of the real economy. Unemployment is low and consumer spending is still holding up, but more than a month of punishing losses can damage the country’s financial psyche.“People look at the stock market as a barometer of the economy and how they are faring financially,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “They feel good when they see green on the screen and crummy when they see red.”Years of low rates have been rocket fuel for stock prices, partly because other investments, like bonds, that are pegged to interest rates produce such minimal returns. The stock market became one of the few places where investors could make big money.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.During the pandemic, rates went even lower, as policymakers sought to support businesses and consumers through the shutdowns — and it worked. Investors piled into companies’ stocks and kept them flush with capital, which allowed them to keep hiring, paying rent, ramping up production and, of course, rewarding shareholders with ample dividends and stock buybacks.But inflation, which puts a heavy burden on families trying to make ends meet, also helped kill the market’s mood. Steadily rising food costs and record high gasoline prices prompted the Fed to raise rates and try to slow the economy.The stock price of Alphabet, Google’s parent, is down about 20 percent since the start of the year.Laura Morton for The New York TimesWall Street has been expecting this moment to come for a long time. But the market’s reaction — which some refer to as a “reset” and others call a necessary “comeuppance” for stock investors — is painful nonetheless.“I don’t think people recognized how fragile of a foundation the stock market was resting on,” said Emily Bowersock Hill, founder of Bowersock Capital Partners and chairwoman of the investment committee of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System, a pension fund with more than $20 billion.Ms. Hill said some of the declines were probably good for the market because it was clearing out the froth that created the conditions for “meme stocks”: companies with dubious business prospects like AMC Theatres, BlackBerry and Bed Bath & Beyond, whose share prices were driven up by speculators.But the downdraft has sunk the share prices of companies that represent innovation and the future, too; Amazon is down more than 30 percent since the start of the year and Alphabet, Google’s parent, is off about 20 percent, as investors rethink those companies’ real value.Virtually no stocks have been spared from losses. The market decline has “gone on and on, and it’s depressing,” Ms. Hill said.Perhaps no one understood that emotional symbolism of the market better than Mr. Trump.“The reason our stock market is so successful is because of me,” Mr. Trump said in November 2017 — one of many statements in which he boasted about rising stock prices or publicly pressured the Fed to further lower interest rates to juice the economy.Early in the pandemic, in April 2020 — with stores, offices and churches shut, children marooned at home attempting remote school, and morgues running out of space for virus victims — Mr. Trump tweeted that the United States had “the biggest Stock Market increase since 1974.”While a majority of Americans have some money invested in the stock market, it remains a rich person’s game. According to an analysis by the New York University economics Professor Edward Wolff, the top 5 percent of American wealth holders own 72 percent of all stocks.But the stock market’s symbolic value matters. “It’s the one story that makes the news every night,” said Richard Sylla, a professor emeritus of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.Is the market up or down? Are we winning or losing today, this week, this year, this presidency?On Friday, the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment index fell lower than expected, a drop that some economists attribute partly to stock market losses. The index is now 13 points below the low when Covid first hit, noted Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. Such deep pessimism “suggests that people have short memories,” Mr. Shepherdson wrote in a research note.It also suggests trouble for the Biden administration. Not only is the stock market party ending under President Biden’s watch, it could be a while before another one gets going.“Now nobody is going to be getting much richer from stocks,” one market historian predicts.Gili Benita for The New York TimesMr. Sylla, who co-wrote a book about the history of interest rates and tracked two centuries of stock market returns, correctly predicted in September 2011 that the coming decade would produce high returns.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Fear and Loathing Return to Tech Start-Ups

    Workers are dumping their stock, companies are cutting costs, and layoffs abound as troubling economic forces hit tech start-ups.Start-up workers came into 2022 expecting another year of cash-gushing initial public offerings. Then the stock market tanked, Russia invaded Ukraine, inflation ballooned, and interest rates rose. Instead of going public, start-ups began cutting costs and laying off employees.People started dumping their start-up stock, too.The number of people and groups trying to unload their start-up shares doubled in the first three months of the year from late last year, said Phil Haslett, a founder of EquityZen, which helps private companies and their employees sell their stock. The share prices of some billion-dollar start-ups, known as “unicorns,” have plunged by 22 percent to 44 percent in recent months, he said.“It’s the first sustained pullback in the market that people have seen in legitimately 10 years,” he said.That’s a sign of how the start-up world’s easy-money ebullience of the last decade has faded. Each day, warnings of a coming downturn ricochet across social media between headlines about another round of start-up job cuts. And what was once seen as a sure path to immense riches — owning start-up stock — is now viewed as a liability.The turn has been swift. In the first three months of the year, venture funding in the United States fell 8 percent from a year earlier, to $71 billion, according to PitchBook, which tracks funding. At least 55 tech companies have announced layoffs or shut down since the beginning of the year, compared with 25 this time last year, according to Layoffs.fyi, which monitors layoffs. And I.P.O.s, the main way start-ups cash out, plummeted 80 percent from a year ago as of May 4, according to Renaissance Capital, which follows I.P.O.s.An Instacart shopper at a grocery store in Manhattan. The company slashed its valuation to $24 billion in March from $40 billion last year. Brittainy Newman/The New York TimesLast week, Cameo, a celebrity shout-out app; On Deck, a career-services company; and MainStreet, a financial technology start-up, all shed at least 20 percent of their employees. Fast, a payments start-up, and Halcyon Health, an online health care provider, abruptly shut down in the last month. And the grocery delivery company Instacart, one of the most highly valued start-ups of its generation, slashed its valuation to $24 billion in March from $40 billion last year.“Everything that has been true in the last two years is suddenly not true,” said Mathias Schilling, a venture capitalist at Headline. “Growth at any price is just not enough anymore.”The start-up market has weathered similar moments of fear and panic over the past decade. Each time, the market came roaring back and set records. And there is plenty of money to keep money-losing companies afloat: Venture capital funds raised a record $131 billion last year, according to PitchBook.But what’s different now is a collision of troubling economic forces combined with the sense that the start-up world’s frenzied behavior of the last few years is due for a reckoning. A decade-long run of low interest rates that enabled investors to take bigger risks on high-growth start-ups is over. The war in Ukraine is causing unpredictable macroeconomic ripples. Inflation seems unlikely to abate anytime soon. Even the big tech companies are faltering, with shares of Amazon and Netflix falling below their prepandemic levels.“Of all the times we said it feels like a bubble, I do think this time is a little different,” said Albert Wenger, an investor at Union Square Ventures.On social media, investors and founders have issued a steady drumbeat of dramatic warnings, comparing negative sentiment to that of the early 2000s dot-com crash and stressing that a pullback is “real.”Even Bill Gurley, a Silicon Valley venture capital investor who got so tired of warning start-ups about bubbly behavior over the last decade that he gave up, has returned to form. “The ‘unlearning’ process could be painful, surprising and unsettling to many,” he wrote in April.The uncertainty has caused some venture capital firms to pause deal making. D1 Capital Partners, which participated in roughly 70 start-up deals last year, told founders this year that it had stopped making new investments for six months. The firm said that any deals being announced had been struck before the moratorium, said two people with knowledge of the situation, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on the record.Other venture firms have lowered the value of their holdings to match the falling stock market. Sheel Mohnot, an investor at Better Tomorrow Ventures, said his firm had recently reduced the valuations of seven start-ups it invested in out of 88, the most it had ever done in a quarter. The shift was stark compared with just a few months ago, when investors were begging founders to take more money and spend it to grow even faster.That fact had not yet sunk in with some entrepreneurs, Mr. Mohnot said. “People don’t realize the scale of change that’s happened,” he said.Sean Black, the founder and chief executive of Knock. “You can’t fight this market momentum,” he said.Jeenah Moon for The New York TimesEntrepreneurs are experiencing whiplash. Knock, a home-buying start-up in Austin, Texas, expanded its operations from 14 cities to 75 in 2021. The company planned to go public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, valuing it at $2 billion. But as the stock market became rocky over the summer, Knock canceled those plans and entertained an offer to sell itself to a larger company, which it declined to disclose.In December, the acquirer’s stock price dropped by half and killed that deal as well. Knock eventually raised $70 million from its existing investors in March, laid off nearly half its 250 employees and added $150 million in debt in a deal that valued it at just over $1 billion.Throughout the roller-coaster year, Knock’s business continued to grow, said Sean Black, the founder and chief executive. But many of the investors he pitched didn’t care.“It’s frustrating as a company to know you’re crushing it, but they’re just reacting to whatever the ticker says today,” he said. “You have this amazing story, this amazing growth, and you can’t fight this market momentum.”Mr. Black said his experience was not unique. “Everyone is quietly, embarrassingly, shamefully going through this and not willing to talk about it,” he said.Matt Birnbaum, head of talent at the venture capital firm Pear VC, said companies would have to carefully manage worker expectations around the value of their start-up stock. He predicted a rude awakening for some.“If you’re 35 or under in tech, you’ve probably never seen a down market,” he said. “What you’re accustomed to is up and to the right your entire career.”Start-ups that went public amid the highs of the last two years are getting pummeled in the stock market, even more than the overall tech sector. Shares in Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange, have fallen 81 percent since its debut in April last year. Robinhood, the stock trading app that had explosive growth during the pandemic, is trading 75 percent below its I.P.O. price. Last month, the company laid off 9 percent of its staff, blaming overzealous “hypergrowth.”SPACs, which were a trendy way for very young companies to go public in recent years, have performed so poorly that some are now going private again. SOC Telemed, an online health care start-up, went public using such a vehicle in 2020, valuing it at $720 million. In February, Patient Square Capital, an investment firm, bought it for around $225 million, a 70 percent discount.Others are in danger of running out of cash. Canoo, an electric vehicle company that went public in late 2020, said on Tuesday that it had “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business.Baiju Bhatt, left, and Vlad Tenev, founders of Robinhood, at the New York Stock Exchange last year for the company’s initial public offering. Robinhood recently laid off 9 percent of its workers.Sasha Maslov for The New York TimesBlend Labs, a financial technology start-up focused on mortgages, was worth $3 billion in the private market. Since it went public last year, its value has sunk to $1 billion. Last month, it said it would cut 200 workers, or roughly 10 percent of its staff.Tim Mayopoulos, Blend’s president, blamed the cyclical nature of the mortgage business and the steep drop in refinancings that accompany rising interest rates.“We’re looking at all of our expenses,” he said. “High-growth cash-burning businesses are, from an investor-sentiment perspective, clearly not in favor.” More

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    Fed Confronts Why It May Have Acted Too Slowly on Inflation

    Central bankers have been asking whether they should have reacted faster to rising inflation last year — and are learning from the recent past.Some Federal Reserve officials have begun to acknowledge that they were too slow to respond to rapid inflation last year, a delay that is forcing them to constrain the economy more abruptly now — and one that could hold lessons for the policy path ahead.Inflation began to accelerate last spring, but Fed policymakers and most private-sector forecasters initially thought price gains would quickly fade. It became clear in early fall that fast inflation was proving to be more lasting — but the Fed pivoted toward rapidly removing policy support only in late November and did not raise rates until March.Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down.Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.“It was a complicated situation with little precedent — people make mistakes,” Randal K. Quarles, who was the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in 2021, said at a conference last week.Mr. Quarles, who left the Fed at the end of the year, argued that it should have begun to pull back support aggressively after September. He added, however, that the rate increases that central bankers were now making could still fix the situation.Even so, the delay could come with consequences. By the time the Fed completely stopped buying bonds and began raising rates in March, prices were rising 8.5 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rate since 1981. Consumer price increases are expected to remain rapid when fresh data are released Wednesday.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.State Intervention: As inflation stays high, lawmakers across the country are turning to tax cuts to ease the pain, but the measures could make things worse. How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.And as high prices have lingered, inflation expectations have been creeping up, threatening to change household and business behavior in ways that perpetuate the problem.Because inflation is eating away at paychecks and making it more difficult for families to afford groceries and cars, it has emerged as a major political issue for President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen over concerns about his handling of the economy. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden called inflation his “top domestic priority” and said his administration was taking steps to contain it. He also sought to push back on Republicans, who have spent months blaming him for stoking inflation, saying their policy ideas were “extreme” and would hurt working families.“I want every American to know that I’m taking inflation very seriously,” Mr. Biden said, noting that the Fed has the “primary role” in trying to tame price increases.The Fed is now raising rates quickly to wrestle the situation back under control. Officials lifted borrowing costs half a percentage point this month, their biggest increase since 2000, while broadcasting that two more large adjustments could be coming. They are also going to start shrinking their $9 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings next month.If the Fed continues to rapidly adjust policy this year as it tries to catch up, policymakers risk slamming the brakes on a speeding economy. Such hard stops can hurt, pushing up unemployment and possibly tipping off a recession. Officials typically prefer to apply their policy brakes gradually, increasing the chances that the economy can slow down painlessly.Still, several Fed officials pointed out that it was easier to say what the Fed should have done in 2021 after the fact — that in the moment, it was difficult to know price increases would last. Inflation initially came mainly from a few big products that were in short supply amid supply chain snarls, like semiconductors and cars. Only later in the year did it become obvious that price pressures were broadening to food, rent and other areas.“I try to give some grace, and say: In a very uncertain time, with an unprecedented setting, with no real models to guide us, people are going to do the best they can,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in an interview Monday. Mr. Bostic was an early voice suggesting that the Fed should stop buying bonds and think about raising interest rates.Officials have said it was the acceleration in inflation data in September, followed by rising employment costs, that convinced them that price gains might last and that the central bank needed to act decisively. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, pivoted on policy in late November as those data points added up.“It was a complicated situation with little precedent — people make mistakes,” said Randal K. Quarles, who was the Fed’s vice chair for supervision in 2021.Erin Scott/ReutersWhile Mr. Quarles argued that the Fed should have responded as the September data came in, he suggested that there had been a complicating factor: Mr. Powell was waiting to see if he would be reappointed by the Biden administration, which did not announce its decision to renominate him until mid-November.Mr. Quarles, on a “Banking With Interest” podcast episode last week, said reacting to the data was “hard to do until there was clarity as to what the leadership going forward of the Fed was going to be.”Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Fed Officials Are on the Defensive as High Inflation Lingers

    Christopher Waller, a governor at the Federal Reserve, faced an uncomfortable task on Friday night: He delivered remarks at a conference packed with leading academic economists titled, suggestively, “How Monetary Policy Got Behind the Curve and How to Get Back.”Fed officials — who set America’s monetary policy — have found themselves on the defensive in Washington, on Wall Street and within the economics profession as inflation has run at its fastest rate in 40 years. Friday’s event, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institute, was the clearest expression yet of the growing sense of skepticism around the Fed’s recent policy approach.The Fed is raising interest rates, and on Wednesday lifted them by the largest increment since 2000. But prominent economists on Friday blasted America’s central bankers for being slow to realize that inflation was going to run meaningfully higher in 2021 as big government spending goosed consumer demand. They criticized the Fed for taking monetary policy support away from the economy too haltingly once it began to react. Some suggested that it was still moving tentatively when more decisive action was warranted.Mr. Waller defended and explained the decisions the Fed made last year. Many inflation forecasters failed to predict the 2021 price burst, he noted, pointing out that the Fed pivoted toward removing policy support starting as early as September, when it became clear that inflation was a problem.“The Fed was not alone in underestimating the strength of inflation that revealed itself in late 2021,” said Mr. Waller, who expected inflation to be slightly higher than many of his colleagues. He noted that the Fed’s policy-setting committee had to coalesce around policy moves, which can take time given its size: It has 12 regional presidents and up to seven governors in Washington.Understand Inflation in the U.S.Inflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Your Questions, Answered: Times readers sent us their questions about rising prices. Top experts and economists weighed in.Interest Rates: As it seeks to curb inflation, the Federal Reserve began raising interest rates for the first time since 2018. Here is what the increases mean for consumers.How Americans Feel: We asked 2,200 people where they’ve noticed inflation. Many mentioned basic necessities, like food and gas.Supply Chain’s Role: A key factor in rising inflation is the continuing turmoil in the global supply chain. Here’s how the crisis unfolded.“This process may lead to more gradual changes in policy as members have to compromise in order to reach a consensus,” Mr. Waller said.Such explanations have done little to shield the Fed so far. Lawrence H. Summers, a former Harvard president and Treasury secretary, suggested earlier Friday that an economic overheating was predictable last year as the government spent heavily and that “it was reasonable to expect that the bathtub would overflow.” Kevin Warsh, a former Fed governor, called inflation “a clear and present danger to the American people,” and declared the Fed’s reaction “slow.”And even as the Fed comes under fire for responding too ploddingly as inflation pressures began to build, a new debate is evolving over how quickly — and how much — rates need to increase to catch up and wrestle fast price increases back under control.The Fed lifted interest rates half a percentage point this week and forecast more to come. Still, Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said officials were not discussing an even larger, 0.75-point move — suggesting that central bankers are still hoping to control inflation without choking off growth abruptly and shocking the economy.“If supply constraints unwind quickly, we might only need to take policy back to neutral or go modestly above it to bring inflation back down,” Neel Kashkari, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, wrote in a post on Friday. “Neutral” refers to the policy setting that neither stokes nor slows the economy.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 6What is inflation? More

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    April Jobs Report: Gain of 428,000 Shows Vibrant Labor Market

    The Labor Department reported a gain of 428,000 jobs in April, along with a 5.5 percent increase in average hourly earnings from a year earlier.The U.S. economic rebound from the pandemic’s devastation held strong in April with another month of solid job growth.Employers added 428,000 jobs, matching the previous month, the Labor Department reported Friday, with the growth broad-based across every major industry.The unemployment rate remained 3.6 percent, just a touch above its level before the pandemic, when it was the lowest in half a century.The challenge of a highly competitive labor market for employers — a shortage of available workers — persisted as well. In fact, the report showed a decline of 363,000 in the labor force.The economy has regained nearly 95 percent of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of coronavirus-related lockdowns two years ago. But the labor supply has not kept up with a record wave of job openings as businesses expand to match consumers’ continued willingness to buy a variety of goods and services. There are now 1.9 job openings for every unemployed worker.The hiring scramble has driven up wages, and employers are largely passing on that expense, helping fuel inflation that Americans have cited as their leading economic concern. On that front, Friday’s report showed an easing in the acceleration of average hourly earnings, which increased 0.3 percent from the month before, after a 0.5 percent gain in March.President Biden pointed to the latest data as evidence of “the strongest job creation economy in modern times,” a message the White House is increasingly amplifying ahead of the congressional elections.The unemployment rate stayed under 4 percent in April.The share of people who have looked for work in the past four weeks or are temporarily laid off, which does not capture everyone who lost work because of the pandemic. More