1/ Inflation eased for the eighth straight month. Consumer prices increased 6% in February from a year earlier, down from 6.4% in January and a 40-year peak of 9.1% in June. Inflation, however, remains far above the Federal Reserve’s 2% annual inflation target. On a monthly basis, prices increased 0.4%. Just before the collapse of two major banks – which in some ways is the result of the Fed’s efforts to raise borrowing costs after years of near-zero interest rates – Chair Jerome Powell had opened the door to re-accelerating the pace of rate hikes if inflation remained high. Many economists, however, now expect the Fed to either slow its rate hikes or stop them altogether when it meets next week. (USA Today / Associated Press / Bloomberg / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post / Politico / NBC News / CNBC / New York Times / CNN)
2/ The Justice Department and SEC opened investigations into the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. The investigations are reportedly focused on stock sales by several bank executives made days before the bank failed. The Justice Department’s probe involves the fraud prosecutors in Washington and San Francisco. No one at the bank, however, has been accused of wrongdoing and the investigation could end without charges being brought. Separately, a class action lawsuit was filed against the parent company of Silicon Valley Bank, its CEO, and its chief financial officer, alleging that the company “understated the risks” that the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes “had the potential to cause irrevocable damage to the company.” (Wall Street Journal / Associated Press / Washington Post / New York Times / Bloomberg)
3/ The EPA proposed limiting the amount of harmful “forever chemicals” in drinking water – the first time the federal government has suggested setting a standard for a class of chemicals known to pose significant health risks. The proposal would require water utilities to detect and reduce PFAS contamination at 4 parts per trillion – the lowest level that PFAS can be accurately measured and detected. Last year, the EPA found that the chemicals could cause harm at levels “much lower than previously understood” and that almost no level of exposure was safe. (NBC News / New York Times / Associated Press / Wall Street Journal / Washington Post)
4/ Biden signed an executive order designed to increase background checks before firearm sales. The executive order directs Attorney General Merrick Garland to clarify the statutory definition of who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms and to come up with a plan to deal with firearm sellers who are either avoiding doing background checks or may not realize they are required to do them. The National Instant Background Check System carried out more than 31 million background checks on people looking to own firearms or explosives last year. (NBC News / NPR / Washington Post)
5/ Russian fighter jets intercepted and collided with a U.S. drone over the Black Sea. Two Russian Su-27 aircraft flew “in the vicinity” of the U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drone for 30 to 40 minutes and dumped fuel on the unmanned drone several times before one the warplanes hit its propeller. The drone, conducting “routine operations” over international airspace, was brought down by operators after the collision, which the U.S. military said was the result of “reckless” actions by Russian pilots. Russia, meanwhile, denied that the jet made contact. (New York Times / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / CNN / NBC News)
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