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Consumer Confidence Hits Four-Month Low Amid Persistent Inflation, Rising Interest Rates




By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters)—U.S. consumer confidence slipped to a four-month low in November, with households less keen to spend on big-ticket items over the next six months amid high inflation and rising borrowing costs, heightening the risks of a recession next year.

But the survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday also showed consumers remained upbeat about the labor market, which could limit some of the anticipated economic downturn. The labor market has remained resilient despite the Federal Reserve’s stiff interest rate increases, helping to keep consumer spending and the overall economy afloat.

“The consumer is still bummed out about the economic outlook coming into the home stretch for the year, but the major worry hasn’t yet shifted from inflation with the rising prices of goods sitting on store shelves to the labor market or whether or not you can find or keep your job,” said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York.

“That tectonic shift in consumer confidence from inflation worries to job concerns is coming though.”

The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index fell to 100.2, the lowest reading since July, from 102.2 in October. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index would come in at 100.0. Still, the index remains above its COVID-19 pandemic lows. It places more emphasis on the labor market, which remains tight.

The decline in confidence was concentrated in the 55-and-over age group as well as among households with annual incomes below $50,000. There were notable decreases in confidence in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan, which offset increases in Texas, New York state, Florida and Illinois.

Consumers’ 12-month inflation expectations increased to a four-month high of 7.2% from 6.9% in October, which the survey blamed on rising gasoline and food prices.

The Fed has raised its policy rate by 375 basis points this year from near zero to a 3.75%-4.00% range in what has become the fastest rate-hiking cycle since the 1980s.

The survey’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, rose to 32.8 from 31.8 in October. This measure correlates to the unemployment rate from the Labor Department.

Though it has dropped from 44.7 last November, it remains quite high by historical standards.

“The Fed’s strategy of attempting to reduce the availability of job openings relative to the supply of labor to put downward pressure on inflation does not appear to have made any progress in November based on this survey of households,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York.


With inflation continuing to dominate consumers’ concerns, fewer of them were interested in making big-ticket purchases over the next six months, the survey showed. The decline in buying intentions occurred across the board, flagging a slowdown in demand for goods and also bolstering expectations that recent signs of goods disinflation could become entrenched.

That also fits in with views that the economy could experience a sharp slowdown in growth or a mild recession in the first half of 2023.

Fewer consumers also planned to purchase a house over the next six months, according to the survey. Rising mortgage rates and high prices have significantly reduced affordability for many prospective buyers. Though house prices have came off the record highs reached during the COVID-19 pandemic-driven housing market boom, they remain significantly high.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index increased 10.6% on a year-on-year basis in September, slowing from August’s increase of 12.9%. Tight supply will, however, likely keep a floor under house prices.

“While buyers are stepping aside waiting for more affordable prices and rates, causing the slowdown on price growth, would-be sellers are sticking to their ground and holding tight to the inventory they currently own,” said Nicole Bachaud, senior economist at Zillow in Seattle.

“As a result, prices might not continue to plunge down as much as some projections anticipate, as the available inventory of homes on the market is constrained.”

A third report from the Federal Housing Finance Agency showed house prices increased 11.0% in the 12 months through September after advancing 12.0% in August.


(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

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Biden Official Makes History: The First Nonbinary Federal Official To Face Felony Theft Charges




A top Biden administration official made history as the first nonbinary federal official to face felony charges after swiping a women’s suitcase from an airport.

Sam Brinton was charged last month with swiping a suitcase of women’s clothes from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport in September, less than five months after assuming the post of deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition at the Department of Energy. The stolen Vera Bradley suitcase along with its contents were worth $2,325, according to a criminal complaint.

Brinton, who identifies as “genderfluid” and uses they/them pronouns, was charged with felony theft on Oct. 27 and faces up to five years in prison, Alpha News reported Monday. Prior to joining the Biden administration, Brinton was known for promoting sexual fetishes and tying his partners up like dogs. At the Energy Department, Brenton oversees the disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste.

Video surveillance footage captured Brinton removing a woman’s luggage from the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport luggage carousel on Sept. 18 and swiftly concealing its bag tag in a handbag. The federal official did not check a bag when departing a Washington, D.C., airport earlier that day, the criminal complaint states. Brinton was later seen with the same Vera Bradley suitcase on Oct. 9 when arriving at Washington Dulles Airport on a return trip from Europe, according to the complaint.

Brinton concocted several conflicting stories when confronted by a Minnesota police officer on Oct. 9, the criminal complaint states. Brinton initially denied taking the suitcase when first contacted by the officer over the phone. The federal official then admitted to taking the suitcase, but said “my clothes” were in the bag.

Brinton changed stories again later that day, calling the officer back and apologizing for not being “completely honest.” The federal official then claimed to have accidentally taken the bag and left the clothes in a Minneapolis hotel room. Brinton claims to have kept the stolen luggage because it would have been “weirder” to leave a bag than the clothes, the criminal complaint states.

The officer then instructed Brinton to return the woman’s property to the airport. As of Oct. 27, when the criminal complaint was filed, Brinton had not returned the suitcase.

Brinton was placed on a leave of absence from the Department of Energy shortly after being charged with felony theft, according to Exchange Monitor. Brinton’s replacement, acting deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel Kim Petry, notified her colleagues on Nov. 18 that she would be leading the office “for the foreseeable future.”

“I should have another update for all of you in a month or so,” Petry said. The timeline matches with Brinton’s scheduled hearing in Minneapolis on Dec. 19.

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Iran, World Cup, China: Three protests test the White House





Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1963, just 10 days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson created a special commission led by Earl Warren to investigate the killing.

Iran, World Cup, China: Three protests test the White House

Iran. The World Cup. China. The White House is grappling with three very different kinds of protests in three very different settings that are testing President Biden’s commitment to make human rights “the center of our foreign policy.”

The administration seems to be taking three different approaches, widely varying in level of support for the demonstrators’ causes and retribution for the officials seeking to smother their message. Strongest: Iran. Much less forceful: China.

That’s not a criticism. It’s an assessment. The situation on the ground is vastly different: Iranian authorities have been beating and shooting demonstrators dead in the streets since September; the extent and duration of China’s crackdown isn’t clear, though there are credible reports of state violence against protesters and journalists, as well as heavy-handed censorship.

Over the weekend, thousands of Chinese took to the streets to protest leader Xi Jinping’s “zero-Covid” policies — three years of stringent lockdowns, mandated testing, lengthy quarantines, as well as censorship of dissent.

The depth and breadth of the demonstrations across many cities and university campuses immediately recalled the 1989 pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square that ended with the military massacring protesters in that historic Beijing landmark.

At the White House, officials expressed support on Monday for the protesters’ right to demonstrate — but kept their powder dry when asked whether the United States shares their goal of ending so-called “zero-Covid” policies.

 “People should be allowed the right to assemble and to peacefully protest policies or laws or dictates that they take issue with,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Asked for the U.S. reaction to some protesters calling for Xi to step down, Kirby replied: “The president is not going to speak for protesters around the world; they’re speaking for themselves.”

(A day earlier, Biden’s covid response coordinator, Ashish Jha, told ABC “lockdowns and zero-Covid is going to be very difficult to sustain” and it will be “very, very difficult” to contain the latest outbreak using that strategy.)

A Republican Senate aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be more candid, said imposing sanctions on Chinese officials cracking down on the protests — and any tech companies facilitating the process — should remain an option.

And Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in a statement: “One way or another, in the coming months or in the coming years, the United States will hold accountable each and every CCP official responsible for atrocities against these protesters.”

So what about the World Cup being played in the Gulf monarchy of Qatar, which has faced scrutiny of alleged abuses of migrant workers and intolerance of LGBTQI+ identities?

Interestingly, the United States has directed some of its fiercest criticism not at the host country — whose officers have banned anything “rainbow” themed from stadiums because of that symbol’s connections to the LGBTQ+ community — but at FIFA, world soccer’s governing body.

After FIFA warned of drastic penalties against players wearing armbands supporting LGBTQ+ rights, Secretary of State Antony Blinken fired off: “No one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and playing for their team.”

At the same time, the White House kept its distance from the decision by U.S. Soccer to briefly post Iran’s flags without symbols associated with Iran’s religious leaders.

“USA Soccer is a private entity, and they make their own decisions about those kinds of things,” said Kirby.

And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was concerned about “the potential treatment of LGBTQ+ spectators and athletes.”

As The Daily 202 noted in early October, the Biden administration has made statements encouraging the protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini while in custody of the so-called Morality Police. She had supposedly failed to cover her hair properly.

“They’re willing to take the risk of getting out and demonstrating because they’re fed up with economic decay, with corruption, with the social restrictions, especially, that Iranian women face, and with political repression as well,” CIA Director William J. Burns told CBS.

It has also imposed sanctions on officials and entities seen as repressing the demonstrations.

And it has signaled support for steps to help the protesters circumvent the Islamic Republic’s efforts to smother Internet access.

Interestingly, when it comes to Iran, the Biden administration has gone further than the language it uses on China about the right to protest and specifically embraced the cause that triggered the demonstrations: ending repressive dress codes for women. And it did so early in the crisis.

“Women in Iran have the right to wear what they want; they have the right to be free from violence; they have the right to be free from harassment,” Blinken said in late September.

Compared to the language on China, that’s quite a demonstration of support.

See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

Senate poised to pass bill protecting same-sex marriage

“Today, the Senate is poised to pass legislation that seeks to protect same-sex marriages in the event that the Supreme Court overturns a landmark 2015 ruling that legalized them nationwide … Senate passage would send the bill to the House, where Democrats remain in the majority for the lame-duck session. President Biden has pledged to sign the legislation,” John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report.

U.S. to announce help for Ukraine’s damaged energy infrastructure

The United States is expected to announce steps to help Ukraine withstand Russian attacks on its energy infrastructure, as top diplomats representing NATO’s 30 members and closest allies gather Tuesday in Romania,” Missy Ryan, Andrew Jeong and Leo Sands report.

Supreme Court to hear arguments over Biden immigration priorities

“The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday about the Biden administration’s immigration enforcement priorities, in a case that could bolster or curtail the power of states to challenge federal immigration policies,” Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak reports.

China clamps down on ‘zero covid’ protests, loosens some pandemic measures

“In a possible sign that China may eventually relax its zero covid policy, which includes long lockdowns, regular mass testing and placing close contacts of coronavirus patients in centralized quarantine facilities, some local governments started loosening restrictions this week,” Lyric Li reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Supreme Court suggests higher bar may be needed for corruption cases

The Supreme Court on Monday seemed likely to impose new restrictions on federal prosecutors battling public corruption, with the justices skeptical about the convictions of two men who profited in influence peddling during the administration of former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D),” Robert Barnes reports.

Almost everyone expects a recession. Could the economy avoid one?

“Ever since the Fed started aggressively hiking interest rates in March, crucial pillars of the economy have stayed remarkably strong. The economy grew in the third quarter after shrinking in the first half of the year. Gas prices are ticking down. Companies are still eager to hire workers. And for many businesses and households planning for the future, a slowdown just doesn’t seem imminent,” Rachel Siegel reports

Top Democrat seeks financial data from Binance, Coinbase, other crypto firms

“A top Senate Democrat on Tuesday pressed Binance, Coinbase and other major cryptocurrency exchanges to explain how they would protect their customers in the event of a financial calamity, as Washington braces for further fallout from the collapse of FTX,” Tony Romm reports.

As Haiti unravels, U.S. officials push to send in an armed foreign force

“Fearing that the humanitarian crisis engulfing Haiti could spur mass migration to the United States and elsewhere, some top Biden administration officials are pushing to send a multinational armed force to the country, several current and former officials say, after the Haitian government made an appeal for such an intervention last month,” the New York Times’s Natalie Kitroeff reports.

But the United States doesn’t want its own troops included in that force, even though officials fear that the tumult in Haiti will send an even bigger wave of migrants to American shores.”

With no child tax credit and inflation on the rise, families are slipping back into poverty

“A year ago, the expanded child tax credit ended. Between 2020 and 2021, the credit — which gave monthly payments of up to $300 per child — helped reduce child poverty by more than 40 percent. More than 36 million families received the credit in 2021, and the money helped push the child poverty rate below that of adults for the first time,” Rebekah Barber writes for the 19th.

But since the program expired, child poverty rates have crept back up. U.S. households are having to pay between $300 to $400 more each month compared to last year because of inflation.”

Biden seizes on gun control despite hurdles in Congress

“Vexed by another string of mass shootings, President Biden has begun calling vociferously on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons despite the extremely low odds that it will enact such a ban — a reflection of how he may seek to use Republicans as a foil now that a GOP takeover of the House is putting his legislative goals further out of reach,” Toluse Olorunnipa reports

As rail strike deadline nears, Biden calls on Congress to intervene

“The president said that while he was hesitant to push a deal that had been rejected by union members, acknowledging his promise to stand by unions, he also said a rail strike ‘would devastate our economy’ and ‘hurl this nation into a devastating rail freight shutdown,’” Lauren Kaori Gurley, Tyler Pager and Tony Romm report.

Harris and Macron to strengthen working relationship with NASA headquarters visit

“The NASA visit — which will include a working meeting and a briefing by US space officials — will highlight a deepening French-American partnership on space and the budding relationship between Harris and Macron, who developed a visibly chummy chemistry during Harris’s five-day trip to Paris last year,” CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reports.

Twitter follower shifts since Musk’s takeover, visualized

High-profile Republican members of Congress gained tens of thousands of Twitter followers in the first few weeks of Elon Musk’s reign over the social media network, while their Democratic counterparts experienced a decline, according to an analysis by The Washington Post,” Gerrit De Vynck, Jeremy B. Merrill and Luis Melgar report.

The continued survival of Louis DeJoy

“By retaining their Senate majority, Democrats no longer feel the urgency to use the lame-duck session to confirm executive branch appointments, pushing off decisions on who will fill key positions until at least next year,” the American Prospect’s David Dayen writes.

That means that the Biden administration will likely go through 2023—as they have through 2021 and 2022—with Louis DeJoy as postmaster general, given the current makeup of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors, the body that decides whether to fire the PMG and choose a successor. Currently, the board supports DeJoy, and if the members whose terms expire in December are allowed to stay on the board an extra year, that support will continue.”

Walker to Trump: Please phone it in.

“A person close to the Walker campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity about Georgia’s ‘complicated dynamic’ with Trump, said the campaign has not asked Trump to visit the state — and Trump hasn’t asked to come, either,” Politico’s Natalie Allison and Meridith McGraw report.

‘We’re just trying to not rock the boat with any and all sides,’ said the person close to Walker’s campaign. ‘We’re holding together a fragile coalition.’”

Biden will arrive in Michigan at 2:05 p.m.

At 2:35 p.m., he will tour the SK Siltron CSS facility.

Biden will discuss “how his economic plan is leading to a manufacturing boom, growing the economy, and creating good-paying jobs in Michigan and across the country” at 3:30 p.m.

He will leave Michigan for Joint Base Andrews at 5:35 p.m. and will be back at the White House by 7:35 p.m.

This year’s White House holiday decorations strike a homier note

First lady Jill Biden revealed the White House’s holiday decorations on Nov. 28, meant to make visitors feel warm and at home. (Video: Jackson Barton/The Washington Post)

“Everyone is familiar with those shiny glass mirror ball ornaments you can find at any big-box store, but this year, first lady Jill Biden hung actual mirrors on the trees of the White House’s Grand Foyer. Circular mirrors. Square mirrors. Lean in, and your face will appear, clear as day,” Jura Koncius and Jada Yuan report.

“‘That’s very purposeful, very intentional,’ said Biden’s communications director, Elizabeth Alexander. ‘It’s important for the first lady that people see themselves in the decor.’

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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