FOMC Meeting Outcome: Fed maintains monetary stimulus, cites moderating recovery

By Matthew Boesler

Federal Reserve officials left their benchmark interest rate unchanged near zero as they flagged a moderating U.S. recovery and reiterated a pledge to use all available tools to support the economy during the coronavirus pandemic.

The central bank’s policy-making body also repeated it would maintain its bond-buying program at the current pace of $120 billion of purchases per month until “substantial further progress” toward its employment and inflation goals has been made. It made no changes to the composition of purchases.

“The pace of the recovery in economic activity and employment has moderated in recent months, with weakness concentrated in the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in its statement Wednesday. The revised language followed reports showing U.S. employment fell in December for the first time since April, and retail sales tumbled for a third straight month, amid resurgent coronavirus outbreaks across the country.

The central bank also added a mention of vaccinations to its statement, saying the economy’s path will depend significantly not just on the coronavirus itself but also on progress with inoculations. The rollout has gotten off to a rocky start.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who has led the central bank’s unprecedented policy response to the pandemic, is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m. Washington time.

The committee unanimously voted to keep the federal funds target rate in a range of zero to 0.25%, where it’s been since March.

As well as the annual rotation among regional Fed presidents who vote on the FOMC, its ranks were joined by Christopher Waller, who was sworn in as a governor on Dec. 18.

The committee’s decision marked the conclusion of the Fed’s first policy meeting since Democrats took control of the Senate in early January — a development which was widely seen as brightening the outlook for the economy in 2021 by boosting the odds of additional fiscal stimulus.

The sunnier outlook has sent U.S. stocks to record levels and yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes above 1% for the first time since March, helped along by President Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion relief package, amid speculation the Fed may begin withdrawing support sooner than expected.

Some Fed officials have suggested in recent weeks that tapering of the bond-buying program could begin as soon as late 2021, though Powell said on Jan. 14 that “now is not the time to be talking about exit.”

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Retail – An online sales boom is killing supermarket profits | Britain

LOCKDOWN IS BOOMTIME for supermarkets. Restrictions on the hospitality trade and working from home means consumers are getting more of their calories from their kitchens so, although overall GDP has shrunk by around a tenth in the past year, supermarkets’ sales have grown fast. Tesco, the biggest chain, reported a 7.2% increase in like-for-like sales in the past quarter, the fastest rise in decades. Sainsbury’s, second by market share, saw sales rise by 8.6%.

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But a booming top line is not feeding through into higher profits. Sainsbury’s expects profit for this financial year to be “at least £330m” ($450m), down from £586m the year before. Tesco expects profits to be about the same this year as last. Staff absences and the cost of ensuring stores are covid-compliant, alongside the impact of Brexit, have squeezed margins, but the biggest hit to profitability has come from a switch from physical to online sales. Online grocery orders have risen by 128% at Sainsbury’s and now account for 18% of grocery sales. At Tesco they rose by 80%.

Britons have long been among Europe’s most enthusiastic online grocery shoppers with a pre-pandemic share of around 7% compared with 5% in France and under 2% in Germany, Italy and Spain according to McKinsey, a consulting firm. That is partially because the country is densely populated, but it also reflects industry structure. Food retailing in Britain is relatively concentrated and deeply competitive. Price competition between the established players and the German discounters, Aldi and Lidl, has squeezed margins.

Amid fierce competition, the big firms have been happy to subsidise online delivery fees to build market share. They charge as little as 99p for deliveries on orders over £40 and even offer them free on larger orders. That was sustainable when the internet was a relatively small sales channel that was growing at a reasonable pace, but the step change in its growth has had a commensurate effect on the cross-subsidy. An analysis in 2020 by Bain, a professional services firm, found that, though in-store sales had an operating margin of 2-4%, online deliveries usually lost money. Ocado, a delivery-only grocery business which charges up to £6.99 (well above the industry norm) per delivery has been losing money for three years, and reported an operating margin of -3.6% in 2019.

“It’s a much trickier business to get right than Amazon,” says a supermarket boss. “It isn’t just dropping off a package. It’s carting over two or three pallets of food and waiting while they get unloaded. You can rarely manage more than four deliveries an hour.” In the online-sales market, grocery firms have even less pricing power than they do with bricks-and-mortar sales. Although customers might favour a local store for convenience, their choice online is unconstrained by distance.

For the customers, there’s probably no going back. McKinsey reckons it takes two months for consumer habits to be formed; after nine months of the convenience of online shopping many Britons are unlikely to return to the weekly trek to the supermarket. The industry, as a result, is in a bit of a bind. All the players reckon that charges for online deliveries will have to rise eventually, but none wants to risk losing market share by making that decision. “In this game no one wants to move first,” says a supermarket boss. The customer, therefore, is winning.

This article appeared in the Britain section of the print edition under the headline “The wrong kind of sales”

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Women's Super League highlights: Chelsea set new record with win at Aston Villa

Watch highlights as Chelsea set a new Women’s Super League record of 32 games unbeaten with a 4-0 victory at Aston Villa that sends them back to the top of the table.

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South Australian gloveman in touching distance of a Test dream

Alex Carey has been told he’s going to South Africa as a back-up keeper to Test captain Tim Paine.

Chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns also basically declared the South Australian was next in line to take the gloves when Paine, who turned 36 in December, finishes.

But the fickle nature of Australia’s middle-order could present a batting opportunity and Carey, who is 29, knows that if former keeper Matthew Wade can make it as a batsman, he can too.

Carey, who has scored first class, one-day international and T20 centuries, isn’t getting ahead of himself, however, and is just excited to be “one step closer” to his Test dream.

“I take lots of pride in my batting. But my keeping is the first and foremost skill I am trying to nail for Australia,” he said on Wednesday after being named in the 19-man squad to tour South Africa in February.

“I love batting and hopefully my batting improves to a level that can be seen, as we saw with Matthew Wade over the last few seasons, he’s been so dominant with the bat, hopefully I improve my game so one day if I play Test cricket as a keeper that my batting is just as strong.

“Being a part of a series means the selectors have you in mind for something down the track. So I’ll be training really hard, hitting lost of balls, catching lots of balls, hopefully I score more runs in the next BBL game and the Shield game to come before we head off if I am a part of that.

“I will be putting my hand up with the gloves firstly but just trying to score as many runs as I can as well. That’s the way I see it.

“I’m really excited and even if I go across and I don’t play … I am a part of my first Test squad. Hopefully it means I am a step closer.”

Hohns made it clear how highly selectors thought of Carey and his place as next in line to Paine.

“He‘s played limited overs cricket for us, and we thought that was the ideal pathway for him to get to Test match level,” Hohns said.

“Alex, over the last 18 months, has got better and better as a player, so I think our thinking is reasonably clear there, without rubber stamping it, if I could put it that way.”

Like every player who has been asked, Carey said being on the plane to South Africa for a Test series was the easy choice over being part of the T20 squad in New Zealand despite the lure of back-to-back T20 World Cups over the next two years.

But Carey isn’t taking his eye off the white ball and knows his duties with the Adelaide Strikers, who qualified for the Big Bash finals despite a last-game loss, has to be first in his thoughts for now.

The Strikers will take on the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba on Friday night in an elimination final.

“It’s been a pretty crazy 36 hours,” Carey said.

“But it turns out we are on a plane to Brisbane, which is a great opportunity for us.

“The guys are relieved we are in it, and it’s about rocking up with a big smile on our face and playing out best cricket, and hopefully getting on a bit of a run.

“We would have to win four games to win the title, so it’s a huge game on Friday night.”

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US will work with China on climate despite other differences: Kerry

WASHINGTON: The United States will try to keep climate negotiations with China separate from other disagreements affecting the two countries’ ties, John Kerry said on Wednesday (Jan 27).

The former secretary of state, who is now President Joe Biden’s climate envoy, stressed that while it isn’t possible for the US to stem rising global temperatures alone, developing an aggressive domestic policy would make an “enormous difference.”

“Now with respect to China, obviously we have serious differences with China, on some very, very, important issues,” he continued.

“The issues of theft of intellectual property and access to market, the South China Sea – I mean run the list, we all know them.

READ: Biden pauses oil and gas leases, cuts subsidies in ‘bold’ climate steps

“Those issues will never be traded for anything that has to do with climate, that’s not going to happen. But climate is a critical standalone issue that we have to deal on.”

He added that China was responsible for 30 per cent of the world’s emissions and the US for 15 per cent.

“So it’s urgent that we find a way to compartmentalise to move forward,” he said.

China has called for a reset in relations with Biden’s administration after a corrosive period of diplomacy under Donald Trump, who harangued Beijing over trade, rights, the origins of COVID-19, tech and defence supremacy.

Biden has signalled he will remain tough on the superpower rival, but soften the tone and commit to international cooperation after Trump’s divisive “America First” approach.

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German economy to grow by 3 percent despite coronavirus, Berlin reckons – POLITICO

The German economy will likely grow 3 percent this year despite the impact of COVID-19, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said Wednesday.

“The good news is that the upswing that has been observed since September and October 2020 will continue in 2021, albeit with less momentum than we had hoped,” Altmaier said while presenting the government’s Annual Economic Report, at a press conference in Berlin. “That means we have to do everything we can to sustain this upswing,” he added.

Altmaier said he expects “the economy to return to the level seen before the outbreak of the corona crisis by the second half of next year.” Industry, in particular, has been performing better than many had feared, he said.

Amid concern the cost of financial aid to businesses hit by the pandemic will entail a consolidation of public finances, Altmaier said he is “decisively of the opinion that tax increases are out of place in times of crisis.”

He expressed confidence that the government will have no problem avoiding tax increases while eventually returning to the so-called Schuldenbremse (“debt brake”) which is enshrined in the constitution but has been temporarily suspended due to COVID-19..

“There are opportunities in the Basic Law to apply exemptions, which is what we are doing this year, and so I assume that [Finance Minister Olaf Scholz] will tell us what his priorities are in this matter,” he said.

Altmaier called the new U.S. administration’s decision to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement an “opportunity … for a European-American climate alliance.” He said “synergies” offered by digitalization and green technology are key to ensuring the pandemic slump is followed by sustained economic growth.

“It is important to me that we manage to enter a worldwide hydrogen economy and I’m convinced that German companies can play a role at the forefront of this process,” he said.

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Christina Crosby, 67, Dies; Feminist Scholar Wrote of Becoming Disabled

Christina Crosby, an athletic woman who had just turned 50, was three miles into her bicycle-riding regimen near her home in Connecticut when her front spokes snagged a branch. The bike stopped dead, hurling Dr. Crosby to the pavement, the impact smashing her face and snapping her neck. In an instant, she was paralyzed for the rest of her life.

That was in 2003. She lost the use of her leg muscles and much of her upper body. But over time, she regained limited function in her arms and hands. And two years after the accident, she returned part time to her job as a professor of English literature and feminist, gender and sexuality studies at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.

Eventually she was able to write — by dictating with voice recognition software — a memoir, “A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain” (2016). It was an unsentimental examination of what she called the “surreal neurological wasteland” into which she was cast, and which forced her to search for her sense of self.

In the bottomless grief of all that she had lost, Dr. Crosby had retained her intellect and her facility with language. And yet, at times, her pain was beyond the reach of language.

“I feel an unassuageable loneliness,” she wrote, “because I will never be able to adequately describe the pain I suffer, nor can anyone accompany me into the realm of pain.”

Late last month, she was hospitalized in Middletown with a bladder infection and learned she had advanced pancreatic cancer, her partner, Janet Jakobsen, said.

Dr. Crosby died a few days later, on Jan. 5. She was 67.

In her book, Dr. Crosby refused to draw tidy lessons about overcoming hardship or emerging wiser from her catastrophic injury. That made it a significant text in disability studies and activism.

The typical disability narrative “carries the troubled subject through painful trials to livable accommodations and lessons learned, and all too often sounds the note triumphant,” she wrote. “Don’t believe it.”

Christina Crosby was born on Sept. 2, 1953, in Huntingdon, in rural central Pennsylvania. Her father, Kenneth Ward Crosby, was a professor of history at Juniata College, where her mother, Jane (Miller) Crosby, taught home economics.

As a child, Christina was athletic. She and her older brother, Jefferson, were close in age and physically competitive with each other.

Christina went to Swarthmore College, where she majored in English and graduated in 1974. She wrote a column called “The Feminist Slant” for the student newspaper and helped found Swarthmore Gay Liberation. A queer feminist, she remained committed to social justice and sexual liberation throughout her life.

Her graduate studies took her to Brown University, in Providence, R.I., where she earned a doctorate in English in 1982. While there, she was part of a socialist feminist caucus that focused on issues like domestic violence. She and the caucus established a hotline for battered women and in 1976 founded a women’s shelter called Sojourner House, one of the first of its kind in the country.

During that time she met Elizabeth Weed, then the director of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center at Brown, where the feminist caucus held its meetings. They were partners for more than 17 years, continuing their relationship long after Dr. Crosby left for Wesleyan in 1982. Dr. Crosby’s papers are to be housed at the Pembroke Center at Brown.

Dr. Crosby’s dissertation at Brown became her first book, “The Ends of History: Victorians and ‘the Woman Question’” (1991), which examined how Victorian literature excluded women from public life, raising questions about how history is told.

Although she was hired by Wesleyan’s English department, Dr. Crosby became a central part of the university’s women’s studies program, which she helped establish as a major and later helped redesign as feminist, gender and sexuality studies.

“She was the heart and soul of that program for decades,” Natasha Korda, an English professor at Wesleyan, said in an interview.

“She was also a rock star on campus,” she added. “She was charismatic and ebullient, she had so much energy, and she cut a very dashing figure.”

Students gravitated to her, Dr. Korda said, because she could make complex theoretical arguments “crystal clear” and because “she was not only an incredible storyteller but a great conversationalist.”

Among her students in the early 1990s was the writer Maggie Nelson, whom Dr. Crosby advised on her honors thesis on confessional poetry. Dr. Crosby initially had little regard for confessional writing, but she later credited Ms. Nelson with opening her eyes to its value when she began to write her memoir.

In 2003 the university faculty elected Dr. Crosby chair of the faculty. She ran meetings and represented her peers in sessions with the president and board of trustees.

She was just beginning her one-year term in that position when she had her bicycle accident. “Her life had been radiant,” said Dr. Jakobsen, a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Barnard, who had been Dr. Crosby’s partner since 1997 and is her sole immediate survivor. “Christina was a person who burned very brightly.”

In an uncanny parallel, Dr. Crosby’s brother, Jeff, a lawyer, with whom she had always been close, developed multiple sclerosis in his 20s and became a quadriplegic in his late 40s. She wrote in her memoir that after her accident, her childhood fantasy of being her brother’s twin — Dr. Weed had once called them both “gorgeous physical specimens” — was “malevolently realized, for there we were, each with seriously incapacitating damage to the central nervous system, each in a wheelchair.”

Mr. Crosby died in 2010 at 57. It was his death, seven years after her accident, that prompted Dr. Crosby to start her memoir. It was unanimously selected by a committee of Wesleyan students, faculty and staff to be the book that all incoming students would read in 2018.

Toward the end of the book, she wrote of struggling between being afraid that she would stop grieving for her former life, which would mean she would have “come to terms with my profoundly changed body,” and being afraid that she would not stop grieving, a sign that she was refusing to move on and might not want to live.

“In order to live on, I must actively forget the person I once was,” she concluded. “I am no longer what I once was — yet come to think of it, neither are you. All of us who live on are not what we were, but are becoming, always becoming.”

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Margaret Court attacked by church leader, Australia Day honour, award, religious views slammed

Church leader Reverend Alistair Macrae has hit out at Margaret Court for her controversial views on homosexuality as the fallout continues from the tennis champion’s Australia Day honour.

Court, who holds the record for most grand slam singles titles with 24, was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia — the nation’s highest civilian honour — in a decision that has sparked furious backlash.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews was among those criticising the call to recognise Court, who has come under fire in the past for her vocal opposition to same-sex marriage and support of gay conversion therapy.

Reverend Macrae, a former president of the Uniting Church in Australia, was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2017 for his services to the community but joined the growing list of recipients who declared they would be handing back their awards in protest.

“Her public comments in relation to LGBTI people — I won’t repeat them here — are damaging to significant parts of our community, and by no means represent the views of many Christians,” Reverend Macrae wrote in an opinion piece for The Age.

“As a minister and theologian, I am aware that bad theology kills people. Bad theology underpinned the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. Bad theology supported Hitler’s racist ideology and the evil it produced.

“Bad theology underpinned or failed to recognise the racist assumptions behind the destructive program of colonisation not least in this land. Bad theology continues to alienate and oppress sexual minorities.

“The upgrading of Mrs Court’s award will rub salt into these wounds.

“Statistics relating to suicide and mental health issues among the LGBTI community are well known and should be of concern to the whole community, not least the community that claims to follow the teaching and life example of Jesus Christ.”

Court and many of her supporters have said her personal views should not detract from her tennis achievements, but Reverend Macrae said “it is utterly disingenuous, in this day and age, to claim that Mrs Court’s sporting achievements can be separated from her highly publicised comments about LGBTI people”.

RELATED: Real reason for Court’s award

Journalist Kerry O’Brien rejected his Order of Australia Medal and transgender woman and LGBTIQ advocate Dr Clara Tuck Meng Soo also handed back her OAM as a direct result of Court’s award.

However, Court hit back at her critics, saying the honour was for her greatness as a tennis player and “was a long time coming”.

The 78-year-old also defended her views, saying she has been misrepresented in the media.

“I was used as a high profile person to get some opinions and views across — but I have nothing against homosexual people or transgender people,” she said.

“I’ve always said what the bible says. And I don’t hate anybody. I love people. And I love gay people and I love transgender people.”

There have been repeated calls for Tennis Australia to distance itself from the sporting icon, along with a campaign to rename Margaret Court Arena at Melbourne Park.

Court revealed she has not been invited to this year’s Australian Open and on the weekend the tennis legend claimed she has been unfairly bullied for her beliefs.

“Over the years, I’ve taken a lot, and I think I’ve been bullied in one way, and I think, you know, it’s time to stop,” Court told The West Australian.

“Always remember I’m a minister of the gospel and have been for the last 30 years, I always say what the Bible says.

“I love people, people come in from all backgrounds, I’m there to help, I’m not there to put people down in that way but I’ll always say what the Bible says.”

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Member Benefit – Notices for inclusion in the CEO Update

Mental Health Australia members are invited to send us news, announcements, events or other notices for inclusion in the CEO Update newsletter, which reaches over 5000 subscribers each week. Fill out this form by COB each Wednesday for inclusion in the newsletter the following Friday.

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Australia in top 10 countries for COVID-19 response

“Fantastic, good news and I hope that means a lot of families that were hoping to get together over Christmas and New Year’s and couldn’t, can reunite now,” Ms Berejiklian told Ben Fordham Live this morning.

Ms Berejiklian said she also hoped states won’t close borders to all of NSW in the future if one or two hotspots emerge again.

“I don’t think it should mean the whole state is punished … we’ve got a very sound quarantine system around Australia but within our own country, we should be allowed to move around freely,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She also said she expects restrictions will be eased even further in another fortnight if no new locally acquired cases are recorded.

Up to 30 guests will be allowed in homes and 50 people will be allowed to gather outside from midnight. Masks will also no longer be mandatory for shoppers, but will still be required for hospitality workers and on public transport.

“We’re encouraging people to go back to work, that’s why we’re keeping masks on public transport … so they have that level of safety and confidence to go back to the workplace,” Ms Berejiklian said.

She said health experts have advised her to wait two fortnights after the last recorded local case before easing restrictions further.

Once that is achieved, Ms Berejiklian said the government plans to reduce social distancing in businesses from four square metres per person to two square metres.

“At the moment, it’s too risky to say, ‘let everything be eased’, and then if we have a superspreading event, we’ll be back to where we were before Christmas,” she said.

However, she said the outlook for further easing of restrictions “is great”.

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