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Inflation slows significantly as gas prices drop in July

Tetra Images/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Inflation data released on Wednesday revealed that price increases slowed in July, easing the strain on household budgets as the Federal Reserve fights inflation with a series of borrowing cost hikes.

While still elevated, price hikes waned from the near-historic pace reached in June, giving hope to policymakers and consumers that inflation has peaked.

The consumer price index, or CPI, rose 8.5% year-over-year in July, a marked slowdown from 9.1% in June, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On a monthly basis, the consumer price index rose 1.3% in July, remaining unchanged from the rise seen in June, according to the bureau. While food and shelter costs increased over the last month, the gasoline index price fell 7.7% in July to offset those increases.

The inflation data arrives as other indicators have sent mixed signals about the economy in recent weeks.

A slowdown in the inflation rate emerged in part because the national average price of gasoline, which makes up a key portion of the consumer price index, has declined for more than 50 consecutive days, according to AAA.

Meanwhile, a government report on Friday revealed that hiring in July more than doubled economists' expectations, defying Fed efforts to slow the economy and rebuking fears of a recession.

The significant uptick in hiring last month -- an added 528,000 jobs and unemployment rate drop to 3.5% -- came alongside elevated wage increases that may put upward pressure on consumer prices.

The heightened wage increases match a pattern that stretches back months. A closely observed measure of U.S. wages, called unit-labor costs, rose 9.5% over the second quarter of this year, the fastest rise of that metric since the first quarter of 1982, according to data released by the federal government on Tuesday.

When facing high inflation, policymakers fear what’s referred to as a price-wage spiral, in which a rise in prices prompts workers to demand raises that help them afford goods, which in turn pushes up prices, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle of runaway inflation.

The Fed has sought to avoid a price-wage spiral with a series of borrowing cost increases, Maurice Obstfeld, a professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley, told ABC News. At meetings in each of the past two months, the central bank has increased its benchmark interest rate 0.75% -- dramatic hikes last matched in 1994.

"The data is telling us not that rate hikes have been ineffective but that the Fed will have to go quite a bit further," Obstfeld said.

However, other data suggests that inflation fears have waned significantly.

A survey released by the New York Federal Reserve on Monday showed that consumers expect inflation to slow down.

Individuals who responded to the July survey said they expect inflation to run at a 6.2% pace over the next year and a 3.2% rate for the next three years, both of which marked significant declines from the inflation expectations expressed by consumers in the month prior.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sesame Place to implement diversity initiatives after racial bias incident

Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, FILE

(LANGHORNE, Pa.) -- Following a barrage of online allegations of racial bias and one $25 million class action lawsuit, Sesame Place has announced initiatives to help expand its "commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion."

These efforts include comprehensive racial equity assessment, an anti-bias training and education program as well as enhancements to pre-existing diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

"We have already begun engaging with employees, guests, civil rights groups as well as community leaders, and instituted some interim measures at the park while the review proceeds," Cathy Valeriano, president of Sesame Place Philadelphia, said in a statement.

She continued, "The actions we are taking will help us deliver on our promise to provide an equitable and inclusive experience for all our guests every day. We are committed to making sure our guests feel welcome, included and enriched by their visits to our park."

Sesame Place is a licensed park partner of Sesame Workshop and is owned by Sea World.

Attorney B’Ivory LaMarr, who represents the family of two young Black girls who claimed they were dismissed by a Sesame Place character during a visit, will be meeting with the SeaWorld CEO alongside parents and civil rights leaders on Aug. 11.

"It is our hope that this previously scheduled meeting will address the deficiencies we have noted from this most recent press release," LaMarr said in a statement to ABC News. "We will provide a more detailed statement following this meeting."

The family behind the $25 million lawsuit did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment on the newly announced efforts.

In a press release, Sesame Place said the efforts will be backed and overseen by national experts on diversity and equity. The brand’s racial equity assessment will review policies, processes and practices that impact guests, employees, suppliers and the community to identify potential improvements.

By the end of September, all employees will receive training to address bias, promote inclusion and prevent discrimination. The company said this will become part of the onboarding process for new employees and will become a standard part of employee training.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Explainer: Why is inflation so high and what happened last time it reached this level?

Javier Ghersi/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Inflation continues to be the top economic concern for most Americans.

In July, the consumer price index rose 8.5% compared with the same month a year prior. While still high, the inflation rate eased from the near-historic pace in June.

Eighty-two percent of Americans are worried about the negative effect of inflation on the purchasing power of their income over the next six months, according to a recent survey from Allianz Life. Further, 71% said their income is not keeping up with rising costs.

Here's an explainer about why inflation is so high and what happened last time prices rose at such a fast pace:

Why is inflation so high?

Like so many economic problems, inflation comes down to an imbalance between supply and demand.

Hundreds of millions across the globe facing lockdowns replaced restaurant expenditures with couches and exercise bikes. The surge in demand followed a pandemic-induced flood of economic stimulus. Moreover, that stimulus brought about a speedy economic recovery from the March 2020 downturn, triggering a hiring blitz.

But the surge in demand for goods and labor far outpaced supply, as COVID-related bottlenecks slowed delivery times and infection fears kept workers on the sidelines.

In turn, prices and wages skyrocketed, prompting sky-high inflation. Such price increases have bedeviled countries across the globe, some of which have suffered much worse inflation than the U.S. In Argentina, inflation stands at 64%; in Turkey, it's nearly 80%.

What is the government doing to bring down prices?

The Federal Reserve has embarked on an aggressive series of rate hikes which raise the cost of borrowing. In theory, the rate hikes should cut demand, slow down the economy and lower inflation.

At meetings in each of the past two months, the central bank has increased its benchmark interest rate 0.75% -- dramatic hikes last matched in 1994. After a data release last week showed that hiring in July vastly exceeded expectations, the Federal Reserve is widely expected to institute another rate hike at its next meeting in September.

Meanwhile, Congress has taken action that could reduce inflation over the long term.

On Sunday, the Senate passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which raises $739 billion in new revenue and puts at least $300 billion toward deficit reduction.

If it becomes law, the bill would very slightly raise inflation over the next two years but would reduce inflation by the late 2020s, according to a study by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania that looked at an early version of the bill.

When was the last time inflation reached this level and how did it get resolved?

The last time inflation was this high was 1981. Back then, high prices combined with a weak economy to bring financial misery for many Americans.

The dynamic put central bankers in a difficult position. If they raised interest rates and slowed down the economy, it might push the economy into a recession, causing more pain. But if they cut rates, then it would stimulate the economy and potentially drive inflation even higher.

Paul Volcker, who took over as Fed chair in 1979, vowed to raise rates until inflation got under control -- no matter how much it slowed down the economy. The short-term economic pain far outweighed the long-term damage of inflation, Volcker argued.

In 1981, the Fed's benchmark interest rate rose as high as 20%. By comparison, after multiple rate hikes this year to tackle inflation, the interest rate still stands at a range of 2.25% to 2.50%.

Back in 1981, those high interest rates helped push the U.S. into a recession and drove the unemployment rate above 10%. By comparison, the unemployment rate today matches a 50-year low reached right before the outset of the pandemic in 2020.

But Volcker's aggressive approach did bring down inflation. When Volcker left the position in August 1987, inflation had fallen to 3.4% from its peak of 9.8% in 1981.

Powell, the current chair of the Fed, has vowed to bring down inflation. He said last month the central bank expects additional rate increases will prove necessary to dial back inflation to its target rate of 2%.

But, as in the early 1980s, an economic slowdown induced by the Fed could bring short-term pain before smoothing out inflation. Or, if the central bank achieves what economists call a "soft landing," then the central bank could lower inflation while avoiding a recession.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Airfare to drop 40% in the fall: Hopper

Craig Hastings/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Travelers facing surging summer prices can expect good news as domestic airfare is expected to drop by nearly 40% in the coming fall months, according to data from the travel booking platform Hopper.

According to Hopper data, round-trip domestic airfare is expected to drop about 38% from its peak summer prices in September and October. Round-trip domestic airfare is expected to run around $238 on average, which is $142 cheaper than high summer fares.

Some of the best deals for domestic travel, according to Hopper, are to San Diego, California, which runs about $252 round-trip on average -- a savings of $230 from peak summer prices. Airfare to Salt Lake City, Utah, is averaging $242 round-trip, which is down about $200 from summer. And round-trip prices to Los Angeles, California, will go for $246 on average during the fall months.

International airfare prices, meanwhile, are set to fall by about 19% -- good news for those looking to embark on overseas adventures, now that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has dropped COVID-19 restrictions for international travel.

Hopper says travelers can find flights to Grenada, Grenada, for $483 round-trip, which is a savings of $460 from peak summer prices. Travelers can find trips to Zurich, Switzerland, for $691, which is a savings of $275. And round-trip airfare to Bali, Indonesia, can be found for $1,183, down $431 from summer peaks.

Travel experts at Hopper advise that travelers book domestic trips at least three weeks in advance. They advise that prices will begin to rise quickly in the final few weeks before the trip.

For international travel plans, the experts advise booking at least one month in advance, noting that now is a good time to get the best price. Experts also advise being flexible on days you travel. Hopper says that mid-week flights and hotel stays can save big bucks compared to weekend trips.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Biden signs CHIPS Act, intended to relieve the pandemic-era computer chip shortage

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed a multibillion-dollar bill to boost domestic computer chip manufacturing and more, touting the bipartisan package as "a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself."

The law -- known as the CHIPS and Science Act -- spends nearly $53 billion to spur research in and development of America's semiconductor industry. It is intended to address a nearly two-year global chip shortage that stemmed from supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Semiconductors are common in everyday items from cell phones to cars to microwaves and more; experts compare them to the "brain" for any machine with a computer system.

Tuesday's event coincided with GlobalFoundries, Micron and Qualcomm announcing partnerships and investments that total nearly $45 billion.

Micron's $40-billion investment "will bring the U.S. market share of memory chip production from less than 2 percent to up to 10 percent over the next decade," the White House said in a statement.

The bill enacted Tuesday also has a national defense angle, its supporter say, as Congress and the White House look to bolster chip production domestically.

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, a lobbying group focused on semiconductor manufacturing, the U.S. produces 12% of the world's chips, down from 37% in 1990.

At the signing event, Biden was joined by Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

"In the last six weeks alone, we passed not only CHIPS and Science, but also veterans' health care, gun safety, NATO and now the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) has passed the Senate," Schumer said, referring to the recent reconciliation spending bill that Democrats narrowly approved last weekend.

That package had temporarily created turmoil for CHIPS in Congress.

Following a surprise agreement between Schumer and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia that revived the IRA, some Republicans said they felt slighted by the Democratic progress on a party-line reconciliation package mere hours after CHIPS passed the upper chamber with a bipartisan majority.

Despite that consternation, Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Todd Young of Indiana attended Tuesday's bill signing. Young led the GOP in negotiations on the bill, which ultimately passed the Senate 64-33 on July 27.

"I don't want to get you in trouble, but you did a hell of a job," Biden said to the two Republicans.

The president, at times, spoke through a thick, wet cough during the ceremony. The White House has said he repeatedly tested negative for COVID over the weekend, and he subsequently left isolation after a rebound case of the infection.

Biden did not mention the FBI's Monday search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, which Trump decried as political persecution. (Sources told ABC News the operation was related to the 15 boxes of documents that Trump took when he departed the White House, some of which the National Archives has said were marked classified.)

A White House official previously told ABC News the administration was not aware of the search in advance, referring questions to the Department of Justice.

ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky and Allison Pecorin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Parents file lawsuit against e-bike company after daughter's death

ABC News

(LOS ANGELES) -- The parents of a 12-year-old California girl who died last year after an accident involving an electric bike, or e-bike, say they want to see change.

Kaye and Jonathan Steinsapir, the parents of Molly Steinsapir, have filed a lawsuit against Rad Power Bikes, a Seattle-based e-bike company.

According to the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior County Court, Molly and her 11-year-old best friend were riding a RadRunner bike on Jan. 31, 2021, with Molly riding on the back. As the friends were going down a steep hill, the bike, "began to shake and wobble, causing the bike to crash."

Molly died on Feb. 15, 2021, after undergoing multiple brain surgeries and spending more than two weeks in the hospital, with her parents by her side.

"I massaged her hands and her feet and sang to her and read to her," Kaye Steinsapir, whose tweets about Molly's fight to survive started a following known as "Team Molly," told ABC News. "I read the book that her class was reading because I didn't want her to be behind when she woke up."

In their lawsuit, the Steinsapirs claim that the model of bike Molly was riding, Rad Power Bikes' RadRunner, has "multiple design defects," including an issue with the brakes and front wheel that, according to the lawsuit, "in some cases can cause the wheel to come all the way off."

The family claims in the lawsuit that Rad Power Bikes, "knew or should have known that this was an unsafe and defective design."

"Rad Power Bikes was aware of this issue or had been made aware of this issue, and they never redesigned their bike," Jonathan Steinsapir told Good Morning America in his family's first television interview about the lawsuit. "So this was, what we believe, was preventable."

E-bikes have a motor and often have more power than a normal bike.

Rad Power Bikes' RadRunner model is capable of reaching speeds up to 20 miles per hour, according to the lawsuit.

Molly was wearing a helmet while riding the e-bike, according to her parents. The maker of the helmet Molly was wearing, Giro Sport Design, is also named in the lawsuit.

Giro Sport Design did not reply to ABC News' request for comment.

Rad Power Bikes told ABC News in a statement it "extends its deepest condolences to the Steinsapir family."

The company said it does not comment on pending litigation.

In the lawsuit, the Steinsapirs claim the owner's manual for the RadRunner, the type of bike Molly was riding, says in small print on page 49, out of 57 pages, it is "designed for use by persons 18 years and older. The lawsuit alleges that Rad Power Bikes "knows children will operate" the bike since the company's website includes what the suit describes as "glowing reviews from adults" about buying the bike for their children.

"Let's be honest, no one reads manuals. We all know that," Jonathan Steinsapir said. "The first step Rad should have is something on the bike itself warning about age appropriateness."

The Steinsapirs said they are filing the lawsuit in hopes of preventing tragedy for another family.

"I would much rather just walk away from this and just go on with my life," Jonathan Steinsapir said. "But you know, the next child who dies or is paralyzed because of this issue that they refuse to address, I mean I couldn't possibly live with myself with that."

Added his wife, Kaye, "Every single time I just hear Molly. I hear her voice say, 'Mom, it's not okay. It's not right,' that that's who Molly was. She is somebody who stood up for what is right and no matter what the personal cost, and there is tremendous personal cost to us in pursuing this litigation."

Dr. Charles DiMaggio, a faculty member in the department of surgery, division of trauma and critical care at New York University School of Medicine, told ABC News that e-bikes represent "potentially a revolution" in how people get around, but that they need to be considered with safety first.

"They need to be introduced in a safe way," DiMaggio said. "Engineering them in a way so that they stop and brake appropriately and safely, so that they are not necessarily going faster than they need to go and by marketing them to the appropriate age groups."

Greg Billing, executive Director at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, told ABC News in an interview in 2020 that accidents with e-bikes can and do happen -- that’s why it’s imperative for users to practice safety.

"It is a different skill than just riding a bike," Billing said then. "Which is why we encourage people when they are starting to use e-bikes to really practice and understand how to handle the power of the bike and make sure that they feel comfortable before they get out on the road or on a trail around other people or cars."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US consumers may suffer from Pelosi's Taiwan trip: Experts

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi arrived in Taiwan last week, the world braced for China's response. Within hours of her departure, China began military exercises around Taiwan, leaving the world wondering how far China is willing to take its response.

Evidence suggests China will not stop at military drills.

"The last time we [saw] a crisis like this was in 1996," Kai Hao Yang, assistant professor of economics at Yale School of Management, told ABC News. "At that time [the] computer chips market was not dominated by Taiwan manufacturers yet, plus the market was a lot smaller than it is right now."

Chinese President Xi Jinping warned of economic consequences during a call with President Joe Biden before Pelosi's trip.

So how would U.S. consumers be impacted? First, China could hamstring Taiwan’s ability to export products. Taiwan is one of the United States’ top 10 trade partners. In addition to vehicles and machinery -- important Taiwanese imports -- the island is also home to TSMC, the largest manufacturer of computer processor chips in the world.

"Some people talk about China blockading Taiwan's ports so Taiwan's chips can’t go out," Ming-Jen Lin, professor of economics at National Taiwan University, said in an email to ABC News. "If this really happens, it’s another story. But I think we are far from there."

If China took this action, it could force U.S. tech companies to use chips manufactured in the U.S., which would increase prices for consumers.

"The unit cost of producing a chip is 50% higher in the U.S. than in Taiwan," Lin said.

The second way China’s retaliation threatens the American consumer is if Beijing chooses to impose economic penalties on U.S. trade. These actions could mean rising prices for American consumers and more supply-chain headaches.

"Chinese escalation could further exacerbate the supply-chain problem we’re facing right now," Yang said.

Former U.S. ambassador to China and former U.S. senator, Max Baucus, is more optimistic about the fallout.

"I think there'll be short-term disruption,” Baucus told ABC News, "but I don’t think long term because business is so important to both countries."

China is at a crossroads with where to go next. A war would be catastrophic and business sanctions are less than ideal.

"China worships at the altar of stability,” Baucus said. "And they want to keep the country's economy stable. And that means business."

For many decades, American consumers have valued China’s ability to produce inexpensive goods. Those days, however, could be numbered.

"The cheap price era of the past 20 years is definitely over,” Lin pointed out. "I am not saying it will happen overnight, but definitely gradually."

For now, American consumers have more to be worried about, like 40-year-high inflation and a possible recession. But economic uncertainty lies ahead as China and U.S. communication finds itself at a standstill.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Snapchat safety features for parents announced

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(NEW YORK) -- Snapchat announced a new in-app family center on Tuesday, which is designed to start conversations between parents and minors about safer social media usage.

In the new family center, parents will have the ability to see which Snapchat friends have sent their children messages, photos or videos within the last week. Parents will also have the option to report any suspicious or concerning accounts to Snapchat’s trust and safety teams, the company said.

Snapchat’s move is part of a growing trend of social media companies attempting to deal with real-world relationships and safety on a digital plane.

“I think there were three things that probably rushed into my mind immediately, which were well done, it's about time, and let's keep going,” Chris McKenna, the founder of Protect Young Eyes, an organization focused on creating safer digital spaces for kids, told ABC News.

Experts said the key to a healthier relationship with families while living in a digital age still starts with communication and cooperation.

“Now, of course, those parents or guardians are not going to be able to see the content of any chats or content being exchanged between individuals, but at least they'll have a better idea of who they're talking to," Dr. Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and professor of Criminology at Florida Atlantic University, told ABC News. "And ideally that will lead to the promotion of additional conversations related to safety, related to security and privacy and trust."

Snapchat is not the only social media company to take this route. Instagram released similar safety updates last year, and social media companies have come under increased scrutiny recently for their misinformation and abuse online. Instagram now has a feature that allows parents and guardians to set time limits on their teens while using the app and a break reminder feature, both of which are not on Snapchat’s family center.

“It's a very complicated challenge, trying to find a tool that's going to sort of answer and provide an opportunity to help make that process maybe a little bit easier for parents, but at the same time, sort of respect the autonomy of the teens that are using the products as well,” Emily Mulder, a program director at the Family Online Safety Institute, told ABC News.

Teens have also been feeling this shift in how families deal with digital safety and what it means for their privacy as they grow up in an increasingly connected world.

“Personally, I don’t think I would use it,” Ashleigh Facey, a 17-year-old high schooler who’s concerned about her personal privacy, told ABC News. “I can see why they want to do that though, because there’s kids that are like really young using these apps now.”

Heather Facey, Ashleigh’s mother, feels differently about the matter and likes the idea of a family center on social media.

“Absolutely, I think that would be great. That type of thing is what parents want to hear about,” she said. “It would be something I would most definitely want to have access to and implement.”

Experts like McKenna, who is also a parent, agree, but he said direct communication is still the best way to grow healthy familial bonds.

“There is no parental control that replaces the need for amazing parents who have intentional, truthful, direct, frequent, persistent and consistent conversations with your children. There's no toggle that replaces you….No passive parenting in the digital age," McKenna said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Mattel brings back its nostalgic Barbie Totally Hair doll

Mattel

(NEW YORK) -- Mattel has brought back one of its most iconic dolls: Barbie Totally Hair.

Since initially debuting 30 years ago, the toymaker has released an updated version of the '90s doll. The original launch was available in blond or brunette hair colors and came with an accompanying styling gel.

Barbie's new take on the doll includes four dolls with their own unique hairstyles, textures, fashion looks and themes. Each doll also has a really long mane of 8.5 inches of hair -- reaching down to its ankles.

Children also get to enjoy the doll's vibrant pops of hair color, as well as more than 15 styling accessories that include everything from color-changing hair clips to scrunchies.

"Totally hot, totally cool! Totally Hair #Barbie is back for the ultimate throwback, with a look inspired by our original bestselling doll with extra-long hair and rockin' accessories," the brand captioned a video of the new assortment of dolls on Instagram.

The latest Totally Hair lineup features four dolls centered around star, heart, flower and butterfly themes -- with each having its own fun flair.

"Thirty years ago, we made waves with Barbie Totally Hair, which would go on to become the bestselling Barbie doll of all time," Mattel Executive Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls Lisa McKnight said in a statement.

She continued, "This year we're headed back to our roots with the release of our 30th anniversary Totally Hair dolls, leaning into the nostalgia factor and bringing back all 8.5 inches of magical and playable hair for young kids to act out their most imaginative Totally Hair storylines. Hair has always been a huge part of Barbie's identity, so it was a dream come true to add some 2022 flair on one of our most iconic dolls."

The new Barbie Totally Hair Doll assortment is currently available at select online retailers and will be sold at more mass retailers later this fall.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


21,000% surge of little-known AMTD Digital is latest meme stock craze, analyst says

James Marshall/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Wild swings in the share price of a largely unknown Hong Kong-based fintech company in recent days have reminded some analysts and traders of the "meme stock" craze, which grabbed headlines and stoked controversy early last year.

On Tuesday, the stock price of online financial services company AMTD Digital was more than 21,000% above the price at its initial public offering last month.

The price fell in recent days to end the week well below the earlier peak but still, as of market close Friday, the stock price stood at $721, which amounts to a 127% jump for the week and a 9,143% increase since its IPO. The stock debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on July 15 at $7.80 per share.

At the height of AMTD Digital's stock rise on Tuesday, the company reached a valuation of $310 billion, making it larger than Coca-Cola and Bank of America, according to FactSet. The nearly 3-year-old company brought in just $25 million in revenue last year, according to a regulatory filing.

The dramatic rise in the company's stock price owes to a targeted surge in online retail trading akin to that which sent shares skyrocketing in companies like GameStop and AMC early last year, Dan Ives, an equities analyst at Wedbush Securities, told ABC News.

Some observers, however, questioned the designation of AMTD Digital as a meme stock.

The phenomenon of a meme stock trade describes a trend in which retail investors see shares rise steeply as others back a firm, then more jump into the fray, pushing the stock price further upward and enticing another wave of investors. A surge of such trades last year prompted a congressional hearing and investigation.

AMTD Digital did not respond to a request for comment. But a statement released by the company on Tuesday expressed gratitude to investors for the support, while acknowledging the stock is "still undergoing our initial stabilization period."

"During the period since our initial public offering, the Company noted significant volatility in our ADS price and also observed some very active trading volume," AMTD Digital said.

"To our knowledge, there are no material circumstances, events nor other matters relating to our Company's business and operating activities since the IPO date," the company added.

Citron Research, an equity research firm, rebuked the designation of AMTD Digital as a meme stock, citing the relatively low trading volume of shares in the fintech company compared with the run-up last year of GameStop, which trades under the symbol GME.

"$HKD is NOT a meme stock," Citron Research tweeted on Wednesday, referring to AMTD Digital by its stock ticker HKD. "Has not captured the imagination of retail traders like $GME."

Citron Research said in the tweet that 339,000 shares of AMTD Digital were traded on Tuesday.

Almost 900,000 individual accounts traded shares of GameStop each day at the height of the trading frenzy last January, a dramatic rise from less than 10,000 accounts each day earlier that month, a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation found.

Still, the volatility in the price of AMTD Digital renewed a debate among some over meme stock trading.

"So we're all just going to ignore the $400B meme stock in the room?" prominent short-seller Jim Chanos tweeted of AMTD Digital on Tuesday. "We literally had Congressional hearings over the $30B runs of $GME and $AMC, but just [crickets] today."

Ives, of Wedbush, said the volatility of AMTD Digital in recent days shows that the emergence of a meme stock remains possible, even if it has become less common.

"This is more the rarity than the norm," he said. "Most of that is in the rearview mirror."

"But the situation brought to light that the meme era still has oxygen," he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Sensors, 4D imaging, flashing lights: How automakers are trying to prevent hot car deaths

Toyota

(NEW YORK) -- An average of 38 children die every year in hot cars.

Tuesday marked the 14th hot car death in the U.S. this year, a number that is expected to rise as heat waves continue across the country.

These tragic deaths are 100% preventable "if we can use a little tech to help," said Janette Fennell, the founder and president of Kids and Car Safety, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing injuries and death to children from vehicle-related incidents. Fennell has been ringing the alarm bell on hot car deaths for more than 15 years.

"We have begged the auto industry to do something," she went on. "It's an uphill battle. But we're on the cusp of things that need to happen."

To Fennell that means honking vehicles that flash lights and send text alerts to drivers -- even nearby strangers -- that a child has been accidentally forgotten in the back seat or has surreptitiously climbed inside a vehicle.

"Cars remind you to check your tire pressure, to shut off your lights, to take your key," she argued. "To really end these terrible fatalities, we have to be able to detect when there's a living being locked in a vehicle and alert anyone who can come to their aid."

Automakers have been researching various technologies for decades. Ed Kim, president and chief analyst at automotive consulting firm AutoPacific, said General Motors deserves credit for being the first automaker to address the issue of rear seat warnings in 2001. The industry committed in 2019 to placing a back seat reminder in every new vehicle by 2025.

"Market research shows safety and security are some of the most important things for consumers when buying a vehicle," Kim told ABC News.

Many vehicles now display safety alerts in the gauge cluster. Some of the tech can be manually disabled, prompting concerns that drivers may become indifferent to it.

Simon Roberts, a father of two small children and an engineer at Toyota Connected North America, said Toyota has been aggressively working toward a solution to the issue, one that's becoming more perilous with each year as temperatures spike. In May, the Japanese automaker introduced its "Cabin Awareness" concept, which is currently undergoing real-world testing with May Mobility, an autonomous-vehicle company.

"We want to be an extra set of virtual eyes if you will," Roberts told ABC News. "We don't like the status quo and won't accept it."

The Cabin Awareness concept deploys millimeter-wave, high-resolution 4D imaging radar to determine if a person or pet has been left behind in a locked vehicle. The imaging radar sensor, located above the headliner, can detect a life form even after a driver exits, according to Toyota. If a child or pet is locked inside, warning signals will light up on the instrument cluster. The vehicle will make noise and the driver may get notifications via the Toyota app as well as text messages, the company said. Moreover, the technology can send alerts through smart home devices or send text messages to designated emergency contacts.

Roberts said the team is also currently exploring vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications to get the attention of passersby. The engineering team took inspiration from a microwave radar technology created by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that was able to detect human breathing and heartbeats under more than 30 feet of rubble after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal in 2015.

"Good people make mistakes and this can happen to any of us," Roberts said. "This is a big issue we need to solve."

Roberts pointed out that opening windows in a locked car can still cause heat stroke and death for occupants inside. More than 900 children have died of heatstroke since 1998, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A child can die when his or her body temperature reaches 107 degrees and a child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's, NHTSA states on its website.

Korean automaker Hyundai first rolled out its Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert sensor in the Palisade SUV for model year 2020. The sophisticated sensing-based alert sets off blinking lights, honks the horn and sends a text message via Hyundai's telematics Bluelink connected car system, directing the driver to immediately check the back seat. Though the Ultrasonic technology is only available in select models for now, a Hyundai spokesperson said a Rear Occupant Alert (ROA) system comes standard in 99% of the company's vehicles. When the driver shut offs the vehicle, a reminder pops up on the instrument panel to check the rear seat.

"We're trying to be pioneers in this space," Brian Latouf, chief safety officer of Hyundai Motor North America, told ABC News. "We're paying close attention to this issue and messaging and communication are important."

Right now there are limitations to the Ultrasonic sensor, Latouf noted. The vehicle has to be locked for an alert to be sent via the Bluelink system and not all Hyundai drivers are connected to the Bluelink app. The ultrasonic sensor looks for motion so a sleeping child may not trigger the system, he added. The vehicle, however, will still honk and display the "check rear seat" message on the instrument panel dash.

"We're learning from Ultrasonic to make it more accurate and we are considering finer-tuned systems like infrared technology," Latouf said.

Electric carmaker Tesla launched its "Dog Mode" in 2019 so owners could keep their pets in an air-conditioned cabin while the vehicle was unattended. A message on the large screen says "My owner will be back soon" and displays the temperature inside.

Kim, like Fennell, said these alerts -- while largely helpful -- can cause drivers to become inured to the constant warnings. The current tech may also desensitize motorists to real emergencies and create liabilities for companies.

"Certainly there is a risk if a warning becomes such a part of the routine that you just start ignoring it. That's definitely a concern," Kim said. "There are people who will get so accustomed to the warning that it becomes meaningless and they don't pay attention to it anymore."

He added, "Having the alert is better than not having it and this feature doesn't cost much for an automaker to implement."

Brian Moody, executive editor of Kelley Blue Book, said these warning systems add an "extra level of sophistication" to the vehicle and are an important selling point. The larger debate may be whether automakers are liable if the alert technology fails in a car with children and pets inside, he said.

"At some level there has to be personal responsibility," Moody told ABC News.

There are ways to prevent hot car deaths without technology: teaching children to honk the horn if they get stuck inside or placing an important item in the rear as a reminder. Fennell said she'll keep pushing for more advancements until no child dies in a hot car. If Toyota's Concept Cabin system becomes a reality, Roberts said the company would be open to sharing its technology with industry competitors.

"This is a social good initiative," he said. "If we can help the industry move forward, why wouldn't we do that?"

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


US economy adds 528,000 jobs, far outpacing expectations

Catherine McQueen/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. hiring saw a dramatic increase in July, as the economy added 528,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday.

The report defied expectations of a hiring slowdown as the Federal Reserve carries out a fight against inflation that aims to slash demand by cooling the economy but risks tipping the country into a recession.

Evidence of a softening labor market had mounted this week amid layoffs at high-profile companies like Walmart and Robinhood, as well as a government report that showed a steep decline in job openings in June.

The 528,000 jobs added in July marks a significant uptick from 372,000 jobs added in June. Moreover, the figures signals an improvement from the already-robust hiring sustained over the first half of 2022, during which the economy added an average of 461,000 jobs each month.

The overall robust hiring in recent months defies typical conditions for a recession, Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at the career site Glassdoor, told ABC News prior to the data release.

"It would be very unusual to have a recession when we’re still adding several hundred thousand jobs a month," he said.

While a faster pace of hiring may cheer some economists and everyday Americans, the signal of strengthening labor demand may put more pressure on the Fed to sustain its aggressive interest rate hikes. At meetings in each of the past two months, the central bank has increased its benchmark interest rate 0.75% -- dramatic hikes last matched in 1994.

Despite a series of borrowing cost increases meant to slash prices, inflation has not only persisted but worsened. Data released last month showed that prices jumped a staggering 9.1% in June, which amounts to the highest inflation rate in more than four decades.

Alarmingly, the price increases have coincided with shrinking economic output. Gross domestic product dropped at an annualized rate of 0.9% in the second quarter after falling 1.6% in the previous quarter.

The recent trend qualifies for the shorthand definition of a recession consisting of two consecutive quarters of GDP decline. But the formal designation of a recession depends on a wider range of metrics weighed by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

So far this year, the tight labor market has offered up a strong corner of the economy. But employment data indicated softening on Tuesday, when a report released by the government showed that job openings fell steeply in June to their lowest level in nine months. The 10.7 million job vacancies reported in June, however, remains an elevated figure.

Meanwhile, a slew of major companies in recent days have announced job cuts or hiring slowdowns. Walmart laid off nearly 200 corporate employees on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal reported. A day before, Robinhood announced plans to cut 23% of its staff. Tech giants Apple, Amazon and Google-parent company Alphabet have recently announced they will slow hiring.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Twelve grocery and food savings tips to take with you on your next shopping trip

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert, shared her tips for saving on groceries with Good Morning America, to help consumers keep costs down at checkout.

Consumer prices on food experienced the largest annual increase in over four decades since February 1981, with costs skyrocketing 10.4% in the 12-month period ending June, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Within the "food at home" category -- grocery store food products purchased for cooking or eating at home -- prices rose 12.2% over the last year, the largest increase since 1979.

Top tips to stay on a budget in the grocery store:

Eat vegetarian

"You might find that poultry, meats, and fish have increased more in price than vegetables and other items, like rice and pasta," Bodge said. "If that's the case in your area, you could save a bundle by eating [vegetarian meals] a couple of nights a week."

Use coupon sites to save

"You might think of coupon sites for clothing and tech, but not for food, when in fact coupon sites like CouponCabin.com have offers for grocery delivery, like $25 off $35 or more at Instacart or $55 off $99 or more," she said of the simple at-your-fingertips savings option.

Don't buy pre-cut produce

Buy fruits and vegetables whole and prepare them at home. "You're paying for labor when you buy pre-cut," she explained.

Look low and high on store shelves

"You're more likely to find better deals on the lowest and highest shelves. Brands pay for prime real estate at eye level, but there are hidden gems in less visible spots," Bodge suggested.

Read between the price tags

"You can determine whether or not an item is a good deal by comparing the cost-per-unit rather than the actual price," she said, explaining that the sticker price doesn't always reflect the total value.

Look out for "shrinkflation"

"Many brands are shrinking the size or weight of their products and charging the same price," Bodge said, adding that shoppers should always check the unit prices when selecting items.

Join loyalty programs

Bodge advised using rewards programs -- sticking to the stores where you shop most often -- which may "offer a free way to earn points towards future purchases."

"They offer exclusive deals and some will even allow you to qualify for free things, like a free turkey at Thanksgiving or a free gas card," she said.

Credit cards with grocery perks

"Using the right credit card to buy your groceries could earn you some serious cash back. Cards with annual fees typically have more generous cash-back [offers], like 4% or more on food from American Express Gold, but there are some fee-free cards that offer this, including the Bread Cashback American Express from Bread Financial, which offers 2% cashback on all purchases," she said. "Another good fee-free card is the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa, which allows you to earn 5% on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases."

Buy frozen

"In certain cases," Bodge said, this tactic "can be a big money-saver."

"I find this especially with fish and certain vegetables," she added. "Plus, frozen has a longer shelf life."

Buy generic

"You can save 20% or more by doing this and you'll find that many of the ingredient listings match the brand name word for word," Bodge said. "In fact, store brands or generics are often made in the same factories as the name brand."

Buy seasonal produce

"You will do much better on price, versus buying things that need to be imported," Bodge said. "Also, check out your local CSA -- community-supported agriculture is a food system for farmers and producers to connect directly with consumers. This is a great way to support local farmers and the pricing is often very good."

Bodge, however, recommended against "buying at farmers markets if you're on a tight budget."

Only buy in bulk on most-used items

"If there are certain items that you go through quickly, like toilet paper, pastas, canned goods or snacks for your kids' lunches, buy them in bulk if you have a Costco or Sam's Club membership," Bodge suggested. "You can also often buy in bulk on Amazon and on a site like Boxed.com."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pumpkin spice Oreo cookies are hitting shelves this month

Nabisco

(NEW YORK) -- Pumpkin spice season is around the corner, which means a sweet lineup of new products.

Oreo announced its newest flavor of pumpkin spice creme filled cookie sandwiches will hit shelves Aug. 15.

The cookie brand also created a Twitter community for "pumpkin spice stans" from consumers to other brands to join and "celebrate all things pumpkin spice."


Meta cracks down on cyberespionage, warns of 'perception hacking' ahead of midterm elections

Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- Meta said it is focused on continuing to disrupt emerging cybersecurity threats, including "perception hacking" efforts that could attempt to create unjustified fears about the security of U.S. elections.

In its new "Quarterly Adversarial Threat Report" released Thursday, Meta details how it took action on two cyberespionage operations and removed three networks that were engaging in coordinated inauthentic behavior (CIB) -- campaigns that seek to manipulate public debate.

Since 2017, the company says it has been able to disrupt the activities of coordinated networks aimed at manipulating users with fake accounts using coordinated inauthentic behavior. The efforts have been successful at driving these networks off of Facebook and have made it harder for other entities to maintain access on the social media platform, Meta says.

Meta says in the report that cyberespionage actors tend to target individuals across the internet in an effort "to collect intelligence manipulate them into revealing information and compromise their devices and accounts."

Meta's Facebook took action on two separate cyberespionage operations from South Asia this past quarter, both of which used malware to infect users' devices. One of the operations was from the hacker group known as Bitter APT, the report says.

The hacker group targeted users with malware in New Zealand, India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, Meta's report says.

The report also revealed the company had removed networks promoting misinformation and harassment in India, Indonesia, Greece and South Africa.

Additionally, Facebook removed three networks engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, including one network linked to an Israeli public relations firm and two troll farms from Malaysia and Russia.

The Russian operation, the self-proclaimed CyberFront Z, focused on targeting global discourse on the war in Ukraine, the report says.

The pro-Russia operation attempted to mirror the anti-war communities defending Ukraine through the use of fake accounts run by paid posters, the report says. Despite the effort, pro-Ukraine and anti-war comments typically outnumbered the pro-Russia group's comments.

Ahead of the U.S. midterm elections, a spokesperson for Meta told reporters the company has not seen any coordinated inauthentic behavior operations specifically targeting the November elections.

But the company warns of the idea of perception hacking -- capitalizing on the public’s fear of influence operations by trying to create the false perception of widespread manipulation, even if there is no evidence.

David Agranovich, Meta's director of threat disruption, told ABC News, "as we go into the midterm elections, I think the thing we're particularly working to make sure we're ready for is these perception hacking offers where the operations go anywhere where they tried to get eyeballs and amplification from other people talking about how effective they were."

Agranovich said its important to counter these efforts.

"Make sure people understand that they're just sometimes not that effective," he said. "And yet, we'll still be on high alert. We haven't seen the CIB's yet but we're gonna keep watching."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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