Fed officials discussed raising rates sooner and faster in 2022.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting show that officials are contemplating when and how quickly to lift interest rates.

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Shoppers at a mall in Queens, N.Y., last month. Inflation has been alarmingly high for much longer than central bankers had expected.Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

Federal Reserve officials deliberated the path ahead for interest rates at their December meeting, suggesting that they may need to remove their support for the economy more quickly than they had previously expected at a moment of high inflation and rampant uncertainty.

Central bankers projected that they would raise interest rates three times in 2022, the economic estimates they released following their Dec. 14-15 meeting showed. Economists and investors think that those increases could begin as soon as March, which is when the central bank is now expected to wrap up its large-scale bond buying program, the Fed’s other policy to stoke the economy.

Given their outlooks for growth, the labor market and inflation, the Fed officials noted that “it may become warranted to increase the federal funds rate sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated,” according to the minutes, which were released Wednesday.

Officials might then begin to promptly shrink their balance sheet — where the bonds they bought are held — which would further remove support from the economy.

“Some participants also noted that it could be appropriate to begin to reduce the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet relatively soon after beginning to raise the federal funds rate,” the minutes stated.

Markets reacted sharply to the news. Though stocks had been slightly lower before the minutes were released at 2 p.m., the major benchmarks dropped sharply after the Fed published the document. The S&P 500 fell more than 1 percent, while the Nasdaq composite dropped 2.4 percent.

The drop in stocks came as government bond yields, a proxy for investor expectations about interest rates, jumped. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes climbed as high as 1.71 percent, up from 1.66 percent on Tuesday.

The Fed’s big asset purchases had been adding juice to the economy and markets with each passing month, so cutting them off will provide less momentum. Raising interest rates could do even more to slow growth: By making borrowing costs for houses, cares and credit cards more expensive, higher rates should slow spending, weigh on investment and eventually hold back hiring and tamp down prices.

The Fed faces trade-offs as it contemplates the path ahead. Higher interest rates could weaken a job market that is still pulling people back from the sidelines following 2020 pandemic lockdowns. But if the Fed waits too long or moves too slowly, businesses and consumers could begin to adjust their behavior to the very high inflation that has dogged the economy over much of the past year. That could make it harder to bring price gains back under control — forcing more drastic, and potentially even recession-causing, rate increases down the road.

The minutes showed that both considerations weighed on policymakers’ minds as they considered their future actions, but as the labor market healed swiftly, they have begun turning their attention decisively toward the threat of too-high inflation. The Fed is tasked with two main jobs, fostering maximum employment and keeping prices relatively stable.

“Several participants remarked that they viewed labor market conditions as already largely consistent with maximum employment,” the minutes said. At the same time, some officials noted that it might be smart to raise rates even if the job market was not fully recovered if inflation showed signs of jumping out of control.

“It does cement that they’re definitely pivoting strongly toward rate hikes,” Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at J.P. Morgan, said following the release. Although it’s hard to pin down the timing, “they are moving toward putting policy in a more restrictive setting.”

There’s a reason for the Fed’s active stance. Inflation has been alarmingly high for much longer than central bankers had expected. Last year, policymakers expected prices to pop temporarily as pandemic-affected sectors like airlines and restaurants recovered, then return to normal.

Instead, prices climbed by the most since 1982 in the year through November, and monthly gains remained brisk. Factory shutdowns and tangled shipping lines have made it hard for suppliers to catch up with booming consumer demand for goods, forcing costs up. Price gains have also begun to spread: Rents are increasing more quickly, which could make high inflation more persistent.

Inflation is broadly expected to fade this spring, as prices are measured against relatively high levels from a year earlier. Prices may also decelerate as producers catch up with demand, officials hope. But policymakers lack certainty about when that will happen.

Officials projected in their December economic estimates that inflation will ease to 2.6 percent by the end of 2022, but estimates ranged from 2 percent to 3.2 percent. To put those numbers into context, the Fed’s preferred price index climbed by 5.7 percent through November, and the central bank targets 2 percent annual gains on average over time.

Explaining their forecasts for more lasting high inflation, “participants pointed to rising housing costs and rents, more widespread wage growth driven by labor shortages, and more prolonged global supply-side frictions, which could be exacerbated by the emergence of the Omicron variant,” the minutes said.

Officials have adapted their policy rapidly over the past few months as inflation stirs unease. They announced that they would slow bond purchases, then promptly doubled the pace of that process. They went from signaling that they might or might not raise interest rates in 2022 to making it clear that they plan to do so.

The question is what will come next: Will the central bank need to accelerate its plans to pull back stimulus further? Or will inflation fade enough on its own that an aggressive central bank response will prove unnecessary?

Investors will also be watching closely to see how the Fed’s actions affect stock and other asset prices, which tend to benefit from bond buying and low rates. There’s an adage that the Fed’s job is to take away the punch bowl just as the party gets going — and that is what it is gearing up to do.

Markets “have gotten used to not just a punch bowl, but a spiked punch bowl,” said Nela Richardson, chief economist at ADP.

The new virus variant, which could also slow hiring and growth, is also looming over the outlook.

“Many participants noted that the emergence of the Omicron variant made the economic outlook more uncertain,” the minutes said.

Stocks on Wall Street fell on Wednesday, after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s December meeting showed that officials discussed raising interest rates at a quicker pace than they had anticipated as they look to cool the economy and tamp down inflation.

Though the S&P 500 had been slightly lower before the minutes were released at 2 p.m., the index dropped sharply soon after. The index fell 1.9 percent, its sharpest daily decline since late November, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite fell 3.3 percent.

“It may become warranted to increase the federal funds rate sooner or at a faster pace than participants had earlier anticipated,” the minutes showed. Fed officials had already indicated in December that they expected to raise interest rates three times in 2022, something that was repeated in the release on Wednesday.

The drop in stocks came as government bond yields, a proxy for investor expectations about interest rates, jumped. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes climbed as high as 1.71 percent, a level not seen since April, when bond yields were spiking over concerns about inflation.

Higher bond yields can dampen investor interest in riskier investments like stocks. And big technology stocks, which have proved sensitive to changing views on interest rates, were sharply lower. Alphabet, Google’s parent company, fell 4.6 percent while Microsoft dropped 3.8 percent and Meta dropped 3.7 percent. Apple fell more than 2.5 percent and Amazon slid nearly 2 percent.

The sheer size of the tech giants — Apple was a $3 trillion colossus as of Monday — means they can influence the direction of major benchmarks like the S&P 500.

Fed officials had said in December that the central bank would quicken its pullback on large-scale purchases of government-backed bonds to cool down inflation, paving the way for the Fed to raise interest rates as soon as March. The central bank’s bond-buying program and low interest rates were put in place to support the economy after the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in March 2020, when unemployment soared as businesses shut down.

The pandemic-fueled policy helped stimulate the economy and kept money flowing through the markets. But higher rates can hinder the stock market because they make owning bonds more attractive and borrowing more expensive for companies.

One reason investors may have reacted strongly on Wednesday, rather than in December when the central bank first said it would move more quickly to remove economic support, is recent data about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, said Anu Gaggar, a strategist at Commonwealth Financial Network.

The emergence of the variant, in late November, had created an uncertain outlook for the economy that might have discouraged the Fed from acting too quickly, Ms. Gaggar said. But data now suggests that the new variant is milder than initially feared and that the wave of infections may peak soon.

“It appears the economic impact of the Omicron variant is going to be much more muted than what we thought in December, when the Fed announced the taper and the rate hikes,” she said. “When you factor that in, the market is actually starting to believe that the Fed will do what they say they will do.”

“Make no mistake. This is a movement,” Mary Barra, the General Motors chief executive, said of electric vehicles in a recorded address shown Wednesday at the Consumer Electronics Show.Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

General Motors outlined a plan on Wednesday to introduce nearly a dozen electric vehicles in a bid to regain ground it has lost to Tesla and Ford Motor in the fast-growing segment of the market.

One problem, though, is that most of them won’t arrive in dealer showrooms for at least 18 months — a gap that will give its rivals time to extend their head starts.

Wall Street investors have already taken notice of that disparity and have bid up shares of Ford so much that it is now worth about $95 billion to G.M.’s $91 billion. G.M. was worth significantly more than Ford just a couple of years ago. Of course, at a valuation of more than $1 trillion, Tesla is worth vastly more than G.M. or Ford.

G.M. plans to start making electric versions of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck and the Chevrolet Equinox and Blazer sport utility vehicles next year. All three are among the company’s most popular products. The Silverado will be available in several variants, including a work truck, a performance model and an off-road truck. Its base model will start at $39,900.

“We’re at the tipping point of electrification,” G.M.’s chief executive, Mary Barra, said in a virtual address Wednesday to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “Make no mistake. This is a movement.”

Other vehicles in G.M.’s electric vehicle pipeline include two battery-powered Cadillacs, a GMC pickup truck, and electric delivery vans and heavy trucks.

G.M. is betting that it can reduce the cost of electric cars significantly by using a modular battery pack that will be used in all of its new models. Developing the pack, though, has taken time.

“They have a good strategy, but it hasn’t executed yet,” said Sam Abuelsamid, a principal research analyst at Guidehouse Insights.

Ford, by contrast, took a quicker route, developing specific battery packs for its first few electric cars. It began selling the Mustang Mach E, an electric S.U.V., a year ago. In the spring, the company is supposed to start producing an electric pickup truck, the F-150 Lightning. It has booked orders for more than 200,000 trucks, and it expects to produce about 60,000 Lightnings this year and 150,000 by 2024.

“With the Lightning, Ford is going to have a significant time advantage over the Silverado,” Mr. Abuelsamid said.

Ford also plans to start selling an electric version of its Transit delivery van this year.

But even Ford is unlikely to gain much ground against Tesla. Last year, Tesla’s global sales increased 87 percent, to more than 936,000 cars, and the electric carmaker expects annual growth of about 50 percent for the next several years.

Ford said on Wednesday that it sold 1.9 million cars and trucks in the United States last year, down 7 percent from 2020. Only about 27,000 of those vehicles were fully electric Mach Es.

The company, which finished the year third behind Toyota and General Motors, said it sold 27 percent more vehicles in the fourth quarter than the third quarter as a computer chip shortage eased. Ford was forced to idle or slow down production at many factories in the middle of 2021 because of the shortage.

“It worked, and it worked well,” Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, said of the company’s film release strategy in 2021.Credit…Brian Losness/Reuters

The streaming service HBO Max and the cable channel HBO ended 2021 with a combined 73.8 million global subscribers, beating year-end projections of 73 million, the platforms’ parent company, AT&T, said on Wednesday.

The streaming service also expanded into 46 countries in the past year.

The announcement represents a vindication of the strategy of Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the entertainment conglomerate that oversees HBO Max and HBO. In December 2020, Mr. Kilar announced that all 17 films on the Warner Bros. 2021 slate would debut simultaneously in theaters and on the nascent streaming service.

“It worked, and it worked well,” Mr. Kilar said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’d make the same decision again, if we had a chance to go back and do it again.”

The growth was also fueled by several popular shows, including “The Sex Lives of College Girls” and “Succession.”

The streaming world is fiercely competitive, and HBO Max still has significantly fewer subscribers than Disney+, which had 118.1 million in November, and Netflix, which has 222 million. (Disney+ premiered in November 2019; HBO Max didn’t make its debut until May 2020.)

Mr. Kilar’s move angered Hollywood enough for top agents and filmmakers to call out the studio for its seemingly rash decision.

“Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service,” Christopher Nolan, the director of the WarnerMedia film “Tenet,” said in a statement at the time.

Yet the uncertainty of box office returns in the pandemic, coupled with WarnerMedia’s need to expand its new streaming service, appears to have affirmed Mr. Kilar’s decision.

None of the studio’s 2021 films landed in the top 10 of year-end box office receipts, but two — “Godzilla vs. Kong” with $99 million and “Dune” with $93 million — were close.

The final Warner Bros. movie with a simultaneous release, “The Matrix Resurrections,” the fourth title in the successful “Matrix” franchise, opened on Dec. 22 and has earned only $31 million, a stark contrast to “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which has grossed $621 million for Sony Pictures since its debut on Dec. 17.

Still, Mr. Kilar, who is expected to leave the company once it completes its merger with Discovery, doesn’t believe he left money on the table.

“At the end of the day, from an economic perspective, the revenues that are generated in response to that investment is ultimately what matters, not where those dollars come from,” he said.

For 2022, Warner Bros. will return to the traditional model of theatrical releases, giving all of its films a 45-day exclusive window in theaters before they move to HBO Max.

“We think the right thing to do is to split our slate, where we have a number of movies from Warner Bros. that are going to go directly to HBO Max on Day 1 and then we have a number of titles that are going to go to theaters, and then 45 days later they’re going to show up on HBO Max,” Mr. Kilar said. “That’s never been done before. So we feel really good about our strategy.”

AT&T will report its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 26.

Audie Cornish during an appearance on “Meet the Press.” She has hosted “All Things Considered” since 2012.Credit…NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

Audie Cornish, a host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” is leaving her job, becoming the latest prominent person of color to leave the public broadcaster.

Ms. Cornish announced her departure on Twitter on Tuesday, saying she was “joining many of you in ‘The Great Resignation'” and adding that she was “ready to stretch my wings and try something new.” NPR said her last day will be Friday.

Ms. Cornish, who started at NPR as a reporter on the national desk in 2005, has hosted “All Things Considered,” the broadcaster’s flagship news program, since 2012.

“I look forward to new opportunities and new ways to tell stories and to keep finding ways to make space and center the voices of those who have been traditionally left out,” Ms. Cornish wrote on Twitter.

Her decision to leave her job comes after the recent exits of other prominent NPR hosts of color, including the host Noel King, who went to Vox Media, and Lulu Garcia-Navarro, who joined The New York Times.

Ari Shapiro, Ms. Cornish’s co-host on “All Things Considered,” said in a tweet on Tuesday that he was on vacation and not available for comment. He added that he would refer any journalists to NPR’s communications department for comment “on why we’re hemorrhaging hosts from marginalized backgrounds.”

“If NPR doesn’t see this as a crisis,” Mr. Shapiro said in a tweet, “I don’t know what it’ll take.”

Isabel Lara, NPR’s chief communications officer, said in a statement, “We’re focused not only on those who choose to leave NPR, but also who is deciding to come.”

“Diversity in our staff, sourcing and coverage is not only crucial to the accuracy and fairness of NPR’s content, but to the future of public media and our audience at large,” she added.

Speaking of Ms. Cornish, Ms. Lara said in the statement, “While we would love it if she could stay, she has decided to pursue new projects.”

Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony’s chief, with the company’s prototype electric SUV on Tuesday.Credit…Alex Wong/Getty Images

TOKYO — Sony announced on Tuesday that it was establishing a subsidiary devoted to transportation, taking it a step closer to entering the fiercely competitive electric car market.

The Japanese electronics and entertainment giant unveiled a prototype electric car last year and has begun road-testing the vehicle in Europe.

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Sony chief’s, Kenichiro Yoshida, unveiled a new version of the vehicle, a sleek S.U.V. that would, among other things, allow passengers to play video games made for the company’s PlayStation 5 console.

“We are exploring a commercial launch of Sony’s EV,” Mr. Yoshida said, referring to the electric vehicle. Sony will establish the new company this spring, he added.

Japan is a world leader in automotive manufacturing, but its companies have been slow to enter the small but rapidly growing electric car market. They have largely ceded the field to companies like Tesla even as traditional competitors in the United States and Europe have pledged to go all-electric in the coming decades.

Last month, Toyota announced that it would make a major investment in battery-electric vehicles and significantly expand its lineup of the automobiles in an effort to catch up with other companies offering alternatives to gasoline-powered cars.

Tech companies like Alphabet, Google’s parent company; Apple; and Baidu, the Chinese internet search company, have expressed interest in entering the market, hoping to bring their strength in fields like artificial intelligence to a consumer product that is becoming increasingly digital, online and software-oriented.

Electric cars have fewer components and are easier to manufacture than vehicles with internal-combustion engines, but these companies still face a challenging path to bringing vehicles to market.

The Dixie Fire raging in Plumas County, Calif., in July. Credit…Josh Edelson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

California fire investigators on Tuesday pinned the blame for the Dixie Fire — the second-largest blaze in the state’s history — on equipment owned by Pacific Gas & Electric and referred the case to prosecutors.

The Dixie Fire burned more than 963,000 acres in the Northern California areas of Butte, Plumas, Lassen, Shasta and Tehama Counties in July, destroying 1,329 buildings and damaging 95 others. The cause, investigators determined, was a tree that came into contact with PG&E’s power lines near the Cresta Dam about 100 miles north of Sacramento.

Investigators at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, referred their findings to the Butte County district attorney, who previously brought charges against PG&E for the 2018 Camp Fire, which killed scores of people and destroyed the town of Paradise.

In that case, PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of illegally setting a fire. The utility also agreed to pay $3.5 million in fines as part of the criminal plea.

In a statement in response to Cal Fire’s determination, PG&E said the tree that fell struck equipment that was functioning properly. “This tree was one of more than eight million trees within strike distance to PG&E lines,” the utility said. “Regardless of today’s finding, we will continue to be tenacious in our efforts to stop fire ignitions from our equipment and to ensure that everyone and everything is always safe.”

PG&E also has charges pending in Shasta County, where the district attorney has charged the utility with manslaughter, along with other felonies and misdemeanors in connection with the Zogg Fire, which burned more than 56,000 acres and destroyed 204 buildings near Redding.

Since 2017, PG&E has been the focus of the state’s extreme wildfires that have been made worse by climate change. The company has taken numerous steps to prevent wildfires, including installing weather stations and cameras. The utility has also resorted to the extreme measure of cutting off power, sometimes to millions of people for days.

After PG&E amassed $30 billion in liability from the wildfires caused by its equipment, the utility sought bankruptcy protection in January 2019. The company exited bankruptcy in July 2020, promising to work to prevent further wildfires. Victims of the fires have continued to seek compensation for their losses that became part of the company’s bankruptcy plan.

The Dixie Fire — among at least three fires that PG&E’s equipment was suspected of causing last year — underscored the lingering threat of wildfires caused by utility equipment.

Quentin Tarantino is pushing ahead with auctions of NFTs associated with his handwritten screenplay of “Pulp Fiction,” despite a pending lawsuit.Credit…Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

When Quentin Tarantino and the movie studio Miramax agreed on the rights to “Pulp Fiction” in the early 1990s, cryptocurrency didn’t exist. Now, Mr. Tarantino is courting controversy — with a crypto twist — over ownership of the cult movie’s script that could set a legal precedent for intellectual property rights.

On Wednesday, the director announced auctions of nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, associated with his original handwritten screenplay, despite a pending lawsuit by Miramax.

Mr. Tarantino has been thwarted before. In November, after he announced plans for an auction, Miramax sued, claiming breach of contract and various intellectual property violations. In December, the director’s lawyers denied the accusations, but the sales did not proceed.

A hearing to schedule the lawsuit’s next steps is set for February, according to the court docket. Mr. Tarantino’s latest plans to sell the NFTs this month could prompt Miramax to demand an emergency block of the auctions until the legal issues are resolved.

NFTs are chunks of code associated with images, sound or video files, recorded on the blockchain — think of them as digital certificates of authenticity. Miramax’s lawyers argue that NFTs are unique (“nonfungible” is in the name, after all). Mr. Tarantino’s legal team argues that he is merely reproducing copies of his original script, a right he reserved.

How these tokens compare with old forms of creative expression is unclear.

“Someone could mint hundreds or thousands of unique NFTs linked to the same creative work, kind of like printing many copies of a book,” said Frank Gerratana, an intellectual-property expert at Mintz in Boston. In that sense, although each one has its own unique identifier on a blockchain, NFTs may not be considered distinct.

This question is likely to come up again, Mr. Gerratana said, given growing interest in cryptocurrencies. Whoever wins this fight may forever mark the law.

A direct current conversion facility in Blyth, England, provides a landing point for a new cable stretching from Norway.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

A growing web of undersea electrical cables is binding Britain’s vital power system and its clean energy aspirations to Europe.

The longest and most powerful of these cables was recently laid across the North Sea, from a hydroelectric plant in Norway’s rugged mountains to Blyth, an industrial port in northeast England, The New York Times’s Stanley Reed reports.

Completed last year, it stretches 450 miles, roughly the distance from New York to Toronto. The twin cables, each about five inches in diameter, can carry enough power for nearly 1.5 million homes.

The idea is to use the cable to balance the two nations’ power systems and take advantage of differences between them. In the broadest terms, Britain wants to tap into Norway’s often abundant hydropower, while the Norwegians will be able to benefit from surges of electricity from British wind farms that might otherwise be wasted.

The rapid growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar, whose output varies with the breeze and sunshine, makes such sharing increasingly essential, experts say. These cables connecting one nation’s grid to another, known as interconnectors, allow Europe and other regions to operate like a much larger and more diverse power system that can use surpluses of electricity in one area to offset shortages in others.

Linking one nation’s power grid with another’s is considered essential as more electricity is generated from solar and wind. READ MORE

The organizers of CES said the show must go on, in person, this year.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After going virtual last year, CES, a mega-conference in Las Vegas that’s the traditional launchpad for many of the tech industry’s latest gadgets, is trying to make a comeback. The trade show kicks off on Wednesday, with an estimated 2,200 exhibitors set to show up in person.

But with the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus surging, scores of major tech companies are still presenting mostly virtually.

It’s a sign that decisions to hold big in-person events at this phase of the pandemic remain far from clear-cut, the DealBook newsletter reports. Yet the organizers of CES — like those of the Winter Olympics and the Australian Open, which are set to begin soon — have decided it’s time to gather in person again.

Canceling the show would “hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators” who depend on the show to introduce their products, Gary Shapiro, the chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that organizes CES, wrote in an opinion column in The Las Vegas Review-Journal. (The conference is also important for Las Vegas, which reaped an estimated $291 million from spending tied to it in 2020.) Mr. Shapiro noted that the conference had embraced pandemic protections like requiring attendees to be fully vaccinated and masked while on the show floor, and that testing was readily available.

But many large companies have chosen to attend remotely, including Amazon, AMD, AT&T, General Motors, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Meta, Nvidia, Pinterest, T-Mobile and Twitter. That will leave “big gaps on the show floor,” Mr. Shapiro said. And CES will end a day early, in what the organizers said was a concession to safety.

Other big events are delaying their return to in-person gatherings. The World Economic Forum postponed its annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, which was set to take place this month.

So is it safe to hold live in-person events again? Omicron cases appear to be less severe than cases from previous variants, and vaccines and new treatments are becoming available. More governments are also edging toward managing, not containing, the coronavirus, and are increasingly reluctant to reimpose restrictions. That could mean that a return to regular mass gatherings in some places may not be far-off.

“Mega corporations would rather pass higher costs on to consumers than cut into their profits,” Senator Sherrod Brown has said.Credit…Tom Brenner for The New York Times

Inflation remains rapid as the economy enters 2022, and Democrats have begun pointing to a new culprit for the high and lasting price increases: Greedy corporations.

Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and the White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, have been among those pointing to excessive profits in certain industries as one thing jacking up costs for consumers. They don’t blame overall inflation on price-gouging businesses — but the implication is that higher prices are partly the product of corporate opportunism, Jeanna Smialek reports for The New York Times.

The explanation for inflation is the latest in a string Democrats have offered since price gains shot up to uncomfortably high levels last year. It is partly grounded in economic reality, partly in political necessity: Rising prices are burdening and unsettling consumers, making them a liability for a party with a tenuous hold on congressional control headed into 2022 midterm elections.

As consumers feel the pinch of higher prices for food, gas and household goods, it’s creating a political messaging problem for Democrats. Lawmakers and the White House had initially argued that fast inflation was a sign that airfares and hotel rates were bouncing back and would fade quickly, but supply chain snarls and booming consumer demand for goods kept them elevated throughout 2021. More recently, price pressures have begun to broaden to service categories, like rent, in which increases tend to be long-lasting — and as wages climb swiftly, it raises the possibility that companies will keep lifting prices to cover their costs.

As inflation proves stubbornly sticky, administration officials and prominent lawmakers have refined their message to focus more blame on corporations, especially those in concentrated industries with a handful of powerful firms, like meat processing or gas.

“Profits at the biggest U.S. companies shot above $3 trillion this year, and the margins keep growing,” Mr. Brown, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, said during a recent hearing. “Mega corporations would rather pass higher costs on to consumers than cut into their profits.”

Ms. Warren has pointed to robust corporate profits as a sign that companies are partly to blame for rising costs.

“Corporations are exploiting the pandemic to gouge consumers with higher prices on everyday essentials, from milk to gasoline,” she posted on Twitter on Nov. 26. “American families shouldn’t be bankrolling corporate America’s record-high profits.”

Politicians are placing more blame on greedy companies as prices stay high, but booming consumer demand is enabling firms to charge more. READ MORE

In Raleigh, N.C., Johnny Hackett Jr.’s temporary pop-up, the Black Friday Market, did so well that he signed a five-year lease.Credit…Eamon Queeney for The New York Times

The rash of storefront vacancies in the pandemic taught landlords to be more flexible with retail tenants. Some cut longtime tenants slack, waiving rents or entering into revenue-sharing agreements. To entice new tenants, they reduced rates, offered free rent and agreed to customize spaces.

Then there are the stopgap measures — anything to keep the space occupied, reports Jane Margolies for The New York Times.

To bring in some revenue, some landlords have given storefront windows over to digital advertising.

Others are allowing their empty windows to be filled with artwork — efforts that generate good will and make vacant spaces look less bleak.

And some welcomed pop-up retailers, hoping to bring life to languishing ground-floor spaces.

Pop-ups might not earn as much from the arrangements, but at least some revenue was coming in. And the deals often involve quick licensing agreements, rather than more complicated leases, and no outlay for capital expenses. Plus, there’s always the chance that a pop-up may become a permanent tenant.

In North Carolina, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance started two pop-up programs to address storefront vacancies and help local businesses. Early last year, the organization began matching landlords with entrepreneurs.

In the fall of 2020, the organization helped place Johnny Hackett Jr. in a storefront in a prominent building owned by Empire Properties for three months at a reduced rate.

Mr. Hackett paid $3,000 a month to open Black Friday Market, carrying art, apparel and other wares from dozens of Black vendors. The store did so well that Mr. Hackett signed a five-year lease at a monthly rent of $4,500.

“You just need to roll a little bit with a tenant you think is solid and in the long run is good for the community,” said Greg Hatem, Empire’s founder and managing partner.

The retail industry was bouncing back, but the Omicron variant of the coronavirus may throw a wrench in its recovery. READ MORE

Macy’s began requesting the vaccination status of employees on Tuesday, a sign it was preparing for a potential mandate of vaccinations or weekly testing ahead of a special Supreme Court hearing about such rules on Friday. In a memo sent to employees that was obtained by The New York Times, the retailer — which also owns Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury — told workers in the United States to upload their vaccination statuses to a third-party platform by Jan. 16 “regardless of whether you work in a store, a supply chain facility, an office, or are remote/hybrid.” The company also said it might require proof of negative tests to be uploaded to the same system starting on Feb. 16.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has requested that Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, respond to questions about his communications with former President Donald J. Trump and his staff in the days surrounding the riot. In a letter on Tuesday, the committee asked for Mr. Hannity’s voluntary cooperation, meaning that the host has not received a formal subpoena. The letter detailed a series of text messages between the conservative media star and senior officials in the Trump White House, illustrating Mr. Hannity’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser to the administration.

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