Month: December 2021

U.S. Trade Deficit in Goods Jumps 17.5% as Imports Surge

The trade deficit in goods surged by 17.5% in November to set an all-time high, largely reflecting faster improvement in the U.S. economy compared to most other countries.

An early or advanced look at the trade gap in goods showed that it increased to $97.8 billion in November from $83.2 billion in October, the U.S. Census Bureau said. The U.S. is on track in 2021 to post its biggest annual shortfall on record.

An advanced estimate of wholesale inventories, meanwhile, revealed a 1.2% increase in November. And retail inventories jumped 2%, according to an early estimate.

U.S. imports of goods rose 4.7% to $252.4 billion in November. Imports of industrial supplies, autos, consumer goods and food all rose sharply. Americans have snapped up huge quantities of imports since the U.S. economy fully reopened earlier this year. Federal stimulus money, rising wages and a fast-recovering economy have given consumers the financial means and confidence to spend.

The trade deficit is likely to subside eventually as other economies rebound, but U.S. trade deficits have been high for years and are likely to remain that way. A higher deficit subtracts from gross domestic product, the official scorecard for the U.S. economy.

U.S. Home Prices Surged 18.4% in October

U.S. home prices surged again in October as the housing market continues to boom in the wake of last year’s coronavirus recession.

The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-city home price index, out Tuesday, climbed 18.4% in October from a year earlier. The gain marked a slight deceleration from a 19.1% year-over-year increase in September but was about in line with what economists had been expecting.

All 20 cities posted double-digit annual gains. The hottest markets were Phoenix (up 32.3%), Tampa (28.1%) and Miami (25.7%). Minneapolis and Chicago posted the smallest increases, 11.5% each.

Last week, mortgage rates fell — to 3.05% for the benchmark 30-year, fixed-rate and 2.66% for the 15-year fixed-rate home loan. The persistently low rates signal that credit markets appear more concerned about the omicron variant depressing economic growth than about the highest inflation rates in nearly 40 years.

The National Association of Realtors reported last week that sales of previously occupied homes rose for the third straight month in November to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.46 million.

CDC Cuts Recommended Isolation and Quarantine Periods for COVID-19 Infections

People who test positive for the coronavirus need to isolate themselves for only five days if they don’t show symptoms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. This cuts in half the earlier recommendation of 10 days of isolation.

Data shows that the majority of coronavirus transmission “occurs early in the course of illness,” the CDC explained — generally in the one or two days before symptoms begin and two or three days after.

“Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others,” the CDC said in a statement.

The CDC has also updated its recommended quarantine period for people exposed to the virus. It says unvaccinated people should quarantine for five days, followed by five days of “strict mask use.” Exposed people who are more than six months past their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months out from a Johnson & Johnson vaccine, should also quarantine for five days.

People who have gotten their booster shot don’t need to quarantine after exposure but should wear a mask for the next 10 days.

Holiday Sales Rise 8.5 Percent

Sales over this year’s holiday season grew at the fastest pace in 17 years and increased by 8.5 percent since last year. Additionally, holidays sales were up 10.7 percent from the 2019 holiday season, Mastercard Spending Pulse found.

The spending measure, which tracked consumer spending from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24, found that clothing and jewelry saw the largest increases. Clothing sales spiked 47 percent, followed by jewelry, which saw 32 percent growth from the year prior.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, online sales during the holiday season have increased 61 percent.

The record-setting sales are notable as several factors, including product shortages and the COVID-19 omicron variant, threatened retail success.

Supreme Court to Hear Challenges to Vaccine Mandates in Early January

The Supreme Court will hear legal challenges to the Biden administration’s employer vaccine mandates next month, the justices announced Wednesday night, setting a rapid schedule for the cases.

In a pair of orders issued Wednesday, the court said it would hear oral arguments on January 7 over President Biden‘s vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers and a regulation from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requiring vaccines for health care workers.

In scheduling the accelerated timeline for the cases, the Supreme Court deferred ruling on whether to block the new rules until after hearing the challenges.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a rule last month requiring companies with more than 100 employees to mandate that their workers either receive a COVID-19 vaccine or undergo regular testing and take other measures to combat the spread of the virus.

The CMS rule requires virtually every health care worker in the country to be vaccinated.

Each of the new regulations has prompted an array of challenges, which will be consolidated during oral arguments next month.


COVID Relief Fraud Nears $100 Billion, Secret Service Says

The release of COVID-19 federal relief funds has unleashed a wave of individuals and criminal networks responsible for what the Secret Service says is nearly $100 billion in stolen benefits.

The Secret Service has tapped Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAIC) Roy Dotson to lead the pandemic fraud recovery effort. In this role, Dotson is coordinating with financial institutions and money services businesses, U.S. attorney offices, and other federal agencies.

According to Dotson, who is based in the Jacksonville field office, the Secret Service has more than 900 active criminal investigations into pandemic-related relief fraud.

The Secret Service has established a Cyber Fraud Task Force (CFTF), partnering with federal and state, local, tribal, and territorial partners, as well as foreign law enforcement, academic, and private sector partners.

Part of these efforts will also include spearheading cryptocurrency investigations centering on unsuspecting money mules who have moved stolen funds from one account to another – a trend that also picked up during the pandemic, according to Dotson.

As of December 2021, the Secret Service says it has recovered more than $1.2 billion and returned more than $2.3 billion of fraudulently obtained funds through automated clearing house reversals. Amid these investigations, approximately 100 people have been arrested on loan fraud charges.

DHS Issues Public Health Advisory about the Omicron Variant

Yesterday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a public health advisory calling on all Wisconsinites to take urgent action to prevent additional hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19. The highly contagious Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Wisconsin and is anticipated to cause a rapid increase in disease activity in the coming weeks.

“I urge every Wisconsinite to take immediate action and get the COVID-19 vaccine and your booster dose if you haven’t received it already—this is critically important for mitigating surges in hospitalizations and deaths across our state,” said Governor Tony Evers. “Please get the vaccine, continue following public health best practices, and do your part to help slow the spread of the Omicron variant.”

To slow the spread of the Omicron variant, DHS is urging all Wisconsinites to take the following actions immediately:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19, including a booster dose as soon as you are eligible.
  • Wear a well-fitting mask in indoor spaces when others are present who do not live with you.
  • Celebrate safely over the holidays by keeping gatherings small, getting tested before visiting others, and staying home if you have any symptoms.


OSHA COVID-19 Vaccine-or-Test Mandate Revived, Supreme Court Showdown Looms

A U.S. appeals court on Friday reinstated a nationwide vaccine-or-testing COVID-19 mandate for large businesses, which covers 80 million American workers, prompting opponents to rush to the Supreme Court to ask it to intervene.

The ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati lifted a November injunction that had blocked the rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which applies to businesses with at least 100 workers.

Within hours of the ruling, at least three petitions were filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to immediately block the mandate.

A group of business groups representing retail, wholesale, warehousing, transportation, travel and logistics filed one of the first petitions with the high court, raising among other issues the potential for workers to quit rather than take the shot.

“The resulting labor upheaval will devastate already fragile supply chains and labor markets at the peak holiday season,” said the petition.

DNR Seeking Public Input on Proposed Enbridge Pipeline Relocation

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is seeking public review and comment on a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed pipeline relocation project in Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties.

Enbridge has applied for waterway and wetland crossing permits and a construction site erosion control permit from the DNR to relocate its Line 5 pipeline. The purpose of the environmental impact statement is to inform decision makers and the public about the proposed project, alternatives and the associated environmental and socio-economic impacts.

Members of the public also have the opportunity to submit written comments on the draft environmental impact statement through March 4, 2022.

Enbridge proposes constructing approximately 41 miles of a new 30-inch-diameter crude oil pipeline to relocate its existing Line 5 pipeline outside of tribal lands of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The company would also abandon approximately 20 miles of the existing 30-inch-diameter Line 5 Pipeline, including the section that currently crosses the Bad River Reservation.

The public is encouraged to submit comments regarding the draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Enbridge pipeline relocation project. All electronic and hardcopy comments must be submitted or postmarked no later than Friday, March 4, 2022. Please submit comments to:

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
Line 5 EIS Comments (EA/7)
101 South Webster St.
Madison, WI 53707

The DNR will consider all public comments received and will prepare a final environmental impact statement prior to making any permit decisions.

New Study Finds Wisconsin’s 10-Year Population Growth at Record Low

A new report from Forward Analytics shows that the state of Wisconsin will face challenges in the coming years due to stagnating population growth during the last decade. According to the report, “Slowing Down: Wisconsin’s Waning Population Growth,” the state’s population increased 3.6%, the slowest 10-year growth rate on record. This trend is being driven by a declining youth population. Over the decade, Wisconsin’s under-18 population fell 4.3%, more than double the 2.1% decline during 2000-2010.

The decline in the youth population was largely driven by falling birth rates. During 2010-2020, the number of births dropped in every year but one, resulting in about 44,000 fewer babies born than during 2000-2010. With deaths rising due to aging baby boomers, the state’s natural population growth (births minus deaths) was 153,000 compared to 243,000 during 2000-2010.

According to Forward Analytics Director Dale Knapp, “Fewer young people in the state affects Wisconsin’s future labor force. With this recent decline, the state may not have enough young people to replace retiring baby boomers and GenXers over the next two decades.”

With the exception of Milwaukee County, urban counties continued to grow. However, many rural counties saw populations fall due largely to the lack of growth in the youth population. From 2000-2010, 18 rural counties had more deaths than births, a phenomenon that was rare in previous
decades. In each of those rural counties, natural population loss continued during 2010-2020 with 11 additional counties joining them, bringing the total to 29 rural counties with natural population loss.

Without natural growth, the only way to increase or even maintain the state’s population and workforce is through migration. Unfortunately, that is trending in an unfavorable direction as well. With the state’s population growth at an all-time low, the state will need to attract significantly more
people over the next 10 years or risk a critically shrinking workforce and declining tax base.