Rising Interest Rates Threaten Mutual Fund Returns

The stock market’s rally during the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. But rising interest rates are raising the question of how long this bull market can last.

In the 12 months through March, the average general stock mutual fund tracked by Morningstar returned nearly 66 percent — a remarkable rebound after a three-month loss of nearly 22 percent at the start of last year.

The turnaround came after the Federal Reserve stepped in with support for financial markets and the economy, fueling much of the stock market’s exuberance with low interest rates.

But with the economy taking off, rates have begun to rise. At the start of a new quarter, it is a propitious moment to ask, how long can these strangely prosperous times last?

My crystal ball is no clearer now than it has ever been, alas, and I can’t time the market’s movements any better than anyone else. But this certainly a good time to assess whether you are well positioned for a possible downward shift.

As always, the best approach for long-term investors is to set up a portfolio with a reasonable, diversified asset allocation of stocks and bonds and then live with it, come what may.

Our quarterly report on investing is intended to help. If you haven’t been an investor before, we’ve included tips on how to get started. Here you will find broad coverage of recent trends, guidance for the future and reflections on personal finance in a challenging era.

It’s been a long, fine run for the stock market but a great deal of the upswing has depended on low interest rates, and in the bond market rates have been rising. Investment strategists are taking a wide array of approaches to deal with this difficult problem. For now, the bull market rides on.

Bonds provide ballast in diversified portfolios, damping the swings of the stock market and sometimes providing solid returns. Because bond yields have been rising — and yields and prices move in opposite directions — bond returns have been suffering lately. But adding a diversified selection of international bonds to domestic holdings can reduce the risk in the bond side of your investments.

Yes, the markets and the economy are complicated. That often puts people off, and stops them from taking action that can help them and their families immeasurably: investing.

But investing need not be complicated. A succinct article gives pointers on how to get started, and on how to navigate the markets for the long haul.

After a piece of virtual art known as a nonfungible token — an NFT — sold at auction for $70 million recently, NFTs have suddenly became an asset that you can invest in. Our columnist prefers real dollars.

Short-term demand for oil and gas is rising, but if climate change is to be reversed, consumption of fossil fuels will have to diminish. This leaves investors in a tough spot.

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Why Investing in Fossil Fuels Is So Tricky

As concerns about climate change push the world economy toward a lower-carbon future, investing in oil may seem a risky bet. For the long term, that may be true.

Yet for the moment, at least, oil and gas prices appear likely to continue to rise as the economy recovers from the pandemic-driven shutdown of millions of businesses, big and small.

These countervailing trends — increasing demand now and falling demand at some point, perhaps in the not-too-distant future — create a dilemma for investors.

The good news is that an array of traditional mutual funds and exchange-traded funds are available to help them navigate these uncertain waters. Some funds focus on slices of the industry, such as extracting crude oil and gas from the ground or delivering refined products to consumers. Others focus on so-called integrated companies that do it all. Some spice their holdings with some exposure to wind, solar or other alternative energy sources.

International Energy Agency forecast that oil consumption was not likely to return to prepandemic levels in developed economies.

“World oil markets are rebalancing after the Covid-19 crisis spurred an unprecedented collapse in demand in 2020, but they may never return to ‘normal,’” the I.E.A. said in its “Oil 2021” report. “Rapid changes in behavior from the pandemic and a stronger drive by governments toward a low-carbon future have caused a dramatic downward shift in expectations for oil demand over the next six years.”

alternative energy funds. Many enable investors to zero in on discrete segments of the industry.

The biggest holdings of the Invesco WilderHill Clean Energy E.T.F. are producers of raw materials for solar cells and rechargeable batteries or builders and operators of large-scale solar projects. The $2.9 billion fund yields 0.49 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.7 percent.

The First Trust NASDAQ Clean Edge Green Energy Index Fund focuses on applied green technology. Its biggest holdings are Tesla, the American maker of electric automobiles; NIO, a Chinese rival in that field; and Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Also a $2.9 billion fund, it yields 0.24 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.6 percent.

The First Trust Global Wind Energy E.T.F., as its name suggests, targets wind turbine manufacturers and servicers, led by the Spanish-German joint venture Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and Vestas Wind Systems of Denmark, as well as operators such as Northland Power of Canada. This $423 million fund yields 0.92 percent and has an expense ratio of 0.61 percent.


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What’s in Biden’s Tax Plan?

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration unveiled a tax plan on Wednesday that would increase the corporate tax rate in the U.S. and limit the ability of American firms to avoid taxes by shifting profits overseas.

Much of the plan is aimed at reversing a deep reduction in corporate taxes under President Donald J. Trump. A 2017 tax bill slashed the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and enacted a series of other provisions that the Biden administration says have encouraged firms to shift profits to lower-tax jurisdictions, like Ireland.

Some of the provisions in President Biden’s plan can be enacted by the Treasury Department, but many will require the approval of Congress. Already, Republicans have panned the proposals as putting the U.S. at a disadvantage, while some moderate Democrats have indicated they may also want to see some adjustments, particularly to the proposed 28 percent corporate tax rate.

Administration officials estimate the proposals will raise a total of $2.5 trillion in new tax revenue over a 15 year span. Analysts at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model put the estimate even higher, estimating a 10-year increase of $2.1 trillion, with about half the money coming from the plan’s various changes to the taxation of multinational corporations.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The administration sees raising the rate as a way to increase corporate tax receipts, which have plunged to match their lowest levels as a share of the economy since World War II.

Many large companies pay far less than the current tax rate of 21 percent — and sometimes nothing. Tax code provisions allow firms to reduce their liability through deductions, exemptions, offshoring and other mechanisms.

The Biden plan seeks to put an end to big companies incurring zero federal tax liability and paying no or negative taxes to the U.S. government.

the so-called global intangible low-taxed income (or GILTI) tax to 21 percent, which would narrow the gap between what companies pay on overseas profits and what they pay on earned income in the U.S.

And it would calculate the GILTI tax on a per-country basis, which would have the effect of subjecting more income earned overseas to the tax than under the current system.

A provision in the plan known as SHIELD (Stopping Harmful Inversions and Ending Low-tax Developments) is an attempt to discourage American companies from moving their headquarters abroad for tax purposes, particularly through the practice known as “inversions,” where companies from different countries merge, creating a new foreign firm.

Under current law, companies with headquarters in Ireland can “strip” some of the profits earned by subsidiaries in the United States and send them back to the Ireland company as payment for things like the use of intellectual property, then deduct those payments from their American income taxes. The SHIELD plan would disallow those deductions for companies based in low-tax countries.

The Biden administration wants other countries to raise their corporate tax rates, too.

The tax plan emphasizes that the Treasury Department will continue to push for global coordination on an international tax rate that would apply to multinational corporations regardless of where they locate their headquarters. Such a global tax could help prevent the type of “race to the bottom” that has been underway, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said, referring to countries trying to outdo one another by lowering tax rates in order to attract business.

Republican critics of the Biden tax plan have argued that the administration’s focus on a global minimum tax is evidence that it realizes that raising the U.S. corporate tax rate unilaterally would make American businesses less competitive around the world.

The president’s plan would strip away longstanding subsidies for oil, gas and other fossil fuels and replace them with incentives for clean energy. The provisions are part of Mr. Biden’s efforts to transition the U.S. to “100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity” by 2035.

The plan includes a tax incentive for long-distance transmission lines, would expand incentives for electricity storage projects and would extend other existing clean-energy tax credits.

A Treasury Department report estimated that eliminating subsidies for fossil fuel companies would increase government tax receipts by over $35 billion in the coming decade.

“The main impact would be on oil and gas company profits,” the report said. “Research suggests little impact on gasoline or energy prices for U.S. consumers and little impact on our energy security.”

Doing away with fossil fuel subsidies has been tried before, with little success given both industry and congressional opposition.

The Internal Revenue Service has struggled with budget cuts and slim resources for years. The Biden administration believes better funding for the tax collection agency is an investment that will more than pay for itself. The plan released on Wednesday includes proposals to bolster the I.R.S. budget so it can hire experts to pursue large corporations and ensure they are paying what they owe.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the I.R.S., noted in its report that the agency’s enforcement budget has fallen by 25 percent over the last decade and that it is poorly equipped to audit complex corporate filings. The agency is also unable to afford engaging in or sustaining multiyear litigation over complex tax disputes, Treasury said.

As a result of those constraints, the I.R.S. tends to focus on smaller targets while big companies and the wealthiest taxpayers are able to find ways to reduce their tax bills.

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Jamie Dimon Sees a Boom Coming

The annual letter to shareholders by JPMorgan Chase’s chief Jamie Dimon was just published. The widely read letter is not just an overview of the bank’s business but also covers Mr. Dimon’s thoughts on everything from leadership lessons to public policy prescriptions.

“The U.S. economy will likely boom.” A combination of excess savings, deficit spending, a potential infrastructure bill, vaccinations and “euphoria around the end of the pandemic,” Mr. Dimon wrote, may create a boom that “could easily run into 2023.” That could justify high equity valuations, but not the price of U.S. debt, given the “huge supply” soon to hit the market. There is a chance that a rise in inflation would be “more than temporary,” he wrote, forcing the Fed to raise interest rates aggressively. “Rapidly raising rates to offset an overheating economy is a typical cause of a recession,” he wrote, but he hopes for “the Goldilocks scenario” of fast growth, gently increasing inflation and a measured rise in interest rates.

“Banks are playing an increasingly smaller role in the financial system.” Mr. Dimon cited competition from an already large shadow banking system and fintech companies, as well as “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and now Walmart.” He argued those nonbank competitors should be more strictly regulated; their growth has “partially been made possible” by avoiding banking rules, he wrote. And when it comes to tougher regulation of big banks, he wrote, “the cost to the economy of having fail-safe banks may not be worth it.”

“China’s leaders believe that America is in decline.” While the U.S. has faced tough times before, today “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”

a leveraged buyout offer from the private equity firm CVC Capital, sending its shares to a four-year high. Toshiba has had a series of scandals, and faces pressure from activist investors.

raising the corporate rate to help pay for President Biden’s infrastructure plans — though he didn’t mention the White House’s proposed rate, 28 percent. Other corporate chiefs are privately criticizing the potential tax rise.

The company behind the Johnson & Johnson vaccine mix-up has a history of errors. Emergent BioSolutions, which the U.S. relied on to produce doses by J.&J. and AstraZeneca, had a made manufacturing errors before. Experts worry this may leave some Americans more wary of getting vaccinated, even as Mr. Biden has moved up the eligibility deadline for U.S. inoculations.

An electric aircraft maker sues a rival for intellectual property theft. Wisk, which is backed by Boeing and the Google founder Larry Page, said that former employees downloaded confidential information before joining Archer, a competitor. Archer, which is going public by merging with a SPAC run by Moelis & Company and which counts United Airlines as an investor, denied wrongdoing and said it was cooperating with a government investigation.

A blistering start for venture capital in 2021. Start-ups set a fund-raising quarterly record in the first three months of the year, raising more than $62 billion, according to the MoneyTree report from PwC and CB Insights. That’s more than twice the total a year earlier and represents nearly half of what start-ups raised in all of 2020.

Voting in the union election at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., ended on March 29, and counting began the next day, but the outcome is still unknown. What’s going on? It’s less about the number of ballots than how they’re counted.

The stakes are high, for both Amazon and the labor movement. Progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders have argued a victory for the union, the first at an Amazon facility in the U.S., could inspire workers elsewhere to unionize. And Amazon is facing increased scrutiny for its market power and labor practices.

a painstaking process:


— Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the I.M.F., on how the uneven rollout of vaccines poses a threat to the global economic recovery.


After the 2008 financial crisis, Credit Suisse emerged battered by high-risk bets and promised to do better. A series of recent scandals suggests it hasn’t, The Times’s Jack Ewing writes.

A recap of the Swiss bank’s troubles over the past year or so:

30-day comment period on to-be-drafted regulations that would make it harder to obscure who controls a company. Among the details to be worked out are what entities should report and when; how to collect, protect and update information for a database; and the criteria for sharing with law enforcement.

“We could not be more excited,” Kenneth Blanco, the director of the Treasury’s Financial Criminal Enforcement Network (FinCEN), told bankers recently. The U.S. has been under pressure to address its vulnerability to money laundering and financial crimes:

New rules could make forming small businesses, special purpose vehicles and other closely held entities “significantly” more burdensome, said Steve Ganis of Mintz, an expert in anti-money laundering regulation. “FinCEN’s new regime will make things much more complicated for start-ups, where control and ownership are highly fluid,” he said. Public companies and many larger businesses would be exempt because they already face stricter scrutiny.

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‘The U.S. Economy Will Likely Boom,’ Jamie Dimon Predicts: Live Updates

was published early Wednesday. The letter, which is widely read on Wall Street, is not just an overview of the bank’s business but also covers Mr. Dimon’s thoughts on everything from leadership lessons to public policy prescriptions.

“The U.S. economy will likely boom.” A combination of excess savings, deficit spending, vaccinations and “euphoria around the end of the pandemic,” Mr. Dimon wrote, may create a boom that “could easily run into 2023.” That could justify high stock valuations, but not the price of U.S. debt, given the “huge supply” soon to hit the market. There is a chance that a rise in inflation would be “more than temporary,” he wrote, forcing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates aggressively. “Rapidly raising rates to offset an overheating economy is a typical cause of a recession,” he wrote, but he hopes for “the Goldilocks scenario” of fast growth, gently increasing inflation and a measured rise in interest rates.

“Banks are playing an increasingly smaller role in the financial system.” Mr. Dimon cited competition from an already large shadow banking system and fintech companies, as well as “Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and now Walmart.” He argued those nonbank competitors should be more strictly regulated; their growth has “partially been made possible” by avoiding banking rules, he wrote. And when it comes to tougher regulation of big banks, he wrote, “the cost to the economy of having fail-safe banks may not be worth it.”

“China’s leaders believe that America is in decline.” The United States has faced tough times before, but today, “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”

“The solution is not as simple as walking away from fossil fuels.” Addressing climate change doesn’t mean “abandoning” companies that produce and use fossil fuels, Mr. Dimon wrote, but working with them to reduce their environmental impact. He sees “huge opportunity in sustainable and low-carbon technologies and businesses” and plans to evaluate clients’ progress according to reductions in carbon intensity — emissions per unit of output — which adjusts for factors like size.

Other notable news (and views) from the letter:

This was Mr. Dimon’s longest letter yet, at 35,000 words over 66 pages. The steadily expanding letters — aside from a shorter edition last year, weeks after Mr. Dimon had emergency heart surgery — could be seen as a reflection of the range of issues top executives are now expected, or compelled, to address.

Target said its commitment added to its other moves to improve racial equity in the past year,.
Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Target will spend more than $2 billion with Black-owned businesses by 2025, it announced on Wednesday, joining a growing list of retailers that have promised to increase their economic support of such companies in a bid to advance racial equity in the United States.

Target, which is based in Minneapolis, will add more products from companies owned by Black entrepreneurs, spend more with Black-owned marketing agencies and construction companies and introduce new resources to help Black-owned vendors navigate the process of creating products for a mass retail chain, the company said in a statement.

After last year’s protests over police brutality, a wave of American retailers, from Sephora to Macy’s, have committed to spending more money with Black-owned businesses. Many of them have joined a movement known as the 15 Percent Pledge, which supports devoting enough shelf space to Black-owned businesses to align with the African-American percentage of the national population.

Target’s announcement appears to be separate from that pledge. It said its commitment added to other racial-equity and social-justice initiatives in the past year, including efforts to improve representation among its work force.

A Samsung store in Seoul. The company’s Galaxy S21 series of  phones have sold well in the United States since their introduction in January. 
Credit…Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Samsung’s sales grew by an estimated 17 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, and operating profit increased by 44 percent, the company said on Wednesday. The South Korean electronics titan’s growth has been helped during the pandemic by strong demand for televisions, computer monitors and other lockdown staples.

The company released its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S21 series, in January. In the United States, the devices handily outsold Samsung’s last line of premium phones in their first six weeks on the market, according to Counterpoint Research, which attributed the strong performance in part to Americans receiving stimulus payments.

Samsung’s handset business has also been buoyed of late by the U.S. campaign against Huawei, one of the company’s main rivals in smartphones. The Chinese tech giant’s device sales have plummeted because American sanctions prevent its phones from running popular Google apps and services, limiting their appeal to many buyers.

Another competitor, LG Electronics, said this week that it was getting out of the smartphone business to focus on other products.

Samsung’s first-quarter revenue was likely hurt by February’s winter storm in Texas, which caused the company to halt production for a while at its manufacturing facilities in Austin.

The company is expected to report detailed financial results later this month.

Jeff Bezos in 2019. He said in a statement on Tuesday that he applauded the Biden administration’s “focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure.”
Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, said on Tuesday that he supported an increase in the corporate tax rate to fund investment in U.S. infrastructure.

President Biden is pushing a plan to spend $2 trillion on infrastructure improvements, in part by raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, from its current rate of 21 percent.

Mr. Bezos said in a statement on Amazon’s corporate website that he applauded the administration’s “focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure.”

“We recognize this investment will require concessions from all sides — both on the specifics of what’s included as well as how it gets paid for (we’re supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate),” Mr. Bezos said.

For years, Amazon has been a model for corporate tax avoidance, fielding criticism of its tax strategies from Democrats and former President Donald J. Trump. In 2019, Amazon had an effective tax rate of 1.2 percent, which was offset by tax rebates in 2017 and 2018, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning research group in Washington. In 2020, the company paid 9.4 percent in taxes on U.S. pretax profit of about $20 billion, the group said.

The company has said in the past that it “pays all the taxes we are required to pay in the U.S. and every country where we operate.”

Companies employ varied strategies to reduce their tax liabilities. In 2017, the same federal bill that lowered the tax rate to 21 percent expanded tax breaks, including allowing the immediate expensing of capital expenditures. The goal was to lift investment, but the change also caused the number of profitable companies that paid no taxes to nearly double in 2018 from prior years.

Brandon Brown and Jeremiah Collins, students at American Diesel Training.
Credit…Brian Kaiser for The New York Times

American Diesel Training, a school in Ohio that prepares people for careers as diesel mechanics, is part of a new model of work force training — one that bases pay for training programs partly on whether students get hired.

The students agree to an share about 5 percent to 9 percent of their income depending on their earnings. The monthly payments last four years. If you lose your job, the payment obligation stops.

Early results are promising, Steve Lohr reports for The New York Times, and experts say the approach makes far more economic sense than the traditional method, in which programs are paid based on how many people enroll. But there are only a relative handful of these pay-for-success programs. The challenge has been to align funding and incentives so that students, training programs and employers all benefit.

State and federal officials are now looking for new ways to improve work force development. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, announced last week, includes billions for work force development with an emphasis on “next-generation training programs” that embrace “evidence-based approaches.”

Social Finance, a nonprofit organization founded a decade ago to develop new ways to finance results-focused social programs, is seeking, designing and supporting new programs — for-profit or nonprofit — that follow the pay-for-success model.

“There is emerging evidence that these kinds of programs are a very effective and exciting part of work force development,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard. “Social Finance is targeting and nurturing new programs, and it brings a financing mechanism that allows them to expand.”

A former Kmart in West Orange, N.J., is now a coronavirus vaccination center. The International Monetary Fund said successful vaccination programs have improved countries’ growth prospects.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Major U.S. and European stock indexes hovered near record highs on Wednesday after a stream of mostly upbeat economic data and the progress on vaccinations.

U.S. stock futures were little changed on Wednesday, but the S&P 500 was set to open within half a percentage point of its record. The Stoxx Europe 600 and DAX index in Germany both fell about 0.1 percent after climbing to new highs on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund upgraded its forecast for global economic growth and said some of the world’s wealthiest countries would lead the recovery, particularly the United States, where the economy is now projected to grow by 6.4 percent this year.

The rollout of vaccines is a major reason for the rosier forecast in some countries, the I.M.F. said. President Biden said that he wanted states to make all adults eligible for vaccines by April 19, two weeks earlier than his previous deadline. In Britain, the Moderna vaccine was administered for the first time on Wednesday, making it the third vaccine available.

Still, the I.M.F. warned on Tuesday against an unequal recovery because of the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world with some lower-income countries not expected to be able to vaccinate their populations this year.

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How Debt and Climate Change Pose a ‘Systemic Risk to the Global Economy’

How does a country deal with climate disasters when it’s drowning in debt? Not very well, it turns out. Especially not when a global pandemic clobbers its economy.

Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt.

They owe staggering amounts of money to various foreign lenders. They face staggering climate risks, too. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic pummeling their economies, there is a growing recognition that their debt obligations stand in the way of meeting the immediate needs of their people — not to mention the investments required to protect them from climate disasters.

The combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy that may trigger a cycle that depresses revenues, increases spending and exacerbates climate and nature vulnerabilities,” according to a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, which was seen by The Times. It comes after months of pressure from academics and advocates for lenders to address this problem.

downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels “unsustainable.”

nearly $600 billion in debt service payments over the next five years. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts.s

“We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable,” the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, said last week as he called for debt relief for a broad range of countries. “Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience.”

The Biden administration, in an executive order on climate change, said it would use its voice in international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to align debt relief with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, though it hasn’t yet detailed what that means.

flurry of proposals from economists, advocates and others to address the problem. The details vary. But they all call, in one way or another, for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect, like forests and wetlands. One widely circulated proposal calls on the Group of 20 (the world’s 20 biggest economies) to require lenders to offer relief “in exchange for a commitment to use some of the newfound fiscal space for a green and inclusive recovery.”

debts soared, including to China, and the country, whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, pared back planned climate projects, according to research by the World Resources Institute.

The authors proposed what they called a climate-health-debt swap, where bilateral creditors, namely China, would forgive some of the debt in exchange for climate and health care investments. (China has said nothing publicly about the idea of debt swaps.)

sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress.

Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. “Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,” they wrote.

In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found.

Research suggests that climate risks have already made it more expensive for developing countries to borrow money. The problem is projected to get worse. A recent paper found climate change will raise the cost of borrowing for many more countries as early as 2030 unless efforts are made to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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Canada Supreme Court Rules Federal Carbon Tax Is Constitutional

OTTAWA — In a decision that marked an important victory for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate change agenda, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that the federal government’s imposition of carbon taxes in provinces that oppose them was constitutional.

Citing Parliament’s power to legislate on matters related to “peace, order and good government,” the court said that fighting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions was a matter of “national concern” protected under the Constitution.

“This matter is critical to our response to an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world,” the court wrote in its 6-to-3 decision. “Climate change is real. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activities and it poses a grave threat to humanity’s future.”

The concept of carbon pricing has been widely endorsed by economists and, according to the World Bank, some form of it has been carried out or is in development in 64 countries, either through direct taxes on fossil fuels or through cap-and-trade programs.

notably California. Money and tax credits to address climate change are expected to underpin much of President Biden’s coming spending proposals, which aides and documents suggest could cost as much as $4 trillion over the next decade.

But several people familiar with the forthcoming infrastructure package in the United States said that there are no plans currently to price carbon emissions. Instead, the president plans to greatly raise fuel efficiency standards for cars, forcing automakers toward electric vehicles through regulation, not legislation. Similarly, Mr. Biden plans to reimpose strict emissions regulations on electric power plants to move the sector away from coal.

Republicans in Congress remain firmly opposed to a carbon tax and have voted repeatedly and nearly unanimously over the years to bar the government from imposing one.

Parliament’s budget watchdog found that most households are paid more in rebates than they spend on carbon taxes. Households can boost that bonus by further cutting emissions by using more efficient or electric vehicles or improving their heating systems.

Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta, who canceled his province’s program, told reporters that he was disappointed with the decision but declined to say if his province will come up with a carbon pricing system to replace the federally imposed one. “We’re going to consult with Albertans and talk to our allied provinces to determine the best way forward,” he said.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law in part because the federal plan only kicks in if provinces do not set up their programs, thus maintaining the shared jurisdiction the two levels of government hold on environmental issues.

It also concluded that setting a single national minimum price for carbon is necessary for effectively reducing greenhouse gases, or GHGs, which makes federal involvement essential

“Addressing climate change requires collective national and international action,” the court wrote. “This is because the harmful effects of GHGs are, by their very nature, not confined by borders.”

Lisa Friedman contributed reporting from Washington, D.C.

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Ad Agencies Step Away From Oil and Gas in Echo of Cigarette Exodus

Dozens of other ad agencies, most of them small, have signed the same pledge, which was put together by the advocacy group Fossil Free Media. The effort, which is known as Clean Creatives, is managed by Duncan Meisel, an environmental activist who conceded that it would be difficult for ad agencies to say no to fossil fuel dollars during a pandemic.

“The advertising industry is not super healthy right now,” Mr. Meisel said. “People are used to having these clients, and it’s hard to say no to a paycheck.”

Environmental activists are not the only ones who have been applying pressure on ad makers. Amsterdam voted in December to investigate how to block oil and gas ads from its streets. Other calls to ban such advertising, attach climate warnings to it, or prevent fossil fuel companies from sponsoring sports teams have emerged in Australia, Netherlands, Canada, France, Belgium, Finland and elsewhere.

Democratic officials have filed lawsuits over the past 18 months in Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Hoboken, N.J., accusing Exxon, the trade group American Petroleum Institute and others in the industry of engaging in deception about climate change, including through their ads.

Several publications have limited or stopped accepting fossil fuel ads, including the British Medical Journal, The Guardian, and the Swedish publications Dagens Nyheter and Dagens ETC. The New York Times said in a statement that it did not allow oil and gas companies to sponsor its climate newsletter, its climate summit or its podcast “The Daily.” It still publishes paid posts from companies such as Exxon. In a statement, The Times said that “advertising helps support our newsroom, which covers the issue and impacts of climate change more than any other in the U.S.”

Hillary Moglen, a principal at Rally, a Los Angeles advocacy communications firm that has avoided working with oil and gas companies, said a shift was underway. “It’s an old-guard, new-guard situation,” she said. “There will be a point when it won’t be culturally acceptable to work with these clients.”

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France Is Ready to Save the Planet. But Not at the Expense of Meat.

LYON — Grégory Doucet, the mild-mannered Green party mayor of Lyon, hardly seems a revolutionary. But he has upended France by announcing last month that elementary school lunch menus for 29,000 Lyonnais children would no longer include meat.

An outrage! An ecological diktat that could signal the end of French gastronomy, even French culture! Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government clashed. If Lyon, the city of beef snouts and pigs’ ears, of saucisson and kidneys, could do such a thing, the apocalypse was surely imminent.

“The reaction has been quite astonishing,” Mr. Doucet, 47, said.

He is a slight man whose mischievous mien and goatee gives him the air of one of Dumas’s three musketeers. A political neophyte elected last year, he clearly finds it a little ludicrous that he, an apostle of less, should end up with more, sitting beneath a 25-foot ceiling in a cavernous mayor’s office adorned with brocade and busts of his forbears. That tweaking a local school menu has split the nation leaves him incredulous.

“My decision was purely pragmatic,” he insisted, eyes twinkling — a means to speed up lunches in socially distanced times by offering a single menu rather than the traditional choice of two dishes.

Not so, thundered Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister. He tweeted that dropping meat was an “unacceptable insult to French farmers and butchers” that betrays “an elitist and moralist” attitude. Julien Denormandie, the agriculture minister, called the mayor’s embrace of the meatless lunch “shameful from a social point of view” and “aberrational from a nutritional point of view.”

All of which prompted Barbara Pompili, the minister of ecological transition, to speak of the “prehistoric” views, full of “hackneyed clichés,” of these men, in effect calling two of her cabinet colleagues Neanderthals.

This heated exchange over little illustrated several things. Mr. Macron’s government and party, La République en Marche, remain an uneasy marriage of right and left. The rising popularity of the Greens, who run not only Lyon but also Bordeaux and Grenoble, has sharpened a cultural clash between urban environmental crusaders and the defenders of French tradition in the countryside.

Not least, nothing gets the French quite as dyspeptic as disagreement over food.

The mayor, it must be said, made his move in a city with an intense gastronomic tradition. At the Boucherie François on the banks of the Rhône, a centennial establishment, Lyon’s culture of meat is on ample display. The veal liver and kidneys glistened; cuts of roast beef wrapped in pork fat abounded; the heads of yellow and white chickens lolled on a counter; the saucissons, some with pistachio, took every cylindrical form; the pastry-wrapped pâté showed off a core of foie gras; and pigs’ trotters and ears betrayed this city’s carnivorous inclinations.

“The mayor made a mistake,” said François Teixeira, a butcher who has worked at François for 19 years. “This is not good for Lyon’s image.”

Certainly, the mayor’s decision came at a sensitive moment. The right in France has expressed indignation that the country is being force-marched, through politically correct environmental dogmatism, toward a future of bicycles, electric cars, veganism, locavores, negative planet-saving growth and general joylessness — something at a very far cry from stuffing goose livers for personal delectation.

Last year, Pierre Hurmic, the Green party mayor of Bordeaux, touched a nerve when he rejected the city’s traditional Christmas tree because it’s “a dead tree.” Mr. Doucet’s culinary move was part of “an ideological agenda,” the right-wing weekly Valeurs Actuelles proclaimed in a cover story. “The canteens of Lyon were just a pretext.”

Mr. Doucet, who describes himself as a “flexitarian,” or someone who favors vegetables but also eats a little meat, argues that the Education Ministry forced his hand. By doubling social distancing at schools to two meters, or more than six feet, it obliged the mayor to accelerate lunch by offering just one dish.

“There’s a mathematical equation,” he said. “You have the same number of tables, but you have to put fewer children at them, and you can’t start the lunch break at 10 a.m.”

But why nix meat? The mayor, who has a 7-year-old in elementary school, rolled his eyes. “We have not gone to a vegetarian menu! Every day, the children can eat fish or eggs.” Because a significant number of students already did not eat meat, he said, “we just took the lowest common denominator.”

It was not, Mr. Doucet said, an ideological decision, even if he aims over his six-year term to adjust school menus toward “a greater share of vegetable proteins.”

The mayor continued: “Most of the time these days there’s not much choice. You don’t have the choice to go to a museum, or to the theater, or to the cinema. It’s indecent for the right-wing opposition to say that I am trampling on our liberties in the context of a state of emergency.”

Mr. Macron has adopted a balancing act between his embrace of a Green future and, as he put it last year, his rejection of “the Amish model” for France. The president tries to differentiate rational from punitive or extreme environmentalism.

The president, casting his net wide as usual ahead of regional elections in June, wants to appeal to conservative farmers while attracting some of the Green vote. During a recent visit to a farm, he attacked attempts to forge a new agriculture based on “invective, bans and demagoguery.” In an apparent allusion to the Lyon fiasco, he has said “good sense” should prevail in balanced children’s diets and noted that, “We lose a lot of time in idiotic divisions.”

His government has proposed a Constitutional amendment, the first since 2008, that, if approved in a referendum, would add a sentence to the effect that France “guarantees the preservation of the environment and biological diversity and fights against climate change.”

The right has expressed opposition to the change. It still has to be reviewed by the right-leaning Senate. Another bill sets out possible reforms for a greener future that include banning advertisements for fossil fuels and eliminating some short-haul domestic flights.

Mr. Doucet is unimpressed. “Macron is not an ecologist. He is a modern conservative. He knows there’s a problem, so he is ready to make some changes, but he does not measure the size of the problem. Can you tell me one strong step he has taken?”

For now, the meatless Lyon school lunches are still being served. Children seem just fine. On Friday, a Lyon administrative court rejected an attempt by some parents, agricultural unions and local conservative politicians to overturn the mayor’s decision, ruling that the “temporary simplification” of school menus did not pose a health risk to children.

Mr. Doucet says that when the health crisis eases, but not before, he will be able to offer a choice of school menus again, including meat. Meanwhile, Mr. Denormandie, the agriculture minister, has asked the prefect in the Lyon area to look into the legality of dropping meat.

“Mr. Denormandie’s accusation that we are antisocial is a lie,” Mr. Doucet told me. “He said we were denying meat to the poorest people with the most precarious existences, which is false. He should have been fired at once.”

Boris Charetiers, a member of a parents’ association, said the mayor was being closely watched. “We are vigilant,” he said. “We don’t want this to be a definitive decision. Our children cannot be hostages to ecological political conviction.”

As for Mr. Teixeira, the butcher, he cast his eye appreciatively over the vast selection of meat. “We have canine teeth for a reason,” he said.

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting from Paris.

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