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US Fed hikes rates, signals aggressive stance to fight inflation – Al Jazeera English

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The quarter-percentage-point hike is likely the first of many to rein in the highest US inflation in more than 40 years.

The US Federal Reserve on Wednesday raised interest rates by a quarter percentage point and signalled that it would raise rates six more times in 2022 in an effort to fight the fastest inflation in 40 years.

The Fed is currently faced with a difficult task: Raise interest rates too quickly and risk tipping the United States economy into recession; raise interest rates too slowly and inflation could spiral out of control.

Policymakers led by Fed Chair Jerome Powell voted 8-1 to raise the key interest rate to a target range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. St Louis Fed President James Bullard dissented in favour of a half-point hike.

Following the decision, Powell told reporters that inflation is higher than expected and pledged to remain “nimble” in responding to new data and an evolving economic outlook.

“The economy is very strong and against the backdrop of an extremely tight labour market and high inflation, the Committee anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range for the federal funds rate will be appropriate,” Powell said.

He also stated that the Fed would begin reducing the size of its nearly $9 trillion balance sheet at an “upcoming meeting”.

In the Fed’s so-called dot plot, the median projection was for the benchmark rate to end 2022 at around 1.9 percent and then rise to around 2.8 percent in 2023.

Fed officials expect inflation to be higher than previously forecast, at 4.3 percent this year, but to fall to 2.3 percent in 2024.

Wednesday’s interest rate hike is the central bank’s first since 2018.

The Fed has kept borrowing costs near zero for two years to help the economy bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic. Vaccinations, the reopening of the economy and fiscal and monetary support all contributed to 2021 growth.

But the pandemic is not over, as new lockdowns in China demonstrate. The war in Ukraine also poses new and unexpected risk to global economic growth.

The Federal Open Market Committee said it is expecting the US economy to grow at a much slower rate in 2022, down from 4 percent to 2.8 percent. The economy is expected to grow 2.2 percent in 2023 and 2 percent in 2024.

Powell predicted that the labour market would remain strong and wages would continue to rise, adding that “employers are having difficulties filling job openings and wages are rising at their fastest pace in many years”.

Complicating things

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused “tremendous” economic hardship and the implications for the US economy are “highly uncertain”, the committee said in its statement.

“The surge in prices of crude oil and other commodities that resulted from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will put additional upward pressure on near-term inflation here,” Powell added.

The crisis in Ukraine and severe sanctions on Russia have recently sent commodities soaring. The cost of oil and gas, food and metals has gone up exponentially.

“We don’t have a perfect crystal ball about the future,” Powell told reporters.

US stock markets have been whipsawed in 2022, first from the looming interest rate hikes and now by the war in Ukraine.

After surging Wednesday morning, Wall Street dropped on the Fed’s announcement but then came roaring back before the closing bell.

Fresh data on Wednesday also showed that growth in US retail sales slowed in February after surging a month earlier. Home-builder sentiment also fell in March to a six-month low.

Workers are still sitting on the sidelines, causing businesses to chase the few who are available.

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Shortages of some baby formula in Quebec due to panic buying, U.S. supply issues

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MONTREAL — When Catherine Labrecque-Baker went to purchase hypoallergenic baby formula in mid-April for her six-month-old baby, her Quebec City pharmacist told her there was none left.

In response, Labrecque-Baker travelled to another pharmacy in the city and bought five times the amount she normally does. Then she started to stress as she fed her baby and watched her stockpile slowly shrink.

Her son has an intolerance to cow’s milk protein and relies on Alimentum, a product by American formula maker Abbott, which voluntarily recalled its products in February after four illnesses were reported in babies who had consumed powdered formula from its Michigan plant.

“What am I supposed to do?” Labrecque-Baker asked Monday in an interview. “I cried an entire night, wondering what will I do when I won’t have any more formula.”

The disruptions at Abbott, the United States’ largest formula maker, are causing supply issues for specific hypoallergenic formulas across Canada, according to Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen.

But in Quebec, parents are noticing shortages of other formulas on the province’s pharmacy shelves — a result of panic buying, Wasylyshen said.

“There’s a ripple effect,” she said in an interview Monday, referring to parents like Labrecque-Baker who are scooping up more formula than normal because they fear it will go out of stock.

“We don’t want to see a return to panic buying — that approach doesn’t help anyone,” Wasylyshen said. “Some of our retailers have put limitations in place in terms of what customers can purchase, just to make sure there’s enough for everyone.”

Abbott’s decision to shut its Michigan plant exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on store shelves across much of the United States. The company is one of only a handful that produce the vast majority of the U.S. formula supply, so Abbott’s product recall — involving brands Similac, Alimentum and EleCare — wiped out a large segment of the market intended for babies with allergies or intolerance to cow’s milk protein.

On Monday, Abbott said it has reached an agreement with U.S. health officials to restart production at its Michigan factory, a key step toward easing a nationwide shortage.

Quebec is not facing the same kind of shortages as in the United States, but Wasylyshen said images of empty pharmacy shelves in the province started circulating online, causing anxiety.

The province’s Health Department on Monday said it’s working with Quebec’s association of pharmacy owners, the Association québécoise des pharmaciens propriétaires, to minimize the shortage’s impact.

“We are looking as far away as Europe to counter this lack of supply,” department spokesperson Marjorie Larouche said, adding that shortages are being noticed across Canada.

Marilie Beaulieu-Gravel of the pharmacy owners association said that after Abbott’s Alimentum formula disappeared from shelves, parents rushed to purchase Nutragimen, another hypoallergenic formula, made by Mead Johnson & Company.

“There isn’t a production issue with this product, but rather a domino effect,” Beaulieu-Gravel said Monday in an interview. “The demands for the products increase sharply and unexpectedly on the market.”

While Nutragimen products are expected to be back on shelves by mid-June, Beaulieu-Gravel said her association isn’t expecting the supply of Alimentum to return before the end of summer.

Meanwhile, some parents, including Labrecque-Baker, are left searching for formula everywhere, even online.

“I looked on Facebook Marketplace, on Kijiji … friends have been looking for me or giving me what they can,” Labrecque-Baker said. “This week, I spent $200 because I can’t wait and risk it. The more I can stock, the more days I can feed my child.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 17, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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If you thought gas prices were high, have you checked out diesel? – CBC News

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There is little relief from pain at the pumps these days, especially as the price of diesel has nearly doubled in the last year.

Diesel is now averaging $2.29 per litre across Canada, and is even more expensive than premium gasoline. In the last month alone, a litre of diesel has climbed by 35 cents.

Some are stuck having to grin and bear it, like Peter Ruiter, a dairy farmer from Ottawa, who relies on diesel to power his farm equipment.

“The reality is I can’t go till these fields by hand — there’s just too many acres to do,” he said.

Rising fuel prices are another blow to consumers struggling with the escalating cost of living, as inflation hit a level in March that hasn’t been seen in decades.

And the sky-high cost of diesel means the transportation of goods has become more costly, as diesel — which is typically more efficient and economical — powers the trucks, the trains and some of the ships our supply chains rely on.


The Russian invasion of Ukraine has sparked a sharp rise in commodity prices, including crude oil. Many countries have introduced sanctions on Russia, which is a major exporter of oil and natural gas. At the same time, demand for fuel is climbing as economic activity picks up around the world.

“There’s been a diesel shortage globally, meaning that inventories are [at an] all-time low. I’ve never seen such low inventories,” Vijay Muralidharan, a senior consultant at Kalibrate, an analytics firm that tracks fuel prices.


Another part of the reason diesel prices have soared across North America is because of record exports from the U.S. Gulf Coast. The majority of the fuel is destined for South America, where countries are burning diesel for electricity as the hydropower supply falls during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter season.

There is an increased reliance on diesel in some of those countries this year, said Muralidharan, because of reduced supplies of natural gas.

Diesel prices are at currently at record highs in many parts of the world, including Canada. (CBC)

It also comes at a time when more and more families are needing assistance, said Emily-anne King, co-executive director of Backpack Buddies, an organization that supplies food to more than 4,000 children in British Columbia.

“It’s really alarming for us to see these price increases,” said King. “Not delivering is simply not an option.… We’ve made these commitments and we will continue to find ways to get there and be there for the families and kids that we support.”

The organization itself is feeling the pinch of sky-high diesel prices, as costs are rising to deliver food throughout the province to families that are struggling to make ends meet.

“These last couple of weeks, we have felt more pressure and received more calls from communities and individuals that are needing support,” she said. “And it just isn’t slowing down.”

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Gas prices: Average in Canada tops $2 for first time – CTV News

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Gasoline prices are showing no signs of letting up as the average price in Canada tops $2 a litre for the first time.

Natural Resources Canada says the average price across the country for regular gasoline hit $2.06 per litre on Monday for an all-time high.

The average was a nine-cent jump from the $1.97 per litre record set last week, and is up about 30 cents a litre since mid-April.

Prices averaged about $2.34 a litre in Vancouver on Monday, while in Toronto the average was almost $2.09 per litre. Edmonton, in contrast, averaged just under $1.69 per litre.

Gasoline prices have been elevated since late February when oil spiked to around US$100 a barrel after Russia invaded Ukraine, while the price jumped to over US$110 per barrel last week.

Prices have also been spiking more recently as the reopening of the economy, and the start of the busy travel season, have led to high demand for gasoline that refiners have limited capacity to meet.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022. 

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