business news in context, analysis with attitude

With brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary…

•  From the Associated Press:

"Wholesale prices in the United States rose 6.2 percent in December from a year earlier, a sixth straight slowdown and a hopeful sign that inflation pressures will continue to cool.

"The latest year-over-year figure was down from 7.3 percent in November and from a recent peak of 11.7 percent in March. On a monthly basis, the government said Wednesday that its producer price index, which measures costs before they reach consumers, dropped 0.5 percent from November to December.

"The producer price data can provide an early sign of where consumer inflation might be headed. The data reflects the prices that are charged by manufacturers, farmers, and wholesalers, and it flows into an inflation gauge that the Federal Reserve closely tracks, the personal consumption expenditures price index.

"The ongoing slowdown in wholesale price growth is adding to evidence that the worst bout of inflation in four decades is steadily easing, though it remains far above the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent."

•  From the Wall Street Journal:

"U.S. consumers cut back on retail spending at the height of the holiday season as consumers spent less on vehicles, in popular gift categories, and furniture.

Retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, restaurants and online, declined a seasonally adjusted 1.1% in December from the prior month, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was the biggest monthly decline of 2022 and marked the second consecutive month of decline. November’s retail sales were revised lower to a 1% drop.

"Sales declined in a number of gift-giving categories in December, including electronics, clothing, at department stores and online. Dining out at bars and restaurants dropped 0.9% on the month. Sales of furniture and vehicles, which are sensitive to higher borrowing costs, both fell sharply.

"Wednesday’s data follows signs that consumer demand is cooling in the face of high inflation and rising borrowing costs. Some retailers have said the recently completed holiday shopping season turned out to be weaker than expected."

•  From the Associated Press:

"Party City has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after struggling with rising prices and a pullback in customer spending.

"The company, based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, said that its franchise stores, subsidiaries outside of the US and its foil balloons Anagram business are not part of the restructuring and will remain core components of its business.

"Party City Holdco Inc., said its more than 800 company-owned and franchise stores throughout North America will remain open, and customers can still shop on the company website.

"The chain is planning an expedited restructuring that it said would substantially lower its debt and free up cash."

•  From Engadget:

"Oil and gas company Shell is buying electric vehicle charging operator Volta for $169 million through a subsidiary. The deal, which the companies expect to close in the first half of this year, amounts to 86 cents per share, around 18 percent more than Volta's closing price on Tuesday.

"Volta's board of directors approved the deal unanimously, though it still requires the green light from shareholders. It's subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions too. Shell will provide loans to Volta to give it a hand through the closing of the transaction. On September 30th, Volta had $15.6 million in cash and cash equivalents, compared with $262.2 million at the end of 2021."

The story points out that Volta "has more than 3,000 charging stations across the US and a handful in Europe, typically at grocery stores and malls … Odd as it may seem that an oil company is buying an EV charging network, it isn't the first time Shell has done so. It snapped up UK network Ubitricity in 2021 for an undisclosed sum. Last year, Hertz and BP announced plans to set up a charging network in the US."

In other words, Shell is not in denial about where the world is going.