The Daily Valet. - 1/26/24, Friday
✔️ What Recession?
Friday, January 26th Edition
By Cory Ohlendorf, Valet. Editor
Do you file your taxes early or wait closer to Tax Day in April? Me ... I'm a deadline guy. So I'll see you this spring.
Today’s Big Story
The U.S. economy grew at a 3.3% pace in the fourth quarter, much better than expected
Ask anyone, “How do you think the economy is doing?” The answer would probably be pretty bleak, right? But that's not the case when you run the numbers. Forget the much-discussed prospect of a soft landing for the U.S. economy. In 2023, there was no landing at all.Axios put it this way: “Big economic rules broke last year. The latest data to confirm that is the new GDP report.” The economy grew at a much more rapid pace than expected in the final three months of 2023, as the U.S. easily skirted a recession that many forecasters had thought was inevitable, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.Mainstream economists and policymakers believed a period of below-trend growth would be necessary to make progress on inflation. Instead, above-trend growth in 2023 coincided with inflation falling sharply, reflecting improvement in the economy's supply potential. The economy expanded at a 3.3% annualized rate in the fourth quarter—it was down from 4.9% in the prior quarter, but much faster than the 2% many analysts had expected.The figures cap a year that has been characterized by unexpected economic resilience, even as the Federal Reserve raised borrowing costs sharply and inflation cooled. The Associated Press reports that Americans showed a continued willingness to spend freely despite high interest rates and price levels that have frustrated many households. The latest data marked the sixth straight quarter in which GDP has grown at an annual pace of 2% or more. And it's consumers—who account for about 70% of the total economy—driving the growth. Their spending continued to expand, for items ranging from clothing, furniture, recreational vehicles and other goods to services like hotels and restaurant meals.“This report feels like a supersonic Goldilocks: very strong GDP reading with cool inflation,” Beth Ann Bovino, chief economist at U.S. Bank, told NBC News. “Everybody wanted to have fun. People bought new cars, a lot of recreation spending as well as taking trips. We've been expecting a soft landing for some time. This is just one step in that direction.”
The BBC says the figures are a boon for President Biden, who has struggled to convince the public that the economy remains healthy.
The IRS Has a New Free Tax-Filing Tool
The Government’s Direct File tax-prep software will roll out for some filers this year. Can it Replace Turbo Tax?
When tax filing season officially opens on Monday, some taxpayers will have the option of filing their 2023 federal tax returns with a brand new, government-run system called Direct File. It's free, it's simplified and experts say it could reshape how millions of Americans do their taxes—resulting in disruptive effects on the multi-billion dollar tax preparation industry.But the Wall Street Journal says it's not a TurboTax killer yet. For starters, most people can't use it this year. For the 2024 filing season, only 13 states will be allowed to use the pilot program. The IRS will evaluate how to handle challenges for future iterations of the program based on data collected in the pilot.And while it does the job for the most basic of tax returns and mostly uses plain language, with links to IRS details, the Journal says that if you have a more complicated return (“say you have gig income, have even one dollar of dividend income or obtained health insurance through the Obamacare marketplace,”) it wouldn't work for the current system. But perhaps a slow, steady approach is the right move. We don't need the system crashing on people just trying to file their taxes, right? That's stressful enough without technical difficulties.
Interested in trying it out? Nerd Wallet has all you need to know about the program, plus other IRS options for free tax filing.
Samsung Introduces a Frame Speaker
Building on the success of The Frame TV, this speaker seamlessly blends art and audio
Samsung's The Frame TV has enjoyed huge success since its debut in 2017 because it blends into the home in a way that's much more aesthetically pleasing than the drab black rectangles you get from conventional TVs. Now, the company wants to do the same thing for speakers.Dubbed the Music Frame, the customizable speaker doesn’t look like one at first glance. But underneath the understated picture frame are six speakers. While Cool Material said it's drawn comparisons to Ikea's SYMFONISK music frame, Samsung's version takes it up a notch by integrating with the Q-Symphony ecosystem. This compatibility allows you to pair it with other Samsung TVs and soundbars, expanding your home theater setup.Unlike The Frame TV, this unit doesn't have a screen—instead it holds printed photos or art that you'll need to swap out manually. Engadget got to try it out and was “shocked by how robust and clear the overall sound quality is coming from the speaker. Highs and mids are adequately represented with great detail, while the bass is more restrained.”
The company hasn’t yet shared pricing or release date information for the Music Frame, but it's expected to drop this spring.
A Weekend Pairing
‘Expats’ + a Dong Ling Cha Cocktail
If there's one thing that Nicole Kidman's prestige TV career has proven, it's that she specializes in women who are rich and haunted. In Expats, the splashy Amazon series adapted from Janice Y.K. Lee's 2016 novel The Expatriates—about three American women living in Hong Kong—Kidman's character Margaret is haunted by a recent tragedy.The close-knit and affluent expat community in Hong Kong serves as the backdrop for the six-part series. Margaret was enjoying a privileged lifestyle in the vibrant city until a sudden tragedy knocks her world off balance. When we first meet her, she seems to be in a fog, barely engaged with her kids or with her husband, Clarke (Brian Tee). Sarayu Blue and Ji-young Yoo play the other Americans in the trio, whose lives are entangled with Margaret's and each must explore their own selves after that tragedy. The film has a 75% fresh rating and critics are praising both the performances and cinematography.
Pair It With
Beloved Hong Kong cocktail lounge, Terrible Baby, serves up a signature cocktail Dong Ling Cha that's fairly easy to make at home. It's made up of dark rum (theirs is cold brew-infused), Campari and grapefruit juice, topped up sparkling lemon tea.
Also Worth a Watch:
In Other News
Kim Jong-un, could take lethal military action against South Korea in the coming months.
Have you heard about ...
Learn to Drive Stick
It’s a dying art form but a skill most men would like to have
There’s something inherently masculine about revving a car’s engines. No doubt a primal instinct that triggers our animal brain to recognize the roar of power. Driving, at its best, is a blend of science, art and athleticism, and it's never felt more than when behind the wheel of a manual transmission car. Driving a stick shift really connects you to your vehicle and to the road as a whole. It's all very analog, in the best possible way. When shifting gears, you really have to pay attention to just about everything going on. It's a visceral art form.But it's also a dying art form. While manual transmission cars have become something of a favorite for car guys and collectors, fewer and fewer stick-shift cars are being produced. According to the New York Times, only about one percent of cars produced for sale in America have a manual transmission. Of course, there are plenty of enthusiasts that are fighting for a renaissance. Stick-shift loyalists aren't taking the electric car revolution lying down and some automakers are hearing their cries, developing stick shifts just for fun.
What We’re Buying
A smart TV
Samsung's 85-inch smart TV is marked down just in time for the Super Bowl. Features include four times the pixels of full HD, an immersive theater-like experience and backlighting.
85" 4K Smart TV, $1,299.99 / $799.99 by Samsung
Don’t rush it.
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