The S&P 500 on Monday dropped into its second bear market of the pandemic, crossing a symbolic and worrisome threshold as stocks plunge following a meteoric rise over the last two years.
Bear markets — when stocks decline at least 20 percent from their recent peaks — are relatively rare, and they frequently precede a recession. This sell-off, dragging the S&P down from a peak on Jan. 3 (which reflects the new bear market’s starting point), comes as concerns mount over high inflation, the war in Ukraine, Covid and the Federal Reserve’s attempts to rein in the economy.
just above a bear market in May before recovering, but stocks fell sharply again on Friday following the latest release of government data showing that inflation had accelerated again.
The worry among stock traders is that the Fed could be forced to constrict the economy’s growth in order to bring inflation under control, leading to a recession. While recessions have often followed bear markets, one does not necessarily cause the other.
The State of the Stock Market
The stock market’s decline this year has been painful. And it remains difficult to predict what is in store for the future.
“It is not that consumer demand is weak yet — spending has held up,” said Paul Ashworth, who is the chief North American economist at Capital Economics. “The fear is that the Fed is going to go very hard, and that leaves us in a recession at some point.”
800,000 of the 22 million jobs lost at the height of coronavirus-related lockdowns. While rising mortgage rates have begun to dampen activity, housing — generally one of the biggest sources of wealth for Americans — remains strong.
target-date funds, which automatically move 401(k) money into bonds and other safer investments as their retirement age approaches. But 401(k) plans can still take a significant hit in market downturns. In 2008, for instance, as the S&P 500 dropped 37 percent, the average 401(k) account balance for those who were in their 50s fell 24 percent.
People with retirement accounts are keeping more of their assets in stocks now, as opposed to bonds or a mix of other investments. “There has been a growing complacency of people keeping most of their nest eggs in stocks,” said Monique Morrissey, who specializes in retirement at the left-leaning think tank Economic Policy Institute. “There has been a fundamental misunderstanding — returns do not always average out.”
The bigger issue, according to Ms. Morrissey, is that many people have gotten used to the stock market going up. That’s not a guarantee — especially in the near term.
“It’s not just the loss from January; it’s what happens going forward,” she said. “If you were counting on the amount that you have in your 401(k) to continually grow, well, then you may never get to what you had planned for.”
BANGKOK — Each morning in her market stall in the Bangkok Noi district of the Thai capital, Jintana Rapsomruay rolls balls of dough into a snack known for its resemblance to the eggs of an oversize lizard. The sweet treat, which looks like a doughnut hole, was supposedly invented by a consort of the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, which continues to reign 240 years later.
The 18th-century monarch liked to nosh on the eggs of water monitor lizards, so the story goes, but the concubine couldn’t get her hands on any, so she substituted dough stuffed with sweet bean paste. The king — among whose accomplishments was moving the Thai capital to its present location — was pleased.
The snack remains popular to this day, but Ms. Jintana can barely get by. Like millions of Thais struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic, her income has plummeted by half.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former military chief and leader of the 2014 coup — approved the Royal Society’s ruling with its own decree, making a parenthetical Bangkok the law of the land.
The shift from semicolon to parentheses has provoked public dissatisfaction. But it’s not the name itself to which anyone really objects; the capital is universally known to Thai speakers as Krung Thep, or, by the initials “Kor Tor Mor.”
Rather, the way an elite clique did the update is what bothered some in a populace that appears increasingly unwilling to accept diktats from royalist, tradition-bound institutions.
turned up dead. Dozens of young protest leaders have been imprisoned.
Prosecutions of royal defamation have increased sharply, with a former civil servant sentenced last year to more than four decades in prison. Some protest leaders have called for the monarchy to submit to the Constitution and are now facing, collectively, hundreds of years in prison for lèse-majesté, which criminalizes criticism of senior members of the royal family.
“People across Thailand, not just the young, recognize the argument of reforming the monarchy,” said Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal, who was elected president of the Student Union at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. “It’s not marginal, it’s mainstream.”
Mr. Netiwit lost his position in February after the school administration determined that he was connected to an event involving activists who have called for monarchical reform.
Some Thais are more enthusiastic about the government espousing the longer name.
On a recent morning, Vichian Bunthawi, 88, a retired palace guard, sat cross-legged on a bench at the sleepy railway station in Bangkok Noi. The capital should be known around the world as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, he said, remembering how his primary schoolteacher would write the full name on the chalkboard.
“Krung Thep Maha Nakhon is the name of the capital,” he said. “It is where the king lives.”
The first king of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, moved the capital in 1782, from the left bank of the Chao Phraya River, where the Bangkok Noi district is, to the east bank. On marshy ground, he and his successors built gilded, jeweled palaces. The full name of Krung Thep Maha Nakhon includes a paean to “an enormous royal palace resembling the heavenly abode in which the reincarnated god reigns.” In Thai tradition, the king is semi-divine.
In 1932, absolute monarchy was abolished, but the royal family still retains an enormous presence in Thai life. Giant posters of King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun and Queen Suthida Vajiralongkorn Na Ayudhya, the current king’s fourth wife, tower over public places.
The king, whose lavish lifestyle contrasts with the austerity forced upon many Thais by the pandemic, spends most of his time in Germany.
Whether as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or Bangkok, the character of the capital has changed drastically over the decades. City planners filled in the canals that used to be the city’s transportation arteries. Rice paddies gave way to malls and condominiums.
In a back alley behind a Buddhist temple in Bangkok Noi, Chana Ratsami still plays a Thai xylophone. His wife’s family of palace attendants lived in Bangkok Noi for generations.
Now, he said, the lane’s residents are mostly migrants from upcountry.
“They don’t know the history of this place,” he said, describing how the traffic-choked road at the end of the lane used to be a canal with boats floating past, filled with flowers and fruit. “I miss the old city, no matter what it’s called.”
Youtube logo is placed on a Russian flag in this illustration picture taken February 26, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
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Russia demands YouTube stop spreading threats to Russians
Facebook, Instagram blocked in Russia; Google under pressure
Russia says it has tools to develop its own social media
March 18 (Reuters) – Russia on Friday demanded that Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google stop spreading what it called threats against Russian citizens on its YouTube video-sharing platform, a move that could presage an outright block of the service on Russian territory.
The regulator, Roskomnadzor, said adverts on the platform were calling for the communications systems of Russia and Belarus’ railway networks to be suspended and that their dissemination was evidence of the U.S. company’s anti-Russian position. It did not say which accounts were publishing the adverts.
“The actions of YouTube’s administration are of a terrorist nature and threaten the life and health of Russian citizens,” the regulator said.
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“Roskomnadzor categorically opposes such advertising campaigns and demands that Google stop broadcasting anti-Russia videos as soon as possible.”
Google removed an advertisement that was flagged by the Russian government, according to a source familiar with the matter who declined to describe it.
The dispute was the latest in a series between Moscow and foreign tech firms over Ukraine.
YouTube, which has blocked Russian state-funded media globally, is under heavy pressure from Russia’s communications regulator and politicians.
Outraged that Meta Platforms (FB.O) was allowing social media users in Ukraine to post messages such as “Death to the Russian invaders”, Moscow blocked Instagram this week, having already stopped access to Facebook because of what it said were restrictions by the platform on Russian media. read more
Russian news media including RIA and Sputnik quoted an unnamed source as saying YouTube could be blocked next week or as early as Friday.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday wrote a fierce criticism of foreign social media firms, mentioning by name both Meta and YouTube, but he hinted that the door leading to their possible return to the Russian market would be left ajar.
“The ‘guardians’ of free speech have in all seriousness allowed users of their social media to wish death upon the Russian military,” Medvedev, who served as president from 2008 to 2012 and is now deputy secretary of Russia’s Security Council, wrote on the messaging app Telegram.
Medvedev said Russia has the necessary tools and experience to develop its own social media, saying the “one-way game” of Western firms controlling information flows could not continue.
“In order to return, they will have to prove their independence and good attitude to Russia and its citizens,” he wrote. “However, it is not a fact that they will be able to dip their toes in the same water twice.”
VKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, has been breaking records for activity on its platform since Russia sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24.
The site attracted 300,000 new users in the two weeks after Russia began what it calls a “special operation” to demilitarise and “de-Nazify” its neighbour.
On the day Instagram was blocked in Russia, VKontakte said its daily domestic audience grew by 8.7% to more than 50 million people, a new record.
Anton Gorelkin, a member of Russia’s State Duma committee on information and communications, pointed Russians to services that would help them move videos from YouTube to the domestic equivalent, RuTube.
“It’s not that I’m calling for everyone to immediately leave YouTube,” he said on his Telegram channel. “But, probably, in light of recent events it is worth following the principle of not keeping all your eggs in one basket.”
He said earlier this week that YouTube may face the same fate as Instagram if it continues “to act as a weapon in the information war”.
Russian tech entrepreneurs said this week they would launch picture-sharing application Rossgram on the domestic market to help fill the void left by Instagram. read more
In November, Gazprom Media launched Yappy as a domestic rival to video-sharing platform TikTok.
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Editing by Andrei Khalip, Angus MacSwan, Frances Kerry and Grant McCool
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Consumer prices jumped more than expected last month, with rent, food and furniture costs surging as a limited supply of housing and a shortage of goods stemming from supply chain troubles combined to fuel rapid inflation.
The Consumer Price Index climbed 5.4 percent in September from a year earlier, faster than its 5.3 percent increase through August and above economists’ forecasts. Monthly price gains also exceeded predictions, with the index rising 0.4 percent from August to September.
The figures raise the stakes for both the Federal Reserve and the White House, which are facing a longer period of rapid inflation than they had expected and may soon come under pressure to act to ensure the price gains don’t become a permanent fixture.
On Wednesday, President Biden said his administration was doing what it could to fix supply-chain problems that have helped to produce shortages, long delivery times and rapid price increases for food, televisions, automobiles and other products.
Social Security Administration said on Wednesday that benefits would increase 5.9 percent in 2022, the biggest boost in 40 years. The increase, known as a cost-of-living adjustment, is tied to rising inflation.
jumped early in 2021 as prices for airfares, restaurant meals and apparel recovered after slumping as the economy locked down during the depths of the pandemic. That was expected. But more recently, prices have continued to climb as supply shortages mean businesses cannot keep up with fast-rising demand. Factory shutdowns, clogged shipping routes and labor shortages at ports and along trucking lines have combined to make goods difficult to produce and transport.
expect higher prices. If people believe that their lifestyles will cost more, they may demand higher compensation — and as employers lift pay, they may charge more for their goods to cover the costs, setting off an upward spiral.
though typically too little to fully offset the amount of inflation that has occurred this year. There are notable exceptions to that, including in leisure and hospitality jobs, where pay has accelerated faster than prices.
The fact that rents and other housing costs are now climbing only compounds the concern that price gains are becoming stickier.
“You have the sticky, important and cyclical piece of inflation surprising to the upside,” said Laura Rosner-Warburton, an economist at MacroPolicy Perspectives. “It is certainly a very significant development.”
Matt Permar, a 24-year-old mail carrier from Toledo, Ohio, rents a two-bedroom apartment in a suburban area with a friend from college. The pair had paid $540 a month each for two years, which Mr. Permar called “pretty standard.” But that has changed.
“With the housing market being the way it is, they raised it about $100,” he said of his monthly rent. As a result, Mr. Permar said, he will have less cash to save or invest.
The Fed aims for 2 percent inflation on average over time, which it defines using a different but related index, the Personal Consumption Expenditures measure. That gauge is released at more of a delay, and has also jumped this year.
Central bankers have said they are willing to look past surging prices because the gains are expected to prove transitory, and they expect long-run trends that had kept inflation low for years to come to dominate. But they have grown wary as rapid price gains last.
The Fed’s September meeting minutes showed that “most participants saw inflation risks as weighted to the upside because of concerns that supply disruptions and labor shortages might last longer and might have larger or more persistent effects on prices and wages than they currently assumed.”
Fed officials’ moves toward slowing their bond purchases could leave them more nimble if they find that they need to raise rates to control inflation next year. Officials have signaled that they want to stop buying bonds before raising rates, so that their two tools are not working at odds with each other.
Wall Street is watching every inflation data point closely, because higher rates from the Fed could squeeze growth and stock prices. And climbing costs can cut into corporate profits, denting earning prospects.
White House officials and many Wall Street data watchers tend to emphasize a “core” index of inflation, which strips out volatile food and fuel prices. Core inflation climbed 4 percent in the year through last month, but the monthly gain was less pronounced, at 0.2 percent.
Some economists welcomed that moderation as good news, along with the cooling in key prices, like airfares, that had popped earlier in the economic reopening. Others emphasized that once supply chain kinks were worked out, prices could drop on products like couches, bikes and refrigerators, providing a counterweight to rising housing expenses.
Omair Sharif, founder of Inflation Insights, said he expected consumer price inflation to moderate, coming in at 2.75 percent to 3 percent on a headline basis by next July, and for core inflation to cool down even more.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to panic,” he said.
Ana Swanson and Ben Casselman contributed reporting.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has offered the strongest sign yet that the Fed is prepared to soon withdraw one leg of the support it has been providing to the economy as conditions strengthen.
At the same time, Mr. Powell made clear on Friday that interest rate increases remained far away, and that the central bank was monitoring risks posed by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Fed has been trying to bolster economic activity by buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month and by leaving its policy interest rate at rock bottom. Officials have been debating when to begin slowing their bond buying, the first step in moving toward a more normal policy setting. They have said they would like to make “substantial further progress” toward stable inflation and full employment before doing so.
Mr. Powell, speaking at a closely watched conference that the Kansas City Fed holds each year, used his remarks to explain that he thinks the Fed has met that test when it comes to inflation and is making “clear progress toward maximum employment.”
six million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. And the Delta variant could cause consumers and businesses to pull back as it foils return-to-office plans and threatens to shut down schools and child care centers. That could lead to a slower jobs rebound.
Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed wants to avoid overreacting to a recent burst in inflation that it believes will most likely prove temporary, because doing so could leave workers on the sidelines and weaken growth prematurely. While the Fed could start to remove one piece of its support, he emphasized that slowing bond purchases did not indicate that the Fed was prepared to raise rates.
“We have much ground to cover to reach maximum employment, and time will tell whether we have reached 2 percent inflation on a sustainable basis,” he said in his address to the conference, which was held online instead of its usual venue — Jackson Hole in Wyoming — because of the latest coronavirus wave.
The distinction he drew — between bond buying, which keeps financial markets chugging along, and rates, which are the Fed’s more traditional and arguably more powerful tool to keep money cheap and demand strong — sent an important signal that the Fed is going to be careful to let the economy heal more fully before really putting away its monetary tools, economists said.
told CNBC on Friday that he supported winding down the purchases “as quickly as possible.”
“Let’s start the taper, and let’s do it quickly,” he said. “Let’s not have this linger.”
James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said on Friday that the central bank should finish tapering by the end of the first quarter next year. If inflation starts to moderate then, the country will be in “great shape,” Mr. Bullard told Fox Business.
“If it doesn’t moderate, then I think the Fed is going to have to be more aggressive in 2022,” he said.
ushered in a new policy framework at last year’s Jackson Hole gathering that dictates a more patient approach, one that might guard against a similar overreaction.
But as Mr. Bullard’s comments reflected, officials may have their patience tested as inflation climbs.
The Fed’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, rose 4.2 percent last month from a year earlier, according to Commerce Department data released on Friday. The increase was higher than the 4.1 percent jump that economists in a Bloomberg survey had projected, and the fastest pace since 1991. That is far above the central bank’s 2 percent target, which it tries to hit on average over time.
“The rapid reopening of the economy has brought a sharp run-up in inflation,” Mr. Powell said.
They warn that if the Fed overreacts to today’s inflationary burst, it could wind up with permanently weak inflation, much as Japan and Europe have.
White House economists sided with Mr. Powell’s interpretation in a new round of forecasts issued on Friday. In its midsession review of the administration’s budget forecasts, the Office of Management and Budget said it expected the Consumer Price Index inflation rate to hit 4.8 percent for the year. That is more than double the administration’s initial forecast of 2.1 percent.
initially expected. But they still insist that it will be short-lived and foresee inflation dropping to 2.5 percent in 2022. The White House also revised its forecast of growth for the year, to 7.1 percent from 5.2 percent.
Slow price gains sound like good news to anyone who buys oat milk and eggs, but they can set off a vicious downward cycle. Interest rates include inflation, so when it slows, Fed officials have less room to make money cheap to foster growth during times of trouble. That makes it harder for the economy to recover quickly from downturns, and long periods of weak demand drag prices even lower — creating a cycle of stagnation.
“While the underlying global disinflationary factors are likely to evolve over time, there is little reason to think that they have suddenly reversed or abated,” Mr. Powell said. “It seems more likely that they will continue to weigh on inflation as the pandemic passes into history.”
Mr. Powell offered a detailed explanation of the Fed’s scrutiny of prices, emphasizing that inflation is “so far” coming from a narrow group of goods and services. Officials are keeping an eye on data to make sure prices for durable goods like used cars — which have recently taken off — slow and even fall.
Mr. Powell said the Fed saw “little evidence” of wage increases that might threaten high and lasting inflation. And he pointed out that measures of inflation expectations had not climbed to unwanted levels, but had instead staged a “welcome reversal” of an unhealthy decline.
Still, his remarks carried a tone of watchfulness.
“We would be concerned at signs that inflationary pressures were spreading more broadly through the economy,” he said.
TORONTO — Vancouverites were frying eggs on pans placed on their terraces.
One man checked into an air-conditioned five-star hotel, after the five fans aimed at his bed at home and the seventh cold shower failed to bring relief.
Lettuce plants shriveled in the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia’s picturesque wine region. Flowers wilted. People wilted.
The heat wave across western Canada has much of a country known for its sweater weather sweating.
Canada broke a national heat record on Sunday when the temperature in a small town in British Columbia reached almost 116 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an 84-year-old record by nearly 3 degrees, with dangerously hot weather expected to continue for several more days.
“This is a complete shock to a Canadian— this feels like Las Vegas or India — not Vancouver,” said Chris Johnson, a criminal lawyer who on Monday was heading to an air-conditioned hotel room as temperatures inside his home reached 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
the northwestern United States, including 112 degrees on Sunday in Portland, Ore.
Emily Jubenvill, co-owner and manager at Enderberry Farm, a farm that produces organic vegetables in the northern Okanagan Valley, said she and her husband were planning to beat the heat by getting to the fields at 3 a.m. Tuesday to pick vegetables. “Things are maturing faster under the stress of the heat, and so we’re not able to harvest as much,” she said, noting that the flavor of vegetables like lettuce could turn extremely bitter if exposed to very hot weather.
Canada’s old national heat record was 45 degrees Celsius, or 113 Fahrenheit, but on Sunday, Lytton, a town of fewer than 300 about three hours east of Vancouver, reached 46.6 Celsius, or 115.9 Fahrenheit, according to Environment Canada.
Other towns in southern British Columbia, including Victoria, Kamloops and Kelowna, are breaking local records under the high-pressure heat dome, and temperatures well over 100 degrees are forecast through Wednesday.
Previously, Midale and Yellow Grass, both in rural Saskatchewan, held the record in Canada for the highest temperature on July 5, 1937, at 113 degrees.
National Climate Assessment, a scientific report by 13 U.S. federal agencies, heat waves have climbed from two per year in the 1960s to six per year by the 2010. The season for heat waves has also grown 45 days longer than it was in the 1960s, the report notes.
Heat Wave Hits North America
As suffocating heat hits much of Western North America, experts are concerned about human safety and power failures.
Western Canada: Canada broke a national heat record on June 27, when the temperature in a small town in British Columbia reached almost 116 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking an 84-year-old record by nearly 3 degrees, with dangerously hot weather expected to continue for several more days.
Pacific Northwest U.S.: A heat dome has enveloped the region driving temperatures to extreme levels — with temperatures well above 100 degrees — and creating dangerous conditions in a part of the country unaccustomed to oppressive summer weather or air-conditioning.
Severe Drought: Much of the Western half of the United States is in the grip of a severe drought of historic proportions. Conditions are especially bad in California and the Southwest, but the drought extends into the Pacific Northwest, much of the Intermountain West, and even the Northern Plains. The extreme heat is exacerbating the dry conditions.
Growing Energy Shortages: Power failures have increased by more than 60 percent since 2015, even as climate change has made heat waves worse, according to new research published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
Baseline Temperatures Are Rising: New baseline data for temperature, rain, snow and other weather events reveal how the climate has changed in the United States. One key takeaway, the country is getting hotter.
It is all part of an overall warming trend: The seven warmest years in the history of accurate worldwide record-keeping have been the last seven years, and 19 of the 20 warmest years have occurred since 2000. An analysis from the Copernicus Climate Change Service, a group of European climate researchers, found that the hottest year on record was 2020, tied with 2016.
Several school districts in British Columbia were closed on Monday, given that many buildings are not fitted with air conditioning. Temperatures rarely go above 86 degrees Fahrenheit in Vancouver, Mr. Phillips said.
British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, a state-owned utilities company, saw back-to-back record-breaking electricity use on Saturday and Sunday, with some local power outages reported across the system, the Provincial Crown corporation said in a news release Monday.
On social media, people posted photographs of their pets cooling off with ice packs, putting out water trays for birds or avoiding the sun altogether.
In a weather alert for Metro Vancouver on Monday, Environment Canada warned that temperatures could reach as high as 44 degrees Celsius, or 111 degrees Fahrenheit, during the day.
“The duration of this heat wave is concerning as there is little relief at night with elevated overnight temperatures,” it wrote, advising local residents to navigate the “record-breaking heat” by drinking plenty of water and avoiding leaving people and pets in a parked vehicle.
It also advised residents to watch out for the symptoms of heat illness such as dizziness, fainting, nausea and decreased urination.
LOS ANGELES — For 28 years, ever since “Super Mario Bros.” arrived in cinemas with the tagline “This Ain’t No Game,” Hollywood has been trying and mostly failing — epically, famously — to turn hit video games into hit movies. For every “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” (2001), which turned Angelina Jolie into an A-list action star, there has been a nonsensical “Max Payne” (2008), an abominable “Prince of Persia” (2010) and a wince-inducing “Warcraft” (2016).
If video games are the comic books of our time, why can’t Hollywood figure out how to mine them accordingly?
It may finally be happening, powered in part by the proliferation of streaming services and their need for intellectual property to exploit. “The need for established, globally appealing I.P. has naturally led to gaming,” Matthew Ball, a venture investor and the former head of strategy for Amazon Studios, wrote last year in an essay titled “7 Reasons Why Gaming I.P. Is Finally Taking Off in Film/TV.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment and its PlayStation-powered sibling, Sony Interactive, are finally working together to turn PlayStation games into mass-appeal movies and television shows. There are 10 game adaptations in the Sony Pictures pipeline, a big leap from practically none in 2018. They include “Uncharted,” a $120 million adventure based on a 14-year-old PlayStation property (more than 40 million copies sold). “Uncharted” stars Tom Holland, the reigning Spider-Man, as Nathan Drake, the treasure hunter at the center of the game franchise. It is scheduled for release in theaters on Feb. 18.
post-apocalyptic game of the same title. Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian” himself, is the star, and Craig Mazin, who created the Emmy-winning mini-series “Chernobyl,” is the showrunner. Executive producers include Carolyn Strauss, one of the forces behind “Game of Thrones,” and Neil Druckmann, who led the creation of the Last of Us game.
Sony games like Twisted Metal and Ghost of Tsushima are also getting the TV and film treatment. (Contrary to speculation, one that is not, at least not anytime soon, according to a Sony spokesman: God of War.)
In the past, Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive operated as fiefs, with creative control — it’s mine; no, it’s mine — impeding adaptation efforts. When he took over as Sony’s chief executive in 2018, Kenichiro Yoshida demanded cooperation. The ultimate goal is to make better use of Sony’s online PlayStation Network to bring Sony movies, shows and music directly to consumers. PlayStation Network, introduced in 2006, has more than 114 million monthly active users.
“I have witnessed a radical shift in the nature of cooperation between different parts of the company,” said Sanford Panitch, Sony’s movie president.
Halo,” a series based on the Xbox franchise about a war between humans and an alliance of aliens (more than 80 million copies sold), will arrive on the Paramount+ streaming service early next year; Steven Spielberg is an executive producer. Lionsgate is adapting the Borderlands games (roughly 60 million sold) into a science fiction film starring Cate Blanchett, Kevin Hart and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Buoyed by its success with “The Witcher,” a fantasy series adapted from games and novels, Netflix has shows based on the “Assassin’s Creed,” “Resident Evil,” “Splinter Cell” and “Cuphead” games on the way. Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, the duo behind HBO’s “Westworld,” are developing a science-fiction show for Amazon that is based on the Fallout video game franchise.
And Nintendo and Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures studio responsible for the “Despicable Me” franchise, have an animated Mario movie headed to theaters next year — another new collaboration between a game publisher and a film company.
Today in Business
Still, Hollywood’s game adaptation track record is terrible. Why should the coming projects be any different?
For a start, the games themselves have evolved, becoming more intricate and cinematic. “Games have stories that are so much more developed and advanced than they used to be,” Mr. Panitch said.
first major game adaptation in three decades to receive a “fresh” designation on Rotten Tomatoes, the review-aggregation site. Since then, two more adaptations, “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount) and “The Angry Birds Movie 2” (Sony) have been critical and commercial successes.
“Quality has definitely been improving,” said Geoff Keighley, creator of the Game Awards, an Oscars-like ceremony for the industry.
The most recent game-to-film entry, “Mortal Kombat” (Warner Bros.), received mixed reviews but has taken in $41.2 million in the United States since its release last month, a surprisingly large total considering it was released simultaneously on HBO Max and theaters were still operating with strict coronavirus safety protocols.
Mr. Panitch acknowledged that “video game movies have a checkered history.” But he added, “Failure is the mother of invention.”
Game adaptations, for instance, have often faltered by trying to rigidly replicate the action and story lines that fans know and love. That approach invites comparison, and movies (even with sophisticated visual effects) almost always fail to measure up. At the same time, such “fan service” turns off nongamers, resulting in films that don’t connect with any particular audience.
“It’s not just about adapting the story,” said Michael Jonathan Smith, who is leading Sony’s effort to turn Twisted Metal, a 1995 vehicular combat game, into a television series. “It’s about adapting how you feel when you play the game. It has to be about characters you care about. And then you can slide in the Easter eggs and story points that get fans absolutely pumped.”
“Uncharted” is a prequel that, for the first time, creates origin stories for the characters in the game. With any luck, such storytelling will satisfy fans by giving them something new — while also inviting nongamers, who may otherwise worry about not knowing what is going on, to buy tickets. (The producers of “Uncharted” include Charles Roven, who is known for the “Dark Knight” trilogy.)
“It’s a question of balance,” said Asad Qizilbash, a senior Sony Interactive executive who also runs PlayStation Productions, an entity started in 2019 and based on Sony’s movie lot in Culver City, Calif.
Unlike in the past, when Sony Pictures and Sony Interactive pledged to work together and ultimately did not, the current collaboration “has weight because there is a win for everyone,” Mr. Qizilbash added. “We have three objectives. Grow audience size for games. Bring product to Sony Pictures. Showcase collaboration.”
The stakes are high. A cinematic flop could hurt the game franchise.
“It’s risky,” Mr. Qizilbash allowed. “But I think we can do it.”
In the near future, giant index funds, those low-cost investments that have helped millions of people to build nest eggs, will gain “practical power over the majority of U.S. public companies.”
That nightmarish vision originated in a prescient 2018 paper by John Coates.
Mr. Coates was a professor of Harvard Law School when he laid out his argument — one that I share. Now, he is a policymaker. In February, he became acting director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s division of corporation finance. Under the new reform-minded S.E.C. chairman, Gary Gensler, Mr. Coates is in a position to address the problems he has analyzed so painstakingly.
Neither Mr. Coates nor Mr. Gensler was available for an interview, but in that paper, Mr. Coates laid out his views. Index funds, which simply track the market and make no attempt to outperform it, are so effective and cheap, he said, that they have become the investment vehicle of choice for trillions of dollars of assets. Yet under current rules, it is the index fund executives, not the millions of people who invest in them, who have the power to cast proxy votes.
Those votes are the heart of a system intended to give investors a voice on crucial matters like how much the chief executive is paid or whether a company is damaging the environment.
wrote in December 2019, that lack of proxy voting capability leaves vast numbers of investors out of the equation, and gives corporations inordinate power. Consider that roughly half of all American households, comprising tens of millions of people, have a stake in the stock market. But most own equities indirectly through funds — mainly index funds.
That leaves fund managers with the decisive power over corporate governance, and the biggest fund companies have sided with management roughly 90 percent of the time.
As Mr. Coates wrote in 2018, “Control of most public companies — that is, the wealthiest organizations in the world, with more revenue than most states — will soon be concentrated in the hands of a dozen or fewer people.” The title of his paper was “The Problem of Twelve,” referring to the unelected leaders of index fund operations.
What’s worse, mutual fund companies are frequently conflicted. Many receive revenue from public traded corporations for providing financial services connected to retirement plans, yet have the responsibility of casting critical votes on how those companies are run. Scholars like Mr. Coates have worried about these conflicts for years.
study, “Uncovering Conflict of Interests: Proxy Voting Data Reveals Bias for Asset Managers to Favor Clients,” was done by the group As You Sow, which files for shareholder proposals on issues such as the environment, gender and racial diversity, and executive pay.
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The group based its finding on an analysis of 9.6 million proxy votes by fund companies, along with Labor Department records that show how much fund companies were paid for retirement plan services.
“The big fund companies have a massive aggregation of power that comes from the investments of their shareholders,” said Andrew Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. “At the very least, the fund companies shouldn’t be allowed to vote if they have conflicts of interest.”
Such apparent conflicts are permitted under current rules, as Mr. Coates noted in his 2018 paper. There are many possible regulatory solutions, but the fundamental cure would be to take proxy voting power away from the fund companies and put it in the hands of millions of fund shareholders. That change would be especially important for investors in broad-based index funds, which mirror the stock market and cannot divest shares of individual companies.
Say you don’t want to put money into Exxon Mobil because you disagree with its approach to climate change. If you own shares in an S&P 500 index fund, you will have an indirect stake in Exxon nonetheless. And if you hold the fund in a workplace retirement account, you may be stuck. Only 3 percent of 401(k) plans include investment options based on what are known in the industry as environmental, social and governance (E.S.G.) principles, according to the research firm Morningstar, a research firm that rates funds.
Reflecting widespread concern about climate change, fund companies appear to be shifting some of their proxy votes, Morningstar said. BlackRock, headed by Larry Fink, has called for a speedy transition to a “net zero economy” and Vanguard in April adopted guidelines that may lead to more “E.S.G.-friendly” votes, said Jackie Cook, director of investment stewardship research at Morningstar.
INDEX, has taken a small step that could have revolutionary implications: This year, it has begun asking shareholders how they want to vote.
Index Proxy Polling,” an easy way for shareholders to convey their preferences on proxy votes for S&P 500 companies. The aim is to demonstrate how shareholders in an index fund could express their opinions.
So far, only about 100 investors have participated, said Mike Willis, the fund manager, and current S.E.C. regulations require him to make the final voting decisions on behalf of the fund. But he said he hoped the S.E.C. would eventually allow him “to move to real shareholder democracy and go to pass-through voting, in which the shareholders say what they want and we just cast the vote for them.”
I commend Mr. Willis for his innovative approach, but note that this is not a typical index fund. It is an equal-weighted version of the S&P 500: It gives equal emphasis to big and small companies, so it may underperform the market when giants like Apple boom, and do better than the standard index when smaller companies excel. Its expense ratio of 0.25 percent is reasonable but not as low as some of the giant funds.
If experiments like this catch on, they could help to move the markets closer to something resembling shareholder democracy. But legislators and regulators — people like Mr. Coates and Mr. Gensler — will need to weigh in, too, if we are to avert a future in which the voices of investors are muffled and giant corporations are dominated by even more powerful index funds.
Little Island, developed by Barry Diller, with an amphitheater and dramatic views, opens on Hudson River Park. Opponents battled it for years.
I won’t dawdle over the mess that followed the island’s announcement. A real estate titan who had bones to pick with the Hudson River Park Trust supported a series of legal challenges. At one point, seeing no end in sight to the court fights, Diller backed out. A deal brokered by New York’s governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, ultimately rescued the project and also delivered public commitments to enhance protections for wildlife habitats and improve other parts of the four-mile-long, 550-acre Hudson River Park.
English garden follies — not least because Little Island can remind you more of a private estate than a city park. It’s clearly going to cost a king’s ransom to maintain, a burden the Hudson River Park Trust (which is to say the public) would have to bear absent other arrangements.
Fortunately, Diller has promised that his family foundation will pick up the tab for the next 20 years. That’s not forever, but it includes programming costs, Diller told me — until the programming (mostly free, not a moneymaker) can find nonprofit funding to “stand on its own.” He estimates he may end up spending $380 million all in — no doubt the largest private gift to a public park in the city’s history, maybe in the planet’s.
The other day I climbed to the topmost point on the island, a grassy crow’s nest with a 360 panorama. A lovely path shaded by dogwoods and redbuds, perfumed by woodland azaleas, snaked up the hillside. The views shifted from city to river, garden to grassland.
Heatherwick’s columns peek through a hill here or there, but you don’t really focus on them once you’re on the island, save for the great arch of giant tulip bulbs at the entrance, which required a year of tweaking to get the curves just right and to accommodate soil for Nielsen’s trees on top.
concerts, dance and children’s programs are planned to get underway this summer. Trish Santini, Little Island’s executive director, told me that her staff has been working closely with community organizations to ensure free and inexpensive tickets get into the hands of underserved groups and neighborhood schoolchildren. A second stage, called the Glade, at the base of a sloping lawn, tucked into the southeast corner of the park and framed by crape myrtle and birch trees, is custom made for kids and educational events. The main plaza, where you can grab a bite to eat and sit at cafe tables under canvas umbrellas, doubles as a third venue.
It’s on the route between the two gangways that link the island to Manhattan — and a stone’s throw from the High Line — so it’s sure to be mobbed. Santini also said the island will do timed reservations to prevent overcrowding. Little Island will need it, I expect. Two-plus acres is half the size of a city block.
sculpture by David Hammons, donated by the Whitney Museum of American Art to Hudson River Park, which traces in steel the outlines of bygone Pier 52.
North of Little Island, Pier 57 — where Google is leasing new quarters — will soon open community spaces, a food court and its roof deck to the public (City Winery is already up and running there). Piers 76 and 97 are also getting makeovers.
agreed with opponents who challenged reports by authorities over whether the project would inhibit the mating habits of juvenile striped bass.
This time environmental agencies determined that Little Island would cause no harm to fish, and the strategy didn’t work.
requirements for wheelchair accessibility are a design opportunity not a burden. I climbed back up the hill to the crow’s nest, and there she still was.
Huddled against a sunny morning gale, the mother duck was tending her eggs.
The ducklings, I learned, just hatched this week. They’ve started paddling in the river.
Maps by Scott Reinhard. Produced by Alicia DeSantis, Jolie Ruben and Tala Safie.
Ro, the parent company of Roman, the brand that is best known for delivering erectile dysfunction and hair loss medication to consumers, announced on Wednesday that it would acquire Modern Fertility, a start-up that offers at-home fertility tests for women.
The deal is priced at more than $225 million, according to people with knowledge of the acquisition who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not public. It is one of the largest investments in the women’s health care technology space, known as femtech, which attracted $592 million in venture capital in 2019, according to an analysis by PitchBook.
Modern Fertility was founded in 2017 with its flagship product: a $159 finger prick test that can estimate how many eggs a woman may have left, which can help determine which fertility method might be best.
“We essentially took the same laboratory tests that women would take in an infertility clinic and made them available to women at a fraction of the cost,” said Afton Vechery, a founder and chief executive of Modern Fertility, noting that her own test at a clinic set her back $1,500.
valued in March at about $5 billion, has in recent years expanded into telehealth, including delivering generic drugs by mail. In December, Ro acquired Workpath, which connects patients with in-home care providers, like nurses.
The global digital health market, which includes telemedicine, online pharmacies and wearable devices, could reach $600 billion by 2024, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. And yet, by one estimate, only 1.4 percent of the money that flows into health care goes to the femtech industry, mirroring a pattern in the medical industry, which has historically overlooked women’s health research.
“Gender bias in health care research methods and funding has really contributed to sexism in medicine and health care,” said Sonya Borrero, director of the Center for Women’s Health Research and Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we’re seeing again — gender bias in the venture capital sector is going to exactly shape what gets developed.”
That underinvestment was part of the reasoning behind the acquisition, said Zachariah Reitano, Ro’s chief executive. The company developed a female-focused online service in 2019 called Rory.
“We’re going to continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next five years into women’s health,” Mr. Reitano said, “because ultimately I think women’s health has the potential to be much larger than men’s health.”