📈 Equity markets took a much-needed breather this week, finishing lower by 1.5%-2% across the board. It was the first meaningful weekly loss since the SVB collapse in mid-March.
On Thursday, Federal Chairman Jerome Powell sat down in front of lawmakers for his semi-annual testimony before the US House and Senate. Powell stated the central bank expects to raise interest rates one or two more times this year, but at a slower pace to avoid tipping the economy into recession.
Additionally, the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits — which is often used as a barometer of the job market, and in turn, can influence central bank policy — remained flat at 264,000. This is nearly a two-year high and could be a sign the strong job market is starting to ease.
👀 What to Be on the Lookout for This Week
Looking ahead, the biggest economic event to keep an eye on this week will be further remarks by Jerome Powell. In a scheduled speech, he will shine more light onto his decision to hold off on raising interest rates in June. Investors will try to gauge his sentiment and determine if pausing rate hikes was a one-time occurrence, or if the Fed plans to ease hikes for the rest of the year.
Later in the week, the core PCE index will come in for May. This measure of inflation across all categories except food and energy is the Fed’s preferred gauge of inflation. It will be released on Friday.
Finally, tune into earnings reports from these companies:
Carnival Cruise Line
Walgreens Boots Alliance
📰 In Other News
News of companies dealing with either lawsuits or regulatory updates dominated headlines for much of the past week.
On the regulatory front, the USDA approved food tech companies Upside Foods and GOOD Meat to begin selling their lab-grown meat and poultry. These companies use animal DNA to produce a meat-like product without the need to actually raise or slaughter an animal. If this style of food production gains popularity, it could help ease concerns associated with the food industry, including environmental issues, resource allocation, and ethical concerns.
Notably, both of these lab-grown food companies have already been cleared by the FDA as “safe for human consumption.” With newly-minted USDA approval, the companies plan on debuting their new meat by partnering with high-end restaurants.
In terms of legal action, Mark Schobinger, former director of compensation at Twitter, is leading a class action lawsuit against his former employer. Shobinger claims the social media company failed to pay out tens of millions in bonuses to thousands of employees after the Elon Musk takeover. Despite constant assurances it will pay, Twitter has so far failed to pay these bonuses.
Amazon also came under fire last week from the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is suing the Everything Store following a two-year-long probe into its Prime membership policies. Specifically, the FTC accuses Amazon of making it deceptively easy to sign up and auto-renew a Prime membership, while imposing a “labyrinthine” process to delete their account.
This is the latest in a string of filings against Big Tech. Google also faces a major lawsuit from USA Today publisher Gannett for an alleged digital advertising monopoly.
Finally, United Airlines will start sending out hotel and meal voucher coupons directly to customers via its app when flights are disrupted. This measure is intended to reduce bottlenecks at customer service desks.
💵 High Earners Turn To Dollar Stores
Ending the Stigma
In the wake of an intense period of pricing fluctuations — during which Americans found themselves forced to pay up to $6 for a gallon of gas and $8 for a dozen eggs — it appears even the wealthiest Americans are finding solace at dollar stores.
In the past, there's been a certain stigma associated with shopping at dollar stores. Due to their low prices, people often dismiss their products as cheap, too.
But now even America's wealthiest families are starting to reconsider this perspective. Through months of higher-than-average inflation, stores like Dollar General, Aldi, and Five Below have still remained capable of offering up comparably cheap prices.
Sure, if you’re out shopping for new clothing or luxury items like a watch or handbag, you might not look for it at a dollar store. But, if you’re just buying necessities like consumer goods or groceries, it makes perfect sense to seek out the best deals.
Increased Foot Traffic
InMarket, a company that measures retail foot traffic, recently found a 4% increase in dollar store visits for six-figure earners this year, compared to the second half of 2022. On top of that, Americans earning $100,000 or more were 15% more likely to say they would shop at a dollar store when compared to last June, when inflation sat at a four-decade high.
What’s interesting is that this trend has continued to persist throughout 2023, despite inflation abating in recent months. According to daily surveys from Morning Consult, close to half of all high-earning households consider stopping at a discount store when doing their weekly shopping.
Whole Foods might boast higher quality or variety of products than a store like Grocery Outlet. But, when you look at the money you can save, those factors might suddenly seem less important. Meanwhile, some of these discount stores are taking steps to close that gap, too.
Doubling Down on Dollar Stores
Discount chains have taken notice of this trend and are expanding rapidly to try and accommodate their new customers. Dollar General has expanded to offer a fresh-produce section, which it credits for the influx in attaining and retaining high earning shoppers.
Meanwhile, Aldi reportedly considers expansion into more affluent areas to be a key part of its growth strategy. The grocery store chain plans to add 120 new stores throughout 2023.
At the end of the day, a deal is a deal. Even those in the top percent of income earners who may be able to afford to pay inflated prices love the feeling of finding a deal and saving some cash. After all, as the old saying goes, the rich stay rich by living like they’re broke.
With all this in mind, if you’ve been avoiding dollar stores under the assumption they have no quality to offer, it might be time to reevaluate this perspective.
🏢 The Effect of Remote Work on America’s Downtowns
Betting Against Downtowns
The pandemic has been in the rearview for months and was officially declared over on May 11th. But, despite this, many workers still have yet to return to the office.
Office building occupancy is down about 50% across 10 major US cities. It looks like remote work is here to stay for a large percentage of the workforce — for better or worse.
For remote workers, this is surely for the better. It means they can continue enjoying the perks of remote work, such as saving money on gas, regaining time from their commute, and spending more time with loved ones.
But, for cities themselves, the picture is not quite as rosy. A mass exodus of workers means many metros will face a dramatic drop in revenue, which has the potential to throw city budgets out of whack over the coming years.
Hurting City Finances
To start, public transportation ridership is down about 30% from pre-pandemic levels. At the same time, workers are not spending as much at local stores, nor earning as much in wages within city limits. This translates to lower income and sales tax for the city.
At the same time, experts at Columbia and NYU estimate the value of office property across U.S. cities is down 38% from pre-pandemic levels, equaling a loss of about $500 billion. Again, this means that city management can expect to pull in significantly less revenue via property taxes since the value of commercial real estate assets has decreased so rapidly.
If they aren’t already feeling the pain, many cities will likely experience a budget crisis over the coming months and years.
In New York City, officials are already estimating the city could have a budget gap as high as $7 billion by 2027. Accordingly, cities are toying with ideas on how to cut expenses in the short term while finding new revenue sources in the long term.
Some cities are already starting to take measures into their own hands.
Los Angeles, in an effort to make up for lost income, has started charging a new tax on home sales above $5 million. Meanwhile, New York City is considering closing certain library branches for an additional day each week in an attempt to cut expenses. The city is also considering bringing two new state-authorized casinos to the city.
Some of the most common ideas on how to revamp city downtowns also include converting empty office space into residential homes, daycares, or even entertainment venues. But these longer term plans might, understandably, take longer to come to fruition.
The best path forward will likely take a few years to present itself as cities try to find the best solution for both residents and the city itself. But, once one city does find a winning formula, others will be sure to follow suit.
Many Americans owe more money on their car than it’s worth. This is primarily because drivers took on hefty auto loans during the pandemic, while car prices were skyrocketing.
Nearly 10% of remote workers admitted to taking a “hush trip” over the past year. This is a new trend in which employees travel without notifying their boss or coworkers.
Disability advocates are pushing for airlines to install wheelchair-friendly seats. The next few weeks will be pivotal to winning this change as Congress is set to revamp the FAA’s funding and operating authority.
The secondhand clothing market is growing 9 times faster than the traditional retail clothing sector. This is largely due to trends like “clothing swaps” at which consumers trade old clothes instead of buying them new.
Rivian announced a deal to allow its drivers access to Tesla’s charging network starting in 2024. The EV truck maker will join General Motors and Ford as EV automakers with access to Tesla’s network.