WASHINGTON (AP) — After nearly a decade of being all but invisible, inflation — or the fear of it — is back.
Tentative signs have emerged that prices could accelerate in coming months. Pay raises may be picking up a bit. Commodities such as oil and aluminum have grown more expensive. Cellphone plans are likely to appear costlier.
The specter of high inflation has spooked many investors, who worry it would force up interest rates, making it costlier for consumers and businesses to borrow and weighing down corporate profits and ultimately the economy. Historically, fear of high inflation has led the Federal Reserve to step up its short-term interest rate increases.
It’s a big reason investors have dumped stocks and bonds in the past two weeks.
Yet for all the market turmoil, inflation for now remains quite low: Prices, excluding the volatile food and energy categories, have risen just 1.7 percent in the past year. That’s below the Fed’s target of 2 percent annual inflation.
Most economists expect inflation to edge up and end the year a few tenths of a percentage point above the Fed’s target. But most foresee only minimal effect on the economy.
“I don’t think that’s a huge tragedy,” said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities.
Inflation, though, is hard to forecast. One widely followed gauge is the government’s monthly report on consumer price inflation. The January CPI report will come out Wednesday.
Here are some ways to track the direction of inflation in the coming months:
HOW MUCH DOES YOUR CELLPHONE PLAN COST?
Roughly a year ago, major wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T began offering unlimited wireless data plans. This enabled their customers to watch more video, stream more music and trade more photos. It also lowered inflation.
That’s because government statisticians don’t simply review price changes when they calculate inflation. They also try to measure what consumers actually receive for what they pay. Because unlimited data plans are a better deal, they in effect lowered the overall cost of wireless phone services. Many economists cited this as a reason inflation slowed last year even as the unemployment rate fell.
Still, the cellphone plans were a one-time change. In March, their impact will pass from the government’s year-over-year inflation calculations. Most analysts expect this change to boost that month’s inflation estimate.
HOW MUCH WILL PAYCHECKS RISE?
There are tantalizing early signs that many employers, grappling with low unemployment and a shortage of workers, are finally raising pay to attract and keep more workers. Average hourly pay rose 2.9 percent in January from a year earlier, the sharpest year-over-year increase in eight years. A separate quarterly measure from the Labor Department showed that wages and salaries in the final three months of last year grew at the fastest pace in almost three years.
In theory, higher pay can lead to inflation: Companies raise prices to offset their higher wage bill.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Pay climbed at a 4 percent annual clip in the late 1990s, for example, and yet core inflation barely rose. It edged up to about 2.6 percent from 2.3 percent.
Companies can choose to eat the extra cost and report lower profits. They could also use the proceeds from last year’s tax cut to pay higher wages even while keeping prices in check.
HOW PLENTIFUL ARE WORKERS?
Another factor that may keep wages low and limit inflation is that plenty of workers are still available overseas. Companies could shift work abroad if pay gets too high.
And there may be more people in the United States available to fill jobs than the low 4.1 percent unemployment rate would suggest. The proportion of Americans who have jobs still hasn’t returned to its pre-recession peak.
WHAT DO CONSUMERS EXPECT?
Whether consumers expect inflation to accelerate or stay the same can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once consumers’ inflation expectations pick up, they typically demand higher pay, which can lead companies to raise prices to cover the costs.
That makes expectations of inflation an important gauge to watch. And yet such expectations have changed little this year, which could keep inflation in check.
According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, consumers think inflation will be about 2.7 percent a year from now. Last April, consumers expected inflation to be 2.8 percent in a year.
HOW MUCH ARE YOU PAYING IN RENT?
As millennials flooded cities and postponed home purchases, rents soared from Seattle to New York. Yet builders also constructed thousands of new high-rises. And there are signs that rents are leveling off. More young people are also starting to buy homes, which lowers demand for rental apartments.
This could help lower inflation over time. In December, rents rose 3.7 percent from a year earlier. While that’s faster than paychecks are rising — squeezing many renters — it is still below the recent peak of 4 percent, reached in December 2016. That was the highest in nearly a decade.
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Shohei Ohtani came onto the field with a bat in his hand after taking some swings in the cage, on his way to throw some long toss with his full-time interpreter.
That was after the two-way standout from Japan had already taken a physical and unloaded some gear into his locker in the Los Angeles Angels clubhouse.
While Ohtani had already been working out at the team’s Arizona complex for a week, Tuesday was the reporting day for Angels pitchers and catchers. The main attraction was Ohtani, who is already busy in his first major league spring training.
“Shohei is going to have a little longer day than most of our pitchers,” manager Mike Scioscia said. “But it shouldn’t be anything that he hasn’t done before, and he’ll be ready to go.”
The 23-year-old Ohtani may be used to such a routine after five seasons playing professionally in Japan, but things are already much different for the Angels at spring training.
Scioscia conducted his camp-opening media availability by speaking into a microphone alongside another interpreter recently hired by the team as reporters — including about 70 from Japan — sat in several rows of two sections of stands down the right field line at Diablo Stadium.
That crowd is expected to be much larger Wednesday, when Ohtani is scheduled to talk after the team’s first official workout.
Just moments after Scioscia was asked a question about Ohtani’s physical, the player entered the field from a gate in the right-field corner, not far from where Scioscia stood.
“I guess his physical’s OK. He’s here,” Scioscia said after calling out to Ohtani and briefly greeting his new starting pitcher — and hitter too.
The Angels knew Ohtani was recovering from a sprained elbow before they agreed to a contract with the two-way player two months ago. He missed much of last season in Japan with an ankle injury.
“We don’t anticipate any issues,” Scioscia said. “He’s been throwing and hitting, and he’s in great shape.”
Scioscia said he had only seen video of Ohtani’s workouts, but also got reports from staff members about how the pitcher-hitter was doing.
Some of his new teammates who were also in camp early, and have been on the field with him, are impressed.
“Seeing him getting acclimated, it’s been great. Just talking, hanging out, getting to know each other,” starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker said. “He’s phenomenal. You see him throw a bullpen, you know how hard he can throw, and see his effortless swing and what the ball does off his bat is crazy. Yeah, it’s exciting.”
Tyler Skaggs said two of his bullpen sessions have been at the same time as Ohtani’s.
“I haven’t really got to see it with my own eyes yet,” Skaggs said of Ohtani’s pitching. “I saw him play catch, and I saw him hitting batting practice, which was impressive.”
Long before Ohtani was in the clubhouse or on the field Tuesday, dozens of Japanese reporters waited near the entrance to the players’ parking lot waiting for the pitcher to arrive.
After his physical at a different location, like for all players, Ohtani got to the clubhouse about 30 minutes before the end of a two-hour block open to the media. He unpacked Angels shirts, caps and other gear from two boxes on the floor into his locker next to pitcher Jose Alvarez.
While not getting overly specific about the team’s plans, Scioscia said Ohtani will be available to hit in between starts — and even on days he’s starting on the mound in National League parks.
“He’s going to get probably most looks as a pitcher,” Scioscia said. “He’s probably going to influence our team more as a pitcher, but that’s not to say he’s not going to have a chance to be a difference-maker on the offensive end too.”
Asked if he knew any Japanese, Scioscia said he’s sure he’ll pick some up but that “a lot of baseball’s universal.”
Catcher Martin Maldonado, excited about what he’s seen on video before catching for Ohtani, knows at least one important phrase — “Ogenkidesuka,” or “How are you?”
One obvious answer for Ohtani will be “busy” with camp kicking into gear.
“You can’t miss any steps. He’s definitely going to have to go through all the fundamentals we do as a pitchers. He’s going to have to throw his quality bullpens to prep himself for getting into games in spring training,” Scioscia said. “And also be able to run the bases and hit from the offensive end.”
More MLB baseball: https://apnews.com/tags/MLBbaseball
NEW YORK (AP) — What’s next for Uno? Dos, of course.
Mattel is launching the new card game Dos next month in hopes of giving its nearly 50-year-old Uno brand a second life. Dos has similar rules as Uno, except players make two piles of cards and can throw down two cards at a time instead of one.
It comes as Mattel tries to turn its business around, mainly by updating classic brands, such as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars. The toy maker’s revenue fell 11 percent last year, hurt by the bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us and the changing tastes of kids, who are increasingly reaching for a tablet instead of a toy.
Uno, however, was a bright spot: The company says Uno sales were up 12 percent in 2017 from the year before. Mattel, which is based in El Segundo, California, has sought to sell Uno in more places, including dollar stores and video game shops. And it has also been chasing trends, releasing Uno cards with emojis, baby animals or unicorns. An Uno smartphone app is in the works for the spring, and Mattel already has launched a way to play the card game through Facebook Messenger.
It may follow a similar a strategy with Dos, says Ray Adler, who oversees Mattel Inc.’s games unit.
Dos, which costs $5.99, will first be sold at Target in March and then roll out to other stores in August.
It took two years to develop Dos, mainly to make sure playing the game was different enough from Uno. But don’t expect to see Tres anytime soon, says Adler.
“We’re happy where we are with Dos right now,” he says.
Contact Joseph Pisani at http://twitter.com/josephpisani
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A Princeton University professor canceled a course he teaches on cultural freedoms and hate speech after his use of a racial slur during a class discussion led some students to walk out.
Colleagues say Professor Emeritus Lawrence Rosen has often used the slur during lectures on free speech. They say this is the first time he’s received such a negative response from students.
A small group of students walked out of Rosen’s anthropology class on Feb. 6 after he used the slur three times, according to DailyPrincetonian.com, the university’s student newspaper which first reported Rosen’s comments. Rosen asked the class “Which is more provocative: A white man walks up to a black man and punches him in the nose, or a white man walks up to a black man and calls him (the racial slur)?”
Rosen refused a demand from several students to apologize and argued with at least one student. Two students later filed a complaint with school officials.
The university later issued a statement defending Rosen. The professor and the students did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.
“The values of free speech and inclusivity are central to Princeton University’s mission and critical to the education we provide to our students,” the statement said. “The conversations and disagreements that took place in the seminar led by Professor Rosen (last week) are part of the vigorous engagement and robust debate that are central to what we do.”
The school said it will continue “to look for ways to encourage discussions about free speech and inclusivity with the students in Professor Rosen’s class and the campus community more broadly.”
Speaking Monday night at a town hall meeting with students, university president Christopher Eisgruber said he respected Rosen’s decision to use the word, citing the importance of having conversations where people feel “uncomfortable.”
“I think it’s very important for our culture to have academic freedom that allows people to have pedagogical choices on how to teach difficult subjects,” Eisgruber said on the video posted on Facebook by The Tab . “I respect Professor Rosen’s decision about how to teach the subject in the way that he did by being explicit and using very difficult words.”
Carolyn Rouse, chairwoman of Princeton’s Anthropology Department, who is black, wrote a letter to the editor of the The Daily Princetonian defending Rosen’s use of the slur. She wrote that by the end of the semester, Rosen hoped his students would be able to argue why hate speech should or should not be protected using an argument other than “because it made me feel bad.”
Noting that Rosen has used the same example year after year, Rouse said this was the first year he got the response he did from students.
“I feel bad for the students who left the class not trusting the process,” Rouse wrote. “Rosen was fighting battles for women, Native Americans, and African-Americans before these students were born. He grew up a Jew in anti-Semitic America, and recognizes how law has afforded him rights he would not otherwise have.”
NEW YORK (AP) — The ATP says it is reviewing accusations by Donald Young that Ryan Harrison used racially inappropriate language when the Americans had a heated exchange during their opening-round match at the New York Open.
“The ATP takes any allegations of racial prejudice extremely seriously,” the organization said in a statement. “A further review of all video and audio recording from the match will take place as this matter is investigated further.”
Harrison defeated Young 6-3, 7-6(4) on Monday night, and at one point during a changeover the two appeared to be arguing, the chair umpire moving in between the players to attempt to calm the situation.
Young posted on Twitter after the match : “I’m shocked and disappointed, Ryan Harrison, to hear you tell me how you really feel about me as a black tennis player in the middle of our NY match.”
Harrison responded on Twitter that the allegations were “absolutely untrue” and audio from the match would “clear me.”
INDEPENDENCE, Mo. (AP) — Applebee’s has temporarily closed a suburban Kansas City restaurant and fired three employees accused of falsely accusing two black women of “dining and dashing.”
The Kansas City Star reports Applebee’s said in a statement that it doesn’t “tolerate racism, bigotry or harassment.” It said it’s closing the restaurant in the Independence Center shopping mall in Independence, Missouri, so employees can “regroup, learn and grow.”
There have been more than 2 million views of the video Alexis Brison posted Saturday to Facebook of her and a friend denying allegations that they previously left the Applebee’s without paying. Brison, of St. Louis, began recording after being confronted by a police officer, mall security guard and Applebee’s manager.
She’s heard saying, “This is what black people have to deal with.”
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com