Home Sales Are Stuck In Neutral—Will The Fed Put Them Into Gear?
~2.7 mins read

Both new and previously owned home sales have stalled so far this spring, but economists think the Federal Reserve could hit the gas if it decides to cut rates.

High mortgage rates are stifling the housing market in pretty much every way except in prices. Sales of new homes fell more than economists expected, existing homes stayed in the doldrums in April, and homebuilding fell short of expectations. Pending home sales were also lackluster, indicating that home sales will continue to stagnate in the near future.

The average rate for a 30-year mortgage rose back above the 7% level this week, according to Freddie Mac. Investopedia's daily measure of mortgage rates similarly showed interest rates rising. Rates have hovered near 7% since April by both measures.

Housing economists expect mortgage rates will fall substantially at some point, especially if and when the Federal Reserve decides to cut its influential fed funds rate. The fed funds rate is one major driver of mortgage interest and is also the central bank's main tool to fight inflation.

Officials have kept the rate at a 23-year high since last July to combat rapidly increasing prices. They said they'll only lower it once they gain enough confidence that inflation is under control. But that hasn’t happened yet, and may not anytime soon, going by the recent public statements of Fed officials.

"The impact of escalating interest rates throughout April dampened home buying, even with more inventory in the market,” said National Association of Realtor's Chief Economist Lawrence Yun in a prepared statement. “But the Federal Reserve’s anticipated rate cut later this year should lead to better conditions, with improved affordability and more supply.”

Homeowners with low interest rates have been reluctant to sell their current homes and finance a new mortgage at today's higher rates. This "lock-in" effect has created competition for the few listings on the market, driving up housing prices. But that gridlock has loosened some in recent weeks.

"Though inventory and prices are moving in a more buyer-friendly direction, lower mortgage rates will be crucial in bringing both buyers and sellers back into the market," wrote's Senior Economic Research Analyst Hannah Jones. Economist Jiayi Xu estimates mortgages willdecrease to around 6.5% by the end of 2024. However, Fannie Mae economists have predicted rates will have to go significantly below 6% to shake loose the lock-in effect.

However, lower mortgage rates are not guaranteed.

Economists differ in their expectations of when the Federal Reserve will cut rates, but on average, see September as the most likely timeframe, according to a survey of economists conducted by earlier this month.

Traders priced in a 50% chance officials will cut in September and a 63.3% chance at the following meeting in November. A recent analysis by Apollo's Chief Economist Torsten Sløk found a strong stock market and fiscal policy have been offsetting Fed hike.

"The more the Fed insists that the next move in interest rates is a cut, the more financial conditions will ease, making it more difficult for the Fed to cut," Sløk wrote.

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How Healthy Is Sugar Alcohol?
~3.1 mins read

A blue background sprinkled with white sugar substitute crystals with the words sugar free written; concept is sugar alcohols and artficial sweeteners

If you are trying to cut back on added sugar — and you should, because excess sugar increases risks for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease — you might be tempted by products advertised as low sugar, no sugar, or sugar-free.

Many contain familiar low-calorie sugar substitutes like aspartame or sucralose instead of sugar. And as you're reading labels, you also may run across another ingredient: sugar alcohol, which is used in products like sugar-free cookies, candies, ice cream, beverages, and chewing gums. Are any of these sweeteners a better choice nutritionally? Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, weighs in below.

Are low-calorie or no-calorie sweeteners any healthier than natural sugar?

Also known as artificial sweeteners or sugar substitutes, the list of low-calorie and no-calorie sweeteners you may see on product nutrition labels includes acesulfame-K, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, and advantame. These have a higher sweetness intensity per gram than natural sugar.

So far research on them is mixed, although some observational studies have found that beverages containing low-calorie sweeteners are associated with a higher risk for diabetes and weight gain.

What exactly are sugar alcohols and how can you spot them?

Sugar alcohols may have the most misleading name, as they are neither sugar nor alcohol, according to Dr. Hu. "They are a type of carbohydrate derived from fruits and vegetables, although most commercial sugar alcohols are synthetically produced."

You can usually spot many sugar alcohols on ingredient lists by "-ol" at the ends of their names. Examples include sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, and maltitol.

Are sugar alcohols any healthier than other sugar substitutes or natural sugar?

Here is a look at the pros and cons.

The upside of sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols reside in the sweet spot between natural sugar and low-calorie sweeteners. They are not as overly sweet as sweeteners and don't add too many extra calories like sugar.

"Sugar alcohols are about 40% to 80% as sweet as natural sugar, whereas artificial sweeteners like aspartame are about 200 times sweeter," says Dr. Hu. "And they have about 25% to 75% fewer calories per gram than sugar."

Another upside of sugar alcohols is that they break down slowly in the gut. Hence, your body only absorbs part of their overall carbohydrates. "This keeps your blood sugar and insulin levels from spiking as they do with sugar," says Dr. Hu. "That makes them a useful sugar substitute for people with diabetes."

The downside of sugar alcohols

The main downside to sugar alcohols is this: when taken in high amounts they can cause gastrointestinal (GI) problems, such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or loose stools.

Because sugar alcohols are slowly digested, they have more time to feed bacteria in the gut, which can lead to fermentation and produce excess gas. Their slow digestion also can pull extra water into the colon and cause a laxative effect.

People's tolerance for sugar alcohols depends on many factors, including body weight, health conditions, and the amount and types of sugar alcohols. "Individual differences in digestion and metabolism, gut microbiome composition, and dietary habits can also make a difference," says Dr. Hu. "For these reasons, we recommend introducing sugar alcohols into your diet gradually and observing how your body responds."

For people who experience GI symptoms caused by sugar alcohols, Dr. Hu says cutting back on the amount of foods and drinks made with them often can correct the problem. "Sugar alcohols are commonly found in sugar-free or low-carb products, so pay attention to food labels" he says. "Because different sugar alcohols can have different effects, it might be useful to identify specific types of sugar alcohols that cause GI side effects."

Do sugar alcohols have health risks?

Possible long-term health risks of sugar alcohol are still being explored. A 2023 observational study found a link between using erythritol as an added sweetener and cardiovascular disease events, such as stroke and heart attack, in people with heart disease or who had risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure. However, these findings have not been confirmed in subsequent studies.

"Sugar alcohols offer a healthier alternative to sugar because of their lower calorie content and reduced glycemic response, which is the effect food has on blood sugar levels," says Dr. Hu. "But they also have potential drawbacks, especially for those with sensitive digestive systems, so it's best to consume them in moderation as part of an overall healthy eating pattern."

Source: Harvard Health Publishing

What’s The Nigerian Dream? — Curious Pilot Asks His Compatriots
~0.2 mins read

A curious pilot has  taken to his social media page to ask Nigerians what the Nigerian dream represents.

He highlighted what the Canadian and American dream represented, but was at loss to phantom what characterized the Nigerian dream

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President Tinubu Is Officially My G.O.A.T Of All Nigerian Presidents. — Says Singer Brymo As He Hails President Tinubu For Reinstating The Old National Anthem
~0.3 mins read

Singer Brymo has commended President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for signing the National Anthem Bill 2024 into law to reinstate the old anthem, “Nigeria, We Hail Thee.”

He noted that the reintroduced anthem has better lyrics in content and context.

On his Instagram account, Brymo wrote: “President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is officially my G.O.A.T. of all-time Nigerian president.

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The IRS Is Offering A Way To File Your Federal Income Taxes For Free, For Real, Forever
~2.2 mins read

The Direct File program tested this year will be a permanent feature of the tax filing season from now on, the IRS and the Treasury Department said Thursday. A pilot of the program was rolled out in the most recent tax season to 12 states. The program will be made available to residents of other states that sign up, and will expand its capabilities to cover more common tax situations starting in the next tax season, the IRS said.The trial of the first-of-its-kind tax filing service garnered positive early reviews among the nearly 141,000 people who tried it out this year, the agency said, citing user feedback surveys. Until this season, taxpayers had to use a privately owned tax prep service if they wanted to file online. Those third-party services were sometimes offered for free through the IRS’s Free File program, but usually cost customers a fee. In 2022, the average taxpayer paid $240 to have their taxes prepared, the IRS estimated.

The new federal service was launched using funds from the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 at a cost to taxpayers of $31.8 million. People who used the new system collectively saved $5.6 million in filing costs, the agency estimated.

“Meeting your tax obligations and claiming the credits and deductions for which you're eligible should be easy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a conference call with reporters. “But the IRS has been underfunded for decades, so taxpayers haven't gotten the support they deserve. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, we’re changing this.”

It was unclear exactly how many new states would sign up, or how many new features would be added to the service, which only covered basic tax situations in its initial rollout this year. 

While early users of the service gave it mainly positive reviews, with many saying it was easy to use, it didn’t win over many fans in the tax prep industry, whose business it threatens. 

Intuit (INTU), the maker of popular tax prep software TurboTax, blasted the program in a press release last month, criticizing it for only having reached seven out of every 1,000 taxpayers who were eligible to use it, among other things. The company's stock has been trending down in the last five days, but ticked down further in the wake of the announcement.

The IRS said it would offer the new service while continuing to support other filing options, including tax prep software offered by private companies.

“Many taxpayers prefer to work with a third party, whether that is a trusted tax professional or use tax preparation software, both free and commercial,” IRS commissioner Danny Werfel said on a conference call with reporters. “The IRS will continue to support all filing options.”

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Amazon Gives Prime Members Free Grubhub+ Subscription Worth $120 A Year
~1.4 mins read

Amazon (AMZN) is offering its Prime members a free Grubhub+ subscription worth $120 a year, the company said on Thursday, the retail giant's latest effort to win over consumers to its loyalty program.

The tech company's Amazon Prime membership is currently $139 per year. The announcement makes membership of the food-delivery company a permanent feature of joining Amazon Prime.

Prime members were offered a year-long Grubhub+ membership in July 2022 after Amazon bought a 2% equity stake in the food-delivery service, which was later extended by another year in June 2023.

Amazon previously offered its own food-delivery service for its Prime members in 2015 but reportedly shut it down in 2019 because of fierce competition from GrubHub, DoorDash (DASH), and Uber Technologies' (UBER) Uber Eats services.

In the meantime, the tech firm has been working at making Prime more of a one-stop shop. It launched a grocery delivery service for $9.99 a month in April, in an attempt to take on similar services from Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT).

It has also gone after the sports-viewing market, a key customer base for streamers. It is reportedly in negotiations with the NBA to start streaming games on Prime Video, reported last month.

Amazon has also extended its presence in healthcare by providing Prime members with discounts on medications through its pharmacy. In March, it partnered with Eli Lilly (LLY) to allow its prescription drugs to be shipped through Amazon's online pharmacy.

Amazon shares were down 1.2% to $179.82 as of 12:40 p.m. ET Thursday but are up almost 20% in 2024.

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