As concerns about climate change push the world economy toward a lower-carbon future, investing in oil may seem a risky bet. For the long term, that may be true.
Yet for the moment, at least, oil and gas prices appear likely to continue to rise as the economy recovers from the pandemic-driven shutdown of millions of businesses, big and small.
These countervailing trends — increasing demand now and falling demand at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future — create a dilemma for investors.
The good news is that an array of traditional mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are available to help them navigate these uncertain waters. Some funds focus on slices of the industry, such as extracting crude oil and gas from the ground or delivering refined products to consumers. Others focus on so-called integrated companies that do it all. Some spice their holdings with some exposure to wind, solar or other alternative energy sources.
International Energy Agency forecast that oil consumption was not likely to return to prepandemic levels in developed economies.
“World oil markets are rebalancing after the Covid-19 crisis spurred an unprecedented collapse in demand in 2020, but they may never return to ‘normal,’” the I.E.A. said in its “Oil 2021” report. “Rapid changes in behavior from the pandemic and a stronger drive by governments toward a low-carbon future have caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand over the next six years.”
alternative energy funds. Many enable investors to zero in on discrete segments of the industry.
The biggest holdings of the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy E.T.F. are producers of raw materials for solar cells and rechargeable batteries or builders and operators of large-scale solar projects. The $2.9 billion fund yields 0.49 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.7 percent.
The First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund focuses on applied green technology. Its biggest holdings are Tesla, the American maker of electric automobiles; NIO, a Chinese rival in that field; and Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Also a $2.9 billion fund, it yields 0.24 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.6 percent.
The First Trust Global Wind Energy E.T.F., as its name suggests, targets wind turbine manufacturers and servicers, led by the Spanish-German joint venture Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as operators such as Northland Power of Canada. This $423 million fund yields 0.92 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.61 percent.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Under the rear hood of Chris Steinbacher’s Lamborghini Huracán sits a Chevy engine. Sure, it’s a twin turbo, and, yes, it pumps a menacing 900 horsepower to the wheels, but the pedigree is Detroit, not Italy. And the rest of the car was basically put together in Portland.
Lamborghini purists may want to cover their eyes now.
The left-for-dead Lambo is one of Mr. Steinbacher’s salvaged supercars. He bought it — what was left of it, anyway, after a fire burned it nearly in two — for $40,000, and it was delivered via forklift. (A new Huracán can approach $300,000, and Mr. Steinbacher’s now-tricked-out 2016 model hovers in that same stratosphere.) Parts for this resurrection cost about $50,000, a discounted total that he kept down with the help of sponsors on his YouTube channel, B Is for Build, which has close to 1.5 million subscribers.
Flooded Ferraris and mangled McLarens are easily found on auction sites like Copart and Impact Auto Auctions. Most people playing in this realm work strictly with cash, Mr. Steinbacher said, although financing can sometimes be arranged. What happens after your wreck rolls off the delivery trailer is far more complicated, but with more money and dedication, a dream car may be within reach.
supercars at a small fraction of the used market price, Mr. Steinbacher was “kind of hooked,” he said. He started to buy totaled cars and fixed them up in his backyard.
Fixing cracked-up cars isn’t easy “unless you’re one hell of a gambler,” Mr. Steinbacher said. “The hunting part isn’t hard — anyone can Google around and find salvaged-car auction sites and find supercars on there.” Most times the car will require a shipment, however, and you might not see it in person, let alone get a test drive.
“You’ve got six to 10 pictures to try and assess the extent of the damage and how much it’s going to cost to fix,” he said.
This is a skill that can take years and many mistakes to master. “Eventually I turned a camera on to track my progress,” he said, “and started posting it on YouTube.”
Rich Rebuilds. A computer science major in college, Mr. Benoit “kept working my way up to Teslas, Audis and now the BMW i8,” he said.
“Supercar is a funny word,” Mr. Benoit added. “I’ve built many high-end cars, like Teslas, Audi RS7s, but the i8 is my first ‘supercar’ per se.” All have been built in his family’s garage. His personal favorite retrofit? Swapping a V-8 engine into a Tesla.
Tommy’s Window Tinting.
Specialty Equipment Market Association show, known widely as SEMA.
LS Chevy V-8 engine and transmission swap, twin turbos and a custom carbon-fiber body rounded out his one-of-a-kind Lambo.
To Mr. Steinbacher’s knowledge, no one had fashioned a manual-transmission Huracán before. Much less one that once looked as if it had hung over a campfire like a singed marshmallow.
His next vision is to take a donated 2016 Huracán chassis and build it into a full-blown Mint 400 off-road racecar, “turning it into a purpose-built endurance desert racer,” he said.
On an older car, following the owner’s manual mileage recommendation for severe conditions will help to keep the lubricant and its blend of protective additives fresh (if you no longer have the manual, they are often available online and from the automaker). The systems built into many new cars that remind you of required service, like oil changes, take into account the length of trips and will recommend changes based on actual driving.
Changing the oil is also the ideal time to look in on other maintenance tasks, including checks of all belts and hoses; while both suffer the effects of engine heat under the hood, they can also develop cracks while the car just sits.
Add car batteries to the time list. They have a limited life that’s not based on miles driven. They often start to decline after three years and give up altogether after five to seven.
Jill Trotta, a certified technician and vice president for marketing at RepairPal, a website that provides cost estimates and connects car owners with qualified mechanic shops, knows how to properly care for a car. Yet even she let a battery run down past the point where it could be revived with a charge, which is exactly what happened to her 2014 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid when it sat in the driveway for months without being driven during the pandemic.
The solution: a low-power battery maintainer, which keeps the charge topped up between drives. Basic ones start at about $25. Keep in mind, too, that while battery replacement is an entirely straightforward swap on most cars, some electronics-intensive models make it more painful. BMWs going back nearly two decades require a registration and programming process, which means added expense and a possible visit to a dealer. It’s worth preventing a dead battery in the first place.
Another maintenance task that should not be deferred is replacing the timing belt in engines that use them. The belt turns the camshafts that open the engine’s valves and can cause major engine damage if it fails. Typically good for 80,000 to 100,000 miles of service, the belt can degrade even while sitting, so stick to the automaker’s recommendation on years between renewal.
Don’t forget the brakes.
A telling sign of a car not being driven is a layer of rust on the brake discs. A light coating is no problem, though it may be noisy for a few blocks; it will be polished off by the first few presses of the brake pedal on a careful drive around the neighborhood.
Tesla said on Friday that it more than doubled the number of cars it delivered in the first quarter, bouncing back after the pandemic slowed sales in the same period a year ago.
The electric carmaker said it sold 184,8000 vehicles in the first three months of the year, up from 88,500 a year ago. It produced 180,338 vehicles, compared with 102,672 in the first quarter of 2020.
The company’s sales numbers, which cover the entire world, come a day after General Motors and Ford Motor reported that their U.S. sales were up modestly. Tesla does not break out its sales by region and a lot of its recent growth has been in China, where electric cars make up a much larger share of the auto market than in the United States.
Tesla was helped by the arrival of the Model Y, a roomier version of its Model 3 sedan. Those two cars accounted for almost all of its deliveries in the first quarter. It reported just 2,020 deliveries of its high-end cars — the Model S luxury sedan and the Model X sport-utility vehicle.
Tesla has halted production of the Model S and Model X while preparing its plant in Fremont, Calif., to build updated versions of the cars. The company said in a statement that it was “in the early stages of ramping production” of the new models, which generate much more profit than the Model 3 and Model Y.
The first-quarter sales numbers could lift Tesla shares, which have lost more than a quarter of their value since January when they hit a high of about $900. The impact won’t be known until next week, however, because the stock market is closed in observance of Good Friday. On Thursday, Tesla’s stock fell about 1 percent, closing at $661.75.
Analysts were surprised by the jump in sales. Most had been expecting deliveries of about 172,000 vehicles.
“The company yet again defied the skeptics and bears,” Dan Ives, a Wedbush analyst, said in a report. “It’s been a brutal sell-off for Tesla and EVs, but we believe that will now be in the rear view mirror.”
General Motors reported a modest rise in car sales in North America for the first quarter, but its operations continue to be hampered by a shortage of computer chips.
The automaker said on Thursday that it sold 642,250 cars and light trucks in the first three months of the year, up just 4 percent even though sales a year ago slowed sharply as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.
By contrast, Toyota Motor showed a strong rebound in sales compared with a year ago. The Japanese company reported sales in North America jumped 22 percent in the first three months of 2021, to 603,066 cars and light trucks. Its March sales were a record high for that month.
G.M. has had to halt or slow production at a handful of plants and has resorted to making some vehicles without parts containing computer chips, with the intention of installing those components later when the supply improves.
In a statement, G.M. said that it hoped its strategy for building cars without some components would help it “quickly meet strong expected customer demand during the year.”
That approach to building cars “underscores the dire nature” of the semiconductor shortage, an analyst at CFRA Research, Garrett Nelson, said in a report. “One of the key questions is how much better the U.S. auto sales recovery can get from here.”
The chip shortage is reflected in G.M.’s unusually low inventory of 334,628 vehicles. That is about 76,000 less than at the end of the fourth quarter, and half the number of vehicles its dealers held in stock a year ago.
G.M.’s sluggish sales were confined to its Chevrolet brand, whose sales fell 2 percent in the first quarter. That includes a 13 percent decline in sales of its full-size Silverado pickup truck, a critical profit maker for the company. The Buick, Cadillac and G.M.C. brands reported strong sales in the quarter.
Toyota also reported a drop in sales of its full-size pickup, the Tundra. But the decline was more than offset by big increases in sales of its RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner sport-utility vehicles and cars from its Lexus luxury brand.
Also on Thursday, Honda Motor reported its first-quarter sales in North America increased 16 percent, to 347,091 vehicles.
But production is only one piece of the puzzle. The transition away from gas-powered vehicles rests on convincing consumers of the benefits of electric vehicles. That hasn’t been easy because the cars have higher sticker prices even though researchers say that they cost less to own. Electricity is cheaper on a per mile basis than gasoline, and E.V.s require less routine maintenance — there is no oil to change — than combustion-engine cars.
The single biggest cost of an electric car comes from the battery, which can run about $15,000 for a midsize sedan. That cost has been dropping and is widely expected to keep falling thanks to manufacturing improvements and technical advancements. But some scholars believe that a major technological breakthrough will be required to make electric cars much, much cheaper.
“There’s a good sense that at least for the next maybe five years or so they’re going to keep declining, but then are they going to level off or are they going to keep declining?” Joshua Linn, a professor at the University of Maryland and a senior fellow with Resources for the Future, an environmental nonprofit, said about battery costs. “That won’t be enough, so then that’s given rise to a lot of attention to infrastructure.”
The federal government and some states already offer tax credits and other incentives for the purchase of electric cars. But the main such federal incentive — a $7,500 tax credit for the purchase of new electric cars — begins to phase out for cars once an automaker has sold 200,000 E.V.s. Buyers of Tesla and G.M. electric cars, for example, no longer qualify for that tax credit but buyers of Ford and Volkswagen electric cars do.
The Biden administration has released no details about its proposed E.V. tax credits.
Another big concern is charging. People with dedicated parking spots typically charge their E.V.s overnight at home, but many people who live in apartments or have to drive longer distances need to use public charging stations, which are still greatly outnumbered by gas stations.
“The top three reasons consumers give for not buying E.V.s are lack of charging stations, time to charge, and the cost of E.V.s,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights. “They seem to be really emphasizing all three. So, over all, it looks very promising.”
There are well over 100,000 gas stations in the United States, most with multiple pumps. Mr. Biden’s plan calls for a national network of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers within the decade, up from about 41,000 charging stations with more than 100,000 outlets today, according to the Energy Department.
Contrary to what you may have read, Volkswagen has not changed its name.
The company’s U.S. operation caused a stir with an announcement on its website that it planned to call itself Voltswagen to emphasize its push into electric vehicles as it rolls out its first electric sport-utility vehicle in the United States — the ID.4. The change came ahead of April Fool’s day — a favorite time of year for companies to try to grab a share of the social media conversation, such as when IHOP tried to convince the world it was changing its last letter to B, as in burgers.
“At the end of the day, it was a bit of fun with the name and the brand,” a Volkswagen spokesman, Mark Gillies, said. “We wanted to reinforce what we are messaging about the ID.4.”
Word of the name change surfaced on Monday when a news release announcing the name change was published on the company’s website for about an hour before disappearing. CNBC, USA Today and others reported on the news release, saying it was dated April 29 and appeared to have been accidentally posted a month early.
On Tuesday, the company posted a new statement dated March 30 about the name change, sparking a flurry of comments and speculation on social media. Late Tuesday afternoon, Volkswagen officials in Germany, where the company is based, acknowledged it was a marketing tactic.
company’s Twitter account was changed Tuesday morning to show a logo with the new name, but the company’s website continued to use the old name.
Changing the name of an automaker as established as Volkswagen would clearly be a huge undertaking, and not just for the company. Its dealers would have to spend millions of dollars to rebrand their franchises.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said Jason Kuhn, owner of two Voltswagen, nee Volkswagen, dealerships near Tampa, Fla. said on Tuesday before the company admitted it was just having fun. “I’ve read it. I really can’t comment.”
Volkswagen said on Friday that it would seek financial compensation from its former chief executive and the former head of the Audi division, accusing them of failing to act after learning that diesel vehicles sold in the United States were fitted with illegal emissions-cheating software.
The decision by the German carmaker’s supervisory board marks a turnabout. Volkswagen had been reluctant to publicly accuse former top managers of complicity in the emissions fraud, which has cost Volkswagen tens of billions of euros in fines, settlements and legal fees.
At the same time, the supervisory board said it found “no breaches of duty” by other executives who were members of Volkswagen’s management board in September 2015, when the scandal came to light.
That group includes Herbert Diess, now the chief executive of Volkswagen, who had joined the company two months earlier from BMW. Hans Dieter Pötsch, now chairman of the supervisory board, was chief financial officer and a member of the Volkswagen management board at the time, a position he had held for more than a decade.
Martin Winterkorn, the former chief executive, failed “to comprehensively and promptly clarify the circumstances behind the use of unlawful software functions” after learning about the misconduct in July 2015.
Mr. Winterkorn, who resigned shortly after the emissions fraud became public, also failed to ensure that questions by U.S. authorities “were answered truthfully, completely and without delay,” the supervisory board said. Shareholders suffered damages as a result, the board said, although it did not say how much money the company will try to recover.
Mr. Winterkorn’s lawyers said in a statement Friday that he denied the accusations and had done everything possible “to avoid or minimize damage” to Volkswagen.
The Volkswagen board said it also concluded that Rupert Stadler, former chief executive of the Audi luxury car division, was negligent because he failed to investigate the use of illegal software in diesel vehicles sold in the European Union.
Mr. Winterkorn and Mr. Stadler face criminal charges in Germany that revolve around the same circumstances. Mr. Winterkorn’s trial was scheduled to begin in April, but judges in the case postponed it this week until September, citing the pandemic.
Mr. Stadler has been on trial in Munich since last year on charges that, even after the wrongdoing came to light, he allowed Audi to continue selling cars that were programmed to recognize when an official emissions test was underway and dial up emissions controls to make the car appear compliant. The cars were not capable of consistently meeting pollution standards.
Mr. Stadler’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the past, Mr. Stadler has denied wrongdoing.
Smartmatic, another election tech company, filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Mr. Murdoch’s Fox Corporation and named several Fox anchors, including Maria Bartiromo and Lou Dobbs, as defendants.
In a 139-page complaint filed in Delaware Superior Court, Dominion’s legal team, led by the prominent defamation firm Clare Locke, portrayed Fox as an active player in spreading falsehoods that Dominion had manipulated vote counts and manipulated its machines to benefit Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the election.
Those claims were false, but they were relentlessly pushed by Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani and Sidney Powell, including during appearances on Fox News programs. In January, Dominion individually sued Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell for defamation.
“The truth matters,” Dominion’s lawyers write in the complaint. “Lies have consequences. Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”
Fox News did not immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment.
In February, Fox Corporation filed a motion to dismiss the Smartmatic lawsuit, arguing that the false claims of electoral fraud made on its channels were part of news coverage of a matter of significant public interest. “An attempt by a sitting president to challenge the result of an election is objectively newsworthy,” Fox’s legal team wrote in the motion.
After a failed initial public offering and the near implosion of its business in 2019, WeWork said Friday that it had agreed to a deal that would take the beleaguered co-working company onto the stock market.
Instead of a traditional I.P.O., WeWork is merging with BowX Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, in a type of deal that has become hugely popular in recent months.
WeWork leases office space and then effectively sublets it to its members. Its heady expansion was fueled by big investments from SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that became WeWork’s largest shareholder and rescued the company in 2019 just as it was about to run out of cash.
WeWork said the deal with BowX gives it an equity value of $7.9 billion, far less than the $40 billion value that investors placed on the company in 2019. WeWork will receive $1.3 billion in cash from the deal, including $800 million from Insight Partners, Starwood Capital Group, BlackRock and other investors.
The pandemic emptied WeWork’s offices, and has raised questions about the level of demand for its office space after many people have gotten used to working from home. The company said Friday that memberships fell to 476,000 last year, from 619,000 in 2019.
WeWork says it has improved its cost structure.
“WeWork has spent the past year transforming the business and refocusing its core, while simultaneously managing and innovating through a historic downturn,” Sandeep Mathrani, WeWork’s chief executive, said in a statement Friday.
A company presentation released Friday said WeWork had a net loss of $3.8 billion last year, more or less the same as in 2019. The 2020 loss included a $1.4 billion impairment charge. Last year, WeWork’s operations consumed $857 million of cash, more than the $448 million they used up in 2019.
The path to a deal was cleared last month when Adam Neumann, a co-founder of WeWork, and SoftBank settled a legal dispute. WeWork had called off its I.P.O. in 2019 after investors balked at its losses and criticized its governance practices.
SoftBank has been eager to take WeWork public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, a route to Wall Street that has become increasingly popular in recent months. As of Wednesday, 295 SPACs had gone public in 2021, raising $93 billion and breaking last year’s record in a matter of months.
Personal income and spending dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
The government reported on Friday that personal income fell 7.1 percent in February from the previous month, while consumption dropped by 1 percent. Powered by $600 checks to most Americans from a December relief bill, income in January leapt by 10.1 percent, while consumption rose by 3.4 percent, a figure revised Friday from the originally reported 2.4 percent.
Despite the drop last month, a big pickup is expected in March with the arrival of $1,400 payments to most Americans from the $1.9 trillion relief package signed into law this month.
In the months ahead, most economists expect consumers to return in greater numbers to stores, restaurants and other gathering places as vaccination efforts gather speed and consumers put the stimulus money and lockdown-accumulated savings to work.
“In February, households were waiting for the bigger stimulus check coming in March and there will be a surge in consumer spending, particularly on services,” said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial Services in Pittsburgh.
All of the drop in spending last month was for goods, Mr. Faucher noted, as consumers pulled back on buying big-ticket items like automobiles and appliances. Services should benefit in the coming months, he added, as people have more opportunities to go out and life increasingly returns to normal more than one year after the pandemic hit.
“Consumer spending will be very strong for the remainder of this year and into 2022,” Mr. Faucher added. “There’s a lot of money saved up.”
Economists have improved their forecasts for U.S. economic growth, with Bank of America foreseeing a 7 percent increase this year in gross domestic product.
Stocks rose on Friday, along with government bond yields, amid a bout of optimism about the economic recovery.
On Thursday, President Biden said he wanted the United States to administer 200 million vaccines by his 100th day in office, on April 30, a target the country is already on track to meet. The Federal Reserve vice chair, Richard Clarida, pushed back on concerns that the government’s spending plans would fuel higher sustained inflation.
In a victory for financial institutions, the central bank said that pandemic-era rules that restricted share buybacks and dividend payouts by banks would end midway through 2021 for most firms. On the economic front, gross domestic product data for the fourth quarter was also revised slightly higher on Thursday.
Stocks & Bonds
The S&P 500 index rose nearly half a percent in early trading, on track to end the week with a small gain. Bank stocks fared better than the broad market, with the KBW Bank index up about 1.5 percent.
The Stoxx 600 Europe rose 0.6 percent, set for a fourth consecutive week of gains.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.67 percent.
Personal income and spending in the United States dipped last month as the effects of stimulus checks faded following a big jump in January, but both are expected to rebound as another round of federal payments arrived in March.
Retail sales in Britain rose 2.1 percent in February, rebounding from a slump of 8.2 percent the month before, when the country entered a third national lockdown.
A survey of German business expectations rose to the highest level in nearly three years.
Oil prices rose with futures of Brent crude, the global benchmark, climbing 1.7 percent to $63 a barrel.
The National Labor Relations Board on Thursday upheld a 2019 ruling that Tesla had illegally fired a worker involved in union organizing and that the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, had illegally threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized.
The board ruled that the worker, Richard Ortiz, must be reinstated with back pay, and that Mr. Musk must delete his tweet. The company must also post a notice committing not to violate labor law in the future and announcing that it will undertake the mandated remedies.
Mr. Ortiz had been visibly involved in union organizing, including distributing leaflets in the parking lot of the company’s plant in Fremont, Calif., before he was fired in October 2017. The company said it fired him because he had posted screenshots of employees’ profiles in an internal platform to Facebook. An administrative law judge ruled that it was in retaliation for his organizing efforts.
The judge also found that the company had illegally issued a warning to another employee for taking the screenshots and sending them to Mr. Ortiz, a ruling that the board upheld on Thursday as well.
In May 2018, Mr. Musk posted his tweet, which included the clause, “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” Both the judge and the board deemed the post an unlawful attempt to coerce employees by threatening their compensation.
The board went further than the judge’s earlier ruling on some questions, finding that Tesla’s confidentiality agreement, which it required employees to sign, unlawfully prohibited them from speaking with the media about Tesla without authorization even if the material was public. The ruling on Thursday requires the company to amend its agreement.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
A one-of-a-kind digital collectible item created out of a New York Times technology column sold for more than $500,000 in an auction, the first such sale in the history of the newspaper.
An image of the column — titled “Buy This Column on the Blockchain!” — was turned into a nonfungible token, or NFT, and sold in a heated auction that brought in more than 30 bids on the NFT marketplace website Foundation.
The NFT, a unique bit of digital code that is stored on the Ethereum blockchain and refers to a 14 megabyte graphic of the column hosted on a decentralized file hosting service, cannot be duplicated or counterfeited, making it potentially valuable for collectors. Some NFTs have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent weeks, with one such sale — a collection of art by the digital artist Beeple — bringing in more than $69 million at auction.
Along with the token, the winner of the auction — should they choose to identify themselves — will receive additional perks including a voice message from Michael Barbaro, the host of “The Daily” podcast. All proceeds from the auction will be donated to the Neediest Cases Fund, a Times-affiliated charity.
The winner of the auction, an NFT collector who goes by the handle @3fmusic, placed a last-minute winning bid of 350 ether, a digital currency, which translates to roughly $560,000 at Wednesday’s exchange rates. A link on the user’s profile led to the website of a Dubai-based music studio.
@3fmusic could not be reached as of Wednesday afternoon. The user appeared to be an avid collector of NFT artwork. In addition to the Times token, their collection on Foundation also includes such works as “The result of 2020,” an image of a sad-looking Kermit the Frog, and “Mushy’s Midafternoon Nap,” an image of a cartoon toadstool sitting on a log.
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.
Here’s what you need to know.
Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s chief executive, said that the site played a role in the storming of the Capitol, in what appeared to be the first public acknowledgment by a top social media executive of the influence of the platforms on the riot. When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Mr. Dorsey said “yes.” Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
As lawmakers on Thursday threatened to strip the liability protection encoded in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the chieftains of the biggest social networks couldn’t agree on how to fix the act, or if it even needs fixing. Mr. Zuckerberg urged Congress to take on “thoughtful reform” of Section 230. He said the law needed to be updated for the modern age. Mr. Pichai said while regulation has a role to play in “addressing harm and improving accountability,” he cautioned that recent proposals to change Section 230 would have unintended consequences.
Democratic lawmakers accused the chief executives of making money by allowing disinformation to run rampant online, reflecting their mounting frustration about the spread of extremism, conspiracy theories and falsehoods online in the aftermath of the riot at the Capitol.
Republican lawmakers came into the hearing steaming about the Capitol riot, but their animus was focused on the decisions by the platforms to ban right-wing figures, including former President Donald J. Trump, for inciting violence. The decisions to ban Mr. Trump, many of his associates and other conservatives, they said, amounted to liberal bias and censorship.
Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. And if the trend continues, it would put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.
The potential confrontation made some market veterans recall the events of the 1990s when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending, Nelson D. Schwartz reports for The New York Times. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.
Ed Yardeni, an independent economist, coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs of fiscal deficits getting out of hand.
“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”
Yet, evidence of inflation remains elusive, and the bond vigilantes remain outliers. Even many economists at financial firms who expect faster growth as a result of the stimulus package are not ready to predict inflation’s return.
Even if inflation goes up slightly, the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate, said Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a former top Fed official.
“Bond traders are an excitable lot and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”
In 2017, a new Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, resplendent in Soul Red Metallic paint, listed for $35,901. By 2020 that jaunty two-seater had an average resale value of $24,112. If finished in stolid Machine Gray Metallic paint, however, that same model fetched an average of $1,046 less, thanks to the color alone.
Because many other factors influence car value, color is easy to overlook. Yet both paint and car manufacturers maintain international departments of stylists and colorists who not only monitor what consumers are buying but — drawing from the fields of art, architecture, fashion, popular culture and consumer research — predict what people will want up to five years in the future.
Decisions are exasperatingly complex. A popular color for sedans might not work for sports cars. A hit color in Florida might tank in Michigan. According to iSeeCars, a search engine catering to car buyers, the worst color for S.U.V.s was beige, which lost 46 percent of its value over three years. For pickup trucks the best color was … beige. Beige pickups lost only 18 percent in value in the same time period.
The importance of color to cars is almost singular. It’s nothing to chuck a formerly fashionable fuchsia T-shirt, and you can repaint a room in a weekend. But repainting a car costs thousands and requires skilled technicians. With the possible exception of kitchen appliances, there are few color decisions as costly that consumers live with for as long. In a routinely quoted poll from 2000, 39 percent of car buyers said color was more important than brand.
An iSeeCars analysis compared list prices for new 2017 cars with their resale prices in 2020 to see which colors hold value best in different vehicle classes. In addition, some larger paint manufacturers publish annual color popularity reports and predictions for the coming year. Combined, they help draw broad rules for picking the best values in car colors. And while color doesn’t wholly determine a car’s value, if it’s not part of a buying decision, you might get stuck with a gray Miata.
Paint is also about durability, not just aesthetics. It was intended to prevent rust. Henry Ford famously offered customers “a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Black paint was durable and inexpensive — and using a single color sped up production, said Matt Anderson, a curator at the Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich.
“Popular myth says black was chosen because it dried fast,” he said, “but there’s no evidence that black dried any faster than dark greens or blues,” both among the colors that Ford initially offered.
By the mid-1920s, a DuPont paint formulation helped expand the palette, and color was used as a marketing device; General Motors’ Oakland Motor Car division advertised the True Blue Six model after its bright color in 1924. Even Ford Motor caved in when it needed a marketing boost in 1925.
“Colors then returned for the T’s final two model years in an effort to stimulate slumping sales,” Mr. Anderson said.
Cars came in more than a dozen hues by the mid-50s — the better to attract the female drivers of the family’s second car, the thinking went. Those colors became more vivid in the psychedelic ’60s.
Metal and paint technology upped rust resistance in the ’70s, and then a new process from Europe gained notice, said Clifford Schoff, a paint chemist who spent 30 years at the manufacturer PPG. Clear coating was about to arrive in America.
“We started hearing about the ‘wet look,’” Mr. Schoff said. “The color plus clear meant you kept a higher gloss for a longer time.”
Over the years, those technologies that improved the longevity of cars and paint may help explain the unprecedented 10-year run for white as the most popular color. Its functional advantages also help. White is good in hot climates and hides scratches and dings well, making it popular with fleet buyers.
“Rental car companies love white,” said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iSeeCars.
But, as the iSeeCars data shows, there is a big gap between what is popular and what retains value.
The 2020 Color Report from the paint provider Axalta (formerly DuPont) said fewer than 1 percent of new cars on lots in America were yellow. Yet iSeeCars data shows yellow retained the most value over all. An overwhelming 30 percent of cars on dealers’ lots are white, followed by 19 percent for both black and gray and 10 percent for silver.
It’s the law of supply and demand. “It’s not that yellow is a popular color. It’s that yellow is popular in relation to how many people want it,” Mr. Brauer said.
“You can’t go wrong buying the popular colors — black, white or silver — but you can’t go right, either,” he added. The most popular colors generally fall in the middle of the value chart.
Rarity alone doesn’t guarantee value. Purple, brown and gold are about as rare as yellow yet retain the least value over all.
There are other anomalies, such as the previously mentioned beige paradox. Trucks did well in muted colors, possibly because, as work vehicles, those hues show less dirt and company names painted on the sides are easy to read.
S.U.V.s did best in flashy colors, possibly because the drivers didn’t want to feel like drudges.
“You are buying the S.U.V. to avoid the minivan,” said Jonah Berger, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School with expertise in marketing psychology. A lively color, he said, “makes us feel like: ‘I am driving a fun car. I am a fun, exciting person.’”
Apparently minivan owners are focused on utility. Blue retained the most value, losing 39 percent, but that wasn’t much different from the worst, brown, at 42 percent.
This makes it difficult to assess the “best” color for a car. It might be better to consider the best color for a type of buyer.
“People buy things for different reasons,” Mr. Berger said. “Sometimes we buy them for what they do. Sometimes we buy them for what they say about us.”
People who buy cars for utility, like minivan and fleet buyers, seem to value subtle colors that are easy to care for. People who buy a car as a personal statement — sports- and muscle-car owners — value glitzy colors.
That still complicates the paint choice for vehicles that defy categorization. Jeeps and trucks are utility vehicles for some and showpieces for others, who bolt on lift kits, light bars and custom grilles. The Jeep Wrangler retained the most value in Xtreme Purple, a color usually at the bottom of the overall chart. Purple Wranglers kept $2,398 more value than the same model in utilitarian silver.
Color prognosticators agree that the new color to reckon with is blue. Last year it accounted for 10 percent of cars on lots, equal to silver. But which blue? Dark? Light? Metallic? People who make a livelihood from car paint see vast differences between shades of a single hue, even mundane white.
“The white we have is not the white we had 20 years ago,” said Paul Czornij, head of color design for car paint at BASF. A carmaker might ask him for “a white metallic that is a little bluish, and from this grazing angle it has this property, and from this angle is has that property,” he added. “That is very exciting.”
For consumers, those fine points appear to have little effect on value. The iSeeCars data shows that metallic paint’s value advantage over nonmetallic is insignificant.
Ultimately, many buyers may choose paint color disregarding both value and popularity to achieve a third goal, Mr. Berger said: “Maybe having a color that’s different than white makes you happy.”