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It’s August, which is an ideal time for a little late-summer economic vibe check. All of Wall Street is in the Hamptons or on Martha’s Vineyard. Even the Fed is snoozing till September. So pour a cool glass of rosé, or whatever, and let’s talk inflation.
Where are we? How are things feeling?
Well, it’s taken approximately 8,000 years, but we’re finally getting a liiitttle break from inflation.
Here are a handful of bright spots for consumers:
- Gas prices in America have been falling for more than 50 consecutive days. The average cost of a gallon of gas, at a little over four bucks, is down almost a dollar since the June peak.
- Online retail prices fell 1% year-over-year in July, snapping nearly two years of persistent increases. The shift is even more pronounced on a month-over-month basis, in which online prices dropped by 2% in July.
- Walmart, Target and Best Buy are slashing prices to try to clear out a glut of inventory — that’s a business problem and a consumer perk we haven’t seen since before the pandemic.
- In terms of inflation psychology, we’re broadly more optimistic these days. The Survey of Consumer Expectations this week showed that expectations of higher prices are easing.
- The strong US dollar, while problematic for the rest of the world, is a nice little perk for Americans traveling abroad right now.
Look, we’re not exactly dancing on inflation’s grave over here, but we’ll take what we can get.
On Wednesday, we’ll get an official update when the July consumer price index report comes out. Most economists expect to see that inflation eased last month, to 8.7% from 9.1% in June. Again, that’s not great — it’s still historically high, but we’re trending in the right direction.
Cooling inflation is good news, even if some of the factors behind it are… not so great. Ultimately, people are pulling back spending because they’re struggling to make ends meet after a year of relentless price increases that have far outpaced wage growth. Recession fears are real, and even if inflation has peaked, it’s not likely to go back down to pre-pandemic levels quickly.
NUMBER OF THE DAY: $5,000
Energy bills in the UK are expected to top $5,000 a year starting in January, or about $430 a month on average, according to new estimates from research firm Cornwall Insight. That means that nearly a third of households will face so-called fuel poverty, meaning their income after paying for energy will fall below the poverty line.
We take food news very seriously here at Nightcap HQ, so when we heard that France was running low on mustard, we had to dig in.
Here’s the deal: The French love mustard. They are the world’s biggest consumer of the condiment, consuming about 2.2 pounds of it per person every year, according to the New York Times. Is it as essential as butter? Non. But it’s right up there. And right now, because of a one-two punch of climate change and war, many grocery shelves are empty, leaving the famously food-obsessed people scrambling for an alternative.
“I don’t think we have ever seen anything like it,” says Marc Désarménien, proprietor of Maison Fallot, a family run business that’s been producing mustard for generations in the town of — I kid you not — Dijon. (Did y’all know Dijon was the place and not just the style of mustard? Fascinating. Is it like how Champagne from anywhere else is just sparkling white wine? Anyway, I digress…)
“My grandfather has lived through two world wars and the post-war period when there were ration tickets in France, but even then there was mustard!” Désarménien tells my colleague Camille Knight. “Now whether you go to Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux or Strasbourg, nobody has any mustard left. It’s all sold within a few hours.”
What’s going on?
A couple of things, both of which are large-scale disasters hurting far more than condiments.
1. Climate change. Your Dijon may be genuinely from Dijon, but the seeds themselves are grown in an area of Canada that’s been hit with extreme heat liked to global warming. That’s cut the usual yield in half.
So naturally, mustard makers would look to other places that grow mustard seeds, right? Yes. But there’s a problem…
2. The other top mustard seed exporters happen to be *squints at notes* Ukraine and Russia. Who are, you know, a little preoccupied.
It’s really hard to substitute the taste of mustard. People are trying all kinds of concoctions with tahini, wasabi and horseradish. It’s pretty grim.
But there’s a silver lining: The Canadian agriculture ministry is predicting better yields for the coming harvest, which should help get production back up to normal.
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