None of those transactions took place between late March and May 1, a Fed official said, which would have curbed Mr. Kaplan’s ability to use information about the coming rescue programs to earn a profit.
But the trades drew attention for other reasons. Mr. Conti-Brown pointed out that Mr. Kaplan was buying and selling oil company shares just as the Fed was debating what role it should play in regulating climate-related finance. And everything the Fed did in 2020 — like slashing rates to near zero and buying trillions in government-backed debt — affected the stock market, sending equity prices higher.
“It’s really bad for the Fed, people are going to seize on it to say that the Fed is self-dealing,” said Sam Bell, a founder of Employ America, a group focused on economic policy. “Here’s a guy who influences monetary policy, and he’s making money for himself in the stock market.”
Mr. Perli noted that Mr. Kaplan’s financial activity included trading in a corporate bond exchange-traded fund, which is effectively a bundle of company debt that trades like a stock. The Fed bought shares in that type of fund last year.
Other key policymakers, including the New York Fed president, John C. Williams, reported much less financial activity in 2020, based on disclosures published or provided by their reserve banks. Mr. Williams told reporters on a call on Wednesday that he thought transparency measures around trading activity were critical.
“If you’re asking should those policies be reviewed or changed, I think that’s a broader question that I don’t have a particular answer for right now,” Mr. Williams said.
Washington-based board officials reported some financial activity, but it was more limited. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, reported 41 recorded transactions made by him or on his or his family’s behalf in 2019, and 26 in 2020, but those were typically in index funds and other relatively broad investment strategies. Randal K. Quarles, the Fed’s vice chair for supervision, recorded purchases and sales of Union Pacific stock from 2019 in his 2020 disclosure. Those stocks were assets of Mr. Quarles’s wife and he had no involvement in the transactions, a Fed spokesman said.
“Economists are not known for looking at the glass half full,” said Ms. Coronado.
(It is an enduring observation about her profession. Thomas Carlyle in the 19th century labeled the entire economics profession “the dismal science,” and given its ring of truth, the dreary title stuck.)
Besides inflation, economists are worrying about possible asset bubbles. Central bank officials including Robert S. Kaplan, head of the Dallas Fed, and James Bullard, head of the St. Louis branch, have warned that policymakers should be keeping a careful eye on rising real estate prices. And as Delta surges, analysts of all stripes are watching closely to ensure that it does not slow shopping, traveling and dining out — while worrying that it will.
The gray cloud that seems to hang over the profession might have a silver lining. It could be the case that by monitoring the risks around high inflation and watching for impending doom, the profession is setting up America for a more sustainable expansion down the road — one where government spending policy is more carefully crafted not to tax overextended industries, and where investors believe the Fed will act if needed, keeping exuberance in check.
Mr. Dutta, an eternal optimist who has a habit of releasing all-caps tirades against his profession’s endemic pessimism, thinks people could be a little bit more excited without overdoing it.
“THIS IS A CONSUMER SLOWDOWN??” he wrote in a recent note, pointing out that credit card spending data is holding up. He celebrated the last employment report, a robust reading, by titling it “JULY FIREWORKS.”
He points out that many people think the economy would be even stronger right now if supply bottlenecks weren’t holding back production and preventing spending. At least some of that spending will presumably eventually take place when those holdups clear, setting up for stronger future growth. Plus, he points out that people are making decisions that they would not if they had a glum future in mind: Families are buying houses, which he calls the “the most irreversible-decision asset.” Businesses are buying equipment.
He talks with an air of exasperation, like someone who has been right before. That is, in part, because he recently has been: Mr. Dutta, who has a bachelor’s from New York University but who lacks the fancy doctorates many of his counterparts claim, correctly argued that the economy would not slump headed into 2021, at a time when some Wall Street economists were looking for flat or even negative growth readings as infections surged.
Despite the chaotic end to its presence in Afghanistan, the United States still has control over billions of dollars belonging to the Afghan central bank, money that Washington is making sure remains out of the reach of the Taliban.
About $7 billion of the central bank’s $9 billion in foreign reserves are held by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the former acting governor of the Afghan central bank said Wednesday, and the Biden administration has already moved to block access to that money.
The Taliban’s access to the other money could also be restricted by the long reach of American sanctions and influence. The central bank has $1.3 billion in international accounts, some of it euros and British pounds in European banks, the former official, Ajmal Ahmady, said in an interview on Wednesday. Remaining reserves are held by the Swiss-based Bank for International Settlements, he added.
Mr. Ahmady said earlier on Wednesday that the Taliban had already been asking central bank officials about where the money was.
International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday that it would block Afghanistan’s access to about $460 million in emergency reserves. The decision followed pressure from the Biden administration to ensure that the reserves did not reach the Taliban.
Money from an agreement reached in November among more than 60 countries to send Afghanistan $12 billion over the next four years is also in doubt. Last week, Germany said it would not provide grants to Afghanistan if the Taliban took over and introduced Shariah law, and on Tuesday, the European Union said no payments were going to Afghanistan until officials “clarify the situation.”
The central bank money and international aid, essential to a poor country where three-quarters of public spending is financed by grants, are powerful leverage for Washington as world leaders consider if and when to recognize the Taliban takeover.
Mr. Ahmady, who fled Afghanistan on Sunday, said he believed the Taliban could get access to the central bank reserves only by negotiating with the U.S. government.
high-profile talks last month. But so far, China hasn’t shown an eagerness to increase its role in Afghanistan. The Taliban could try to take advantage of the country’s vast mineral resources through mining, or finance operations with money from the illegal opium trade. Afghanistan is the world’s largest grower of poppy used to produce heroin, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
But these alternatives are all “very tough,” Mr. Ahmady said. “Probably the only other way is to negotiate with the U.S. government.”
Afghanistan has about $700 million at the Bank for International Settlements, Mr. Ahmady said. The bank, which serves 63 central banks around the world, said on Wednesday that it “does not acknowledge or discuss banking relationships.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Ahmady wrote on Twitter that Afghanistan had relied on shipments of U.S. dollars every few weeks because it had a large current account deficit, a reflection of the fact that the value of its imports are about five times greater than its exports.
Those purchases of imports, often paid in dollars, could soon be squeezed.
“The amount of such cash remaining is close to zero due a stoppage of shipments as the security situation deteriorated, especially during the last few days,” Mr. Ahmady wrote.
He recalled receiving a call on Friday saying the country wouldn’t get further shipments of U.S. dollars. The next day, Afghan banks requested large amounts of dollars to keep up with customer withdrawals, but Mr. Ahmady said he had to limit their distribution to conserve the central bank’s supply. It was the first time he made such a move, he said.
Mr. Ahmady said that he had told President Ashraf Ghani about the cancellation of currency shipments, and that Mr. Ghani had then spoken with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. Though further shipments were approved “in principle,” Mr. Ahmady said, the next scheduled shipment, on Sunday, never arrived.
their origin story and their record as rulers.
Who are the Taliban leaders? These are the top leaders of the Taliban, men who have spent years on the run, in hiding, in jail and dodging American drones. They are emerging now from obscurity, but little is known about them or how they plan to govern.
The New York Fed provides safekeeping and payment services to foreign central banks so they can store international reserves securely, and to facilitate cross-border payments and other dollar-based transactions. International reserves often take the form of short-term Treasury bonds or gold. The New York Fed has been storing gold for foreign governments for nearly a century.
Though Mr. Ahmady has left the country, he said he believed that most members of the central bank’s staff were still in Afghanistan.
If the Taliban can’t gain access to the central bank’s reserves, it will probably have to further limit access to dollars, Mr. Ahmady said. This would help start a cycle in which the national currency will depreciate and inflation will rise rapidly and worsen poverty.
“They’re going to have to significantly reduce the amount that people can take out,” Mr. Ahmady said. “That’s going to hurt people’s living standards.”
The more than $400 million from the International Monetary Fund, which the Biden administration has sought to keep out of the Taliban’s hands, is Afghanistan’s share of a $650 billion allocation of currency reserves known as special drawing rights. It was approved this month as part of an effort to help developing countries cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
But the toppling of Afghanistan’s government and a lack of clarity about whether the Taliban will be recognized internationally put the I.M.F. in a difficult position.
“There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access S.D.R.s or other I.M.F. resources,” the organization said in a statement Wednesday. It added that its decisions were guided by the views of the international community.
Jake Sullivan, the White House’s national security adviser, said Tuesday that it was too soon to address whether the United States would recognize the Taliban as the legitimate power in Afghanistan.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be up to the Taliban to show the rest of the world who they are and how they intend to proceed,” Mr. Sullivan said. “The track record has not been good, but it’s premature to address that question at this point.”
The suits are returning to the office. In chinos. And sneakers. And ballet flats.
As Wall Street workers trickle back into their Manhattan offices this summer, they are noticeable for their casual attire. Men are reporting for duty in polo shirts. Women have stepped down from the high heels once considered de rigueur. Ties are nowhere to be found. Even the Lululemon logo has been spotted.
The changes are superficial, but they hint at a bigger cultural shift in an industry where well-cut suits and wingtips once symbolized swagger, memorialized in popular culture by Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street” and Patrick Bateman in the film adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’s novel “American Psycho.” Even as many corporate workplaces around the country relaxed their dress codes in recent years, Wall Street remained mostly buttoned up.
relax dress codes — including in 2019, when Goldman made suits and ties optional — banking had been one of the last bastions of formal work wear, alongside law firms. And in some quarters of Wall Street, such as hedge funds, the code has typically been more permissive.
But in banking, the strict hierarchies were embedded in unwritten fashion rules. Colleagues would ridicule those wearing outfits considered too flashy or too shabby for the wearer’s place in the corporate food chain. Superiors were style guides, but wearing something swankier than one’s boss was considered a faux pas. An expensive watch could be seen as a mark of success, an obnoxious flex, or both.
TV interview; Goldman’s boss, David Solomon, D.J.s in T-shirts on weekends; and Rich Handler, the head of Jefferies, posted a photo of himself sporting a henley tee on Twitter. At an event welcoming employees back to the office in July, Citigroup’s Jane Fraser — the only female boss of a major Wall Street bank — kept her signature look: a jewel-toned dress.
known for its leather-soled dress shoes for men and boys. “It’s going to continue to get more comfortable and casual, but people are still going to want to look nice.”
Now, 80 percent of the shoes his company designs are casual styles, Mr. Florsheim said, compared with 50 percent before the pandemic.
compete for recruits with technology companies — which are friendlier both to remote work and casual clothing — they are seeking to present a less stuffy image. Many banks are also trying to hire a more diverse cohort.
John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and an avowed sneakerhead, said the Fed wanted people to bring their “authentic self” to work because personal style was an important part of valuing all forms of individuality and diversity.
He said he was looking forward to wearing new pairs from his sneaker collection in the office. “When people can be themselves, they do their best work,” he said.
bring staff back to offices. Most of the industry was targeting Labor Day for a full-scale return, although that may be complicated by surging coronavirus cases. Some Wall Street employees have been working out of their offices for months, but many returned only recently for the first time since the outbreak began.
It felt like the first day of school, some bankers said. They wanted to look good in front of colleagues, yet couldn’t bear the thought of wearing dress shoes or heels. Before going in, some checked with friends to see if their choices were in line with the crowd.
One item that has been popular among Wall Street men is Lululemon’s ABC pant, which the athleisure company markets as a wrinkle-resistant, stretchy polyester garment suitable for “all-day comfort.” (The company put its highly recognizable logo on a tab near the pocket to make the pants look less like workout gear.)
Untuckit, the maker of short-hemmed button-downs, saw a jump in sales as vaccination rates across the United States rose in April and May, said Chris Riccobono, the company’s founder. Customers have flocked to its two stores in Manhattan, seeking still-sharp shirts made from breathable fabric.
“What’s amazing is these guys were wearing suits in the middle of summer, walking the streets of New York, coming off the train” before the pandemic, Mr. Riccobono said. “It took corona for the guys who never wore anything but suits to realize, ‘Wait a second.’”
The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August further devastated the economy.
Estimates put the central bank’s losses at $50 billion to $60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered assistance, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr. Salameh of blocking an audit sought by the United States and other countries that would unlock I.M.F. aid, as well as a separate investigation into alleged fraud at the central bank.
Most Lebanese have said goodbye to whatever savings they had while the currency has crashed, reducing salaries once worth $1,000 a month to about $80. The central bank is burning through its reserves, spending about $500 million per month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicine and grain.
“Lebanon has been living on borrowed time, and now the chickens have come home to roost,” said Toufic Gaspard, a Lebanese economist and former adviser at the I.M.F. “The whole banking system has collapsed, and we have become a cash economy.”
The crash has soured many Lebanese on their once celebrated central banker.
“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, a co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, while having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not stuck in the banks, but simply stolen.”
His friend, Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he had once admired Mr. Salameh for keeping Lebanon financially stable but had changed his mind.
Mr. Salameh, he said, had gone spectacularly off course.
“Every country has its mafia,” Mr. Tanios said. “In Lebanon, the mafia has its country.”
Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Asmaa al-Omar from Istanbul.
Also in late February, Blueacorn and Womply got an unexpected tailwind from a major rule change by the Small Business Administration, which oversaw the loan program. Concerned that women and minority-led businesses were being disproportionately left out, the Biden administration overhauled the loan formula to award sole proprietors — a group that includes contractors and gig workers — loans based on their reported revenue rather than profit. Overnight, millions more qualified for help. Drawn in by the marketing campaigns, they stampeded toward the two companies.
By early March, “we were overrun with demand,” said Blueacorn’s Mr. Calhoun, a private equity veteran who joined the company that month to help manage its growth. “We had a 24-hour period where we went from 15,000 new customer service tickets to 27,000,” he recalled. “Those are Amazon-like levels.”
Blueacorn rented call centers and trained hundreds of temporary workers to troubleshoot. Womply redeployed nearly all of its 200 employees to work on loan issues. Both companies still struggled to keep up. On Reddit groups and social media sites, thousands of borrowers complained about delays, poor communication and problems resolving errors.
Louis Glatthorn, an Uber driver in Boone, N.C., who goes by Bob, applied on Womply’s website on April 7 and signed the paperwork two weeks later for a $7,818 loan. But the money — which is listed in government records as approved — has not been paid by Benworth Capital, one of Womply’s partners. Mr. Glatthorn’s attempts to reach Womply for help have been unsuccessful.
“You can never talk to a person or actually make contact,” he said. A Womply representative declined to comment on Mr. Glatthorn’s experience.
Others had a smoother run. Dan Bourque, an Uber driver in San Francisco, saw Womply’s ads and applied for a loan in mid-April. Seventeen days later, he had a $10,477 deposit — funded by Fountainhead SBF, another of Womply’s partner lenders — in his bank account. For that loan, the process “was flawless,” he said.
The Money Pours In
The millions of tiny loans the two tech companies enabled, coupled with Congress’s decision to make small loans more lucrative, led to gigantic payouts for small lenders. Last year, Prestamos made $1.3 million for its lending. This year, it will collect nearly $1.2 billion, according to a New York Times calculation of lenders’ fees based on government data.
As Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin scrambled to save faltering markets at the start of the pandemic last year, America’s top economic officials were in near-constant contact with a Wall Street executive whose firm stood to benefit financially from the rescue.
Laurence D. Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, was in frequent touch with Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Powell in the days before and after many of the Fed’s emergency rescue programs were announced in late March. Emails obtained by The New York Times through a records request, along with public releases, underscore the extent to which Mr. Fink planned alongside the government for parts of a financial rescue that his firm referred to in one message as “the project” that he and the Fed were “working on together.”
While some conversations were previously disclosed, the newly released emails, together with public calendar records, show the extent to which economic policymakers worked with a private company as they were drawing up a response to the financial meltdown and how intertwined BlackRock has become with the federal government.
60 recorded calls over the frantic Saturday and Sunday leading up to the Fed’s unveiling on Monday, March 23, of a policy package that included its first-ever program to buy corporate bonds, which were becoming nearly impossible to sell as investors sprinted to convert their holdings to cash. Mr. Mnuchin spoke to Mr. Fink five times that weekend, more than anyone other than the Fed chair, whom he spoke with nine times. Mr. Fink joined Mr. Mnuchin, Mr. Powell and Larry Kudlow, who was the White House National Economic Council director, for a brief call at 7:25 the evening before the Fed’s big announcement, based on Mr. Mnuchin’s calendars.
book on funds.
On March 24, 2020, the New York Fed announced that it had again hired BlackRock’s advisory arm, which operates separately from the company’s asset-management business but which Mr. Fink oversees, this time to carry out the Fed’s purchases of commercial mortgage-backed securities and corporate bonds.
BlackRock’s ability to directly profit from its regular contact with the government during rescue planning was limited. The firm signed a nondisclosure agreement with the New York Fed on March 22, restricting involved officials from sharing information about the coming programs.
were contracting and its business outlook hinged on what happened in certain markets.
While the Fed and Treasury consulted with many financial firms as they drew up their response — and practically all of Wall Street and much of Main Street benefited — no other company was as front and center.
Simply being in touch throughout the government’s planning was good for BlackRock, potentially burnishing its image over the longer run, Mr. Birdthistle said. BlackRock would have benefited through “tons of information, tons of secondary financial benefits,” he said.
Mr. Mnuchin could not be reached for comment. Asked whether top Fed officials discussed program details with Mr. Fink before his firm had signed the nondisclosure agreement, the Fed said Mr. Powell and Randal K. Quarles, a Fed vice chair who also appears in the emails, “have no recollection of discussing the terms of either facility with Mr. Fink.”
“Nor did they have any reason to do so because the Federal Reserve Bank of New York handled the process with great care and transparency,” the central bank added in its statement.
Brian Beades, a spokesman for BlackRock, highlighted that the firm had “stringent information barriers in place that ensure separation between BlackRock Financial Markets Advisory and the firm’s investment business.” He said it was “proud to have been in a position to assist the Federal Reserve in addressing the severe downturn in financial markets during the depths of the crisis.”
Daily Business Briefing
The disclosed emails between Fed and BlackRock officials — 11 in all across March and early April — do not make clear whether the company knew about any of the Fed and Treasury programs’ designs or whether they were simply providing market information.
Fed chair’s official schedule from that March. Those calendars generally track scheduled events, and may have missed meetings in early 2020 when staff members were frantically working on the market rescue and the Fed was shifting to work from home, a central bank spokesman said.
Mr. Powell’s calendars did show that he talked to Mr. Fink in March, April and May, and he has previously answered questions about those discussions.
“I can’t recall exactly what those conversations were, but they would have been about what he is seeing in the markets and things like that, to generally exchanging information,” Mr. Powell said at a July news conference, adding that it wasn’t “very many” conversations. “He’s typically trying to make sure that we are getting good service from the company that he founded and leads.”
BlackRock’s connections to Washington are not new. It was a critical player in the 2008 crisis response, when the New York Fed retained the firm’s advisory arm to manage the mortgage assets of the insurance giant American International Group and Bear Stearns.
Several former BlackRock employees have been named to top roles in President Biden’s administration, including Brian Deese, who heads the White House National Economic Council, and Wally Adeyemo, who was Mr. Fink’s chief of staff and is now the No. 2 official at the Treasury.
in early 2009 to $7.4 trillion in 2019. By the end of last year, they were $8.7 trillion.
As it expanded, it has stepped up its lobbying. In 2004, BlackRock Inc. registered two lobbyists and spent less than $200,000 on its efforts. By 2019 it had 20 lobbyists and spent nearly $2.5 million, though that declined slightly last year, based on OpenSecrets data. Campaign contributions tied to the firm also jumped, touching $1.7 million in 2020 (80 percent to Democrats, 20 percent to Republicans) from next to nothing as recently as 2004.
short-term debt markets that came under intense stress as people and companies rushed to move all of their holdings into cash. And problems were brewing in the corporate debt market, including in exchange-traded funds, which track bundles of corporate debt and other assets but trade like stocks. Corporate bonds were difficult to trade and near impossible to issue in mid-March 2020. Prices on some high-grade corporate debt E.T.F.s, including one of BlackRock’s, were out of whack relative to the values of the underlying assets, which is unusual.
People could still pull their money from E.T.F.s, which both the industry and several outside academics have heralded as a sign of their resiliency. But investors would have had to take a financial hit to do so, relative to the quoted value of the underlying bonds. That could have bruised the product’s reputation in the eyes of some retail savers.
fund recovery was nearly instant.
When the New York Fed retained BlackRock’s advisory arm to make the purchases, it rapidly disclosed details of those contracts to the public. The firm did the program cheaply for the government, waiving fees for exchange-traded fund buying and rebating fees from its own iShares E.T.F.s back to the New York Fed.
The Fed has explained the decision to hire the advisory side of the house in terms of practicality.
“We hired BlackRock for their expertise in these markets,” Mr. Powell has since said in defense of the rapid move. “It was done very quickly due to the urgency and need for their expertise.”
Good morning and happy Sunday. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
had a rough week. Digital currencies saw several ugly crashes, with Bitcoin ending Friday nearly 30 percent below its price a week before. The plunge followed an announcement from China that effectively banned its financial institutions from providing services related to cryptocurrency transactions. (Elon Musk’s sudden about-face on Bitcoin probably didn’t help, either.) The volatility shook some investors’ confidence in crypto, which has ridden a seemingly unstoppable wave of popularity — and gained traction with mainstream investors — over the past year.
Texas, Oklahoma and Indiana joined more than a dozen other states that are ending federal pandemic unemployment benefits early, citing the need to incentivize people to get back to work. The decision will get rid of the $300-a-week supplement that unemployment recipients have been getting since March and were scheduled to receive through September. It will also end all benefits for freelancers, part-timers and those who have been out of work for more than six months. Some lawmakers believe that cutting off benefits will encourage more people to apply for jobs, but that’s not always the case — a persistent lack of child care has also prevented many parents from returning to work.
can cause premature death, according to a new study by the World Health Organization. Long hours — also known as overwork — are on the rise and are associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 percent higher risk of heart disease compared with working 35 to 40 hours per week, researchers said.
give the Internal Revenue Service more money to chase down wealthy individuals and companies who cheat on their taxes. As part of the same effort to close tax loopholes, the U.S. Treasury Department is trying to convince other countries to back a 15 percent global minimum tax rate on big companies. The policy is meant to deter corporations from sheltering their operations in tax havens such as Bermuda and the British Virgin Islands. But a number of governments have been hesitant to sign on for fear that they’ll scare off businesses.
Eyeing the Competition
Congress wants to bolster the United States’ ability to compete with China and is willing to throw money at the problem. The senate is working on a bill that would invest $120 billion in the nation’s development of cutting-edge technology and manufacturing. Known as the Endless Frontier Act, the legislation would fund new research on a scale that its proponents say has not been seen since the Cold War. In related news, the European Union blocked an investment deal with China on Thursday, citing concerns with the country’s abysmal human rights record.
C.E.O.s in the Hot Seat
Executives from the largest U.S. banks, including JPMorgan, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, will testify before lawmakers this week about their actions (or lack thereof) to help struggling Americans and small businesses during the pandemic. Democrats on the Senate Banking and House Financial Services committees organized the hearings to scrutinize the banks’ role in lending money to alleviate the financial pressures of the past 15 months. The testimony could affect how lawmakers seek to regulate Wall Street in the coming years.
soared 30 percent in its initial public offering on Wednesday. Amazon indefinitely extended its ban on police usage of its facial recognition software, which has faced ethical criticism. And New York City lifted nearly all of its pandemic restrictions, allowing businesses to welcome customers back at full capacity.
The government’s $788 billion relief effort for small businesses ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, the Paycheck Protection Program, is ending as it began, with the initiative’s final days mired in chaos and confusion.
Millions of applicants are seeking money from the scant handful of lenders still making the government-backed loans. Hundreds of thousands of people are stuck in limbo, waiting to find out if their approved loans — some of which have been stalled for months because of errors or glitches — will be funded. Lenders are overwhelmed, and borrowers are panicking.
“Some of our lenders have been getting death threats,” said Toby Scammell, the chief executive of Womply, a loan facilitator that has nearly 1.6 million applications awaiting funding. “There’s a lot of angry, scared people who were really counting on this program and are afraid of being shut out.” More funding seems unlikely. Congress twice extended the program in December and March, anteing up nearly $300 billion total in new aid, but there is little indication that it will do so again.
The relief program had been scheduled to keep taking applications until May 31. But two weeks ago, its manager, the Small Business Administration, announced that the program’s $292 billion in financing for forgivable loans this year had nearly run out and that it would immediately stop processing most new applications.
reaching businesses owned by women and minorities, a priority for the Biden administration. But they are not intended to operate on a large scale — and suddenly thousands of desperate borrowers were beating down their door.
“I’m averaging 150 calls a day,” said Brooke Mirenda, the chief executive of the Sunshine State Economic Development Corporation, a Florida lender. “When you’re talking to borrowers who are crying because there’s $8,000 at stake and for them it’s months of their mortgage payment — that’s a really huge deal.”
In something akin to a game of musical chairs, banks and other lenders are now frantically trying to find community financial institutions to take over their backlog of applications. Even though most focus on underserved borrowers, they can process loans for any qualified applicant — but very few have the capacity to do that in large numbers.
contact community financial institutions to determine which ones are lending, but those who have tried said the effort was often fruitless.
Sheri, a photographer in Brooklyn who asked that her last name not be used to protect her privacy, wrote to more than a dozen lenders. Three replied. One was not offering P.P.P. loans, one said she did not meet its qualification rules, and the other requested more information and did not confirm whether or not it could offer her a loan.
Representatives of the Small Business Administration did not directly answer questions about the challenges of finding a willing lender.
Today in Business
“Community-based financial lenders play a key role in generating economic growth and opportunity in some of our most distressed communities,” Patrick Kelley, the head of the agency’s Office of Capital Access, said in a written statement.
“In just over seven days, more than 450 C.F.I.s have processed over 273,000 Paycheck Protection Program applications totaling $4.6 billion, more than 50 percent of the $9 billion remaining one week ago,” he added.
The Paycheck Protection Program has had a rocky road since its inception. Its early days, in April 2020, were plagued by technology problems and confusing rules. Big banks rebuffed many borrowers, and some prioritized bigger and wealthier businesses.
Fraud has been a constant challenge, too, and the Justice Department has charged hundreds of people with taking loans illegally. Many of the tiniest businesses were entirely shut out; a late move by the Biden administration to get more money to solo business owners wreaked havoc for lenders and contributed to the recent deluge of applications.
Now, an additional bottleneck is causing turmoil: Banks and other mainstream lenders are racing to finalize hundreds of thousands of applications that were still in progress when the Small Business Administration closed the program to new applications. Those loans could still be funded, the agency told them, but they would need to move fast.
That set off a panic, with anguished applicants besieging overwhelmed lenders — especially so-called fintechs, a group of online lenders that cranked out P.P.P. loans at a blistering pace. Many took on more customers than they could handle and are now struggling to manage irate borrowers clamoring for help and information.
George Greenfield, the owner of CreativeWell, a small literary agency and speakers’ bureau in Montclair, N.J., applied in March for a loan from Biz2Credit, a fintech lender.
But Mr. Greenfield’s application was complicated — he’s a sole proprietor, but one who, before the pandemic, had part-time employees — and Biz2Credit’s system struggled to accurately calculate his loan amount. The initial amount he was offered was less than a quarter of what he was eligible for.
Mr. Greenfield and his accountant spent more than a month trying to get the mistake fixed, with no success. Emails went unanswered. Online customer service agents could not help. And when the S.B.A. cut off new loans, his problem became urgent: If he abandoned his Biz2Credit application, he feared he would not be able to find a new lender.
“My blood is boiling,” Mr. Greenfield said last week of his stalled application. “This company has no regard for the small-business owners they said they wanted to serve.”
After a New York Times reporter contacted Biz2Credit, a company agent quickly called Mr. Greenfield and untangled his application. Within hours, he had the paperwork to finalize his loan for the correct amount. He was happy with the outcome but infuriated by the process.
Rohit Arora, the chief executive of Biz2Credit, acknowledged that Mr. Greenfield was not alone in his frustration. “We were thrown off guard by the S.B.A. shutdown,” he said. “They’re running a very chaotic program. There hasn’t been much communication.”
Biz2Credit processed more than 182,000 P.P.P. loans this year, but Mr. Arora estimated that he had tens of thousands of stranded applications that his company would be unable to fund. “For the last week, we’ve been slammed,” Mr. Arora said. “The customers have been very angry, very frustrated, very scared. I can understand.”
Randal K. Quarles, the Federal Reserve’s vice chair for supervision and regulation, said that the central bank was monitoring inflation but that for now it expected the pickup underway to be temporary — and that reacting too soon would come at a cost.
“For me, it’s a question of risk management,” Mr. Quarles said during testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. “History would tell us that the economy is unlikely to undergo these inflationary pressures for a long period of time.”
Mr. Quarles pointed out that after the global financial crisis, the central bank lifted interest rates to guard against inflationary pressures. The expected pickup never came, and in hindsight the moves were “premature,” he said. He suggested that the central bank should avoid repeating that mistake.
“We’re coming out of an unprecedented event,” Mr. Quarles said, noting that officials have the tools to tamp down inflation if it does surprise central bankers by remaining elevated. The Fed could dial back bond purchases or lift interest rates to slow growth and weigh down prices.
recent and rapid pickup in consumer prices. The back and forth underlined how politically contentious the Fed’s patient approach to its policy could prove in the coming months. Inflation is expected to remain elevated amid reopening data quirks and as supply tries to catch up to consumer demand.
Some lawmakers pressed Mr. Quarles on how long the Fed would be willing to tolerate higher prices — a parameter the central bank as a whole has not clearly defined.
When it comes to increases, “I don’t think that we can say that one month’s, or one quarter’s, or two quarters’ or more is necessarily too long,” Mr. Quarles said. He noted that it was possible that inflation expectations could climb amid a temporary real-world price increase. But if that happened and caused a “more durable inflationary environment, then the Fed has the tools to address it,” he said.