Posts tagged with "The Wall Street Journal"

Consumer wallets ‘spring a leak’ as prices soar on diapers, kitty litter, and toilet paper

February 12, 2019

Most of us cut back on everything but the essentials when household prices go up, but our budget remains the same. However, according to a February 10 report by The Wall Street Journal, the cost of staples—including such fundamentals as diapers and cat litter—is expected to increase in 2019, leaving us little choice but to ante up.

Producers of household products, from toilet paper to bleach, are set to raise prices again this year after already hiking prices in 2018, hoping to offset higher commodity costs and boost profits, the financial news outlet says.

New Jersey-based Church & Dwight already has increased prices for about one-third of its products, including Arm & Hammer cat litter and baking soda, and some OxiClean cleaning products.

“The good news is that competitors are raising [prices] in those categories as we speak,” Church & Dwight CEO Matthew Farrell said on a conference call last week, during which the company reported higher quarterly sales and lower profits.

What he left out of that statement to financial analysts was that it was good news for the company and its stockholders—but not for America’s consumers.

The company is now discussing more price increases with retailers, including for personal-care products, Farrell told analysts Tuesday. Those brands include Nair, Arm & Hammer Toothpaste, Orajel, Simply Saline, Waterpik, and Viviscal, among others.

Other household names that are planning to release similarly “good” news, according to the Journal, include Procter & GambleColgate-Palmolive, and Clorox, which are raising prices in response to higher costs of raw materials and transportation, as well as unfavorable foreign-currency swings.

For much of the past decade, the Journal notes, price cuts have been far more common than price increases as U.S. companies were mostly reluctant to test consumers’ spending power and brand loyalty in a fragile economic recovery.

When companies tried to raise prices, “they better have had a uniquely strong innovation or be willing to lose market share to competitors,” Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Ali Dibadj told the news outlet.

Adding to the challenge of raising prices is that more shoppers have been switching to store-branded paper towels and discount detergents, or opting for online upstarts such as Dollar Shave Club.

Traditional brands also have been under pressure from big-box retailers such as Costco and discounters like Walmart Inc. and Amazon to keep prices low—pushing the manufacturers to focus on lowering costs in their supply chains or pare back advertising.

Finally, after failing to see success when they tried to combat weak demand by lowering prices, the industry’s biggest player, P&G, shifted its course last summer, announcing it would charge more for several of its brands—and several rivals followed suit, the Journal reports.

The recent price increases are largely playing out in the companies’ favor, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog told the Journal. Sales volumes of household and personal products in the United States. declined 1.4% in January, according to Bernstein’s analysis of data from Nielsen. Dollar sales of those products rose 0.7% in the period, Bernstein said, indicating that the price increases, on balance, are padding the bottom lines at consumer-goods companies.

How consumers will deal with the price hikes long-term remains to be seen.

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Writing on the wall: CBO report estimates that government shutdown will cost $3 billion

January 29, 2019

President Donald Trump already has spent about $3 billion of the $5.7 billion he demanded for “the wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border when he shut the government down in late December.

Indeed, the partial government shutdown that ended on January 25 will cost the government about $3 billion and will subtract about 0.4 percentage points from annualized gross domestic product growth in the first quarter, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

In new estimates of the shutdown’s impact, the CBO said the shutdown dampened economic activity—mainly because of the roughly 380,000 furloughed workers who weren’t contributing to GDP, as well as the delay in federal spending on goods and services and the reduction in aggregate demand.

CBO estimates that the five-week, 35-day shutdown delayed approximately $18 billion in federal discretionary spending for compensation and purchases of goods and services and suspended some federal services.

The estimates (which the CBO cautioned are just that, according to the Journal report) don’t incorporate other indirect negative effects of the shutdown, such as businesses that couldn’t obtain federal permits or access loans while the government was partially closed.

“Such factors were probably beginning to lead firms to postpone investment and hiring decisions,” the CBO said, adding that risks to the economy were becoming increasingly significant as the shutdown continued.

Kevin Hassett, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on January 23 that the U.S. economy might not grow at all in the first quarter if the shutdown continued through March. But he added that the economy should recover any lost ground once the government reopened.

President Trump already has said that the reopening may be temporary—and has pegged it at three weeks—after which he will reassess the situation regarding border security.

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Greatest hits: Punching gets ‘poshified’ at an upscale boxing boutique

January 18, 2019

Get ready to rumble—but not in a wrestling ring. Rumble—a rarified boxing club that opened its doors in 2016—already has a cult following at its group classes in Manhattan, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The luxe Rumble has attracted an upscale clientele of professionals and celebrities with its posh, crimson-lit workout rooms—enlivened by nightclub-quality sound systems blasting upbeat hip-hop music; and loft-like, high-tech architectural features.

According to a January 16 report by The Wall Street Journal, its fans include social media-savvy supermodels like Gigi Hadid, Kendall Jenner and Adriana Lima, and stylish male celebs like David Beckham, Chris Hemsworth, and Scott Eastwood—all of whom happily Instagram their jabs and crosses.

“Celebrities started showing that boxing didn’t have to be grungy,” Andy Stenzler, Rumble’s CEO, told the Journal. “That you didn’t have to hit each other to get a great workout.”

Boxing may be a centuries-old sport, but the combination of inviting spaces, trainers who aren’t bullies, and circuit-style classes feels fresh. At the chain’s elite studios, half of the space is filled with weight-training benches and dumbbells; the other half, by 185-pound boxing bags. Even the boxing gloves don’t reek of sweat; they’re stored on ski-boot heaters that kill bacteria. And the teardrop-shaped bags don’t hurt your wrists; they’re filled with water, which is more forgiving than sand.

Inside, the joint is jumping: Every 50-minute class offer two groups of 30 people each an opportunity to learn boxing— starting from introductory level instruction; and adding intensity and skill levels as participants progress (as well as private training).

Beginner-level group courses offer cardio-fueled warm-ups, pre-class instructions on the dynamics of six punches, three rounds of boxing on the bags, and three rounds of strength and conditioning.

Newbies need not fear getting punched in the nose. “We want it to be fun, not intimidating,” Stenzler told the news outlet.

First-time classes cost $32, “and,” the chain says, “we will hit you with the second one on us.” Ten classes cost $300; a private training session, $160.

Subtract the combat and, Rumble promises, boxing is still a killer total-body workout. “You’re constantly moving,” Chris Gagliardi, a certified personal trainer, told the Journal. “It’s challenging muscular endurance, strength, flexibility, body composition, your brain. You’re working on power, speed, balance, agility, coordination. It’s a lot of bang for your buck,” he said.

And if you don’t want to actually go to the gym, Rumble is taking things a step further.: Try At Home 360, a Peloton-esque venture that combines a Technogym boxing bag ($1,700, with a $39/month subscription for live and on-demand.

Research contact: @RumbleBoxingNYC


Netflix hikes prices on subscription plans

January 15, 2019

As the old saying goes, “You pays your money and you takes your choice”—and that’s certainly true for Netflix.

The Los Gatos, California-based streaming video service has just raised prices for all of its subscription plans—a move that will enable the company to continue its aggressive spending on content in the face of stepped-up competition from rivals, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.

Netflix will increase the price of its most popular plan by 18%—to $13 a month from $11. That plan allows users to stream from two screens at the same time. The most basic plan, which allows a single stream in standard definition, will go up one dollar, or 13%, to $9 a month.

“We change pricing from time to time as we continue investing in great entertainment and improving the overall Netflix experience for the benefit of our members,” a Netflix spokesperson told the Journal.

The new rates will go into effect immediately for new customers and be applied to the accounts of existing customers in the next few months, according to a person familiar with the plans.

Netflix last raised prices in October 2017, when the standard plan increased $1, to $11 a month; and the premium plan went up $2,  to $14.

The increase in monthly subscriber fees comes as Netflix continues to spend heavily to woo talent to its streaming service. Already, it has cut long-term deals costing hundreds of millions of dollars with powerful Hollywood producers—among them, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.

Indeed, the Journal reports, industry analysts expect Netflix this year will spend $12 billion on licensing and creating content, more than double what it spent just two years ago.

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Trump allowed no transcripts of Putin meetings

January 15, 2019

Talk about wiggle room. It would be hard to judge U.S. President Donald Trump on his initial meeting with  Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2017, because he did not allow any English-speaking note-takers in the room and no formal transcript remains of the discussion, The Wall Street Journal reported on January 13.

What’s more, the Journal said, senior administration officials were never briefed on the tête-a-tête, according to informed sources.

Indeed, when Trump and Putin first met in Germany, it was the Russians who asked to have a note-taker present, according to sources. Telling aides that he wanted to reduce the chance for leaks, the president, in an unconventional move, allowed only then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to be present at the session; and instead had him take notes with the intention of relaying the details to relevant officials afterward, they said.

The president went to “extraordinary lengths” to keep his discussions with Putin from leaking, according to one person familiar with the planning, including preventing any details of the meeting from circulating widely within the government.

“It was very unusual,” the source said.

Unlike most prior administrations, the. Trump White House doesn’t keep records of every meeting between the president and a foreign leader, a former national security official told the Journal—adding that Trump made that call in an effort to build relationships with foreign counterparts. “He does not use traditional diplomatic techniques,” the official said.

“There aren’t records of his meetings like you’d expect,” said one foreign official, adding that the administration also cut back on phone call transcripts since his conversations with the leaders of Mexico and Australia leaked out early in his presidency.

However, Trump said claims that he took extraordinary measures to keep his discussions with Putin secret were ridiculous.“I had a conversation like every president does,” the president said in an interview Saturday on Fox News. “You sit with the president of various countries. I do it with all countries. I’m not keeping anything under wraps, I couldn’t care less.”

In response, House Democrats said they would explore whether President Trump sought to limit documentation of the meetings, in what could be one of their first actions to probe the president since they took control of the House this month.

“Every time Trump meets with Putin, the country is told nothing,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-New York) said in a statement. “We will be holding hearings on the mysteries swirling around Trump’s bizarre relationship with Putin.”

The flurry of media reports on the lack of note-taking came on the heels of a report by The New York Times that the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation into. Trump after he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written,” Trump said of The New York Times report in the Fox News interview.

Members of the Trump administration and Republicans dismissed the report. “The notion that President Trump is a threat to American national security is absolutely ludicrous,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Research contact: @vmsalama

Democratic power politics: First priorities include ending shutdown, passing reform package

January 4, 2019

With a standing ovation and her grandchildren by her side, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-California) returned to power as Speaker of the House on January 3.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the veteran politician is expected to immediately address two pressing legislative priorities now that she once again holds the gavel—ending an extended partial government shutdown; and passing a government-overhaul package that would tighten campaign-finance rules and government-ethics laws while expanding voting rights.

The newly Democratic House is ready to deliver with a bill co-authored by Pelosi and Representative John Sarbanes (D-Maryland)House Resolution 1—which the two said in a November op-ed would include “a bold reform package,” the Daily Kos reported.

In their own words, as posted by the Daily Kos, the bill has three priorities:

  1. First, let’s end the dominance of money in politics. So let’s rein in the unaccountable “dark money” unleashed by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United Federal Election Commission decision [in 2010] by requiring all political organizations to disclose their donors and by shutting down the shell game of big-money donations to super PACs.
  2. Next, let’s make sure that when public servants get to Washington, they serve the public.To do so, we will expand conflict-of-interest laws, ban members of Congress from serving on for-profit boards, revamp the oversight authority of the Office of Government Ethics; and prohibit public servants from receiving bonus payments from their former employers to enter government.
  3. Finally, let’s make it easier, not harder, to vote.We must renew the Voting Rights Act to protect every citizen’s access to the ballot box and restore the vital safeguard of pre-clearance requirements for areas with a history of voter suppression. We will promote national automatic voter registration, bolster our critical election infrastructure against foreign attackers, and put an end to partisan gerrymandering once and for all by establishing federal guidelines to outlaw the practice.

According to the Journal, House Republicans are almost certain to oppose most, if not all, of the legislation.

“I haven’t been a supporter of taxpayer funding to run political campaigns. I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Representative Steve Scalise (R-Louisiana), the Minority Whip, told the news outlet on January 2, when asked about the Democratic plan to be unveiled at the end of the week.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Kentucky) has said he won’t bring it to the Senate floor for a vote, and his spokesperson said that McConnell plans to expand on his opposition to the Democratic package “early and often in the new Congress.”

Still, some Republicans have also called for greater transparency in campaign-finance law—and to scale back the influence of such outside groups as super PACs, political-action committees that can raise and spend unlimited sums of cash, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Indeed, Representative Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) and Senator Ted Cruz (R.- Texas) introduced a bill last month–the SuperPAC Elimination Act that they said aimed to “[protect] free speech in elections by allowing unlimited individual contributions to candidates with immediate disclosure, effectively eliminating SuperPACs.” Their bill would require donations of more than $200 to be disclosed within 24 hours.

Generally speaking, campaign-finance reform, that I do support,” Meadows said in an interview with the Journal on January 2. But, he added: “Typically, when someone puts forth an initiative, it’s all about gaining partisan advantage.”

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‘Fed’ up: Trump’s anger simmers as financial markets slump

December 27, 2018

President Donald Trump’s frustration with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—one of his longest-term Cabinet members—has ratcheted up. The president lashed out after financial markets suffered their worst Christmas Eve slump ever despite Mnuchin’s attempts to call major U.S. banks and calm Wall Street according to CNN.

That doesn’t bode well. Indeed, a source told CNN, Mnuchin could be in “serious jeopardy” with Trump.

Nevertheless, the cable news outlet said, the president vouched for Mnuchin publicly on Christmas Day—shifting blame for the market volatility to the Federal Reserve, instead.

“Yes, I do,” Trump said on December 25, when asked whether he had confidence in Mnuchin. “Very talented, very smart person.”

But the source painted a different picture of Mnuchin’s standing behind the scenes. “Mnuchin is under the gun,” the source told CNN.

The Treasury secretary left Washington for a Christmas holiday in Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas, just as the federal government shut down over the weekend—while Trump canceled his own planned trip to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and remained n the White House (ergo, his tweet, “I’m all alone”) over the holiday, absorbing a flood of negative news about the markets.

Trump could meet with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell in January, a person familiar with the matter told CNN on December 26. Trump has fumed at Powell for raising interest rates, which Trump believes is driving the stock market lower—and has even inquired whether it would be legal to fire him.  Some of the President’s aides believe a face-to-face meeting could help ease tensions and allow the two men to discuss the underlying economy.

Nothing has been formally scheduled. The Wall Street Journal first reported the discussions about the meeting.

At the same time in Washington, Mnuchin aides have been scrambling to find economic data to help their boss calm Trump down, but Trump was said to be unhappy with what Mnuchin was telling him, this source said.

Research contact: @Acosta

In America’s heartland, saying ‘cheese,’ no longer brings a smile

December 18, 2018

In Wisconsin, the “cheeseheads” are not happy—and it has nothing to do with football. Nor will you find smiles in America’s second and third top cheese-producing states: California and Idaho.

“It’s a nightmare,” Errico Auricchio, president of BelGioioso Cheese, a second-generation family company based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal recently—noting that demand for the producer’s classic and artisan cheeses has dropped precipitously since last summer, when Mexico and China, major dairy buyers, instituted retaliatory tariffs on U.S. cheese and whey.

Cheese shipments to Mexico in September were down more than 10% annually, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council trade group, and shipments to China were down 63% annually. Indeed, an Informa Agribusiness analysis commissioned by the council predicts that Chinese tariffs on U.S. dairy products will costs U.S. dairy farmers $12.2 billion by 2020, if they stay in place. The tariffs are now as high as 45% on some exports.

What are producers to do with all the cheese?  Today, about 1.4 billion pounds of American, cheddar, and other kinds of cheese is socked away at cold-storage warehouses across the country—the biggest stockpile since federal record-keeping began a century ago.

And that’s definitely not a good thing: Cheese has a limited shelf-life—making the stored inventory less valuable once it spends weeks in cold-storage—and producers are concerned that the glut and price drop that has come with it could eat into profits. Spot market prices for 40-pound blocks of cheddar fell around 25% this year from 2014 prices, while 500-pound barrels typically used for processed cheese declined 28%., the Journal reported.

“There’s a whole ton of aged product lying around,” Nate Donnay, director of Dairy Market Insight at INTL FCStone Financial, told the financial news outlet.

Driving the glut are cheese-makers who ramped up production before trade tensions abroad tamped down demand for many of their products, the Journal reports. And not only are exports down, but shifting tastes at home—including a reluctance by Millennials to eat processed cheeses, such as American cheese—have further changed the outlook for traditional cheese-makers.

Americans ate a record 37 pounds of natural cheese per capita last year. But they are ditching processed, American and plain cheddar cheese for foreign varieties. Per capita consumption of mozzarella has topped cheddar since 2010. Consumption of processed cheese spreads per capita is about half what it was in 2006, according to the news outlet.

Strong pizza sales have helped rocket mozzarella into the top cheese spot, dairy analysts said. Grocers big and small are also increasingly beefing up cheese counters with imported and less typical varieties as Americans turn away from processed foods for unique products.

More adventurous cheese eating poses a challenge for big U.S. cheese makers focused on traditional varieties.

In response, some cheese producers say they are adjusting their operations to produce newly popular varieties. Wisconsin-based Sargento Foods. has added Gouda and Havarti varieties to its line of sliced cheeses. Schuman Cheese in New Jersey has added twists on Parmesan, Asiago, Fontina and Alpine to its product line.

Those who are betting that the tariffs will be negotiated down are hoping that it happens sooner rather than later. Stan Ryan, chief executive of the Seattle-based Darigold, told the Journal that falling prices have driven down profits for the affiliated Northwest Dairy Association cooperative’s roughly 450 farmers.

“It is very challenging for dairy farmers to stay in the game,”  Ryan, adding that more than 25 of his farmers have gone out of business in the past year.

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Open and shut casements: Is it healthier to sleep with the window cracked?

November 28, 2018

Do you crack the window at night, believing that a little fresh air will promote a good night’s sleep? You could be right.

One recent study—conducted jointly by the Eindhoven University of Technology and Utretch University of Applied Sciences, both in the Netherlands— tested 17 patients across five nights and found those who slept with the window open experienced a better rest. The reason? A lower level of carbon dioxide in the room.

But do the breezes and ambient sounds coming from the outside create ideal conditions for restorative rest? Douglas Kirsch, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the medical director of Sleep Medicine at Atrium Health, recently told The Wall Street Journal, ““If you think about sleep evolutionarily, it makes sense that humans would prefer a physical environment that is cool and dark, like a cave.”

Kirsch generally recommends that people sleep in a room that is 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and very dark. “We wake up frequently for brief periods in the night, and if there is light, we are more likely to stay up, than [to] roll over and go back to sleep,” he says.

When it comes to fresh air in the bedroom, Dr. Kirsch says that there is limited science to suggest that it improves sleep, but its impact likely depends, in part, on the external environment. A 2016 study, conducted by the Technical University of Denmark, tested how the air quality in dorm rooms impacted sleep and next-day performance. The students said that their performance was much better when the carbon dioxide was lower, thanks to an open window or the use of a fan. However, Kirsch told the journal that only the participants’ movements and their self-reported, perceived sleep quality and mental state were measured. A larger study with sensitive technical equipment would have given more quantitative results.

Indeed, Kirsch believes, if the weather is right and a bedroom window is available to open, that can be great for circulation of air, pleasant sounds of nature stirring in the morning and sunlight at dawn to align with one’s circadian rhythms.

However, in the dead of winter, in the height of summer, or in an urban setting, he says, “The draft is just not comfortable: The outdoor air will change your body temperature too much or the loud noises may disrupt sleep. Those with allergies may also be better off leaving the windows closed when the pollen count is high, especially in spring.”

He believes an alternative way to achieve a cozy sleep setting year-round is to allow for some air circulation through an open door or a fan. “There is zero scientific data that I know of, but the reason people may like fans or windows open could be the pleasant feeling of the movement of air, the cooling effect or the white noise,” Kirsch told the business news outlet.

This may explain why in certain cultures, people sleep with the bedroom window open no matter the season. “At some basic level, there is a sense of peacefulness that comes from feeling integrated with nature, which can benefit sleep,” he says. “Unless, of course, it’s freezing or there are mosquitoes or ambulance sirens to disturb you.” The comforting thought of being near nature may also explain why popular white-noise machines include settings with the sounds of birds chirping, waterfalls, and rain.

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Turn off that tap: Why your dishwasher cleans better when the plates aren’t pre-rinsed

November 26, 2018

Back away from the sink. Experts are telling us to stop rinsing our plates before putting them in the dishwasher—among them, Carolyn Forte, director of the Cleaning Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

You always should scrape off food scraps before you stack your plates, bowls, and utensils in the machine, but that’s the only step your dishwasher can’t handle—and in fact it washes less efficiently if you rinse, Prevention magazine discovered when Senior Web Editor Lauren Piro interviewed Forte just before Thanksgiving.

Here’s why you need to take a more hands-off approach:

  • Your dishes need to be dirty in order for the dishwasher detergent to do its job. The makers of the dish detergent Cascade discourage customers from pre-washing or rinsing dishes—because it actually inhibits the cleaner from working. Why? Because the enzymes in the detergent need something to latch onto—and that’s the food remnants on the plate. In other words, Prevention warns, your precious detergent just might rinse away before it has time to do anything if your dishes are gunk-free.
  • You won’t get your dishes any cleaner if you rinse or hand-wash them before you put them in the machine. Modern dishwashers are more efficient than ever before. They have advanced sprayer technology and sensors that detect just how dirty your dishes are, Forte told the magazine. What’s more, dishes get any cleaner than your hard-working dishwasher, alone.
  • Pre-rinsing at the sink wastes water and energy. You waste 6,000 gallons per year if you insist on pre-rinsing, Consumer Reports advises. The average modern dishwasher uses just 3 to 5 gallons of water per load, but even the most productive power washers will use at least 8 gallons when they do it by hand. “Regular” hand-washers (those of us who are more relaxed) typically use around 27 gallons of water—and twice the amount of electricity per load.

So when might you consider a pre-rinse—if ever? When you are not going to run the dishwasher right away. But even then, you should let your dishwasher do the heavy-lifting, so you don’t waste water and energy.”Simply load them in the dishwasher and run a ‘rinse only’ cycle,” advise Forte and Prevention.

And if you argue with your spouse about pre-rinsing, you are not alone. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, more than 40% of Americans fight about loading the dishwasher—with 61% of them arguing over whether to pre-rinse dishes. Some 39% of those who argue say they disagree on whether knives should point up or down (the answer is down, for safety reasons, and 30% differ on whether plastic containers must go on the top rack (in many dishwashers, it just doesn’t matter).

Research contact: @hellolaurenpiro