Good morning and happy Mother’s Day. (Hi, mom!) Here’s the news you need to know for the week ahead in business and tech. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (May 2-8)
Economists expected the April jobs report to be full of great news — lower unemployment, robust hiring, confetti! And by most measures, they were disappointed. The pace of hiring actually slowed, and the unemployment rate rose slightly, to 6.1 percent, for the first time in a year. What’s going on? It’s complicated. Some lawmakers say that the government’s supplemental unemployment benefits are discouraging people from re-entering the work force, particularly in lower-wage positions. Others point to the millions of Americans who aren’t able to work because they’re managing child care, as many schools still aren’t yet back to normal operations. Either way, the country’s economic recovery isn’t going to be simple.
Is He In, or Out?
It’s been five months since Facebook barred former President Donald J. Trump indefinitely for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. As for when to allow him back, the platform kicked the question over to its independent oversight board, a group of about 20 academics, human rights leaders and political figures from around the globe. Last Wednesday, the group upheld Facebook’s ban, but ruled that the company had to establish a clearer policy for it. Facebook now has six months to make a long-term decision about Mr. Trump’s account and create community standards that justify it.
are divorcing. Their eponymous foundation has an endowment of about $50 billion and spent over $1 billion to combat the coronavirus pandemic in the past year alone. The organization released a statement saying that the couple intends to remain co-chairs and trustees, and no changes are expected. Still, the divorce will affect their shared fortune, much of which has been pledged but not yet donated to the foundation. Mr. Gates, 65, co-founded Microsoft and is one of the richest people in the world.
What’s Next? (May 9-15)
Let’s Get Together
President Joseph R. Biden will hold a meeting with the four top House and Senate leaders, from both sides of the aisle, for the first time since taking office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, and their Republican counterparts, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, are expected to discuss Mr. Biden’s $4 trillion economic agenda and his plans to fund it by taxing the rich. Republican lawmakers have fought the proposals from day one. Sounds like a fun conversation.
The Inflation Debate
Warren Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, says inflation is rising. The price of building materials and other consumer goods is going up as demand grows and production costs increase. But the Federal Reserve has repeatedly encouraged investors not to fret. Is the economy going to overheat, with interest rates so low? Probably a bit. But slightly higher prices for a temporary period is in step with the Fed’s general aim for an inflation rate of 2 percent on average over time, to make up for exceptionally weak gains over the past several years.
Share the Shots
The Biden administration has backed a temporary suspension of intellectual property rights for coronavirus vaccines, which would allow third-party drugmakers around the world to manufacture and distribute them to nations that need them. But the U.S. pharmaceutical industry is not happy about this, particularly those who hold the patents on these vaccines. (Pfizer alone generated $3.5 billion in revenue from its Covid-19 vaccine in the first three months of this year.) Representatives of the companies argue that suspending those patents will discourage future innovation and potentially decrease the safety standards of vaccine manufacturing and efficacy. Support from the White House does not guarantee that a waiver will happen, but it adds momentum.
“It was a constant tension point of the foundation. It was Warren who limited it, but Bill’s appetite is always, ‘We should do this, we should do this.’ Teams end up with this massive to-do list,” the former executive said.
Mr. Buffett acknowledged in an interview with The Times last year that he opposed institutional bloat. “That’s the one piece of advice I don’t shut up on, ever, because it’s the natural tendency of every organization,” he said.
Employees at the foundation often have to wear multiple hats to keep up with the demands. For instance, one staff member, Anita Zaidi, serves in the highly technical role of director of vaccine development and surveillance but also serves as president for gender equality.
Mr. Gates famously gave a TED Talk in 2015 warning about the global threat posed by contagious respiratory viruses. The foundation was packed with top talent working on developing new vaccines. It did not, however, have a single person out of roughly 1,600 staff members devoted full time to pandemics before the Covid-19 outbreak began.
For all the workarounds with contract employees and consultants, there was only so much bandwidth, and the decision was made not to have a dedicated team working on the matter. Instead the foundation threw its weight behind the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, which helped develop vaccines to combat outbreaks.
When the pandemic struck, the foundation put its resources and expertise to work. It has dedicated $1.75 billion to combating the pandemic so far and played a key role in shaping the global response.
Even without the divorce, the foundation was in the midst of change. Mr. Buffett, the third trustee, turns 91 this summer. Mr. Gates’s father, Bill Gates Sr., who was co-chair and a guiding hand at the foundation, died this past September. Some observers have wondered if the couple’s three children could get involved soon. The elder two are already in college and medical school. Others have raised the possibility that this is the moment to loosen the family’s grip and install a board drawn from professionals outside the inner circle.
Corporate America takes on anti-Asian discrimination
Top business leaders and corporate giants are pledging $250 million to a new initiative and an ambitious plan to stem a surge in anti-Asian violence and take on challenges that are often ignored by policymakers, Andrew and Ed Lee report in The Times.
Donors are a who’s who of business leaders. Individuals who are collectively contributing $125 million to the newly created Asian American Foundation include Joe Bae of KKR, Sheila Lirio Marcelo of Care.com, Joe Tsai of Alibaba and Jerry Yang of Yahoo. Organizations adding another $125 million to the group include Walmart, Bank of America, the Ford Foundation and the N.B.A. The initiative has echoes of the recent effort by Black executives to round up corporate support to push back against bills that would restrict voting.
Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped 169 percent over the past year; in New York City alone, they have risen 223 percent. And Asian-Americans face the challenge of the “model minority” myth, in which they’re often held up as success stories. This shows “a lack of understanding of the disparities that exist,” said Sonal Shah, the president of the newly formed foundation. For example, Asian-Americans comprise 12 percent of the U.S. work force, but just 1.5 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers.
The group’s mission is broad. It is aiming to reshape the American public’s understanding of the Asian-American experience by developing new school curriculums and collecting data to help influence public policy. But its political lobbying efforts may be challenged by the enormous political diversity among Asian-Americans, Andrew and Ed note.
nearly 402,000 cases on Saturday, a global record, and another 392,000 on Sunday. A business trade group is calling for a new national lockdown, despite the economic cost of such a move. The C.E.O. of India’s biggest vaccine manufacturer warned that the country’s shortage of doses would last until at least July.
Credit Suisse didn’t earn much for its Archegos troubles. The Swiss bank collected just $17.5 million in fees last year from the investment fund, despite losing $5.4 billion from the firm’s meltdown in March, according to The Financial Times.
Verizon sold AOL and Yahoo. The telecom giant divested its internet media business to Apollo Global Management for $5 billion, and will retain a 10 percent stake. It’s a sign that Verizon is giving up on its digital advertising ambitions and focusing on its mobile business.
A third of Basecamp employees quit after a ban on talking politics. At least 20 resigned after the software maker’s C.E.O., Jason Fried, announced a new policy preventing political discussions in the workplace. The company isn’t budging: “We’ve committed to a deeply controversial stance,” said David Hansson, Basecamp’s chief technology officer.
stormed the field yesterday, forcing the postponement of its highly anticipated match against Liverpool. They called for the ouster of the Glazer family, United’s American owners, over their support for the new competition meant mostly for European soccer’s richest teams.
Succession hints and other highlights from Berkshire’s meeting
At the annual meeting of Berkshire Hathaway on Saturday, Warren Bufett and Charlie Munger spoke out on a typically broad range of topics, from investing regrets to politics to crypto. (They also picked fights with Robinhood and E.S.G. proponents, for good measure.) Buffett watchers also got their clearest hint yet as to who will succeed the Oracle of Omaha as Berkshire’s C.E.O. when the 90-year-old billionaire finally steps down.
It’s Greg Abel. CNBC confirmed with Buffett that Abel, the 59-year-old who oversees Berkshire’s non-investing operations, would take over as C.E.O. “If something were to happen to me tonight it would be Greg who’d take over tomorrow morning,” Buffett said. Charlie Munger, Buffett’s top lieutenant, dropped a hint on Saturday, saying, “Greg will keep the culture.”
Buffett took on Robinhood. The Berkshire chief said the trading app conditioned retail investors to treat stock trading like gambling. “There’s nothing illegal about it, there’s nothing immoral, but I don’t think you’d build a society around people doing it,” Buffett said.
Robinhood pushed back. “There is an old guard that doesn’t want average Americans to have a seat at the Wall Street table so they will resort to insults,” tweeted Jacqueline Ortiz Ramsay, the company’s head of public policy communications.
And Buffett got blowback on E.S.G. Berkshire shareholders followed his lead and rejected two shareholder proposals that would have forced the company to disclose more about climate change and work force diversity. But each proposal got support from a quarter of Berkshire shareholders, a relatively high percentage. And big investors spoke publicly about their backing for the initiatives: BlackRock, which owns a 5 percent stake in Berkshire, said the company hadn’t done enough on either front.
Other highlights from the Berkshire meeting:
Munger let loose on crypto. “Of course I hate the Bitcoin success and I don’t welcome a currency that’s so useful to kidnappers and extortionists,” he said. “I think the whole damn development is disgusting and contrary to the interests of civilization.”
Ajit Jain, who oversees Berkshire’s insurance operations, and Buffett traded quips about whether the company would insure Elon Musk’s trip to Mars. “This is an easy one: No, thank you, I’ll pass,” Jain said. Buffett said it would depend on the premium and added, “I would probably have a somewhat different rate if Elon was on board or not on board.”
“We will not be anywhere near as focused on buybacks going forward as we have in the past.”
— Intel C.E.O. Pat Gelsinger told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that in the future the semiconductor giant would focus less on buying its own shares and more on expanding production capacity to alleviate severe chip shortages.
an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal to tell executives about it. The Republican senator from Texas criticized company chiefs for what he said were ill-informed criticisms of Georgia’s new voting laws. “For too long, woke C.E.O.s have been fair-weather friends to the Republican Party: They like us until the left’s digital pitchforks come out,” Cruz wrote. These companies “need to be called out, singled out and cut off,” he added.
Cruz’s rejection may not make a big difference. After the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, many corporations pledged to withhold donations from lawmakers who voted against certifying the election results, at least for a period of time. Cruz, who is viewed as a key player in the efforts to reverse the vote, could be shut out for longer than others. But he’s not strapped for cash: He brought in more than $3 million in campaign funds in the three months after the riot, largely from individual donors.
It highlights a new schism between Republicans and corporate America. Those ties were already fraying under President Trump’s unpredictable administration. President Biden’s proposed tax hikes and regulatory push would have typically driven companies into the arms of Republican allies, but Cruz, for his part, said he’s no longer interested in what the corporate donors and lobbyists have to say. “This time,” he wrote, “we won’t look the other way on Coca-Cola’s $12 billion in back taxes owed. This time, when Major League Baseball lobbies to preserve its multibillion-dollar antitrust exception, we’ll say no thank you. This time, when Boeing asks for billions in corporate welfare, we’ll simply let the Export-Import Bank expire.”
meet in court for a trial that could have implications for the future of the App Store and the antitrust fight against Big Tech. DealBook spoke with Jack Nicas, a technology reporter for The Times, about what’s at stake.
Why is Epic suing Apple?
Many companies, including Spotify and Match Group, have complained loudly and publicly about the control that Apple has over the App Store, and the 30 percent commission it charges. Epic basically set some bait for Apple: It began using its own payment system in Fortnite, a very popular game, which meant Apple couldn’t collect its commission. It knew how Apple would react: Apple kicked Fortnite out of the App Store. Then Epic immediately sued Apple in federal court, and simultaneously launched a sophisticated PR campaign to paint Apple in a bad light. [Epic is suing Google for the same reason.]
Read the full report about the case from Jack and Erin Griffith.
THE SPEED READ
Legendary Studios, the producer of movies like “Godzilla vs. Kong,” has reportedly held talks to either merge with a SPAC or buy another studio. (Bloomberg)
Politics and policy
Why investors have largely shrugged off President Biden’s proposal to raise capital gains taxes. (NYT)
As the head of the nonprofit Venture for America, Andrew Yang pledged to create 100,000 jobs nationwide. The group created about 150. (NYT)
An internal Amazon report warned management that its sales team had gained unauthorized access to third-party seller data, which may have been used to help its own products. (Politico)
Tesla is reportedly stepping up its engagement with Beijing officials as it faces greater pressure from the Chinese government. (Reuters)
Berkshire Hathaway, the conglomerate run by Warren E. Buffett, reported $11.7 billion in net earnings in the first quarter on Saturday, swinging to a profit from a $49.7 billion loss a year ago as the paper value of its investment gains soared.
Using Berkshire’s preferred financial metric, operating earnings, the company showed a nearly 19 percent year-on-year gain as its wide array of subsidiaries — from energy production to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to consumer brands — improved their performances.
Among the businesses that saw the biggest improvements was the railroad, which benefited from higher freight volumes as the American economy rebounded from the pandemic. Berkshire’s building products and consumer subsidiaries also posted higher sales, as housing construction and retail buying picked up.
Other parts of Mr. Buffett’s empire continued to show strain, however, particularly industrial manufacturers like Precision Castparts, whose aerospace parts were in lower demand because of the Covid-related drop in travel.
reject proposals to compel Berkshire to disclose more about its subsidiaries’ efforts to address climate change and workplace diversity, raising questions about whether his approach is out of step.
Tomorrow is Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting, the gathering known as “Woodstock for capitalists.” Like last year, the company is bowing to the times by holding the meeting virtually. But another aspect of the discussion may show that Warren Buffett is increasingly out of step with the times, DealBook’s Michael de la Merced reports.
Investors are pressing Berkshire to disclose more about climate change and work-force diversity. Shareholders, including the Calpers public pension fund, argue that Buffett’s conglomerate isn’t doing enough to disclose its portfolio companies’ progress in addressing those issues. Buffett opposed these initiatives ahead of the meeting, arguing that they cut against Berkshire’s philosophy of letting its subsidiaries operate largely independently. “I don’t believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” he said at Berkshire’s 2018 annual meeting.
Buffett is expected to get his way, for now. He controls over a third of Berkshire’s voting power and holds sway over faithful retail investors, virtually guaranteeing that the proposals will fail to pass.
Simiso Nzima, the head of corporate governance at Calpers, points out that the S.E.C. appears inclined to force more disclosure on climate change risks anyway.
The big question is whether this will tarnish Berkshire’s golden reputation. Corporate America is increasingly heeding investor demands — including from BlackRock, a major Berkshire shareholder — to do more to fight climate change and racial inequity. Berkshire does not dispute the importance of climate change and diversity, but Buffett’s pushback here risks denting his standing as perhaps the world’s most admired investor. “I don’t think at the moment there’s been a slip in the gold standard,” said Lawrence Cunningham, a professor at George Washington University and a Berkshire shareholder, “but if it’s not tended to, there might be.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
Big Tech finishes earnings season on a strong note. Amazon’s first-quarter earnings more than tripled — yes, tripled — to $8 billion, surpassing expectations. As our colleague Shira Ovide writes, the quarter showed that tech giants are “unquestioned winners of the pandemic economy.”
announced today that an E.U. investigation found that the iPhone maker abused its control over its App Store to charge its music-streaming rival more in fees.
A big day in New York City: July 1. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would fully reopen by that day. But officials concede that tourism won’t fully return to prepandemic levels for years, and employers have been largely targeting the fall for bringing workers back to offices.
The head of the Credit Suisse board’s risk committee steps down. Andreas Gottschling won’t stand for re-election. He is the latest official at the Swiss bank to exit following scandals at Greensill and Archegos.
Good and bad news for AstraZeneca. The drug maker beat expectations for earnings and sales growth, but it is struggling to compile the data requested by U.S. officials to have its Covid-19 vaccine approved by the F.D.A., The Wall Street Journal reported.
given the Tesla chief’s history with the S.E.C.
Today in Business
“The days of the bullpen, the trading floors — that’s over.”
— Whitley Collins of CBRE on how the pandemic has upended the commercial real estate market, reversing the trend of “more and more dense” office spaces.
A warning on gig workers
Marty Walsh, the labor secretary, said yesterday that “in a lot of cases” gig workers in the U.S. should be classified as employees, not independent contractors. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not, and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” he told Reuters. Shares of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and DoorDash fell on the news.
But how much control does Walsh have over how companies classify their employees?
There’s no single law that makes workers employees or contractors. The Labor Department can enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. This only applies to employees, and who should fall into that category has been the subject of a long-running debate.
New guidance wouldn’t change the law. But it could change how the Labor Department decides whether to bring lawsuits against gig economy companies. “It’s implicitly a sign to employers that you should comply with this interpretation or there’s a risk of enforcement,” Brian Chen, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told DealBook. The guidance is nonbinding, but Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School, said courts “tend to give it deference” when making decisions. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw specific action coming from the department sometime this year,” said William Gould, a Stanford law professor and the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.
In Her Words newsletter, explains why promising G.D.P. numbers aren’t the end of the story.
“A boom-like year” is how one economist described what the U.S. economy might look like in 2021. The latest data, published yesterday, showed that G.D.P. grew at a robust 6.4 percent annualized rate in the first quarter.
While the headline numbers may at first glance suggest that America’s economic health is on track for a full recovery, a closer look reveals an economy that is “profoundly unequal across sectors, unbalanced in ways that have enormous long-term implications,” as The Times’s Neil Irwin put it.
Growth has been fueled by consumer spending on goods, while the services sector has yet to recover. Services account for more than 95 percent of the jobs held by women, according to Michael Madowitz, an economist at the Center for American Progress.
“I’m a little worried we’re too confident the service job losses are just going to spring back to life,” Madowitz said. “If nobody closed a business that might be fine, but that seems unlikely.”
Roughly two million women have left the work force since last February. G.D.P. does not account for their lost productivity and earnings, nor for the hours of work at home that women shouldered in the past year, uncompensated.
from a sinking ship to a success proves that putting purpose first is good for profits. Joly spoke to DealBook about “The Heart of Business,” which is out next week.
Why did you write a book?
So much of what I learned in business school is either wrong, dated or incomplete. We urgently need a new philosophy of business and capitalism, a refoundation around purpose and humanity. There’s no going back after the pandemic. We’ve seen each others’ homes and vulnerability. We need to make a declaration of interdependence.
Isn’t pursuing profits the point?
Milton Friedman is on my “most wanted” list. People who oppose stakeholder capitalism are mistaken. We can create better economic outcomes by connecting with employees, customers, communities and the planet. People should refuse zero-sum games. The book is a practical guide for leaders who are eager to abandon the old way.
And it’s also spiritual?
Yes. Because work is fundamental. We should ask ourselves why we work, what drives us. At Best Buy, before the holiday season, we’d gather — even though it’s a very busy time — to talk about what gives people energy, what matters. Magic happens when work is connected to meaning and individual genius, to the thing that’s good or beautiful in each of us.
How does this “magic” manifest itself?
Two Best Buy employees performed pretend “surgery” on a broken dinosaur toy behind the counter and gave a boy back a new item, saying his baby dino recovered. That had to come from the heart. They could have just sent his mother to the shelf. Leaders need to use their heads and hearts and see and hear employees and give people the freedom to make work meaningful.
Shares in Darktrace, the British cybersecurity company, climbed after its I.P.O. was priced at a valuation of 1.7 billion pounds ($2.4 billion), below the reported target of $4 billion. (Reuters)
Politics and policy
The Senate approved a $35 billion bill to clean up the nation’s water systems, but further compromise on infrastructure spending looks unlikely. (NYT)
Apple and Samsung were the latest companies to report problems making products because of a shortage of computer chips. (WaPo)
How Google plans to revamp its offices for the postpandemic era: Goodbye, sit-down cafeterias; hello, outdoor meeting spaces. (NYT)
Best of the rest
The fight over control of Apollo Global Management has reportedly sidelined another co-founder, Josh Harris. (Bloomberg)
Vaccination passports could help countries reopen their borders more quickly — if they can agree on a common standard. (FT)
She rose to fame through the “Disaster Girl” meme. Then she made $500,000 by turning it into an NFT. (NYT)
We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to email@example.com.
The other proposal, by the shareholder advocacy group As You Sow on behalf of Handlery Hotels, calls on Berkshire to detail its diversity and inclusion efforts, arguing that more diverse workforces perform better.
Berkshire does not dispute the importance of either issue. In its proxy statement to shareholders, which recommends voting against the proposals, the company says that it agrees about the importance of both climate change and a diverse and inclusive work force.
The argument against those proposals is tied to what the company calls its “unusually decentralized” business model. Though its various subsidiaries employ about 360,000 people around the world, Berkshire itself employs only about two dozen at its base in Omaha, Neb., with relatively lean resources to review the efforts of all its portfolio companies. Asking for standardized diversity data for all of its subsidiaries, for instance, would be “unreasonable,” it said.
“I think for a company this size, it’s an extraordinary ask,” Mr. Cunningham said.
Moreover, Mr. Buffett has long played up the independence of his subsidiaries’ chief executives, giving them wide berths so long as their companies perform well. “I don’t believe in imposing my political opinions on the activities of our businesses,” he said at Berkshire’s 2018 annual meeting.
For Berkshire, then, responsibility for action on climate and diversity lies largely with its operating companies. Berkshire Hathaway Energy “determined independently” to back the Paris climate accord and has invested heavily in renewable energy, the proxy statement noted.
The shareholder proposals’ fates aren’t in doubt. Mr. Buffett controls about a third of Berkshire’s voting power, and holds enormous sway over the company’s army of devoted retail investors. Previous efforts to force changes to Berkshire’s governance do not have a great track record: A 2014 proposal to encourage the company to pay a dividend, which was opposed by management, garnered support from less than 3 percent of shareholders.
But even if the proposals fail on Saturday, Berkshire may still need to change. The Securities and Exchange Commission is weighing moves to require companies to provide more disclosure on E.S.G. issues, particularly climate, calling them potentially material financial information.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the bank said, “We publicly made our own strong statement last month about the critical importance of every citizen being able to exercise their fundament right to vote.”
That statement for release on Wednesday came together over the past week and a half, after the Black executives who spoke out received an outpouring of support.
About 10 days ago, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier conferred with three other Black executives — William M. Lewis Jr., the chairman of investment banking at Lazard; Clarence Otis Jr., a former chief executive of Darden Restaurants; and Charles Phillips, a former chief executive of Infor — about what next steps they could take. Within days, they had a draft of the statement and were sharing it with other executives.
Last Wednesday, Mr. Frazier and Mr. Chenault spoke with members of the Business Roundtable, an influential lobbying group that includes the chief executives of many of the company’s biggest companies. Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., also spoke to the group.
Then on Thursday, someone from Mr. McConnell’s staff, at the group’s invitation, briefed its members on the details of the Georgia law, several people familiar with the situation said.
The next day, members of the Business Roundtable had a regularly scheduled meeting at which the executives discussed the voting issue. On that call, Dan Schulman, the chief executive of PayPal, encouraged other executives to sign the statement.
And on Saturday, Mr. Chenault and Mr. Frazier spoke on a Zoom meeting with more than 100 executives that was organized by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale professor who regularly gathers business leaders to discuss politics. At that meeting, Mr. Chenault read the statement and invited executives on the call to add their names to the list of signatories.