For someone who was a longtime Manhattanite, that’s a real loss, Mr. Gutbrod, 61, said. He used to enjoy three restaurant brunches or dinners each week. Now it’s more like one every two weeks.
“I used to go on relaxing drives,” he said, but now joy rides are unaffordable. “I’m on a shoestring budget, and I work pretty hard. For anyone who doesn’t make a lot of money, you have to be intelligent and start cutting corners.”
As it disturbs everyday lives, inflation is likely to dog Democrats and the administration as they fight to retain control of Congress in November. Despite plentiful jobs and quickly rising wages, consumer confidence has fallen to itslowest level since the summer of 2011, when the economy was clambering back from the global financial crisis and Congress was bickering over lifting the nation’s debt ceiling.
That probably at least partly reflects the reality that pay is not quite keeping up with inflation for the typical worker, and that consumers are paying more at the pump, which tends to be a very salient cost for Americans.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday sued to block Nvidia’s $40 billion acquisition of a fellow chip company, Arm, halting what would be the biggest semiconductor industry deal in history, as federal regulators push to rein in corporate consolidation.
The F.T.C. said the deal between Nvidia, which makes chips, and Arm, which licenses chip technology, would stifle competition and harm consumers. The proposed deal would give Nvidia control over computing technology and designs that rival firms rely on to develop competing chips.
“Tomorrow’s technologies depend on preserving today’s competitive, cutting-edge chip markets,” said Holly Vedova, the director of the F.T.C.’s competition bureau. “This proposed deal would distort Arm’s incentives in chip markets and allow the combined firm to unfairly undermine Nvidia’s rivals.”
Federal antitrust regulators have promised greater scrutiny of mergers and a clamp down on monopolies in a push to reinvigorate competition in the economy. The action against the deal is the first major merger decision by the Federal Trade Commission under the leadership of Lina Khan, a critic of big corporate mergers and monopolies in technology. Ms. Khan is among a slew of top antitrust officials picked by President Biden to rein in the power of Silicon Valley giants.
promised to break open gas, telecom and pharmaceutical markets to bring down consumer prices at the gas pump and for home internet and prescriptions. Last month, the Justice Department sued to stop Penguin Random House, the largest publisher in the United States, from acquiring its rival Simon & Schuster.
In a statement, Nvidia said it would contest the F.T.C. lawsuit. “We will continue to work to demonstrate that this transaction will benefit the industry and promote competition.”
The F.T.C. suit, if successful, would not have much immediate financial impact on Nvidia or Arm. Shares in Nvidia rose slightly in aftermarket trading.
But a successful suit would be a blow to Nvidia’s ambitions to play a more central role in shaping the direction of the computer industry — particularly in the field of artificial intelligence.
Arm, a British company that the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank bought in 2016, licenses designs for microprocessors and other technology that other companies use in their semiconductors. Its technology has been wildly successful, providing the calculating functions in essentially all smartphones and many other devices. Arm recently estimated its technology is used in about 25 billion chips per year.
Nvidia, based in California, is a dominant provider of chips used to render graphics in video games, technology it has adapted in recent years to also power artificial-intelligence applications used by cloud companies and self-driving cars.
Jensen Huang, the company’s chief executive, has been pushing the company to become a broader, “full-stack” provider of computing technology. In April, for example, Nvidia said it was building an Arm-based microprocessor for servers used in data centers.
In announcing the deal in September 2020 to buy Arm, Mr. Huang said the combination would create a premier company for advancing A.I. technology. He also promised to operate Arm without any change to its business model, acting independently and treating all chip customers fairly.
Mr. Huang said at the time that artificial intelligence would set off a new wave of computing and that “our combination will create a company fabulously positioned for the age of A.I.”
But the deal was controversial from the start, with some of Arm’s big customers, like Qualcomm, worried about the heightened competition from Nvidia and the possibility of a rival gaining access to their confidential information. Mr. Huang took a dig at Qualcomm’s new chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at an annual dinner hosted by the Semiconductor Industry Association last month in Silicon Valley, asking, “How is it possible that Cristiano knew every regulator on the planet?”
The deal had already attracted close scrutiny from regulators in Europe, particularly in the United Kingdom, where Arm’s headquarters in Cambridge is a major employer. Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority launched an in-depth inquiry into the transaction in November, citing both competition and national-security concerns.
The F.T.C. said the merger would give Nvidia access to sensitive information about its rivals, who license technology and designs from Arm.
“Licensees rely on Arm for support in developing, designing, testing, debugging, troubleshooting, maintaining and improving their products,” the F.T.C. said in a statement. “Arm licensees share their competitively sensitive information with Arm because Arm is a neutral partner, not a rival chip maker. The acquisition is likely to result in a critical loss of trust in Arm and its ecosystem.”
The vote to block the merger was unanimous among the F.T.C.’s commissioners. The full complaint filed by the agency is not expected to be released for a few days. An administrative trial for the lawsuit is scheduled for May 10.
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Some customers have balked at paying top dollar for new cars and have opted to make do with older vehicles. That has increased demand for parts and service, one of the most profitable businesses for car dealers. Many dealers have extended repair-shop hours. Mr. Ricart said he had some repair technicians putting in 10- or 12-hour days three or four days in a row before taking a few days off.
Of course, the shortage of cars will end, but it isn’t clear when.
As Covid-19 cases and deaths rose last spring, automakers shut down plants across North America from late March until mid-May. Since their plants were down and they expected sales to come back slowly, they ordered fewer semiconductors, the tiny brains that control engines, transmissions, touch screens, and many other components of modern cars and trucks.
At the same time, consumers confined to their homes began buying laptops, smartphones and game consoles, which increased demand for chips from companies that make those devices. When automakers restarted their plants, fewer chips were available.
Many automakers have had to idle plants for a week or two at a time in the first half of 2021. G.M., Ford Motor and others have also resorted to producing vehicles without certain components and holding them at plants until the required parts arrive. At one point, G.M. had about 20,000 nearly complete vehicles awaiting electronic components. It began shipping them in June.
Ford has been hit harder than many other automakers because of a fire at one of its suppliers’ factories in Japan. At the end of June, Ford had about 162,000 vehicles at dealer lots, fewer than half the number it had just three months ago and roughly a quarter of the stock its dealers typically hold.
This month, Ford is slowing production at several North American plants because of the chip shortage. The company said it planned to focus on completing vehicles.
Mr. Ricart recently took a trip on his Harley-Davidson to Louisville, Ky., and got a look at the trucks and S.U.V.s at a Ford plant that are waiting to be finished. He said he had seen “thousands of trucks in fields with temporary fencing around them.”
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SAN FRANCISCO — President Biden and many lawmakers in Washington are worried these days about computer chips and China’s ambitions with the foundational technology.
But a massive machine sold by a Dutch company has emerged as a key lever for policymakers — and illustrates how any country’s hopes of building a completely self-sufficient supply chain in semiconductor technology are unrealistic.
The machine is made by ASML Holding, based in Veldhoven. Its system uses a different kind of light to define ultrasmall circuitry on chips, packing more performance into the small slices of silicon. The tool, which took decades to develop and was introduced for high-volume manufacturing in 2017, costs more than $150 million. Shipping it to customers requires 40 shipping containers, 20 trucks and three Boeing 747s.
The complex machine is widely acknowledged as necessary for making the most advanced chips, an ability with geopolitical implications. The Trump administration successfully lobbied the Dutch government to block shipments of such a machine to China in 2019, and the Biden administration has shown no signs of reversing that stance.
Congress is debating plans to spend more than $50 billion to reduce reliance on foreign chip manufacturers. Many branches of the federal government, particularly the Pentagon, have been worried about the U.S. dependence on Taiwan’s leading chip manufacturer and the island’s proximity to China.
A study this spring by Boston Consulting Group and the Semiconductor Industry Association estimated that creating a self-sufficient chip supply chain would take at least $1 trillion and sharply increase prices for chips and products made with them.
Moore’s Law, named after Gordon Moore, a co-founder of the chip giant Intel.
In 1997, ASML began studying a shift to using extreme ultraviolet, or EUV, light. Such light has ultrasmall wavelengths that can create much tinier circuitry than is possible with conventional lithography. The company later decided to make machines based on the technology, an effort that has cost $8 billion since the late 1990s.
The development process quickly went global. ASML now assembles the advanced machines using mirrors from Germany and hardware developed in San Diego that generates light by blasting tin droplets with a laser. Key chemicals and components come from Japan.
a final report to Congress and Mr. Biden in March, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence proposed extending export controls to some other advanced ASML machines as well. The group, funded by Congress, seeks to limit artificial intelligence advances with military applications.
Mr. Hunt and other policy experts argued that since China was already using those machines, blocking additional sales would hurt ASML without much strategic benefit. So does the company.
“I hope common sense will prevail,” Mr. van den Brink said.
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In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them.
Over the last half-century, this approach has captivated global business in industries far beyond autos. From fashion to food processing to pharmaceuticals, companies have embraced Just In Time to stay nimble, allowing them to adapt to changing market demands, while cutting costs.
But the tumultuous events of the past year have challenged the merits of paring inventories, while reinvigorating concerns that some industries have gone too far, leaving them vulnerable to disruption. As the pandemic has hampered factory operations and sown chaos in global shipping, many economies around the world have been bedeviled by shortages of a vast range of goods — from electronics to lumber to clothing.
In a time of extraordinary upheaval in the global economy, Just In Time is running late.
“It’s sort of like supply chain run amok,” said Willy C. Shih, an international trade expert at Harvard Business School. “In a race to get to the lowest cost, I have concentrated my risk. We are at the logical conclusion of all that.”
shortage of computer chips — vital car components produced mostly in Asia. Without enough chips on hand, auto factories from India to the United States to Brazil have been forced to halt assembly lines.
But the breadth and persistence of the shortages reveal the extent to which the Just In Time idea has come to dominate commercial life. This helps explain why Nike and other apparel brands struggle to stock retail outlets with their wares. It’s one of the reasons construction companies are having trouble purchasing paints and sealants. It was a principal contributor to the tragic shortages of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, which left frontline medical workers without adequate gear.
a shortage of lumber that has stymied home building in the United States.
Suez Canal this year, closing the primary channel linking Europe and Asia.
“People adopted that kind of lean mentality, and then they applied it to supply chains with the assumption that they would have low-cost and reliable shipping,” said Mr. Shih, the Harvard Business School trade expert. “Then, you have some shocks to the system.”
An Idea That Went ‘Way Too Far’
presentation for the pharmaceutical industry. It promised savings of up to 50 percent on warehousing if clients embraced its “lean and mean” approach to supply chains.
Such claims have panned out. Still, one of the authors of that presentation, Knut Alicke, a McKinsey partner based in Germany, now says the corporate world exceeded prudence.
“We went way too far,” Mr. Alicke said in an interview. “The way that inventory is evaluated will change after the crisis.”
Many companies acted as if manufacturing and shipping were devoid of mishaps, Mr. Alicke added, while failing to account for trouble in their business plans.
“There’s no kind of disruption risk term in there,” he said.
Experts say that omission represents a logical response from management to the incentives at play. Investors reward companies that produce growth in their return on assets. Limiting goods in warehouses improves that ratio.
study. These savings helped finance another shareholder-enriching trend — the growth of share buybacks.
In the decade leading up to the pandemic, American companies spent more than $6 trillion to buy their own shares, roughly tripling their purchases, according to a study by the Bank for International Settlements. Companies in Japan, Britain, France, Canada and China increased their buybacks fourfold, though their purchases were a fraction of their American counterparts.
Repurchasing stock reduces the number of shares in circulation, lifting their value. But the benefits for investors and executives, whose pay packages include hefty allocations of stock, have come at the expense of whatever the company might have otherwise done with its money — investing to expand capacity, or stockpiling parts.
These costs became conspicuous during the first wave of the pandemic, when major economies including the United States discovered that they lacked capacity to quickly make ventilators.
“When you need a ventilator, you need a ventilator,” Mr. Sodhi said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, my stock price is high.’”
When the pandemic began, car manufacturers slashed orders for chips on the expectation that demand for cars would plunge. By the time they realized that demand was reviving, it was too late: Ramping up production of computer chips requires months.
stock analysts on April 28. The company said the shortages would probably derail half of its production through June.
The automaker least affected by the shortage is Toyota. From the inception of Just In Time, Toyota relied on suppliers clustered close to its base in Japan, making the company less susceptible to events far away.
‘It All Cascades’
In Conshohocken, Pa., Mr. Romano is literally waiting for his ship to come in.
He is vice president of sales at Van Horn, Metz & Company, which buys chemicals from suppliers around the world and sells them to factories that make paint, ink and other industrial products.
In normal times, the company is behind in filling perhaps 1 percent of its customers’ orders. On a recent morning, it could not complete a tenth of its orders because it was waiting for supplies to arrive.
The company could not secure enough of a specialized resin that it sells to manufacturers that make construction materials. The American supplier of the resin was itself lacking one element that it purchases from a petrochemical plant in China.
One of Mr. Romano’s regular customers, a paint manufacturer, was holding off on ordering chemicals because it could not locate enough of the metal cans it uses to ship its finished product.
“It all cascades,” Mr. Romano said. “It’s just a mess.”
No pandemic was required to reveal the risks of overreliance on Just In Time combined with global supply chains. Experts have warned about the consequences for decades.
In 1999, an earthquake shook Taiwan, shutting down computer chip manufacturing. The earthquake and tsunami that shattered Japan in 2011 shut down factories and impeded shipping, generating shortages of auto parts and computer chips. Floods in Thailand the same year decimated production of computer hard drives.
Each disaster prompted talk that companies needed to bolster their inventories and diversify their suppliers.
Each time, multinational companies carried on.
The same consultants who promoted the virtues of lean inventories now evangelize about supply chain resilience — the buzzword of the moment.
Simply expanding warehouses may not provide the fix, said Richard Lebovitz, president of LeanDNA, a supply chain consultant based in Austin, Texas. Product lines are increasingly customized.
“The ability to predict what inventory you should keep is harder and harder,” he said.
Ultimately, business is likely to further its embrace of lean for the simple reason that it has yielded profits.
“The real question is, ‘Are we going to stop chasing low cost as the sole criteria for business judgment?’” said Mr. Shih, from Harvard Business School. “I’m skeptical of that. Consumers won’t pay for resilience when they are not in crisis.”
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Before the widespread availability of this kind of computing, organizations built expensive prototypes to test their designs. “We actually went and built a full-scale prototype, and ran it to the end of life before we deployed it in the field,” said Brandon Haugh, a core-design engineer, referring to a nuclear reactor he worked on with the U.S. Navy. “That was a 20-year, multibillion dollar test.”
Today, Mr. Haugh is the director of modeling and simulation at the California-based nuclear engineering start-up Kairos Power, where he hones the design for affordable and safe reactors that Kairos hopes will help speed the world’s transition to clean energy.
Nuclear energy has long been regarded as one of the best options for zero-carbon electricity production — except for its prohibitive cost. But Kairos Power’s advanced reactors are being designed to produce power at costs that are competitive with natural gas.
“The democratization of high-performance computing has now come all the way down to the start-up, enabling companies like ours to rapidly iterate and move from concept to field deployment in record time,” Mr. Haugh said.
But high-performance computing in the cloud also has created new challenges.
In the last few years, there has been a proliferation of custom computer chips purposely built for specific types of mathematical problems. Similarly, there are now different types of memory and networking configurations within high-performance computing. And the different cloud providers have different specializations; one may be better at computational fluid dynamics while another is better at structural analysis.
The challenge, then, is picking the right configuration and getting the capacity when you need it — because demand has risen sharply. And while scientists and engineers are experts in their domains, they aren’t necessarily in server configurations, processors and the like.
This has given rise to a new kind of specialization — experts in high-performance cloud computing — and new cross-cloud platforms that act as one-stop shops where companies can pick the right combination of software and hardware. Rescale, which works closely with all the major cloud providers, is the dominant company in this field. It matches computing problems for businesses, like Firefly and Kairos, with the right cloud provider to deliver computing that scientists and engineers can use to solve problems faster or at lowest possible cost.
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