▶️ Beer-flation: Manufacturing costs up more than 30% for brewers

Nothing seems to be safe from inflation right now, and beer is no exception. The cost of raw materials, shipping and manufacturing have all risen in the beer industry, making it more expensive to pour you a pint.

“Our cost as an industry, when we look at the beer producer’s index, which measures all the inputs that go into our beer, be they malt, hops, packaging materials. All these things is at one of the highest levels it’s been at in more than 30 years,” Deschutes Brewery President and CEO Peter Strbek said. 

Strbek says that while beer brewers are battling the bill, beer buyers are actually getting a decent deal at the grocery stores.

“Beer represents one of the best values that a consumer can find right now,” Strbek said. “Yes the price has gone up, but relative to everything else in the grocery store, it’s gone up at a lot slower pace. When you think about costs being up north of 30% for brewers, prices have only gone up about 8%.” 

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There are multiple reasons behind the increased costs. 

“The biggest drivers have been malt,” Strbek said. Malt had its worst crop in 2021 in the U.S. since 1934. Really drove the price of malt up This year so far, it’s up 30-plus percent. Aluminum and the price of aluminum cans throughout 2022 was elevated in the double digits of percentage.”

Malt is the ingredient that adds carbohydrates to make beer. Strbek sees a multi-year recovery after a poor 2021 malt harvest and doesn’t expect relief on the malt market until 2024.

Another major factor is the war in Ukraine. Ukraine is the 7th-largest producer of wheat in the world and is forecasted to be the 5th-largest wheat exporter in the 2021-2022 market year according the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Strbek says that strain on the wheat market will persist until the conflict is resolved.

Oregon recalls 2 cannabis vape products for pesticide contamination

The Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) has issued a recall for two cannabis vape products due to pesticide contamination.

The products are:

La Mota – Jack Herer vape cartridge | Manufacture Date: 6/3/2021 (Label ID 6466) | Tested Date: 5/17/2022 | Sold starting 11/11/2022

Her – Girl’s Night Out vape cartridge | Manufacture Date: 4/27/2022 (Label ID 6114) | Tested Date: 5/17/2022 | Sold starting 07/10/2022

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The products failed tests for pesticides Pyrethrins and Piperonyl butoxide (PBO). OLCC says it appears that the OLCC licensed lab responsible for testing the products may have incorrectly entered into CTS that the products had “passed” a pesticides test, when in fact the products had “failed.”

The products were sold by recreational marijuana licensed retailers to consumers across the state from June 10, 2022 to January 24, 2023.

The OLCC says more than 1,000 units of the vape cartridges were sold to 29 OLCC retailers. According to Oregon Cannabis Tracking System (CTS), at least 812 units of the two affected products have been sold to consumers since the contaminated cartridges reached the licensed retail market last spring; the retailers still have approximately 240 units on hand according to CTS.

 

▶️ Tax laws back to pre-pandemic levels: Why you may get a smaller refund

If you’re a taxpayer who normally receives refunds on your tax return, you may notice you’re getting less back this year. A big reason: the tax credit enhancements during the COVID-19 pandemic are gone.

Child Tax Credit

Before the pandemic, eligible American parents received up to $2,000 in tax credits for each dependent child under age 17. That money was paid out at tax time.

Under the American Rescue Plan signed in March 2021, that amount was increased in 2021 to $3,000 for children under age six and $3,600 for those ages 6-18, depending on their parents’ income.

Parents had the option to take up to half that money in the form of monthly payments from July – December 2021 and take the other half at tax time in 2022. Or, they could opt out of the monthly payments and take the full amount at tax time.

But that Child Tax Credit expansion was not extended in 2022, so it reverted back to $2,000, which will come when people file their taxes.

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Stimulus checks

Most Americans received stimulus payments of $1,200 and $600 in 2020 as part of pandemic relief efforts. A third check of $1,400 came in 2021.

Most people got those payments as an advance in the form of a check or direct deposit in the weeks after they were passed by Congress. But those who did not receive those checks instead were able to get the money when they filed their 2020 and 2021 tax returns, in the form of what was called the Recovery Rebate Credit.

There was no stimulus payment in 2022, so people filing their taxes this year won’t see that money when they file taxes this year.

Enhanced Income Tax Credit

The EITC is a tax break for people in the low- to-moderate income range. While inflation did give a boost to the EITC, a pandemic-level enhancement has gone away.

For tax year 2022, the EITC is anywhere from $16,480 – $59,187, depending on whether the filing status is single or jointly and how many dependent children are claimed.

Take your time and file electronically

If you’re anticipating a refund and want it quickly, the IRS has two pieces of advice. 

First, take your time and be sure to avoid errors. Mistakes — including failure to sign your return — can delay things significantly.

Second, file electronically. The IRS says it already has a paperwork backup and is still trying to dig out from the pandemic. Filing electronically will dramatically speed up the process. E-filed refunds generally are returned within three weeks.

You could be due $7,742 on your taxes and not even know it

Oregon tax officials are urging state taxpayers to check their eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). They could be due more than $7,742 and may not even know it.

The EITC is a federal and state tax credit for people making less than $59,187 in 2022. The Oregon Department of Revenue said many people miss out because they aren’t aware of it, particularly if their income is so low that they are not required to file a tax return.

The Oregon Department of Revenue said families may be eligible for a maximum refundable credit of $6.935 on their federal tax return, and a maximum Oregon Earned Income Credit of $807 on their state tax return. Certain taxpayers without children may also be eligible for these credits. 

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Here is more from the Department of Revenue:

Individuals may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, even if they are not required to file. To receive the refundable credits, however, they must file a federal and state tax return.

Basic qualifications for EITC include:

    • All filing statuses are eligible, but some have specific requirements that must be met in order to qualify. 
    • You, your spouse, or any qualifying child must have a Social Security number to claim the federal credit. 
    • Your earned income in 2022 must be below certain limits based on your number of qualifying dependents.
    • You may be eligible even if you do not have a qualifying child.

Taxpayers can use the IRS EITC Assistant to check their eligibility further. The assistant is available in English and Spanish. 

Many of the basic qualifications for the Federal EITC are the same as those for the Oregon EIC, but Oregon also allows taxpayers who use an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) to file their taxes, or have a qualifying child with an ITIN, to claim the Oregon EIC. If you have an ITIN, claim the Oregon EIC using schedule OR-EIC-ITIN.

Taxpayers can visit the Earned Income Credit page of the Revenue website for more information on the Oregon EIC, as well as more information about their eligibility

▶️ Eggsasperating: Local businesses struggle during egg shortage

Bend food trucks and restaurants have had to find alternative means in finding eggs during the national egg shortage.

“We’ve been forced to go around to different stores. Walmart, Freddy’s to scrounge for eggs anywhere you can find them. Especially for better prices,” Devin Kennedy with Burrito Sunrise said.

The shortage is due to a deadly avian flu outbreak. That’s making the price of eggs skyrocket. 

“We were paying $18 for a 15-dozen case. Now it’s up to $80-$90,” Kennedy said.

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Kennedy says they were paying eight cents per egg a year and a half ago. Now they’re paying 50 cents per egg — a six-fold increase. 

“In Bend, it’s especially bad. We rely on trucks here, and nothing seems to be coming in.”

It’s not just impacting the food truck business, either. The owner of McKay Cottage told Central Oregon Daily News that they’ve spent a record amount on egg cases within the last month. $85 each.

As for Kennedy, he just hopes things will get cheaper.

“I’d just like to see it get better for everybody’s sake,” Kennedy said. “No one wants to raise prices but everyone’s being forced to.”

Kennedy says it’s not just eggs. The cost of pretty much everything that has to do with food is up. 

Amazon launches a subscription prescription generic drug service

Amazon is adding a prescription drug discount program to its growing health care business.

The retail giant said Tuesday that it will launch RxPass, a subscription service for customers who have Prime memberships. Amazon said people will pay $5 a month to fill as many prescriptions as they need from a list of about 50 generic medications, which are generally cheaper versions of brand-name drugs.

The company said the flat fee could cover a list of medications like the antibiotic amoxicillin and the anti-inflammatory drug naproxen.

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Sildenafil also made the list. It’s used to treat erectile dysfunction under the brand name Viagra and also treats a form of high blood pressure.

Amazon sells a range of generic drugs through its pharmacy service. Some already cost as liitle as $1 for a 30-day supply, so the benefit of this new program will vary by customer.

The program doesn’t use insurance, and people with government-funded Medicaid or Medicare coverage are not eligible. It will be available in 42 states and Washington, D.C. at launch. The states where it won’t be available are California, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington.

Any program that gets low-cost generic drugs to more patients “is a good thing,” said Karen Van Nuys, an economist who studies drug pricing at the University of Southern California. But she added that she wasn’t sure how much of an impact RxPass will have.

She noted that the program is limited to Amazon Prime customers. Other options like the Mark Cuban CostPlus Drug Co. sell more generic drugs, many for under $5.

“I just don’t know that it’s expanding access to a new set of patients,” Van Nuys said.

Still, the move could help the company take up some more space in the health care market, even though it has not always been successful in its aim. Last year, the company shuttered its hybrid virtual, in-home care service called Amazon Care after it failed to get traction from employers. And Haven, a company Amazon created in collaboration with JPMorgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve health costs, dissolved a year earlier than that.

Amazon has said its online drug store Amazon Pharmacy is a key part of its health care plan, along with primary care organization One Medical, which the online giant is seeking to acquire for $3.9 billion. The Federal Trade Commission is investigating the proposed buyout.

In November, the company also said it would begin offering “Amazon Clinic,” a messaging service that connects patients with doctors for about two dozen common conditions, such as allergies and hair loss.

Justice Department investigating Abbott baby formula plant

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department is investigating the Abbott Laboratories infant formula plant in Michigan that was shut down for months last year due to contamination, the company confirmed.

The factory’s closure in February 2022 was a key cause of a nationwide baby formula shortage that forced parents to seek formula from food banks, friends and doctor’s offices. Production restarted in June.

The Justice Department has informed Abbott of its investigation and the company is “cooperating fully,” Abbott spokesperson Scott Stoffel said via email. He declined to provide further details.

The investigation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, which said the Justice Department’s consumer protection branch is looking into conduct at the Sturgis, Michigan, plant that led to its shutdown.

Abbott closed the factory after the Food and Drug Administration began investigating four bacterial infections among infants who consumed powdered formula from the plant. Inspectors uncovered several violations at the plant, including bacterial contamination, a leaky roof and lax safety protocols. But Abbott has stated that its products have not been directly linked to the infections, which involved different bacterial strains.

Abbott is one of just four companies that produce 90% of U.S. formula, and its February recall of several leading brands, including Similac, squeezed supplies that had already been strained by supply chain disruptions and stockpiling during COVID-19 shutdowns.

The shortage was especially acute for children with allergies, digestive problems and metabolic disorders who rely on specialty formulas. The Abbott factory is the only source of many of those products.

The FDA has faced intense criticism for taking months to close the plant and then negotiate its reopening.

2022 was slowest year for US home sales in nearly a decade

LOS ANGELES (AP) — U.S. home sales tumbled to the slowest pace in nearly a decade as soaring mortgage rates and sky high prices in 2022 pushed homeownership out of reach for many Americans.

The National Association of Realtors said Friday that existing U.S. home sales totaled 5.03 million last year, a 17.8% decline from 2021. That is the weakest year for home sales since 2014 and the biggest annual decline since 2008, during the housing crisis of the late 2000s.

The median national home price for all of last year jumped 10.2% to $386,300, the NAR said, and it’s up 42% from 2019, before ultra-low mortgage rates and pandemic-fueled demand sent the market into a frenzy. That translates to a median $114,000 increase in housing wealth in three years.

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“So, homeowners have done well during this housing (market) from 2019 through Covid until now,” said Lawrence Yun, the NAR’s chief economist. “The one big negative for home sales is home prices, which have risen dramatically, much faster than peoples’ income.”

Mortgage rates more than doubled in 2022, climbing to a two-decade high of 7.08% in the fall as the Federal Reserve continued to boost its key lending rate in a quest to cool the economy and tame inflation. Home sales slowed from a torrid pace at the start of the year as the surge in borrowing costs limited home hunters’ buying power.

As rates rise, they can add hundreds of dollars to monthly mortgage payments. That can discourage homeowners who locked in a far lower rate the last couple of years from buying a new home, and price out many would-be buyers. In 2022, first-time buyers accounted for only 26% of all home sales, the NAR said.

The average rate on a 30-year mortgage rate fell this week to 6.15%, its lowest level since September, according to mortgage buyer Freddie Mac. Still, it remains nearly double the 3.56% average rate a year ago.

Mortgage rates are likely to remain a significant hurdle with the Federal Reserve consistently signaling its intent to keep raising short-term rates. While inflation has begun to slow, some Fed officials maintain that the central bank needs to keep hiking rates to make sure its job is done.

While mortgage rates don’t necessarily mirror the Fed’s rate increases, they tend to track the yield on the 10-year Treasury note. The yield is influenced by a variety of factors, including expectations for future inflation and global demand for U.S. Treasurys.

Existing home sales fell in December for the 11th month in a row to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.02 million, the NAR said. That’s slightly better than what economists were expecting, according to FactSet.

December’s sales sank 34% from a year earlier. Excluding the steep slowdown in sales that occurred in May 2020 near the start of the pandemic, sales last month skidded to the slowest annual pace since November 2010.

“Mortgage rates have fallen in the recent past weeks, so I’m very hopeful that the worst in home sales (is) probably coming to an end,” Yun said. “Maybe this latest monthly figure will be the cyclical low point.”

Despite the slowdown, home prices continued to rise last month, albeit at a slower pace than earlier in the year. The national median home sales price rose 2.3% in December from a year earlier to $366,900, the NAR said.

Even if prices do stabilize, there are a stubbornly low number of homes on the market. The inventory of homes for sale fell for the fifth consecutive month in December, to 970,000 homes. That’s down 13.4% from the previous month, but up 10.2% from December 2021, and amounts to a 2.9-month supply at the current sales pace, the NAR said. In a more balanced market between buyers and sellers, there is a 5- to 6-month supply.

Homebuyers should have more to choose from in the spring when inventory traditionally picks up.

T-Mobile says data on 37 million customers stolen

BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. wireless carrier T-Mobile said Thursday that an unidentified malicious intruder breached its network in late November and stole data on 37 million customers, including addresses, phone numbers and dates of birth.

T-Mobile said in a filing with the Security and Exchange Commission that the breach was discovered Jan. 5. It said the data exposed to theft — based on its investigation to date — did not include passwords or PINs, bank account or credit card information, Social Security numbers or other government IDs.

“Our investigation is still ongoing, but the malicious activity appears to be fully contained at this time,” T-Mobile said, with no evidence the intruder was able to breach the company’s network. The company did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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T-Mobile said it has notified law enforcement and federal agencies, which it did not name. The company said it did not expect the incident to have material impact on its operations. It said the data was first accessed on or around Nov. 25.

T-Mobile has been hacked before. In July, it agreed to pay $350 million to customers who filed a class action lawsuit after the company disclosed in August 2021 that personal data including Social Security numbers and driver’s license info had been stolen. Nearly 80 million U.S. residents were affected.

It also said at the time that it would spend $150 million through 2023 to fortify its data security and other technologies.

Prior to the August 2021 intrusion, the company disclosed breaches in January 2021, November 2019 and August 2018 in which customer information was accessed.

T-Mobile, based in Bellevue, Washington, became one of the country’s largest cellphone service carriers in 2020 after buying rival Sprint in 2020. It reported having more than 102 million customers after the merger.

Washington state court OK’s Albertsons’ merger $4B dividend

SEATTLE (AP) — The Washington state Supreme Court has brushed aside the final remaining legal hurdle in the way of a $4 billion dividend by Albertsons to its shareholders ahead of a proposed merger with rival Kroger.

The state’s highest court on Tuesday declined to review a case against the dividend brought by state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, The Seattle Times reported.

Ferguson had argued that the payment could financially weaken Albertsons and lead to shuttering locations of Albertsons and of Safeway, which Albertsons owns.

In a two-page ruling, the court rejected reviewing the case or extending a temporary restraining order blocking the dividend.

Albertsons, which is based in Boise, Idaho, wants to pay the dividend to shareholders ahead of its proposed $25 billion merger with Kroger, which owns QFC and Fred Meyer.

Ferguson said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that his office respects the decision but is surprised and disappointed the state Supreme Court decided not to hear the case.

Ferguson’s case was the final obstacle to the dividend after a federal judge in Washington, D.C., rejected similar efforts by California, Illinois and the District of Columbia.

Grocery-store closures have been a concern in the Seattle area, where Albertsons and Kroger have nearly 200 locations. Kroger and Albertsons have both repeatedly dismissed closure concerns.

Grocery store unions also expressed dismay at Tuesday’s ruling.

“We are disappointed to see a ruling that favors a small number of ultra-wealthy shareholders over the many thousands of essential workers and millions of Americans who will be left to suffer the consequences of the outright financial looting of Albertsons,” said a joint statement from by several grocery unions, including United Food and Commercial Workers International, Local 3000, which represents workers at Seattle-area Albertsons and Kroger stores.

Albertsons will immediately begin the process of paying the dividend to stockholders, the company said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Tuesday’s ruling doesn’t affect the months-long approval process for the proposed Kroger-Albertsons merger, which can be held up by both federal and state regulators, Ferguson said.

“This merger is far from a done deal,” Ferguson said. “My team and I will be conducting a thorough review.”

Nationwide, Kroger and Albertsons have almost 800,000 employees in nearly 5,000 stores across 48 states and the District of Columbia, Ferguson’s office said.