Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) kicked off its 20th party congress on Sunday, starting off the event—which is held every five years—with a lengthy speech from President Xi Jinping. In it, Xi defended China’s strict COVID-zero policies, claimed economic development will be the CCP’s “top priority,” promoted military growth and modernization, commended China’s crackdown on Hong Kong and hinted at Taiwan reunification, and more. Xi is expected to break from precedent in the coming days and award himself a third five-year term as general secretary of the CCP.
- British Prime Minister Liz Truss announced Friday she had fired Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng weeks after his proposed “mini-budget” sent markets reeling and sparked intense political backlash. Kwarteng’s replacement—former U.K. Foreign Affairs Secretary Jeremy Hunt—vowed over the weekend to reverse some of Truss and Kwarteng’s deficit-financed, pro-growth policies, pitching fiscal responsibility instead of tax cuts. “Some taxes will not be cut as quickly as people want, and some taxes will go up,” he told the BBC. “What doesn’t work is to fund tax cuts by increasing borrowing and debt. They have to be tax cuts that people can see that you can afford to keep funding, year in and year out.” Criticism of Truss is growing louder, with some Conservative Party sources openly speculating she might not last another week as prime minister.
- Now entering their fifth week, the Iranian protests sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody have continued to rage, with a scuffle between detained protesters and prison guards at Evin Prison in Tehran turning violent and sparking a fire that killed at least four people. Iranian officials blamed an escape attempt for the violence at the prison, which serves as a symbol of political repression in Iran. At least 233 people have died in the demonstrations, according to the U.S.-based Human Rights Activists News Agency, including 32 children. Labeling the United States the “great Satan,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi blamed President Joe Biden for inciting the “chaos, terror and destruction” in Iran.
- At least 41 people were killed—and 11 hospitalized—by an explosion in a coal mine in northern Turkey on Friday, the largest such disaster in the country in nearly a decade. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited the site over the weekend, vowing judicial officials would go after “even the slightest negligence.”
- Russian state media reported Saturday that two people—whom Russia’s Defense Ministry later labeled as terrorists from a former Soviet republic—opened fire at a Russian military training ground in the Belgorod region near Ukraine, killing 11 and wounding 15. The gunmen were reportedly killed in retaliatory fire.
- The Pentagon announced a new $725 million security assistance package for Ukraine on Friday, tapping into previously approved congressional aid to send Ukraine additional HIMARS ammunition, 5,000 anti-tank weapons, several high-speed anti-radiation missiles, 200 high mobility multipurpose wheeled wheeled vehicles, medical supplies, and more.
- In light of ongoing labor shortages, the Department of Homeland Security announced last week it will make an additional 64,700 H-2B nonagricultural worker visas available to U.S. employers looking to hire temporary workers in fiscal year 2023—on top of the typical 66,000 visas allotted every fiscal year. As part of the Biden administration’s pledge to “expand legal pathways as an alternative to irregular migration,” 20,000 of the visas are reserved for workers from Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
- Kroger announced plans on Friday to acquire Albertsons in a $24.6 billion deal that would combine two of the United States’ four largest supermarket chains. The companies—which operate grocery stores under names like Ralphs, Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Harris Teeter, Vons, and more—claim the merger would allow the resulting constellation of stores to provide fresher food at a better value, but the deal is expected to face regulatory and antitrust scrutiny.
- The Commerce Department reported Thursday that U.S. retail sales remained unchanged month-over-month in September after the measure increased 0.4 percent in August. Once the statistic is adjusted for inflation, however, real retail sales have fallen in four of the last five months.
- The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday it was expanding survivor benefits for survivors of LGBT veterans who were unable to get married until 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision. Prior to last week’s move, many of those survivors were not married to their now-deceased veteran spouses long enough to qualify for benefits.
Inflation Staying Stubbornly High
The S&P 500 rose 2.6 percent on Thursday—its sixth-best performance of 2022—after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its consumer price index (CPI) report for September. But if you think that means the data had anything positive to say about inflation, you’ve got another thing coming.
On paper, according to the BLS, the annual rate of inflation ticked down slightly in September, from 8.3 percent in August to 8.2 percent last month. But that figure is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the fight against higher prices, as it says more about trends from last fall than this one. Mechanically speaking, that year-over-year drop from 8.3 percent to 8.2 percent comes from swapping out September 2021’s month-over-month figure—0.41 percent—for September 2022’s 0.386 percent.
Monthly inflation of 0.386 percent is still way too high. Not only does it come out to an annualized rate going forward of 4.6 percent—well above the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target (though that’s based on PCE inflation, not CPI)—but it was double what most economists expected, and it’s going in the wrong direction. Month-over-month inflation was ever-so-slightly negative in July at -0.0193 percent, and a manageable 0.118 percent in August. Add in the fact that core inflation—which is seen as more predictive of future trends because it strips out the most volatile sectors, food and energy—remained elevated in September and reached a 40-year high on an annual basis, and it starts to make sense why the S&P 500 gave up nearly all its ill-begotten Thursday gains 24 hours later, heading into the weekend down 2.37 percent.