Stocks rise as the Federal Reserves steps up its inflation fight.

Federal Reserve officials plan to end their bond-buying in March and suggested as many as three interest rate increases in 2022.,

Stocks rose sharply on Wednesday after Federal Reserve officials concluded their December meeting by announcing they would take steps to combat inflation by pulling back more quickly on their efforts to support the economy.

The S&P 500 closed 1.6 percent higher, swinging from a small loss to a sharp gain in the minutes after the Fed announced that it would cut its purchases of bonds — a measure meant to keep cash flowing through the financial system — by twice as much each month as it had previously announced. The updated pace will set the timeline to end those purchases by March, a prerequisite to the Fed using its more powerful tool to control the economy: raising its benchmark interest rate.

While the quicker taper and the prospect of higher interest rates soon would normally dampen enthusiasm for stocks, investors were unbothered by the Fed’s plans, which will allow the central bank to address persistent price increases sooner rather than later.

“The markets are choosing the best of the scenarios that’s on the table, and at this point in time, two to three rate hikes next year and bond-buying ending in March is the best scenario for the current situation,” said Craig Erlam, a senior analyst at Oanda, a foreign currency exchange and brokerage firm. “The Fed is showing that it’s no longer ignoring inflation or casting it to one side in favor of growth.”

The Fed has been growing wary of an unceasing rise in consumer prices that it had previously described as a transitory result of the economic upheaval wrought by the pandemic. Rising rates would help cool off the economy and slow spiraling prices by making it more expensive for consumers and companies to borrow.

Yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes, a benchmark for borrowing costs across the economy and a measure of the outlook for growth, climbed higher after the announcement to 1.46 percent from 1.45 percent. Yields move opposite prices.

Oil prices continued to drop on Wednesday, with the U.S. crude benchmark falling more than 1 percent to about $70.87 a barrel, and shares of energy companies like Occidental Petroleum and Devon Energy dropped. Those losses were pared somewhat as oil prices recouped the worst of their losses later in the day.

Also lower were shares of travel and tourism companies, which have become a barometer of sentiment about the pandemic. Carnival Corporation fell more than 1 percent and Marriott International was down about 1.8 percent after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus could lead to a surge in infections as soon as next month.

Shares of the vaccine maker Pfizer was among the best performers in the S&P 500, up about 5.9 percent after Dr. Anthony S. Fauci said Wednesday that booster doses of the coronavirus vaccines are likely to offer a substantial increase in protection against the new variant. Shares of Moderna also rose 2.2 percent. The pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly rose more than 10 percent after the company raised its profit and revenue forecast for 2022.

Earlier in the day, European stock indexes rose slightly, with Stoxx Europe 600 closing 0.3 percent higher. Inflation in Britain rose 5.1 percent last month from the prior year, the highest annual rate in more than a decade, the Official for National Statistics said on Wednesday. The Bank of England, which will meet on Thursday, is expected to halt its decision to raise interest rates as cases of the Omicron variant continue to spread.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Federal Reserve policymakers said they will cut back on their stimulus more quickly at a moment of rapid inflation and strong economic growth, capping a challenging year with a pronounced policy pivot that could usher in higher interest rates in 2022.

Central bank officials released a policy statement and a fresh set of economic projections at the conclusion of their two-day meeting. The statement showed that officials decided to slow the monthly bond-buying that they had been using throughout the pandemic to keep money chugging through markets and to bolster growth more rapidly.

Officials are slashing their purchases by twice as much as they had announced last month, a pace that would put them on track to end the program altogether in March. That decision came “in light of inflation developments and the further improvement in the labor market,” according to the policy statement.

Speeding up the end of the Fed’s bond-buying will position the central bank to more promptly raise its policy interest rate — a more traditional and more powerful tool — if officials decide that doing so is necessary to keep inflation under control. The Fed’s economic projections suggested that officials expected to make three interest rate increases next year.

“With inflation having exceeded 2 percent for some time, the committee expects it will be appropriate to maintain this target range until labor market conditions have reached levels consistent with the committee’s assessments of maximum employment,” the Fed said in its new statement — making it clear that officials feel their inflation goals have been achieved and putting the onus for rate increases squarely on labor market progress.

By slowing bond-buying and moving toward rate increases, the Fed is adding less juice to the economic expansion. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ->

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, suggested on Wednesday that the economy could achieve the central bank’s full-employment goal by next year, a development that could presage raising interest rates from their rock-bottom levels.

Mr. Powell emphasized that a broad range of economic indicators, including unemployment, job openings, wages and other metrics, suggest the labor market is healing quickly, creating more room for the central bank to remove its economic support.

“In my view, we are making rapid progress toward maximum employment,” Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell said that the unemployment rate, which was 4.2 percent in November, has been dropping quickly. He said that the labor force participation rate had been “disappointing,” even as vaccinations increased and schools reopened, and that it now seemed likely that a return to a higher participation rate would take some time.

“We’re not going back to the same economy we had in February of 2020,” Mr. Powell said. “The post-pandemic labor market and the economy in general will be different, and the maximum level of employment that’s consistent with price stability evolves over time.”

Inflation is far outstripping the Fed’s target, climbing by 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace in nearly 40 years. But it has been less clear whether the Fed has accomplished its other economic goal — full employment — meaning that Americans who want to work are able to find jobs.

The unemployment rate is still above the 3.5 percent that prevailed before the pandemic’s onset, but it has been falling quickly. Fresh economic projections released by the Fed on Wednesday show officials expect the jobless rate to fall to 3.5 percent again by the end of next year.

About 4 million jobs are still missing compared with before the pandemic, complicating the Fed’s job when it comes to assessing whether it has met its dual goals of keeping prices stable and the job market strong.

The question has been whether and when missing workers will come back and if policymakers feel the need to leave interest rates low until they do. The virus has complicated that outlook. While many workers have retired, some are reluctant or unable to return for health, child care or other reasons.

Mr. Powell said it would likely take time, and the retreat of the pandemic, for those people to come back into the work force, and that inflation would likely need to remain in check in the meantime to allow for a long period of economic growth.

“One of the two big threats to getting back to maximum employment is actually high inflation,” he said. “Because to get back to where we were, the evidence grows that it’s going to take some time.”

Fed officials have said that they wanted to achieve inflation sustainably above 2 percent — which has been more than accomplished, several have signaled — and full employment before raising interest rates. The economic projections released by the Fed on Wednesday suggested that officials expected to make three interest rate increases next year.

Mr. Powell previously said that the Fed’s two goals have come into tension this year. He has also signaled that the central bank will not allow inflation to rocket out of control.

“We have to balance those two goals when they are in tension as they are right now,” Mr. Powell said in testimony on Dec. 1. “But I assure you we will use our tools to make sure that this high inflation that we are experiencing does not become entrenched.”

In remarks Wednesday, Mr. Powell said that the Fed did have a framework it could use to make decisions about its interest rate when its dual goals of price stability and employment come into conflict. But due to the improvement in the labor market, the Fed would not necessarily have to use it.

How different age groups think inflation will rise

The Federal Reserve‘s approach to controlling inflation depends on ordinary Americans’ expectations. If people expect inflation to remain low into the future, the Fed may do nothing even if prices spike momentarily, because of supply chain constraints or other factors.

If inflation expectations rise, though, the Fed will probably bring down the hammer, worried that they will get baked into everyday decisions.

A tricky challenge for the Fed’s approach is that people’s inflation expectations do not necessarily flow from an analytical reading of prices and wages, Eduardo Porter reports for The New York Times. They are influenced by many things that often have little to do with the economy.

It is natural for the poor to be more preoccupied by rising prices, because prices tend to hit the poor harder. Moreover, the poor don’t have the financial tools that the rich can use to protect the value of their savings.

But people’s attitudes about inflation are also shaped by other influences. For instance, in a Gallup poll in November, 53 percent of Republicans reported that recent price increases were causing personal hardship, but only 37 percent of Democrats did. And expectations are influenced by time.

People not schooled in economics may have little clue about how inflation and monetary policy work. Given that knowledge gap, it is fair to ask whether the inflation expectations of ordinary Americans should play such a large role in shaping monetary policy. READ THE FULL ARTICLE ->

Shoppers in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in October. Prices for fuel and clothing helped push Britain’s inflation rate higher last month.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

Inflation in Britain rose 5.1 percent last month, the highest annual rate in more than a decade, driven mainly by jumps in the cost of gasoline and clothing.

The figure is a significant increase from October’s 4.2 percent rate, and shows that prices are rising faster than the Bank of England‘s most recent forecast, which predicted inflation would rise to about 5 percent next spring. The central bank tries to keep inflation at about 2 percent.

Prices for motor fuels were the biggest factor pushing the Consumer Prices Index higher, the Office for National Statistics said. The average gasoline price in Britain last month — 145.8 pence per liter, which translates to about $7.30 a gallon — was the highest on record since 1990, the agency said.

Inflation, mostly dormant for years, is now soaring around the world. In the United States, the Consumer Price Index climbed by 6.8 percent in the year through November, the fastest pace since 1982, and in Europe it has hit 4.9 percent, a record for the euro. The main trigger has been the jagged reawakening of economies that were largely shut down during the pandemic lockdowns during parts of 2020 and 2021. The surge in activity has caused supply-chain problems, hampered further by labor shortages, as well as shortages of oil and natural gas.

The issue of how to curb prices increases will undoubtedly come up at this week’s Bank of England meeting. The policymakers, who will release a statement tomorrow, have discussed raising the bank’s record-low benchmark interest rate, but must weigh inflation concerns with the recent surge in the Omicron variant, which is expected to rob the economy of some growth.

Since the discovery of the Omicron variant, bets that the central bank would raise interest rates on Thursday have significantly dropped.

“The quick ascent” of inflation won’t panic the Bank of England into raising interest rates this week, Samuel Tombs, an economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note to clients, because “the full extent of the economic damage wrought by Omicron is still unknown.”

Apple is reinstating mask mandates and crowd control at retail stores.Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Tuesday marked a year since the first coronavirus vaccine was administered in the United States. It was also the day the country neared 800,000 deaths from Covid-19. Now that the Omicron variant is spreading fast, companies are revising their pandemic policies, the DealBook newsletter notes.

Google set deadlines for complying with its vaccine mandate. The company circulated a memo that said workers who had not shown proof of vaccination or applied for an exemption by Jan. 18 would be placed on paid leave for 30 days, followed by unpaid leave for up to six months, and then they would lose their jobs.

JPMorgan Chase will bar unvaccinated employees from entering its New York headquarters, along with several other offices in the city. In a memo reviewed by DealBook, the bank said that those locations would relax their masking rules, because “it seems unfair to require our vaccinated employees to wear masks all day at their desks,” which would be mandated under a state rule for companies that do not require proof of vaccination.

Apple is reinstating mask mandates and crowd control at retail stores. “Amid rising cases in many communities, we now require that all customers join our team members in wearing masks while visiting our stores,” Apple told The Verge. The company is also limiting visitor numbers at some store locations.

The N.F.L. is mandating booster shots for staff members who work most closely with players. More than 94 percent of players are vaccinated, but more cases have been recorded this season than last. The players’ union argued for a return to daily testing for all, regardless of vaccination status.

Amtrak temporarily dropped its vaccine mandate for employees, and will allow workers to opt for weekly testing instead, citing a court decision that halted the enforcement of a national mandate for federal contractors. The policy means that Amtrak no longer plans to cut services next month, it said.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Retail sales rose for the fourth straight month in November, as consumers in the United States continued to spend even as they faced fast rising prices and an upswing in coronavirus infections.

The 0.3 percent increase in sales last month reported by the Commerce Department was a slowdown from the month before — something that analysts said likely reflected a shift in the start of the holiday shopping season to October. Sales growth in October was revised slightly higher on Wednesday to 1.8 percent.

Consumers, motivated by news of product shortages and fast rising prices, began their holiday shopping well before the Thanksgiving holiday, which is seen as the traditional start of the holiday shopping season.

“We saw consumers thinking of inflation and supply chains being chocked, so the ultimate pantry loading happened in October,” Kathy Gramling, a consumer industry markets consultant for EY.

As overall sales rose, spending — the key drivers of U.S. economic activity — at grocery stores and liquor stores, gas stations, clothing retailers and home improvement stores increased. Sales declined in several categories however: Spending at electronics and appliances stores fell 4.6 percent last month, while sales at car dealers and general merchandise stores, such as department stores, were down as well. Health and personal care stores, such as pharmacies, also saw a decrease of 0.6 percent.

Ms. Gramling said retailers were likely to face logistical issues in January, when consumers come back to stores with returns from the holiday season.

The latest measure of sales — the key driver of economic activity in the United States — comes as consumers are grappling with high inflation and a predicted surge in coronavirus infections. The sales data for November does not reflect how shoppers might have reacted to the emergence of the Omicron variant, which started to make headlines during the Thanksgiving weekend.

But for now, economists expect that sales will continue to rise in December.

A reading on consumer sentiment, measured by a University of Michigan survey on how Americans view the general state of the economy, increased in December after falling to its lowest level in a decade in early November. Those surveyed pointed to inflation as the most serious problem the country faces, according to preliminary results published on Friday.

Also on Friday, the Labor Department reported that consumer prices had risen at their fastest pace in nearly 40 years. The Consumer Price Index was up 6.8 percent last month compared with a year earlier as demand for products remained strong and the virus continued to disrupt manufacturing and transportation.

U.S. consumers were not slowed by surging coronavirus cases in November, when more than 30 states saw sustained increases in infections and hospitalizations climbed in certain areas of the country.

A Kroger store in Ohio last year. Unvaccinated employees of the grocery chain will lose certain benefits starting in January.Credit…Andrew Spear for The New York Times

Kroger, the national supermarket operator and one of the nation’s largest retailers, has restructured its Covid-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees and will charge some of them if they remain unprotected, a spokeswoman for the company confirmed on Wednesday.

Last year, before coronavirus vaccines were available, the company began offering two weeks of paid time off to employees who contracted Covid-19. Kroger told employees last week that, beginning Jan. 1, that benefit would no longer be available to people who were unvaccinated, the spokeswoman said. The news was reported by The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Unvaccinated employees will still be eligible for other forms of leave, but the special time off will now be open only to fully vaccinated employees.

Kroger also said it would charge salaried workers who are enrolled in a company health care plan $50 a month if they remained unvaccinated. That surcharge would not apply to unionized workers and hourly-wage associates enrolled in a company health care plan.

“We created and amended several workplace policies at the onset of the pandemic to support our associates during immense uncertainty,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “The administration of the vaccine to our associates has been an integral part of our efforts and continues to be a focus.”

It was unclear how many of Kroger’s approximately 500,000 employees have been vaccinated.

Earlier this year, Kroger said it would give a one-time payment of $100 to all associates who received the Covid-19 vaccine, joining a wave of companies, cities and states in offering similar incentives. Kroger said it would continue that program.

In September, the Biden administration issued three vaccine mandates, one for federal contractors, another for health care workers, and a third for companies with more than 100 employees. All three of the mandates affecting the private sector have been put on hold by courts because of legal challenges.

Employers and governors, mostly in Republican states, have opposed President Biden’s mandates that employees of large companies must either be vaccinated or get tested weekly, arguing that it was overreach.

When asked about Kroger’s new policies, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said during a news briefing on Tuesday, “We know different private sector companies and entities are going to take different steps to incentivize people to get vaccinated, to keep their employees safe and their work force safe.” She stressed that the company’s new policy did not come from the federal government.

Kroger, which was founded in 1883 and is based in Cincinnati, operates more than 2,500 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under a number of brand names, according to its website.

A worker at a Ukrainian natural gas facility, in 2015. Natural gas prices in Europe started rising ealier this year, reflecting rising demand as economies revived after pandemic lockdowns. Credit…Pavlo Palamarchuk/Associated Press

With winter just beginning, European natural gas prices have once again reached record highs, as worries grow over potential supply disruptions because of tensions over Ukraine or from cold weather.

“We are literally at the mercy of the weather for the next month or two,” said Henning Gloystein, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk firm.

On Europe’s main trading hub for natural gas, the TTF in the Netherlands, futures are trading at their highest levels in more than a decade and are roughly eight times their value of a year ago.

Around $41 per million British thermal units, the gas futures are priced at more than 10 times what gas is selling for in the United States and comparable to about $230 a barrel for oil, figures Laura Page, a gas analyst at Kpler, a research firm. (Brent crude is now trading for about $73 a barrel.)

Alarm bells about gas prices started sounding late last summer. Prices hit a peak in October, but lately they have resumed climbing, reaching new highs. Several factors are pushing prices higher, including the fact that supplies are straining to keep up with strong demand as the effects of the pandemic lockdowns ease.

At the same time, import volumes from Russia, Europe’s chief supplier, remain low. The buildup of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine is both creating worries over the possibility of disruptions of gas flows through that country, and the political tension is making it unlikely that Nord Stream 2, the recently completed but not approved gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, will open anytime soon.

Germany’s new foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, sent gas prices soaring on Monday when she said the giant pipeline could not be certified because it did not meet European Union rules.

Whatever happens with Ukraine, Europe has not built up sufficient gas in storage to guarantee that there will be enough fuel to heat homes and power businesses if the weather turns frigid, as some forecasters predict.

Europe burns far more gas in the winter than in summer, and European gas suppliers last summer failed to replenish inventories that were drained by a late cold snap last spring. Adding to concerns, in November European storage facilities “depleted at the fastest rate since records began,” according to Ms. Page of Kpler.

Much of course depends on the weather and whether tensions ease over Ukraine, but analysts say the market is likely to be on edge at least until the peak of winter — bad news for businesses that use large amounts of gas, like fertilizer producers or metals smelters.

Elevated gas prices will continue to push electricity bills higher in countries like Britain and Italy that use large amounts of gas to generate power. Rising bills in turn will squeeze consumers and boost inflation, which hit 5.1 percent in Britain for November, the highest in a decade.

In the United States, drivers have seethed over having to pay high gasoline prices, but the natural gas that they use for heating and cooking may become cheaper. U.S. prices, which rose rapidly in October, have since dropped sharply, though they remain up about 50 percent since January.

The United States enjoys a big advantage over Europe, which depends heavily on fuel imports. American markets have abundant domestic natural gas production in part because of shale drilling.

Apple said on Wednesday that it had temporarily closed three retail stores, in Miami, Annapolis, Md., and Ottawa, amid a spike in positive cases and exposure among employees working at those stores. The company said in a statement that it “regularly monitors conditions, and we will adjust our health measures to support the well-being of customers and employees.”

Three women who interned at SpaceX said they faced sexual harassment and unwanted advances from other interns as well as men in more senior positions across a range of workplace incidents, some of which went without punishment.

Ashley Kosak, a former intern who later became a full-time engineer at SpaceX, wrote in an essay published on the website Lioness on Tuesday that a male intern groped her in 2017 while she was doing dishes in company housing shared by interns. She also said a male colleague ran his hand up her torso in 2018 at a company event.

She reported the 2017 episode that year to her manager, she said, and the 2018 episode to SpaceX’s human resources department the day after it happened. She said she never received responses to those complaints. Ms. Kosak’s account shared similarities with accounts from other former interns at the company. READ MORE ->

A New York trial court judge on Tuesday issued a clarification in an order that has temporarily prevented The New York Times from seeking out or publishing certain documents related to the conservative group Project Veritas, allowing The Times some latitude to report on the organization until a final ruling is reached.

The clarification, by Justice Charles D. Wood of State Supreme Court in Westchester County, came in response to a formal request from Times lawyers on Monday. In the request, The Times asked that the order be dissolved, while also requesting that the court clarify what it could and could not publish. READ MORE ->

Credit…Photo illustration by The New York Times, photographs by Stephen Lam/Reuters, Evgeniia Siiankovskaia/Getty Images and Alamy

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that in the start-up world, there can be big payoff for investing and little incentive for asking questions.

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