The central fact of the American economy in mid-2021 is that demand for all sorts of goods and services has surged. But supplies are coming back slowly, with the economy acting like a creaky machine that was turned off for a year and has some rusty parts.
The result, as underlined in new government data this week, is shortages and price inflation across many parts of the economy. That is putting the Biden administration and the Federal Reserve in a jam that is only partly of their own making.
Higher prices and the other problems that result from an economy that reboots itself are frustrating, but should be temporary. Still, the longer that the surges in prices continue and the more parts of the economy that they encompass, the greater the chances that Americans’ psychology about prices and inflation could shift in ways that become self-sustaining.
For the last few decades, companies have resisted raising prices or paying higher wages because they felt that doing so would cost them too much business. That put a damper on inflation across the economy. The question is whether current circumstances are evolving in a way that could change that.
shortage of limes, their prices spike and people use more lemons.
after a cyberattack shut down a major pipeline, are truly random events that tell us virtually nothing about underlying supply and demand or future inflation.
Some other sectors seem poised to experience price rises. Restaurants, for example, are complaining of severe labor shortages that are forcing them to curtail service or sharply raise pay for line cooks and dishwashers. If they try to reflect those higher costs in their prices, it will cause the price of food away from home to start rising faster than the (already fairly high) 3.8 percent figure over the last year.
Professional inflation-watchers are on close watch for signs that these forces might be unleashing a form of thinking about price dynamics unseen since the early 1980s, when prices rose in part because everyone expected them to.
The Fed is betting that won’t happen — that even if there are several months of surging prices, it will be at worst a one-time adjustment, and potentially something that reverses as old spending patterns return and workers return to their jobs.
“If past experience is any guide, production will rise to meet the level of goods demand before too long,” the Fed governor Lael Brainard said in a speech this week. “A limited period of pandemic-related price increases is unlikely to durably change inflation dynamics.”
For now, movements in key financial markets mostly align with the Fed view.
Futures contracts for major commodities like oil and copper, for example, suggest that traders expect prices to fall slightly in the years ahead, not rise further.
And in the bond market, even after a surge in longer-term interest rates following the high inflation reading Wednesday, most signs point to future inflation consistent with the 2 percent the Fed aims for.
Still, the level of future inflation implied by those bond prices has risen significantly in the last few weeks, meaning further moves are likely to increase worries that the inflation issues will be not-so-transitory after all. And the pattern could change abruptly if more evidence starts to arrive that the outlook for inflation is becoming unmoored.
“We aren’t obviously on the way to a very high and persistent inflation outcome,” said Brian Sack, director of global economics at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw and a former senior Federal Reserve official. “But we’re at an inflection point, in that the rise in inflation expectations to date has been a policy success, but a rise from here could become a policy problem.”
The Fed may believe that the evidence emerging in various corners of the economy is a one-time occurrence that will fade into memory before too long. The Biden administration is betting its agenda on the same idea.
Ultimately, what matters more than whatever the bond market does is how ordinary Americans who make everyday economic decisions — demanding raises or not, paying more for a car or not — view things. Can they wait for the complex machinery of the American economy to fully crank into gear?
Consumer prices jumped at the fastest pace in more than a decade in April, surprising economists and intensifying a debate on Wall Street and in Washington over whether inflation might reach levels that would squeeze households and ultimately undermine the recovery.
Investors and politicians are worried that prices will keep climbing — potentially causing the Federal Reserve to lift interest rates sharply. That could slow economic growth and send stock prices plummeting. But some economists and central bank officials said the jump in the Consumer Price Index reflected pandemic-driven trends that would most likely prove temporary.
Stocks slumped more than 2 percent on Wednesday, their biggest decline since late February.
Hanging over the debate is America’s inflationary experience in the 1960s and 1970s, when big government spending, an oil crisis, a slow-moving Fed and the final end of the gold standard converged to send price gains to double-digit heights. The central bank got things under control only by lifting interest rates to punishing levels, at a grave cost to the housing market and ultimately the job market.
Few analysts expect a return to such huge price gains, in part because the Fed has pledged to act to keep inflation under control. But if officials are prodded to withdraw economic support quickly in order to prevent another “Great Inflation,” it could spur a downturn, as sudden Fed changes have done in the past.
showed that job gains slowed sharply in April, vastly disappointing economists’ expectations.
“We have not made substantial further progress toward our labor market objective,” Mr. Clarida said Wednesday, speaking to business economists on a webcast.
Fed last year redefined its 2 percent inflation target to make it clear that it will aim for periods of slightly faster price gains to make up for months of slow ones.
Fed officials have been clear in recent weeks that as inflation pops, they need to focus on both risks: that it might take off, but also that it might sink back down after a 2021 reopening jump.
“TheFed has a fundamentally different framework. I mean, we cannot apply the playbook of the Fed in the previous recovery to what’s happening now,” said Jean Boivin, head of the BlackRock Investment Institute. “I think each time we get a number that surprises in the upside, we get an extrapolation, too much extrapolation, into a Fed tightening coming sooner.”
Matt Phillips, Jim Tankersley and Ella Koeze contributed reporting.
uncomfortably low levels, where they have been mired for much of the past decade.
But Mr. Clarida said after the report that if there are signs that inflation is going to jump in a lasting way, “we would use our tools to bring inflation to our 2 percent longer-run goal.”
Stocks on Wall Street fell for the third-consecutive day on Wednesday as new data on consumer prices added to investors’ concerns that inflation could upend the Federal Reserve’s efforts to bolster the economy.
The S&P 500 fell 0.7 percent in early trading, and government bond yields jumped. This week, the benchmark stock index had dropped close to 2 percent through the close on Tuesday.
The moves came after the Labor Department said the Consumer Price Index climbed 4.2 percent during the month, from a year earlier, the fastest pace of increase since 2008. From March to April, prices increased 0.8 percent. Economists had expected the C.P.I. to rise 3.6 percent over the year, and 0.2 percent from the month before.
For stock investors, the concern is that hotter-than-expected inflation will prompt the Fed to raise interest rates to rein in costs. Higher interest rates discourage risk taking in the markets, and high-flying stocks can be hit hard when concern about inflation dominates.
On Wednesday, technology stocks, which are particularly sensitive to concerns about rising rates, were hit harder. The Nasdaq composite fell more than 1 percent in early trading.
The International Energy Agency said global demand for oil would be slightly less than expected in the second quarter of this year because of the toll of the pandemic in India. Still, it said, its projections for overall growth in the second half of the year were mainly unchanged, “based on expectations that vaccination campaigns continue to expand and the pandemic largely comes under control.”
In the oil markets, Brent crude gained 1.1 percent to $69.30 a barrel, and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, rose 1.1 percent, to just above $66 a barrel.
Gasoline prices continued to rise as the Colonial Pipeline, a 5,500-mile conduit stretching from Texas to New York, remained closed because of a ransomware attack. The AAA motor club said Wednesday that the national average price had reached $3.008 a gallon, up about 2 cents from Tuesday’s average price and 8 cents from a week ago. A year ago, the average price was $1.854.
The economic outlook has brightened considerably across Europe after lockdowns restricted growth at the start of the year. Now, economists can foresee the complete recovery by the end of next year from the early effects of the pandemic.
The British economy grew 2.1 percent in March from the previous month, the Office for National Statistics said on Wednesday. The reopening of schools was one of the biggest reasons for the larger-than-expected jump in economic growth, as well as a rise in retail spending even though many stores remained closed because of lockdowns.
The statistics agency estimated that gross domestic product fell 1.5 percent in the first quarter, slightly less than economists surveyed by Bloomberg had predicted, while the country was under lockdown with nonessential stores, restaurants and other services such as hairdressers shut.
Though the British economy is still nearly 9 percent smaller than it was at the end of 2019, before the pandemic, the Bank of England forecasts it to return to that size by the end of this year.
The European Commission also upgraded its forecasts for the region on Wednesday. It predicted the European Union economies would grow 4.2 percent this year, up from a forecast of 3.7 percent three months ago. Germany’s economy is forecast to grow 3.4 percent this year and Spain, which suffered Europe’s deepest recession last year, is expected to grow nearly 6 percent.
“The E.U. and euro area economies are expected to rebound strongly as vaccination rates increase and restrictions are eased,” the commission, the executive arm for the European Union, said on Wednesday. The recovery will be driven by household spending, investment, and a rising demand for European exports, it said.
Still, despite the optimistic outlook, the commission warned that the risks were “high and will remain so as long as the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic hangs over the economy.”
Even as millions of people were vaccinated, the number of new coronavirus cases globally reached a peak in late April as the pandemic has struck especially hard in India. The uneven distribution of vaccines around the world and the emergence of new variants has the potential to set back the recovery.
The National Institute Of Economic and Social Research in London said on Monday that it did not expect the British economy to return to its prepandemic size until the end of 2022, predicting a slower recovery than the central bank.
Economists at the institute expect lower global growth because of uncertainty about the global vaccine rollout and lingering doubts about the end of the pandemic inducing more people to hold onto their savings, rather than spend it.
The comeback continued for SoftBank on Wednesday, as the Japanese technology investment firm posted a net profit of more than $36 billion for the year ending in March.
Yet a recent slide in confidence in technology stocks could make it more difficult for Masayoshi Son, the founder of the technology conglomerate turned investment powerhouse, to keep up the momentum after what seemed like an impossible change of fortune.
Last May, SoftBank was in crisis after posting a loss of more than $12 billion. Its big bets on Wall Street favorites, like WeWork, the troubled office space company, and Uber, resulted in huge losses.
But it was not down for long. Riding high on a post-pandemic stock boom, SoftBank has since notched seemingly unthinkable gains. When compared with its previously released figures, the year-end results implied a profit for the first three months of 2021 alone of more than $17 billion.
In a live-streamed press event Wednesday, Mr. Son opened by showing a photo of the humble town where SoftBank began, before calling the huge earnings numbers “lucky plus lucky plus lucky.”
SoftBank Group’s net income
Mr. Son told investors on Wednesday that he would not deny that he is a gambler. But he said he regretted some decisions. The question now is whether his current run of luck can continue.
SoftBank’s profit, mostly paper gains from increases in investment values, was based heavily on a jump in the price of South Korean e-commerce firm Coupang after it listed earlier this year. Results were also lifted by strong share price rises from other SoftBank investments, DoorDash and Uber.
The share price of all three companies has fallen sharply over the past month on a broader pullback in technology shares, in part related to fears over inflation out of the United States.
Investors appeared more interested in the broader tech sell off than Mr. Son’s luck, as SoftBank’s shares fell more than 3 percent on Wednesday, despite the solid gains.
Amazon on Wednesday won an appeal against European Union efforts to force the company to pay more taxes in the region, illustrating how American tech giants are turning to the courts to beat back tougher oversight.
The General Court of the European Union struck down a 2017 decision by European regulators that ordered Amazon to pay $300 million to Luxembourg, home of the company’s European headquarters and where regulators said the company received unfair tax treatment. The court said regulators did not sufficiently prove that Amazon had violated a law meant to prevent companies from receiving special tax benefits from European governments.
The decision, which comes as European Union and American officials attempt to reach a global tax agreement that could result in higher levies against tech companies, undercuts an effort by Margrethe Vestager, an executive vice president at the European Commission, who issued the Amazon penalty and has led efforts to force big tech firms to pay more in taxes. The companies have been criticized for using complex corporate structures to take advantage of low-tax countries like Luxembourg and Ireland. In 2020, Amazon earned 44 billion euros in Europe, but reported paying no taxes in Luxembourg.
Tech companies are using the courts to fight European regulators trying to rein in the industry’s power. Last year, Apple won an appeal against Ms. Vestager to annul a decision to repay about $14.9 billion in taxes to Ireland, where the company has a European headquarters. That case is now before the European Union’s highest court.
Google has appealed three decisions and billions of dollars in fines issued by the European Commission over anticompetitive business practices related to its search engine, advertising business and Android mobile operating system.
More legal battles may loom, as regulators have issued preliminary charges against Apple and Amazon for violating antitrust laws.
On Wednesday, Amazon cheered the decision by the Luxembourg-based court.
“We welcome the court’s decision, which is in line with our longstanding position that we followed all applicable laws and that Amazon received no special treatment,” Conor Sweeney, a company spokesman, said in a statement.
Ms. Vestager said the European Commission would study the Amazon ruling before deciding whether to appeal.
“All companies should pay their fair share of tax,” Ms. Vestager said in a statement. “Tax advantages given only to selected multinational companies harm fair competition in the E.U.”
The operator of the Colonial Pipeline is expected to announce on Wednesday a timetable for resuming service of its vital fuel pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey and has been shut down since Friday after a ransomware attack.
At best, it would take several days and probably at least through the weekend to return gasoline, diesel and jet fuel shipments to normal. At worst, any delays could further encourage the panic buying that left thousands of outlets out of gasoline in Tennessee, Georgia and several other states in the Southeast, pushing up regional fuel prices.
Over the last few days, Colonial has opened segments of the pipeline manually to relieve some supply pressures in a few states, including Maryland and New Jersey. But anxiety has persisted despite the assertions of industry analysts that the impact of the shutdown would remain relatively minor as long as the artery was fully restored soon.
Gasoline in Georgia and a few other states rose 8 to 10 cents a gallon on Wednesday, a price jump typically seen only when hurricanes interrupt Gulf of Mexico refinery and pipeline operations.
A gallon of gas increased an average of 10 cents in South Carolina and 6 cents in North Carolina on Wednesday, while gas in Virginia rose about 8 cents a gallon. Before the pipeline was shut down, gas prices were edging higher, as they typically do as summer approaches. Over the past week, gas has jumped 24 cents in Georgia and 18 cents in South Carolina.
Filling stations in Southern states were selling two to three times their normal amount of gasoline on Tuesday, according to the Oil Price Information Service, an organization that tracks the oil sector. Some stations are running out of fuel while others are limiting purchases to 10 gallons.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed an executive order suspending his state’s gasoline tax through Saturday, which amounts to roughly 20 cents a gallon. Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida each declared a state of emergency in an effort to suspend some fuel transport rules.
American Airlines said it had added stops to two daily flights out of Charlotte, N.C. One, to Honolulu, will stop in Dallas, where customers will change planes. The other, to London, will stop in Boston to refuel. The flights are expected to return to their original schedules on Saturday.
Southwest Airlines said it was flying in supplemental fuel to Nashville, and United Airlines said it was flying extra fuel to Baltimore; Nashville; Savannah, Ga.; and Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in South Carolina.
The pandemic revealed just how important e-commerce is to the future of the global fashion industry. In a year of lockdowns, millions of shoppers turned online to satisfy their desire for clothes, accelerating a shift toward digital sales and rapid growth for many e-commerce companies.
This week, two leading European names announced their latest funding rounds, as investors look to capitalize on the expansion of the online fashion market.
Lyst, a London-based online fashion platform with 150 million users, said it had raised $85 million ahead of a planned initial public offering. In 2020, the company — which acts as an inventory-free search portal for high-fashion brands and stores to sell to trend-focused online shoppers — said it had seen a 1,100 percent increase in new users on its app. It said the company has a gross merchandise value of more than $500 million.
Appetite for secondhand fashion also boomed in the last year, as more shoppers looked to declutter wardrobes, earn cash by selling old clothes and became more aware of the environmental impact of the industry.
Vinted, which is based in Lithuania, says it is Europe’s largest secondhand fashion marketplace with more than 45 million members globally. On Tuesday, the company said it had raised 250 million euros in a Series F funding round, giving the start-up a valuation of 3.5 billion euros, or $4.24 billion.
“We want to replicate the success we’ve built in our existing European markets in new geographies and will continue investing not only to improve our product, but also to ensure we continue to have a positive impact,” said Vinted’s chief executive, Thomas Plantenga.
Lordstown Motors is one of a dozen electric vehicle start-ups that have wowed investors with big plans to revolutionize the auto industry.
But in February, a prototype it was testing in Michigan caught fire. Then, in April, another prototype dropped out of a 280-mile off-road race in Baja California after just 40 miles. Lordstown is also being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, and its stock has tumbled from a high of about $30 last year to less than $8.
The swift rise and stunning decline of Lordstown are emblematic of the recent mania for E.V. businesses that are far from making a product, let alone selling it, Neal E. Boudette and Matthew Goldstein report for The New York Times. That frenzy has been driven by investors looking for the next Tesla, a pioneer in the industry that has a strong sales lead over other electric-car makers.
But Lordstown seems far from achieving its goal of churning out electric pickup trucks starting in September and becoming a challenger to G.M. and Ford Motor.
It’s not alone. Shares of Nikola, which is developing heavy trucks, have fallen from around $65 to about $11, for example. The S.E.C. is looking into allegations by an investment firm that Nikola made false statements about its technology.
Growing concerns in Taiwan about a small but worsening coronavirus outbreak drove a sharp intraday plunge in its stock market on Wednesday, as investors worried about new government restrictions on businesses in a place that has largely escaped the pandemic.
On Wednesday morning, Taiwan’s health minister, Chen Shih-chung, said that the island’s new outbreak has reached a “very severe stage” and that restrictions could be upgraded in “the coming days.” He spoke after the government reported 16 new cases of local infection on Wednesday and seven on Tuesday.
The Taiwan Stock Exchange weighted index slumped as much as 8.6 percent intraday following the news, a nearly 13 percent loss from its April peak. The market regained some ground later in the day and finished down 4.1 percent.
Taiwan has been a rare success story in a pandemic-stricken world. The island democracy threw up its borders when the pandemic first began to spread from mainland China and has heavily limited travel. It has recorded only 1,210 total cases, according to a tally by The New York Times.
But the authorities haven’t been able to trace the handful of cases that have popped up in recent days, raising questions about whether the government will limit the number of people who can gather within restaurants or other businesses.
Taiwan instituted some Covid-related restrictions on Tuesday, the first in a long time. It suspended large events, limiting outdoor gatherings to 500 people and indoor gatherings to 100 people. On Wednesday morning, the health minister said that the restrictions might be stiffened within days.
Consumer prices are expected to jump sharply in April data that will be released on Wednesday, a move resulting mainly from a technical quirk — but one that investors will be watching carefully as they try to determine if inflation could alter Federal Reserve policy.
The Consumer Price Index probably climbed by 3.6 percent in the year through April, economists surveyed by Bloomberg expect. The increase in prices from March to April is expected to be more muted, at 0.2 percent. The Labor Department will release the figures at 8:30 a.m.
The annual jump would be the fastest increase since 2011, and a sign that prices are shooting higher as inflation figures lap extremely weak readings from 2020 and, to a lesser extent, as supply chain disruptions begin to bite and demand climbs.
Central bankers think the jump in prices will be short-lived, and have made it clear that they plan to look past a temporary increase when setting policy. The technical quirks at work in April will last only a few months, officials point out, and while it is less clear when shortages will be resolved, they are expected to eventually work their way through the system as businesses ramp up production to meet demand.
uncomfortably low levels, where they have been mired for much of the past decade.
said during a speech on Tuesday that “remaining patient through the transitory surge associated with reopening will help ensure” the economic momentum to “reach our goals.”
began on Wall Street on Monday in the tech sector.
Traders remain unsettled by rising prices and the impact that could have on inflation. In turn, this could prompt central banks to rein in monetary stimulus sooner.
The S&P 500 was 1.6 percent lower on Tuesday, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 1.2 percent after the index fell 2.6 percent on Monday.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 2.3 percent, the worst day since late December. The Nikkei 225 in Japan closed 3 percent lower.
Commodity prices have soared recently. Futures on copper, which is often seen as a barometer for the global industrial economy, reached record highs on Friday and oil prices have recently hovered near levels not seen since 2018. Even though commodities pulled back from their highs on Tuesday, the elevated prices are expected to raise costs for businesses.
It’s fuel for a debate about how temporary the increase in inflation this summer will be. Federal Reserve policymakers have said they expect it to be transitionary — because bottlenecks in supplies will be resolved, and comparisons to last year’s slowdown make inflation numbers appear worse.
Still, investors have been spooked by the prospect that the Fed might be forced to raise interest rates to rein costs in sooner than it has indicated it will. Higher interest rates discourage risk taking in the markets, and high-flying stocks can be hit hard when concern about inflation dominates. On Wednesday, the U.S. government will report its Consumer Price Index for April.
On Monday, a survey showed Americans’ year-ahead inflation expectations rose to 3.4 percent in April, the highest level since 2013, but the longer-term outlook — over the next three years — held steady at 3.1 percent.
“The recovery in demand coupled with the supply disruptions across the world are raising fears” that the jumps in inflation reported over the next few months “may not quickly reverse,” Henry Ward, an analyst at HSBC, wrote in a note. “Commodity prices from lumber to oil are rising and house prices continue to hit new highs.”
On Tuesday, oil prices fell. Futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, dropped 0.5 percent to $64.63 a barrel. Last week, the price climbed above $65 to the highest since October 2018.
“We are now entering a time of year when stocks have historically found it more challenging to advance,” Mark Haefele, the chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, wrote in a note. With stock indexes already near record highs and concerns rising about coronavirus variants, “investors may be tempted to follow the old adage: Sell in May and go away,” he wrote.
But he recommended that investors stay in the market, despite expected volatility, because the government spending coupled with consumer spending as economies further unlock will lead to more economic growth, which would be good for stocks.
Federal Reserve officials on Tuesday stood by their strategy of waiting to see further improvement in the labor market and broader economy before removing monetary support, even as some on Wall Street criticized their policies for being too complacent in the face of rebounding growth.
“The outlook is bright, but uncertainty remains, and employment and inflation are far from our goals,” Lael Brainard, a Fed governor, said in a speech prepared for delivery before the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. “While more balanced than earlier this year, risks remain from vaccine hesitancy, deadlier variants, and a resurgence of cases in some foreign countries.”
Ms. Brainard’s colleague Loretta Mester, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and historically one of the Fed’s more inflation-wary members, struck a similar tone in a Yahoo! Finance interview earlier in the day. Fed officials have said they want to see “substantial further progress” toward their goals of stable inflation that averages 2 percent over time and maximum employment before dialing back their $120 billion in monthly bond purchases, and Ms. Mester reiterated that.
“What we want to see, and I certainly want to see, is more progress and broader progress,” Ms. Mester said, explaining that she wants to see more strength in the labor market, and is expecting to this year.
The comments came as economists try to parse incoming data, including a weaker-than-expected April jobs report, quickly rising inflation expectation measures, and a consumer price report set for release on Wednesday that is expected to show a substantial jump this year. Price gains are picking up as year-over-year measures lap weak data from 2020 and as supply shortages tied to reopening push prices higher.
Policymakers expect real-world price increases to be temporary. Low numbers from last year will fall out of the data, and supply chains for things like lumber and computer chips should eventually readjust, though it is not clear how quickly that will happen.
Ms. Mester said she expected supply constraints to ease next year, but noted that “there are upside risks to that forecast” and that she would be watching to make sure consumers and businesses do not come to expect much faster gains.
Likewise, Ms. Brainard said that she would “remain attentive to the risk that what seem like transitory inflationary pressures could prove persistent as I closely monitor the incoming data.”
Some critics are warning that the Fed’s rock-bottom interest rates and emergency bond purchases — policies meant to help bolster the economy in bad times — may be inappropriate, either because they risk fueling higher inflation or because they could spur instability by pushing stock prices and risk-taking higher.
“We’re still acting like we’re in a black hole, and in fact, the economy is accelerating,” Stanley Druckenmiller, chief executive of the investment manager Duquesne Family Office, said on CNBC Tuesday, after criticizing the central bank’s policies for risking asset bubbles.
Hearst Magazines, the home of numerous publications aimed at women including Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Harper’s Bazaar, has sold the United States edition of Marie Claire to Future, a British publisher, the companies said on Monday.
Marie Claire U.S. had been part of Hearst since 1994 in a joint venture with French company Marie Claire Album. Future, which publishes a variety of magazines including Marie Claire U.K., said it had acquired the U.S. edition from both owners.
Future’s chief executive, Zillah Byng-Thorne, said in a statement that the addition of Marie Claire U.S. was part of the company’s plan to increase its North American audience “significantly.”
Debi Chirichella, the president of Hearst Magazines, said in an email to staff that Marie Claire U.S. employees were notified of the sale on Monday. “We will do everything we can to ensure that the transition to new ownership is a positive one,” Ms. Chirichella wrote.
Faye Galvin, the head of communications at Future, said in an email that the company hoped all existing Marie Claire U.S. employees would “accept the offer to work with us.”
Ms. Galvin singled out Sally Holmes, the editor in chief of Marie Claire U.S. since September. “In terms of Sally in particular, she is absolutely key to driving the business forward and together we will build on her success,” she said in an email.
Marie Claire was started in 1937 in France by the writer Marcelle Auclair and the industrialist and media magnate Jean Prouvost, who helped create the current-events magazine Paris Match.
In the mid-1990s, under the editor Bonnie Fuller, the U.S. version distinguished itself from its competitors by emphasizing the practical, providing readers with concrete style and beauty tips, rather than the fantasies of fashion. Its other long-term editors were Joanna Coles and Anne Fulenwider.
Semiconductor companies and big businesses that use chips have formed a new coalition to push for tens of billions of dollars in federal funding for semiconductor research and manufacturing in the United States.
The new group, the Semiconductors in America Coalition, announced its formation on Tuesday amid a global semiconductor shortage that has caused disruptions throughout the economy. Its members include chip makers like Intel, Nvidia and Qualcomm and companies that rely on semiconductors, like Apple, Google, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft, Verizon and AT&T.
The coalition is calling on Congress to provide $50 billion for semiconductor research and manufacturing, which President Biden has proposed as part of his $2.3 trillion infrastructure package.
“Leaders from a broad range of critical sectors of the U.S. economy, as well as a large and bipartisan group of policymakers in Washington, recognize the essential role of semiconductors in America’s current and future strength,” said John Neuffer, the president and chief executive of the Semiconductor Industry Association, a trade group.
In a letter to congressional leaders, the new coalition noted the shortage of semiconductors and said that in the long term, federal funding “would help America build the additional capacity necessary to have more resilient supply chains to ensure critical technologies will be there when we need them.”
The shortage has been acutely felt in the auto industry, forcing carmakers to idle plants. Ford Motor expects the shortage to cause profit to be about $2.5 billion lower this year and to cut vehicle production by about 50 percent in the second quarter.
The new coalition does not include any automakers, which have their own ideas for how the government should encourage domestic semiconductor manufacturing. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, groups representing automakers, automotive suppliers and autoworkers expressed support for Mr. Biden’s $50 billion proposal but emphasized the need to increase production capacity for automotive grade chips as part of the effort.
The letter — from the American Automotive Policy Council, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association and the United Automobile Workers union — suggested providing “specific funding for semiconductor facilities that commit to dedicating a portion of their capacity to motor vehicle-grade chip production.”
In a letter to congressional leaders last month, technology trade groups argued against setting aside new production capacity for a specific industry, saying that such a move would amount to “unprecedented market interference.”
The vital fuel pipeline stretching 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey remained largely shut down on Tuesday after last week’s ransomware attack.
Colonial Pipeline, the company that operates the pipeline, said Monday that it hoped to restore most operations by the end of the week. The attack, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation said was carried out by an organized crime group called DarkSide, has highlighted the vulnerability of the American energy system. The pipeline provides the Eastern United States about half its energy.
Industry analysts said the impact would remain relatively minor as long as the artery was fully restored soon. “With a resolution to the shutdown in sight, the cyberattack is now treated as a small disturbance by the market and prices are trimming Monday’s panic-gains,” said Louise Dickson, an oil markets analyst for Rystad Energy.
Here are some of the latest developments:
Gas stations in Georgia and other southeastern states were selling two to three times their normal amount of gasoline on Tuesday, according to the Oil Price Information Service, an organization that tracks the oil sector. Some stations are running out of fuel while others are limiting purchases to 10 gallons. “It is clear that a substantial slice of southeastern geography is seeing the panic behavior normally associated with hurricanes,” the organization said.
Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia has signed an executive order suspending his state’s gasoline tax through Saturday, which amounts to roughly 20 cents a gallon. He said the move would “help level the price for a little while,” and cautioned against panic buying, which he said was unnecessary.
According to the AAA automobile group, the national average for a gallon of regular gasoline went up 2 cents on Tuesday, with higher prices reported in the Southeast. A gallon went up an average of nearly 7 cents in South Carolina and 6 cents in North Carolina, while gas in Virginia rose about 3 cents a gallon.
Gas Buddy, a website that tracks gas prices, reported that nearly 8 percent of Virginia gas stations were without gasoline, apparently more a result of panic buying than a shortage of gas.
Roy Cooper, the governor of North Carolina, declared a state of emergency in an effort to suspend some fuel transport rules.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, issued a statement on Monday night saying President Biden was monitoring the fuel shortages in the Southeast.
American Airlines added stops to two daily flights out of Charlotte, N.C. One, to Honolulu, will stop in Dallas, where customers will change planes. The other, to London, will stop in Boston to refuel. The flights are expected to return to their original schedules on Saturday. Southwest Airlines said it was flying in supplemental fuel to Nashville, but operations were otherwise unaffected. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines said they had not experienced any disruption so far.
The Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Michael S. Regan, issued an emergency fuel waiver on Tuesday to help alleviate fuel shortages in states whose supply of gasoline has been affected by the pipeline shutdown, including the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. The waiver will continue through May 18.
Gillian Friedman contributed reporting.
OPEC forecast on Tuesday that demand for its oil, which collapsed during the pandemic last year, would continue to roar back in 2021.
In its Monthly Oil Report, the 13-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries depicted favorable market conditions for the cartel that could potentially lead to higher prices for consumers.
The world economy will continue to recover, the OPEC analysts said, thanks to stimulus measures and vaccination programs in the United States and Europe, and accelerating growth in most Asian economies. Economic recovery will translate into a substantial rise in demand for oil.
At the same time, OPEC’s economists expect production from the cartel’s rival, the United States, to remain flat this year as the shale oil producers, who seized market share from OPEC in the years before the pandemic, rein in spending on drilling.
Over all, output from producers outside the cartel will increase by less than one million barrels a day for 2021 from 2020’s depressed levels, OPEC forecast.
OPEC said that the need for the organization’s crude would surge in 2021 by an overall 5.2 million barrels a day, or more than 20 percent, after a drop by about the same amount in the previous year. OPEC defines demand for its crude as the gap between world oil demand and the output of other producers.
Prompted by Saudi Arabia, OPEC and its allies, including Russia, have been only gradually opening up their spigots as world demand returns from the pandemic, creating a tight market that has contributed to prices for Brent crude approaching $70 a barrel. OPEC, for instance, estimated that in the first quarter of 2021 demand for its crude outstripped supply by about 700,000 barrels a day.
In April, the group known as OPEC Plus agreed to a program of gradual increases through July. The group reaffirmed these plans on April 27. Analysts say that these adjustments are still likely to add up to a market where supplies are tight.
OPEC and Russia are, however, by agreement not producing several million barrels of oil a day, and pressures will grow to open the taps if demand continues to increase. In addition, a breakthrough in ongoing indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran could lead to large volumes of Iranian oil coming into the market later this year.
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, the DealBook newsletter was the first to report.
The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and it tested the interest of private equity. Ultimately, L Brands decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion, sources familiar with the situation said, requesting anonymity because the information is confidential. It turned the offers down, because it expects to be valued at $5 billion to $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
“In the last 10 months, we have made significant progress in the turnaround of the Victoria’s Secret business, implementing merchandise and marketing initiatives to drive top line growth, as well as executing on a series of cost reduction actions, which together have dramatically increased profitability,” Sarah Nash, chair of the company’s board, said in a statement.
“The board believes that this path forward will return the highest value to shareholders and that the separation will allow each business to achieve its best opportunities for growth.”
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion.
Apart from a pandemic that upended the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Mr. Wexner stepped down as chief executive last year and said in March that he and his wife were not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
A lot has changed since then. The retailer has overhauled its brand, de-emphasizing the overtly sexy image and products that customers saw as exclusionary. It has become “less focused on a specific demographic target and more focused on being broadly inclusive of all women of all shapes and sizes and colors and ethnicities and genders and areas of interest,” Martin Waters, the retailer’s chief executive, said on a recent earnings call.
The company also closed more than 200 stores and focused on improving profitability, which rose sharply at the end of last year, surpassing its prepandemic results.
Victoria’s Secret operating income
Victoria’s Secret is one of the retailers transformed by the pandemic, along with others like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Michaels, accelerating digital overhauls that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before.
It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands chief financial officer, said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
McDonald’s is teaming up with the Biden administration to provide easier access to Covid-19 vaccine information, the fast-food chain said on Tuesday. The effort will include ads with information from trusted third parties on McDonald’s billboard in Times Square and new packaging that will direct customers to vaccines.gov, an information website from the federal government. “Thanks to McDonalds, people will now be able to get trusted information about vaccines when they grab a cup of coffee or order a meal,” Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, said in a statement. In January, the company announced that corporate employees and workers at corporate restaurants in the United States would receive up to four hours of paid time to get vaccinated.
Macy’s is proposing the construction of a commercial office tower that would sit on top of its flagship Herald Square store in New York as part of a broader redevelopment plan that would aim to improve the surrounding area and its subway stations. The retailer said in a statement on Monday that it would commit $235 million to help improve the Herald Square subway stations and to “transform Herald Square and Broadway Plaza into a modern, car-free pedestrian-friendly urban space for New Yorkers and visitors,” according to a website it created for the proposed project.
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds Monday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan was able to sell some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
Amazon’s two-year bond has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a big vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, according to The Financial Times, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
Amazon raised $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at so-called E.S.G. investors (short for environmental, social and governance), a market that reached $270 billion last year.
To be sure, the bulk of Amazon’s offering will finance typical corporate actions like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
As employers race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, they are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
Many managers are unwilling to raise wages and prices enough to keep up, as they worry that demand will ebb in a few months and leave them with permanently higher payroll costs. They are instead resorting to short-term fixes, like cutting hours, instituting sales quotas and offering signing bonuses to get people in the door, Jeanna Smialek and Jim Tankersley report for The New York Times.
In and around Rehoboth Beach, Del., at least 10 people, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
In Delaware, Wawa gas stations sport huge periwinkle blue signs advertising $500 signing bonuses, plus free “shorti” hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to members’ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything — open lots, available materials, building crews — comes up short.
Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes a brewery and restaurants. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers because his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.
But he has also raised wages. The company’s starting non-tip pay rates have climbed to $12 from $9 two years ago. Mr. Kammerer has not been forced to raise prices to cover increasing costs, because business volume has picked up so much — up 40 percent this year compared with a typical winter — that profits remain solid.
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide explains why fights over money, power and our personal information are popping up all over streaming entertainment, and how we’re caught in the middle.
Exclusive: L Brands will spin off Victoria’s Secret
L Brands has decided to spin off Victoria’s Secret rather than sell it, DealBook is first to report. The company said last year it was considering separating Victoria’s Secret from the rest of its business, and we previously reported that it was testing private equity’s interest. Ultimately, sources say, L Brands has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed companies: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. The deal is expected to close in August.
Bids didn’t match what Victoria’s Secret expects to get in a spinoff. DealBook hears that L Brands received several bids north of $3 billion. It turned them down, because it expects to be valued somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion in a spinoff to L Brands shareholders. Analysts at Citi and JPMorgan recently valued Victoria’s Secret as a stand-alone company at $5 billion.
The pandemic torpedoed a sale last year for much less. That agreement, announced in February 2020 with the investment firm Sycamore Partners, valued Victoria’s Secret at $1.1 billion. Apart from a pandemic that was about to upend the retail industry, Victoria’s Secret was dealing with a series of challenges: a brand that had fallen out of touch, accusations of misogyny and sexual harassment in the workplace and revelations about the ties between Les Wexner, the company’s founder and former chairman, and Jeffrey Epstein. (Wexner stepped down as C.E.O. last year and said in March that he and his wife are not running for re-election on the company’s board.)
As the pandemic shuttered stores and battered sales, Sycamore sued L Brands to get out of the deal, and L Brands countersued to enforce it, heralding a spate of similar battles between buyers and sellers. Eventually, in May 2020, the sides agreed to call off the deal.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michaels and others were able to accelerate digital transformations that may have otherwise taken years. Direct sales at Victoria’s Secret in North America rose to 44 percent of the total last year, from 25 percent the year before. It’s unclear whether pandemic shopping trends will stick, and “it would be reasonable to expect some reversion,” Stuart Burgdoerfer, the L Brands C.F.O., said at a March event. “But I also think that people have very much enjoyed some of the benefits that were forced on us or triggered through the pandemic.”
bump in inflation and that factory-gate prices in China rose more than expected last month. April’s Consumer Price Index data is set to be released today, and is expected to show a sharp rise from a pandemic-depressed level last year.
China’s birthrate slows again. The country’s population is growing at its slowest pace in decades, posing grave social and economic risks to the world’s second-largest economy. While the U.S. also reported a drastic slowdown in population expansion, China “is growing old without first having grown rich,” The Times’s Sui-Lee Wee writes.
President Biden defends federal unemployment benefits. He rejected claims that $300-a-week supplemental payments are deterring unemployed Americans from seeking work, but he ordered the Labor Department to help reinstate work search requirements. Separately, Chipotle said it was raising wages, to an average of $15 an hour, to attract workers.
The Colonial Pipeline is expected to “substantially” reopen within days. The pipeline, which supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel, is expected to restore most services by the weekend after a ransomware attack. U.S. authorities formally blamed a hacker group and pledged to “disrupt and prosecute” the perpetrators.
12- to 15-year-olds in the U.S., potentially helping reopen schools and other parts of the economy more quickly. But while cases are declining worldwide, they are surging in countries that lack vaccines. And the W.H.O. labeled a virus variant spreading fast in India as “of concern.”
Does Amazon need more money?
Amazon sold $18.5 billion worth of bonds yesterday, joining other corporate giants taking advantage of ultralow interest rates to raise money because … well, why not? The e-commerce titan sold some of its debt at a record-low interest rate for a corporate issuer — barely above what the U.S. government pays.
About $1 billion worth of two-year bonds has a yield just 0.1 percentage points above the equivalent in Treasuries. That’s a huge vote of confidence in Amazon, which has emerged as a winner during the pandemic. The company also set a record for yields on a 20-year bond, besting Alphabet. Over all, investors placed $50 billion worth of orders, underscoring enthusiasm for debt that yields next to nothing.
Today in Business
It raised another $1 billion in the form of a sustainability bond, which is meant to finance investments in environmentally minded projects like zero-carbon infrastructure and cleaner transportation. Amazon is the latest company to sell bonds aimed at E.S.G. investors, a market that reached $270 billion last year and could double this year.
To be sure, the bulk of the offering will finance typical corporate maneuvers like share buybacks, acquisitions and capital expenditures, according to the bond prospectus. It will add to the nearly $34 billion in cash that Amazon had on hand at the end of March — as will profits that are growing at extraordinary rates for a company of its size.
a bold bet by the beleaguered retailer that shoppers and workers will flood back there after the pandemic.
offshore tax evasion. “The tax gap is a massive problem, especially the part driven by ultrarich individuals and corporations stashing income overseas,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the subcommittee chair, told DealBook. That gap “could be as much as a trillion dollars,” he said. “That’s trillion with a ‘T.’” This money would help fund President Biden’s spending plans, which also run into the trillions.
It’s difficult to quantify just how much money goes uncollected each year, officials say. Corporate tax collections in the U.S. are “at historic lows and well below what other countries collect,” according to a recent Treasury report. U.S. multinational companies can be taxed at a 50 percent discount compared with their domestic peers, an incentive to shift profits abroad. “Bermuda, a country of merely 64,000 people, shows 10 percent of all reported U.S. multinational foreign profit,” the report explained.
“The Biden administration is serious about stopping tax cheats and so are we,” Whitehouse said. The hearing, which features I.R.S. and Treasury officials, will discuss legislation to end corporate tax breaks that incentivize profit shifting, a proposed $80 billion investment in I.R.S. enforcement, a new approach to international tax diplomacy and proposed changes to the tax code.
THE SPEED READ
The investment firm TPG named Jon Winkelried as its sole C.E.O.; Jim Coulter, who previously shared the role, will become executive chairman and lead the firm’s E.S.G.-focused funds. (Bloomberg)
Vice Media is closing in on a deal to merge with a SPAC at a $3 billion valuation, which would leave existing investors in control. (WSJ)
Elliott Management has reportedly taken a stake in Duke Energy and plans to push for a change in strategy, after the utility rejected a takeover bid by NextEra Energy. (WSJ)
Politics and policy
In Wall-Streeters-seeking-political-office news: Glenn Youngkin, the former Carlyle Group co-C.E.O., won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor; and Alex Lasry, the son of the hedge fund mogul Marc Lasry, is running for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin as a Democrat. (NYT, WaPo)
Big semiconductor makers and their customers have formed a new group to push for billions in federal funding to promote chip manufacturing in the U.S. (NYT)
Forty-four state attorneys general warned Facebook against plans to introduce a version of Instagram for children. (NYT)
The Pentagon reportedly may scrap its JEDI cloud-computing program, the subject of a lawsuit by Amazon and criticism from lawmakers. (WSJ)
Veteran traders are bringing old Wall Street tricks to crypto market-making. (Bloomberg)
Best of the rest
NBC said it won’t air next year’s Golden Globes ceremony, the biggest blow yet to the awards show as its organizers face criticism over a lack of diversity. (NYT)
An American court rejected an Australian company’s bid to scrap Ugg as a U.S. trademark. In Australia, it’s a catchall term for sheepskin boots with fleece linings. (NYT)
“How the Zoom era has ruined conversation” (WaPo)
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“This was a great way to start the year,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We had the perfect mix of improving health conditions, strong fiscal stimulus and warmer weather.”
“Consumers are now back in the driver’s seat when it comes to economic activity, and that’s the way we like it,” he added. “A consumer that is feeling confident about the outlook will generally spend more freely.”
Looking ahead, economists said they expected to see even better numbers this quarter.
“It’s good news, but the better news is coming,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “There’s nothing in this report that makes me think the economy won’t grow at a gangbusters pace in the second and third quarter.”
The expansion last quarter was spurred by stimulus checks, he said, which quickly translated into purchases of durable goods like cars and household appliances.
“This demonstrates the value of government intervention when the economy is on its knees from Covid,” he added. “But in the coming quarters, the economy will be much less dependent on stimulus as individuals use the savings they’ve accumulated during the pandemic.”
Cumulative percent change in
G.D.P. from the start of the
last five recessions
Cumulative percent change in G.D.P.
from the start of the last five recessions
Overall economic activity should return to prepandemic levels in the current quarter, Mr. Anderson said, while cautioning that it will take until late 2022 for employment to regain the ground it lost as a result of the pandemic.
Still, the labor market does seem to be catching up. Last month, employers added 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, while initial claims for unemployment benefits have dropped sharply in recent weeks.
Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, said: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.”
Hiring is stronger for junior to midlevel positions, he said, with strong demand for professionals in accounting, financing, marketing and sales, among other areas. “Companies are building up their back-office support and supply chains,” he said. “I think we’re good for at least 18 months to two years.”
Spending on goods like automobiles led the way in the first quarter, but demand for services like dining out should revive in the second quarter, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “I think we will see a surge in services spending,” she said.
Initial jobless claims fell last week to yet another pandemic low in the latest sign that the economic recovery is strengthening.
About 575,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. It was the third straight week that jobless claims had dropped.
In addition, 122,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 12,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 553,000.
“Today’s report, and the other data that we got today, signals an improving labor market and an improving economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “It is encouraging that claims are continuing to fall.”
Although weekly jobless claims remain above levels reached before the pandemic, vaccinations and warmer weather are offering new hope. Most economists expect the slow downward trend in claims to continue in the coming months as the economy reopens more fully.
But challenges lie ahead. The long-term unemployed — a group that historically has had a more difficult time rejoining the work force — now make up more than 40 percent of the total number of unemployed. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared early in the pandemic, more than eight million remain lost.
“The labor market is definitely moving in the right direction,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed. She noted that job postings as of last Friday were up 22.4 percent from February 2020.
Still, she cautioned that industries like tourism and hospitality would probably remain depressed until the pandemic was firmly under control. She also stressed that child care obligations might be preventing people ready to return to work from seeking jobs.
“We still are in a pandemic — the vaccinations are ramping up but there is that public health factor still,” Ms. Konkel said. “We’re not quite there yet.”
If you want a clear picture of the state of the media industry in upheaval, Comcast offers a good snapshot.
The company, which includes NBC, Universal Pictures, several theme parks, and the Peacock streaming service, beat Wall Street’s expectations in its first-quarter earnings report on Thursday as it continued to shift its emphasis from cable to digital.
To start, take these figures from its results:
Despite the regular pace of cord cutting, Comcast’s cable television business pulled in over $5.62 billion in revenue for the first quarter. That was flat compared with last year, but it’s still the company’s biggest business, accounting for a fifth of all revenue.
Peacock, on the other hand, is the fastest growing, but it loses the most money. Last year, it approached $700 million in pretax losses. This year, the streaming platform is expected to lose $1.3 billion as Comcast spends big to load it up with original shows and sports programming with the aim of attracting more viewers.
That’s the operating thesis behind every major media company today: replace the eroding base of profit-rich cable customers with loss-making streaming viewers in the hope that over time the digital audience will become more valuable. The Walt Disney Company, ViacomCBS, Discovery Inc. and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are all trying to make the transformation without entirely losing their shirts.
Peacock’s 42 million sign-ups should also come with an asterisk. The service is free and easy to join, but that doesn’t mean everyone is watching. (The figure includes paid versions of Peacock, which feature more content and fewer commercials.) A February report from the tech news site The Information revealed that a little more than 11 million households were watching the service.
Even so, the aim of Peacock is to replace the lost advertising from Comcast’s cable and broadcast channels as people continue to cut the cord. Peacock, which is available nearly everywhere, can also act as a hedge against other cable operators such as Charter or Cox when Comcast’s media division, NBCUniversal, negotiates carriage fees.
Peacock offers some of the most popular streaming shows, including “The Office,” a top hit on Netflix before it lost the rights to the series in 2021 when the license expired and the show reverted back to its owner, Comcast.
In a few years, Peacock will have the rights to stream National Football League games on Sunday alongside NBC as part of a new agreement. That could ruffle feathers with some of NBC’s affiliate stations if viewers drop TV and opt for Peacock to watch football. The streamer will also have some games exclusively. In March, the service added WWE.
Comcast sells something that has proved more durable than sports and entertainment: broadband, the piping that carries all streaming platforms. The company saw a surge in subscribers during the pandemic. In the first quarter, sales increased 12 percent to $5.6 billion. It’s likely to overtake cable television as the company’s biggest business.
At NBCUniversal, sales sharply dropped as movie theaters remained mostly shut and fewer people were visiting theme parks under the pandemic. Revenue fell 9 percent to $7 billion and pretax profit decreased 12 percent to $1.5 billion. Advertising at its television networks, which include NBC, MSNBC and Syfy, fell 3.4 percent to $2.1 billion.
Overall, the company beat expectations, reporting adjusted profit of 76 cents a share on $27.2 billion in revenue, and its stock was climbing on Thursday morning. Investors were looking for 59 cents in per-share profit and $26.6 billion in sales.
Microsoft will decrease the share of money it charges independent developers that publish computer games on its online store, starting in August, the company said on Thursday.
Developers will keep 88 percent of the revenue from their games, up from 70 percent. That could make Microsoft’s store more attractive to independent studios than competitors like Valve’s gaming store, called Steam, which typically starts by taking a 30 percent cut. Epic Games’ store takes 12 percent.
“We want to make sure that we’re competitive in the market,” said Sarah Bond, a Microsoft vice president who leads the gaming ecosystem organization. “Our objective is to have a leading revenue share and really a leading platform.”
The share of revenue that developers get to keep has come under greater scrutiny across the tech industry. Google and Apple have faced antitrust questions for the 30 percent fees they charge developers whose programs appear in their app stores.
Last year, Epic sued Apple and Google separately, claiming they violated antitrust laws by forcing developers to use their payment systems. Epic had tried to bypass the fees by letting customers pay for items in its Fortnite video game directly through Epic. That caused Apple and Google to boot Fortnite from their app stores.
Apple and Google have since reduced fees for some developers. Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is set to head to trial on Monday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.
Strong profit increases from two of Europe’s largest energy companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, demonstrated that what really matters for the financial performance of these companies remains the price of oil and natural gas.
Their recent investments in clean energy, described by company officials as essential for the future, remain marginal.
Total said that adjusted net income rose by 69 percent compared with the period a year earlier, when the effects of the pandemic were beginning to kick in, to $3 billion, while Shell said that what it calls adjusted earnings rose by 13 percent to $3.2 billion.
The main factor in the improved performance by both companies was a roughly 20 percent rise in oil prices along with an increase in natural gas prices, leading to higher revenues. During a news conference to discuss the results, Jessica Uhl, Shell’s chief financial officer, said that a $10 jump in oil prices would translate into a $6.4 billion increase in cash for the company’s coffers on an annual basis.
Shell, which cut its dividend last year for the first time since World War II, confirmed that it would increase the payout for the quarter by 4 percent, to about 17 cents a share.
Both companies have tethered their futures to generating and distributing renewable sources of energy. Shell in February said its oil production had peaked in 2019, and it has been investing in various clean energy ventures, including a network of 60,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. And Total has, among other things, invested in options to build offshore wind farms off Britain.
In its earnings statement, Total took the lead among the oil majors in providing details on its investments in renewable energy like wind and solar. The company said these businesses brought in $148 million for the quarter, measured as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. This figure was about 2 percent of the overall total for the company of $7.3 billion, according to analysts at Bernstein, a research firm.
Airbus announced Thursday that it had returned to a profit in the first quarter following a 1.1 billion euro loss last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but its top executive warned that the economic toll would continue.
“The first quarter shows that the crisis is not yet over for our industry, and that the market remains uncertain,” Guillaume Faury, chief executive of the world’s largest airplane maker, said in a statement.
Airbus booked a net profit of 362 million euros ($440 million) between January and March, compared with a loss of 481 million euros a year earlier, as cost-cutting measures — which included more than 11,000 layoffs announced last year for its global operations — bolstered the bottom line. Revenue fell 2 percent to 10.5 billion euros.
Airbus delivered 125 commercial aircraft to airlines in the three-month period, up from 122 a year earlier. Over all, Airbus delivered 566 aircraft to airlines in 2020, 40 percent less than expected before the pandemic.
Airbus has previously warned that the industry might not recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic until as late as 2025, as new virus variants delay a resumption of worldwide air travel.
Given the uncertain outlook, Airbus won’t ramp up aircraft deliveries this year. The company said it expected to deliver 566 aircraft on back order from airline companies, the same number as last year.
It maintained its forecast for an underlying operating profit of two billion euros for the year.
Data delayed at least 15 minutes
Stocks on Wall Street jumped on Thursday, rising with European stock indexes, amid indications that the economy is moving toward a recovery to prepandemic levels.
The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the U.S. economy expanded 1.6 percent in the first three months of 2021, compared with 1.1 percent in the final quarter last year, or 6.4 percent on an annualized basis.
A day earlier, the Federal Reserve said that the outlook was improving and that it would continue to provide substantial monetary support, easing investors’ concerns that it would soon start easing the stimulus efforts it launched a year ago when the Covid-19 crisis forced a near shutdown of many parts of the economy.
“While the level of new cases remains concerning,” Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said, “continued vaccinations should allow for a return to more normal economic conditions later this year.” The central bank kept interest rates near zero and said it would continue buying bonds at a steady clip.
The S&P 500 rose 0.7 percent. Market sentiment continued to rise after President Biden detailed more of his spending plans — which total $4 trillion — to fund expanded access to education and reduce the cost of child care, among other things.
Oil prices rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, climbed more than 2 percent to above $5 a barrel.
The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3 percent as a measure of economic confidence for the eurozone surged higher.
Facebook shares rose nearly 6 percent after the company said on Wednesday that profit nearly doubled to $9.5 billion in the first quarter as advertising revenue and user numbers increased.
Apple shares rose about half a percent after the iPhone maker’s profit more than doubled to $23.6 billion in the first quarter. The company also said it would buy back $90 billion of its own stock, part of its continued program to return much of its earnings to shareholders.
Qualcomm, which makes chips for smartphones, rose nearly 6 percent after the company said its revenue increased 52 percent in the first three months of the year compared with the previous year.
Airbus shares rose 2.7 percent after the French plane maker said it had returned to a profit in the first quarter following a 1.1 billion euro loss last year. But the company’s chief executive added that the crisis was not over for the industry.
Amazon will increase pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour for half a million workers in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams, the company said on Wednesday.
The action follows scrutiny of Amazon from lawmakers and an unsuccessful unionization push that ended this month at its large warehouse in Alabama. In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour. In recent months, it has publicly campaigned to raise the federal minimum to $15, too.
Amazon has been on a hiring spree during the pandemic. As more customers ordered items online, the company added 400,000 employees in the United States last year. Its total work force stands at almost 1.3 million people.
Amazon typically revaluates wages each fall, before the holiday shopping season. But this year, it moved those changes earlier, said Darcie Henry, an Amazon vice president of people experience and technology. The new wages will roll out from mid-May through early June. Ms. Henry said the company was hiring for “tens of thousands” of open positions.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, recently told shareholders in his annual letter that he recognized the company needed “a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” He said that Amazon had always striven to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” and that now he wanted it to be “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as well.
Amazon is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Thursday.
Gary Gensler’s tenure leading the Securities and Exchange Commission is off to a rocky start: Alex Oh, who he named just days ago to run the regulator’s enforcement division, has resigned following a federal court ruling in a case involving one of her corporate clients, ExxonMobil.
In her resignation letter on Wednesday, Ms. Oh said the matter would be “an unwelcome distraction to the important work” of the enforcement division.
Ms. Oh’s resignation letter followed a ruling on Monday from Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia over the conduct of Exxon’s lawyers during a civil case involving claims of human rights abuses in the Aceh province of Indonesia.
According to Judge Lamberth’s ruling, Exxon’s lawyers claimed without providing evidence that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were “agitated, disrespectful and unhinged” during a deposition. He ordered Exxon’s lawyers to show why penalties were not warranted for those comments.
The ruling did not single out any lawyers by name. Ms. Oh was one of the lead lawyers for Exxon.
The judge’s order also granted the plaintiffs’ motion that Exxon pay “reasonable expenses” associated with litigating their request for sanctions and with an accompanying motion to compel additional testimony from Exxon related to the deposition.
Ms. Oh’s resignation letter did not mention the Exxon case by name, but a person briefed on the matter confirmed that the ruling from Judge Lamberth had prompted her to step down.
Ms. Oh, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who worked for the elite firm Paul, Weiss for nearly two decades, was picked by Mr. Gensler to oversee the S.E.C.’s 1,000-attorney enforcement division on April 22. The same day, she filed a notice with the court in the Exxon case saying she had withdrawn from the matter because she had resigned from the firm to join the federal government.
The civil litigation involving Exxon is nearly two decades old and involves allegations by the plaintiffs that Exxon’s security personnel “inflicted grievous injuries” on them. The lawsuit was brought under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act, which enables residents of other countries to sue in the United States for damages arising from violations of U.S. treaties or “the law of nations.”
Mr. Gensler said in a news release that Melissa Hodgman, who had been the enforcement division’s acting chief since January, will return to that position. Ms. Hodgman has been an enforcement attorney with the agency since 2008. He thanked Ms. Oh for her “willingness to serve the country.”
Ms. Oh could not immediately be reached for comment.
Brad Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss, said the firm would not comment on the matter because it involved ongoing litigation. “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional with a strong ethical code,” he added.
Ms. Oh is a highly respected lawyer, but her selection had been criticized by the Revolving Door Project, a good-government group, because she had been in private practice for so many years and had defended some of the largest U.S. companies.
Apple said on Wednesday that its profits more than doubled to $23.6 billion in the most recent quarter. Apple said its revenues soared by 54 percent to $89.6 billion. As usual, the main driver of Apple’s success was sales of the iPhone, which rose by 66 percent to $47.9 billion, its steepest increase in years. In the latest quarter, iPhones accounted for 54 percent of Apple’s revenues.
Facebook said on Wednesday that revenue rose 48 percent to $26.2 billion in the first three months of the year, while profits nearly doubled to $9.5 billion. Advertising revenue, which makes up the bulk of Facebook’s income, rose 46 percent to $25.4 billion. Nearly 3.5 billion people now use one of Facebook’s apps every month, up 15 percent from a year earlier.
Ford Motor said on Wednesday that the global shortage of computer chips will take a greater toll on its business than previously expected and would likely cut its vehicle production in the second quarter by about half. Ford expects the shortage to lower its operating profit this year by $2.5 billion, to between $5.5 billion to $6.5 billion. The company made a $3.3 billion profit in the first quarter, a turnaround from a year ago when the company lost $2 billion as the coronavirus pandemic was starting to shut down much of the world’s economy.
Before the pandemic, when suppliers raised the cost of diapers, cereal and other everyday goods, retailers often absorbed the increase because stiff competition forced them to keep prices stable.
Now, with Americans’ shopping habits having shifted rapidly — with people spending more on treadmills and office furniture and less at restaurants and movie theaters — retailers are also adjusting, Gillian Friedman reports for The New York Times.
The Consumer Price Index, the measure of the average change in the prices paid by U.S. shoppers for consumer goods, increased 0.6 percent in March, the largest rise since August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Procter & Gamble is raising prices on items like Pampers and Tampax in September. General Mills, which makes cereal brands including Cheerios, is facing increased supply-chain and freight costs that could translate into higher retail prices for customers.
At the beginning of the pandemic, companies were focused on fulfilling demand for toilet paper, cleaning supplies, canned food and masks, said Greg Portell, a partner at Kearney, a consulting firm. The government was watching for price-gouging, and customers were wary of being taken advantage of.
Now that the economy is beginning to stabilize, companies are starting to rebalance pricing so that it better fits their profit expectations and takes into account inflation. “This isn’t an opportunistic profit-taking by companies,” Mr. Portell said. “This is a reset of the market.”
For many cryptocurrency supporters and investors, regulatory approval of a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the United States represents the holy grail. It would allow the crypto-curious to get exposure to Bitcoin without having to buy the tokens themselves, signifying that digital assets are really, truly mainstream.
But it’s not meant to be — yet. On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission delayed a decision on a Bitcoin E.T.F. proposal from the investment manager VanEck, saying it needs more time but offering no other explanation.
Delay is not denial, and it may be a good sign, Todd Cipperman, the founder of the compliance services firm CCS, told the DealBook newsletter. When considering the concept of a crypto E.T.F. in 2018, the S.E.C. raised questions about investor protection issues and put a “wet blanket on the whole idea,” he said.
Now, crypto is much bigger, and Gary Gensler, who taught courses about blockchain technology at M.I.T., is chair of the S.E.C. His expertise doesn’t guarantee success for crypto E.T.F.s, but it will be easier for an expert in the field to approve them, Mr. Cipperman suggested.
The S.E.C. gave itself until mid-June, with the option to take more time, but it must decide before year’s end. The regulator has rejected every proposal to date, starting with the first Bitcoin E.T.F. pitch in 2013, presented by the Winklevoss twins, which was eventually dismissed in 2017 (and again in 2018). There are several E.T.F. proposals on the table now, including one from the traditional finance giant Fidelity.
Canada is moving faster, approving all kinds of crypto E.T.F.s, after allowing its first Bitcoin E.T.F. in February. Hester Peirce, an S.E.C. commissioner and vocal crypto champion, told DealBook earlier this month that she has been “mystified” by her agency’s response to some prior applications, which met the standards in her view. With more players now engaging in the process, approval could be looming — eventually.
Procter & Gamble is raising prices on items like Pampers and Tampax in September. Kimberly-Clark said in March that it will raise prices on Scott toilet paper, Huggies and Pull-Ups in June, a move that is “necessary to help offset significant commodity cost inflation.”
And General Mills, which makes cereal brands including Cheerios, is facing increased supply-chain and freight costs “in this higher-demand environment,” the company’s chief financial officer, Kofi Bruce, said on a call with analysts.
These price increases reflect what some economists are calling a major shift in the way companies have responded to demand during the pandemic.
Before the virus hit, retailers often absorbed the cost when suppliers raised prices on goods, because stiff competition forced retailers to keep prices stable. The pandemic changed that.
It created chaos and confusion in global shipping markets, leading to shortages and price increases that have cascaded from factories to ports to stores to consumers. When the pandemic hit, Americans’ shopping habits shifted rapidly — with people spending money on treadmills and office furniture instead of going out to eat in restaurants and seeing movies at theaters.
This, in turn, put enormous pressure on factories in China to produce these goods and ship them across the Pacific in containers. But the demand for shipping outstripped the availability of containers in Asia, yielding shortages that resulted in higher shipping costs.
The Consumer Price Index, the measure of the average change in the prices paid by U.S. shoppers for consumer goods, increased 0.6 percent in March, the largest rise since August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Higher costs aren’t affecting just the United States. British inflation hit 0.7 percent in March, fueled by the prices of oil and clothing.
In the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, companies were focused on responding to the surge brought on by panic buying, with people stocking up on items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies, canned food and masks, said Greg Portell, a partner at Kearney, a consulting firm. The government was watching for price gouging, and customers were wary of being taken advantage of.
“When the pandemic first struck paper, toilet paper was like gold,” Mr. Portell said. “The optics of trying to take a price increase during that time just weren’t going to be good.”
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Thus, despite the spike in demand, companies weren’t in a position to balance out the price-and-cost equation. Now that the economy is beginning to stabilize, companies are starting to make different economic calculations, rebalancing pricing so that it better fits their profit expectations and takes into account inflation, which will drive up prices.
“This isn’t an opportunistic profit-taking by companies,” Mr. Portell said. “This is a reset of the market.”
The government’s pumping of money into the economy through recent stimulus packages has also given retailers more room to raise prices. People who have received unemployment benefits or stimulus checks are able to spend that money on consumer goods like toilet paper and diapers.
Many of those who have kept their jobs during the pandemic also have been able to increase their savings. That means they have disposable income to spend on more expensive items like printers or desks for working at home, or on luxuries like televisions, hot tubs or kitchen remodels.
“Right now, demand is fiscally stimulated and very strong,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for the firm Oxford Economics. “So even if you raise your prices, you’re not necessarily going to lose market share, because most other producers are doing the same thing and because people have the means to buy.”
It’s likely that retailers, from big-box stores to grocery stores, will pass on the majority of the increased costs from suppliers to consumers.
“Consumption is likely very strong the next couple of quarters, which will give companies a bit more pricing power to pass through some of those cost increases, which otherwise they might have had to absorb in their margins,” said Tim Drayson, head of economics at Legal and General Investment Management, an asset management firm.
However, businesses will still have to keep price increases reasonable and in line with competition.
“Businesses will tend to pass on what the consumer can stomach,” said John Ruth, chief executive of Build Asset Management, an investment advisory firm. “You’ll notice some price increases, but your hamburger isn’t going to double in your local favorite drive-through.”
Price increases for necessities like toilet paper and diapers will affect low-income Americans most profoundly, placing an additional burden on those already hard hit by the pandemic.
Whether the increased prices will stick, or eventually come down, is a topic of debate among economists. Some predict that prices will normalize within one to two years, as the economy continues to gain steam, the job market improves and those who lost jobs during the pandemic increasingly return to work.
“People are not going to buy used cars, or even new cars, forever,” Mr. Daco said. “At some point, demand will be saturated, and that will be the start of an environment of reduced price.”
Christopher Waller, the newest governor on the Federal Reserve’s Washington-based board, said on Friday that he expects an unfolding acceleration in inflation — which is expected to intensify in the coming months — will prove short-lived.
“I do buy into the idea that this is going to be temporary,” Mr. Waller said on CNBC, during his first television interview since President Donald J. Trump nominated him to the role and the Senate confirmed him. “Whatever temporary surge in inflation we see right now is not going to last.”
Inflation data are being measured against very low readings from 12 months ago, causing a mechanical year-on-year jump, he noted. Spending tied to government stimulus and supply chain constraints will also have an effect.
“We know the stimulus is going to have some impact, but once the stimulus checks are spent, they’re gone,” Mr. Waller said. “We also know that the bottlenecks that are currently there are going to go away.”
rose 2.6 percent in March from a year ago, the Labor Department said earlier this week. But it was skewed by the comparison to March 2020, when prices of some items fell as consumers pulled back spending in the face of the pandemic.
While the C.P.I. and other inflation gauges are expected to rise even higher in coming months, Fed officials and most economists project that they will settle back down before long. Many officials see key measures hovering near the central bank’s 2 percent average inflation target by the end of the year.
Mr. Waller said that investors themselves are not betting on “outrageous, runaway inflation” and that even if the data show a stronger pickup, the Fed stands ready to contain that and is not going to just let inflation “rip.”
“I don’t think anyone would be very comfortable if it got to three, three-plus and stayed there for a while,” Mr. Waller said, noting that the bigger concern would be if inflation expectations jumped.
We could be on the verge of a golden era for inflation nonsense. If so, its start date may well turn out to have been Tuesday morning, when new data on consumer prices was released.
The potential for misunderstanding derives from several forces crashing against each other at once. There are sure to be shortages of some goods and services as the economy creaks back to life, which could create scattered price increases for airplane tickets or hotel rooms or, as has been the case recently, certain computer chips.
There are valid concerns that the trillions of dollars of government stimulus dollars could push the economy beyond its limits and create a broad-based overheating.
But to be a savvy consumer of economic data, it’s important to separate those potential forces from the inflation data coming right now, which tells us more about the past than the future. Don’t take the backward-looking information in the new report as proof that those inflation warnings are coming true.
strange episode last April when the price of crude oil futures went negative?).
Demand for gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products is finally rising, but energy producers can’t flip a switch and produce enough fuel to meet that demand overnight, and are doubtless scarred by their losses last spring.
Similarly, grocery prices are up substantially: an annualized 3.8 percent rise since February 2020, led by a 5.9 percent rise in the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs. If it feels as if proteins are more expensive than before the pandemic, you’re not imagining it.
Central bankers tend to look past swings in energy and food prices, which tend to fluctuate in ways that don’t portend inflation across the economy. But some elements of “core” inflation are also showing odd inflation dynamics, even when corrected for base effects.
Used cars and trucks, for example, are up an annualized 11 percent since February 2020, most likely because many people sought a way to get around besides public transport.
The flip side of that: Airfare is still far below its prepandemic levels, down an adjusted 23.9 percent from February 2020. There is plenty of reason to expect that airplanes will be crowded this summer, especially on routes to leisure destinations, as a newly vaccinated population looks to stretch its wings. But prices still have not caught up to their prepandemic norm.
Oh, and clothing is still cheaper than prepandemic levels as well, with a 2.7 percent adjusted fall in apparel prices since February 2020.
The sharp divergences in these sectors show the importance of looking at economic data more deeply than usual in the months ahead. Many of the sectors with the most extreme price effects from the pandemic bottomed out in April or May, not March — meaning the distortions in year-over-year numbers will get even bigger over the next few months.
But beyond that, with so many parts of the economy going through wrenching change, headline numbers on inflation or anything else will mean less than usual in the coming months. Rather it’s better to break things down by sector to understand whether the dynamics reflect a one-time reset of the economy or something bigger.
The Biden administration and the Federal Reserve are betting on a one-time reset, with temporary price spikes followed by a steadying of both inflation and growth in 2022. If something more pernicious arrives, it won’t show up as a few weird data points in 2021, but as a broad-based surge in prices across the economy that becomes a cycle of rising prices.
To understand an economy in uncharted territory, the details matter more than the headlines.