China Acts to Shore Up Economy Amid Weight of Trade War

China’s central bank on Sunday freed its banks to lend more in the latest sign that officials are worried about the economy as it faces headwinds from a worsening trade war with the United States.

The People’s Bank of China cut the amount of money that some lenders are required to hold in reserve — called the reserve ratio — by one percentage point, which will effectively pump $110 billion into the economy. This is the fourth time this year that the central bank has cut the reserve ratio, though this cut was bigger and broader than previous ones.

The central bank said in a statement that it would cut the reserve ratio rate, effective Oct. 15, to ensure “reasonable and sufficient liquidity” in China’s economy. The move comes as officials have warned that trade frictions with the United States could shave as much as nearly one percentage point from China’s annual economic growth.

In September, the United States imposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of goods from China, dealing it a blow at a time when the country’s economy was already flagging.

But the signs of deepening economic troubles have been showing for months.

Consumers are spending less. Infrastructure investment — a pillar of the Chinese economy — has slowed significantly since the start of the year. Companies have defaulted on their bonds in larger numbers.

Officials have kicked into gear in recent months to bolster growth. They pledged to pump billions of dollars into infrastructure projects, shored up the value of the currency and moved to backstop a plunging stock market, which has hovered around bear-market territory.

Then, in September, new export orders — one indicator of China’s manufacturing — fell to the lowest level since 2016.

The move on Sunday by the People’s Bank of China was in direct response to the slowing growth, according to Zhang Ming, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Mr. Zhang predicted that China’s third-quarter gross domestic product would drop to 6.6 percent and that its fourth-quarter figure would be as low as 6.4 percent.

“Sino-U.S. trade frictions will further reduce the contribution of import and export to economy growth,” Mr. Zhang, who is also chief economist at Ping’an Securities, wrote on WeChat, the social media platform. “If export growth slows down due to trade frictions, it will influence manufacturing investment growth.”

Chen Shouhong, the founder of Gelonghui, an investment information platform, said that for the central bank to cut the reserve ratio, the economy “really is not doing well.” He wrote on WeChat, “There are fewer and fewer tools in the PBOC toolbox.”

Ailin Tang contributed research.

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Florida store owner: Don’t warm urine in my microwave

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – A Florida gas station owner has placed a sign in his store asking customers not to warm urine in the microwave.

Parul Patel says he’s become “sick and tired” of people walking into his BP gas station and On the Fly convenience store in Jacksonville to warm their containers of urine. The store is within walking distance of two labs, though one says it doesn’t collect samples for drug tests.

Patel tells First Coast News the people “walk in off the street, microwave their urine containers then leave.”

Warming urine from someone who hasn’t taken drugs is seen by some as a way to help pass a drug test.

Patal says a woman became aggressive a few months ago when he asked her not to warm urine. She asked to see a sign that says it’s not for that purpose. So he made one.

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Retailers Scramble to Fill Holiday Hole Left by Toys ‘R’ Us

Walmart
Inc.,

Target
Corp.

and other chains are setting aside more floor space for toys in hundreds of stores. A chain that usually operates Halloween pop-up shops is opening dozens of temporary Toy City stores. Even

Amazon.com
Inc.

is planning to distribute toy catalogs to shoppers visiting its Whole Foods stores, according to toy manufacturers.

While other general retailers are looking to increase their toy sales, no store can completely replace Toys “R” Us in providing the broad selection of toys and reliable supply of hot products on shelves in the days before Christmas, say toy makers and analysts.

The result across retailers will likely be a selection focused on the most popular items and the best-known brands, with supplies dwindling during the final week, industry executives and analysts say. And that is when shoppers flock to buy toys, despite efforts by retailers to promote shopping earlier by offering discounts.

Toys “R” Us did $2 billion in sales during the last two months of 2017, including more than $1.4 billion in December alone, a person familiar with the matter said.

The toy superstore could stock up late into the season because it could afford to carry unsold inventory into the next year. Large mass-market retailers are focused on selling down the items so they aren’t left with extra stock.

“The other guys don’t plan the business to have inventory at the end of the year,” said Neil Friedman, a former Toys “R” Us president.

The dynamic played out last year with “LOL Surprise! Big Surprise!,” a giant ball filled with 50 smaller items, which was a top seller. Toys “R” Us held back much of that inventory until December, selling the item for $10 more than the $69.99 suggested retail price and adding more product closer to Christmas, said Isaac Larian, founder of MGA Entertainment Inc., which makes the product. Other retailers, he said, had already blown through their allotment, with Walmart even selling it for $59.

To prepare for a post-Toys “R” Us holiday,

Mattel
Inc.

pored over data, analyzing which closed locations may have had better sales of Barbie accessories or Hot Wheels tracks and reallocating that product to nearby retailers.

“This year more than ever, getting the right toys in the right stores at the right quantities at the right time is going to be the game,” Mattel Chief Commercial Officer Steve Totzke said. “The companies that do it best—the manufacturers and retailers—are going to win the season.”

He said some retailers are also committing to carrying big-ticket items, like its $200 Barbie Dreamhouse, in stores after the holidays, as opposed to prior years when they would aim to sell it out before year’s end.

Several toy manufacturers say Target has been the most aggressive in going after the dispersed Toys “R” Us business. Later this month, Target plans to add up to 500 square feet of toy retailing in more than 500 of its stores—half of which are within 5 miles of a closed Toys “R” Us. It will borrow space from its CD, DVD and book sections to offer a bigger selection of ride-on toys, outdoor-play toys and other items.

Target’s chief merchant, Mark Tritton, said the retailer placed final purchases with manufacturers at the end of August. Its toy inventory is already higher than last year and will continue to increase in the coming weeks, with about 80% of it in “tried and true” items.

“We are making a big commitment,” Mr. Tritton said. “There’s going to be the same amount of traffic, but it’s going to be in less places. We’re crazy not to think that’s going to be an opportunity.”

Teresa (left) and Anne Marie Forte (right) look at toys at Toy City in Rockaway, N.J.

Teresa (left) and Anne Marie Forte (right) look at toys at Toy City in Rockaway, N.J.

Walmart is expanding its toy section as well, especially at stores near former Toys “R” Us stores. In addition, Walmart plans to stock those stores with more toys throughout the season, said Anne Marie Kehoe, the retailer’s vice president of toys. “The plan is to be in stock on the best items all the way through Christmas,” she said.

Several toy manufacturers say Amazon is planning a hard-copy toy catalog to be distributed at its Whole Foods stores. An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment.

Other retailers going after toys are

Kohl’s
Corp.

, which is now selling Lego sets;

J.C. Penney
Co.

, which plans to distribute a toy catalog; and FAO Schwarz, which is re-emerging with a new flagship New York City store. Even the investors that control Toys “R” Us in bankruptcy say they plan to revive the brand and reopen stores, but that is unlikely to happen in time for this holiday season.

The ghost of Toys “R” Us looms large at Party City Corp.’s attempt to go after the toy business. Inside a former Toys “R” Us location in Rockaway, N.J., Party City is pairing its typical Halloween pop-up store, Halloween City, with a new concept, Toy City. Soon after Oct. 31, the costume racks will give way to a broader toy section.

The goal at this and 54 other planned Toy City locations is to carry the most popular toys and sell out by the time it is time to pack up in early January, said Party City President Ryan Vero.

“We want the winners of the season,” Mr. Vero said inside the store where the former tenant’s backward “R” is still visible. “Being a pop-up, our goal is not to carry product out of the store.”

An inflatable clown on display at a Toy City store in Rockaway, N.J.

An inflatable clown on display at a Toy City store in Rockaway, N.J.

Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com

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Why Does Social Security Leave Out Teachers in These 15 States?

Social Security provides retirement benefits to more than 47 million retired workers at the end of their careers, as well as provides support to family members of those workers. The vast majority of workers earn benefits by paying into the Social Security system through payroll taxes.

Yet what many people don’t realize is that there are some workers who aren’t part of Social Security. They don’t have to pay Social Security payroll taxes on their earnings during their careers, but they also can’t count on the program to provide retirement benefits. In particular, teachers and other public sector workers in 15 states across the country get left out of Social Security in many cases.

Teacher kneeling on floor working with students at desks.

Image source: Getty Images.

How Social Security works for most people

For most workers, participation in Social Security is almost automatic. Employees pay a 6.2% payroll tax to fund Social Security, which employers match dollar for dollar.

Once you’ve accumulated 40 Social Security credits — which for most workers takes 10 years — you’re entitled to retirement benefits on your own work history. The longer you work in the Social Security system, and the more money you make, the larger your benefits will be.

The public sector exception from Social Security

However, some state government employees, including teachers, don’t pay Social Security payroll taxes and aren’t entitled to retirement benefits from Social Security. The history of this practice dates all the way back to Social Security’s formation, when the law was intended to cover only private employees. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether the federal government could force states to pay payroll taxes. Only in the 1950s did the rules change, allowing states to have the ability to join Social Security.

The majority of states elected to enroll their government workers in Social Security. At that point, those workers started paying payroll taxes, and they earned their retirement benefits in the same way as any other worker.

However, not every state participated. Now teachers in 12 states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Texas — don’t have coverage arrangements with Social Security. In addition, three other states — Georgia, Kentucky, and Rhode Island — have varying degrees of coverage that differ by school district.

What it means for teachers

Lack of Social Security coverage doesn’t mean that teachers in these states are left completely high and dry. In order to opt out of Social Security, states had to provide pensions that would provide benefits that were at least as good as what Social Security would provide.

However, the big problem that teachers in these states face is when they have some work during their careers that is covered by Social Security. In the 35 states that do participate in Social Security, total work history produces predictable and desirable results that are based on an entire career’s worth of earnings.

By contrast, how Social Security interacts with public sector pensions doesn’t always provide for a clean calculation of total benefits. For some, the Windfall Elimination Provision can take away a portion of Social Security benefits even when workers have otherwise met all the requirements. Others who are eligible for Social Security spousal benefits — because the teacher’s spouse qualifies for retirement benefits — find that the Government Pension Offset can in some cases completely eliminate that potential Social Security payment.

Understand your retirement benefits

If you work as a teacher in one of the states listed above, it’s vital to understand the conditions under which your pension benefits will kick in. That way, you can use those figures to run calculations and determine what impact your pension will have on any Social Security benefits you’re entitled to receive.

The public sector exception to Social Security is easy to overlook. Even though you’ll save the payroll taxes you’d otherwise have to pay to Social Security, some teachers won’t be pleased at the trade-off of having severe limits on any Social Security benefits they’d otherwise get.

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Pumpkin Spice: Love it or leave it

October is here and that can only mean one thing: Pumpkin Spice season is in full bloom! There are two camps of people when it comes to this autumn phenomenon, those who love it and those who don’t. The coffee conglomerate, Starbucks, may be able to take the credit for this crazed movement, as so many years ago they introduced the infamous and limited-edition, seasonal pumpkin spice latte. Every year around the end of August, Starbucks announces when the popular coffee concoction will be available again, and all those on the pumpkin spice train fall in line (literally). 

I must admit, during the first week of September when the pumpkin spice latte was released, I was happily and unabashedly sipping one, riding along in my Suburban pre-Labor Day with temperatures still reaching 100 degrees. This year marks the 15th year Starbucks has had the popular drink on the menu.

Today, so many brands have launched their own pumpkin spice products, far beyond coffee. I read an article recently that said sales for pumpkin-flavored products reached $488.7 million in the past year, which was up 15.5 percent from the previous year, according to the latest Nielsen data! This year’s top pumpkin spice inspired food products include everything from bagels, ice cream and coffee creamer to cereal. I keep a large container of pumpkin spice creamer in my fridge throughout the fall. I embrace everything that is pumpkin spice, however basic pop culture tries to label it. 

It seems no matter what your brand, everyone wants a piece of the pumpkin spice pie. My Aunt posted a photo on Facebook recently of a builders supply store in Griffin Georgia whose outdoor sign read, “Try our new pumpkin spice 2×4’s.” Too funny and what a way to capitalize on such a trending and timely topic. Well played.

Speaking of pumpkin spice pie, I make one every fall, but instead of topping it with regular sweetened whipped cream, I make a buttermilk whipped cream. The buttermilk gives the cream a bit of a tang, and adds a little something extra. Sweet and creamy, the pie itself is mouthwatering served warm or cold. Enjoy a slice with a cup of hot coffee and a good friend. Add this dessert to your Thanksgiving table or autumn baking list and your entire home will beckon the changing leaves.   

Pumpkin Spice Pie with Buttermilk Whipped Cream

  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup of pumpkin spice syrup
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon (or more to taste) pumpkin pie spice
  • One 9-inch store-bought frozen pie crust 

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin and next eight ingredients. Roll thawed pie crust over 9-inch pie plate, crimping edges with a fork. Pour mixture into prepared crust. Bake for 1 hour and 25 to 30 minutes or until center is set and a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool for 1 hour before serving.

Buttermilk Whipped Cream

(Makes about two cups)

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 3 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon good pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

In a large bowl, beat cream with a mixer at high-speed until soft peaks form. Add all remaining ingredients, and beat until stiff peaks form. Plop a big dollop on top of a slice of pie. Garnish with a dash of cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice. Enjoy!

Food Network Star finalist Rebekah Faulk Lingenfelser is a food enthusiast and writer. Her blog, Some Kinda Good, features local, in-season recipes with Southern coastal influences. A Georgia Southern University alumna, she also attended Savannah Technical College’s Culinary Institute of Savannah. Like Some Kinda Good on Facebook, follow @SKGFoodBlog on Twitter and Instagram or visit RebekahLingenfelser.com.

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