Amid a chip shortage, the White House gathers business leaders to discuss supplies.

The White House convened a meeting of business executives on Monday to discuss semiconductor supply chains amid a global chip shortage, with President Biden using the moment to pitch his $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which aims in part to bolster high-tech domestic manufacturing.

“China and the rest of the world is not waiting, and there’s no reason why Americans should wait,” Mr. Biden said.

At one point, he held up a silicon wafer and declared, “This is infrastructure.”

Participants in the meeting, described by the White House as a “virtual C.E.O. summit on semiconductor and supply chain resilience,” included executives from AT&T, Ford Motor, General Motors, Google, Intel, Samsung and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. The meeting was closed to the news media, aside from a brief portion when Mr. Biden gave remarks.

The global semiconductor shortage has disrupted auto production in the United States and elsewhere, underscoring both a short-term and long-term challenge for the Biden administration with economic and national security implications.

signed an executive order directing his administration to conduct a 100-day review of supply chains for semiconductors and several other types of critical goods.

His infrastructure plan also seeks to strengthen supply chains for chips and other important products.

It includes $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing, and another $50 billion to create an office at the Commerce Department focused on the country’s industrial capacity and support for the production of critical products. It also includes $50 billion for the National Science Foundation, where Mr. Biden would create a technology directorate focused on areas like semiconductors.

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The Agency at the Center of America’s Tech Fight With China

“When you start cutting off capital profits that can flow into R&D, many of them coming from the huge Chinese market, you really undermine our ability to stay at the tip of the spear in terms of semiconductor innovation,” Mr. Neuffer said.

“The sense of urgency in recent years inclined our leadership to make decisions without reference to what industry thought,” said Daniel H. Rosen, a founding partner of Rhodium Group. “We’re not going to serve the American interests if we don’t consider commercial interests and national security interests at the same time.”

The Biden administration has already run into the political minefield surrounding the bureau. In her confirmation hearing in January, Gina Raimondo, the new secretary of commerce, attracted criticism from Republicans when she declined to commit to keeping Huawei on the bureau’s entity list. Ms. Raimondo later said that she would use the entity list “to its full effect,” and that Huawei and ZTE should be on the list.

With Ms. Raimondo sworn in to her post this month, the Biden administration is considering candidates to lead the Bureau of Industry and Security. It has become a contentious process, a kind of proxy battle among trade advisers, industry groups and lawmakers of both parties for the future of the United States’ tech strategy.

One early contender, Kevin Wolf, a partner in the international trade group at the law firm Akin Gump, has run into resistance from some China hawks in Washington over his industry ties. Mr. Wolf, who was previously assistant secretary at the bureau, issued the sanctions against ZTE. He has consistently argued that restrictions that are unclear and unpredictable can backfire, “harming the very interests they were designed to protect.”

But critics have found fault with his work on behalf of industry since leaving the government, including counseling clients on what is permitted under Mr. Trump’s regulations, and trying to obtain licenses for his clients to supply products to Huawei and S.M.I.C.

Mr. Wolf said that he had merely helped companies understand the new rules, as other export control lawyers do, and that it was the Trump administration that was responsible for creating a new process to grant companies licenses to supply products to listed entities.

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The U.S.-China Talks: A Meeting of Friends and Foes

The Biden administration has not exactly been rolling out the red carpet for this meeting. Yesterday it announced subpoenas against top Chinese companies suspected of threatening national security, and last week Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he believed the Chinese government was committing “genocide” against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. What does this tell us about how the administration plans to approach diplomacy toward China?

It tells you that the Biden administration is, so far, sounding a lot tougher on China than many expected. That should be no surprise. While the Republican talking point during the campaign was that Biden would give away the store to the Chinese, the history of Biden and his top foreign policy aides, Blinken and Sullivan, suggests a very different approach. They are focused on the technological competition with China, the threat of continuing cyberattacks (and China is believed to be behind one of the biggest in recent weeks, aimed at Microsoft systems), and new forms of military competition.

As Sullivan pointed out in an essay published last year, it’s possible that China is looking to follow the American model from 130 years ago, building up its navy and expanding its reach, to push us farther and farther east in the Pacific. But it is equally possible that its strategy is to deploy its 5G networks around the world, make nations dependent on its aid, its infrastructure projects and its vaccines, and spread influence that way. Or it may try both. In any case, we now have a full-scope competitor — an economic and technological competitor and a military adversary.

The subpoenas that Biden’s Commerce Department served to the Chinese companies were sent out under a Trump administration policy, which allows the executive branch to intervene on sales of foreign-made communications equipment if national security is seen as at risk. Would you say U.S.-China relations represent a rare area in which Biden is not seeking a hard break from his predecessor’s policies?

Certainly the Biden team has not walked away from the instruments of power exercised by Trump; I think it realizes that Trump accurately identified the importance of addressing the China challenge. The Biden camp just believes he confronted it the wrong way. Trump thought he could ban Chinese technologies, and impose sanctions on the country until it came to the bargaining table.

But China is too big to sanction effectively. And at the end of the day, the U.S. has to innovate and produce competitive products. To the Biden team, that means we need our own answer to 5G networks, because right now there is no American-made alternative. It means we need to make advances in semiconductors and artificial intelligence, even if that requires some innovative, government-backed industrial policy.

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Jobless Claims Climb as Pandemic Continues to Wreak Economic Havoc: Live Updates

Policymakers at the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday that they expected the unemployment rate to fall to 4.5 percent by the end of the year, a significant improvement from the 5 percent they forecast three months ago.

Ford, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., will transition to a model in which some employees work from home part of the time.
Credit…Rebecca Cook/Reuters

Many of Ford Motor’s employees to continue to work remotely at least some of the time after the pandemic is over.

The company said on Wednesday that it would transition to a “flexible hybrid work model” that will allow workers to stay home for focused work and come into the office for collaboration-based activities, such as team-building exercises.

In the United States, Ford currently has more than 30,000 employees working remotely because of the pandemic. The new system will go into effect in July, when the company, which has its main campus in Dearborn, Mich., expects to gradually start bringing more employees back to the office, it said.

“Every non-place-dependent employee, from our leadership team on down, will participate in the hybrid approach,” Kiersten Robinson, the company’s chief people officer, wrote in a handbook distributed to employees. “While we recognize this will take different skill sets and resources, we see it as a great accelerator and competitive advantage for the company. It will enable us to be agile and nimble, and to unleash the full potential of our team.”

Ford is the latest company to announce that remote work will continue even after the pandemic ends.

In February, San Francisco-based Salesforce said it would not require the majority of its global work force to return to the office after the pandemic is over, adopting a “Work From Anywhere” plan that would give its employees flexibility in how, when and where they work. Target also has said it would transition to a partial-remote model and would shed some of its office space.

The Commerce Department said on Wednesday that it had served subpoenas to multiple Chinese companies asking them to provide the government with more information on their use and transfers of American data, to ensure that sensitive information was not being shared with China.

The department did not clarify which Chinese companies were affected.

“In issuing subpoenas today, we are taking an important step in collecting information that will allow us to make a determination for possible action that best protects the security of American companies, American workers and U.S. national security,” Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in a statement.

“The administration is firmly committed to taking a whole-of-government approach to ensure that untrusted companies cannot misappropriate and misuse data and ensuring that U.S. technology does not support China’s or other actors’ malign activities,” she said.

The subpoenas are part of a review of company activities connected to an executive order issued by the Trump administration on the information and communications technology and services industry.

The order would give the Commerce Department sweeping powers to police transactions by companies in the industry that are owned by foreign nations and pose a risk to American national security. The measure, which was first issued in May 2019, has been criticized for its vague wording and for leaving so much discretion to the commerce secretary.

Wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas. At Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., facility, workers make nearly $3 less than the median income in the area.
Credit…Bob Miller for The New York Times

The most recent figure for the median wage in the greater Birmingham, Ala., was nearly $3 above Amazon’s pay at its warehouse in Bessemer, despite Amazon promoting that most rank-and-file workers there make around $15.50 an hour.

It is common for employers facing a union vote to emphasize the generosity of their wages and to suggest that workers could be worse off if they unionize, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

The catch is that wages at plants that have successfully avoided unionization have tended to be substantially higher than the typical wage in their areas, reinforcing workers’ sense that they had something valuable to lose.

  • Veteran production workers made $23.50 an hour at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2019 when unionization was considered there.

  • The comparable figure was $23 at Boeing’s South Carolina facility when workers voted on a union.

  • At Nissan’s Mississippi plant during the vote there, also in 2017, the number was $26.

The union lost in all three cases.

By contrast, unions have been successful when companies have held down wages. During the first half the 2010s, workers unionized at several auto parts suppliers in Alabama and elsewhere in the South, often citing low pay and benefits as the impetus.

In 2015, employees at Commercial Vehicle Group in Piedmont, Ala., which made seats for trucks, voted to join the United Automobile Workers union by a roughly two-to-one ratio. Workers at the plant complained of wages that started as low as $9.70 an hour for temporary workers and topped out at $15.80 for full-time employees.

“Workers always say this: It’s about respect, recognition,” said Gary Casteel, the U.A.W.’s former second-ranking official, who helped oversee much of its organizing in the South. “That’s not the case. It is about the money. Everybody wants to get paid more.”

  • The Internal Revenue Service will give Americans until May 17 to file their taxes, the agency said Wednesday. The I.R.S. emphasized that the extra time is only for federal returns, not state returns, so taxpayers should check with their state tax agencies about any deadline changes. It also does not apply to estimated tax payments that are due on April 15, which are still due on that day.

  • The Federal Reserve’s latest projections showed that the central bank’s policymakers don’t anticipate an increase in interest rates at least until 2023. The Fed is also buying $120 billion in bonds per month — $80 billion in Treasury securities, plus $40 billion in mortgage-backed debt. Jerome Powell, the Fed chair, indicated on Wednesday that the Fed was not ready to even start talking about when it might reduce that support. “We’ll be carefully looking ahead,” he said. “When we see that we’re on track” then “we’ll say so, and we’ll say so well in advance of any decision to actually taper.”

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In Between Stimulus Payments, Retail Sales Decline

President Biden signed into law a nearly $1.9 trillion relief plan last week, and direct payments of $1,400 per person are already making their way to the bank accounts of low- and middle-income Americans.

The law, known as the American Rescue Plan, also extends $300 weekly federal jobless benefits through Sept. 6 and provides billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“Some of that money is bound to flow into retail — it just has to,” Mr. Chadha said.

The major changes in consumer habits during the pandemic have been on display in recent weeks as retailers have reported their holiday and full-year earnings results. (Most retailers end their fiscal year at the close of January to fully capture holiday spending.)

For example, Walmart reported fourth-quarter revenue that hit a record of $151 billion, up 7.3 percent from a year earlier, while Target also reported an increase in the same period, including a surge in digital sales. Consumers have gravitated to the chains in the past year, both in person and online, and increasingly used services like curbside pickup.

But the story was different at Macy’s and Gap, one of the country’s biggest operators of mall stores, which posted sales declines in the fourth quarter and grim annual revenue drops as many consumers stayed away from malls and had fewer reasons to buy new clothes in an isolated environment. Gap, which also owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, pointed to stay-at-home restrictions and store closures as reasons for its tumbles.

Still, Gap had a positive outlook for the back half of this year. “As vaccines roll out and stimulus checks begin, we currently view the second half of 2021 favorably, reflecting a likely return to a more normalized prepandemic level,” Katrina O’Connell, Gap’s chief financial officer, said on an earnings call this month.

Jeff Gennette, Macy’s chief executive, said in an interview this month that the company was looking for “clues on what’s going on with wedding dates, what’s going on with restaurant reservations, what are the signs that communities are starting to open up.” That would help the company determine how consumers were planning “wearing occasions” this year, he said.

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