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How Not to Get Fooled by the New Inflation Numbers

We could be on the verge of a golden era for inflation nonsense. If so, its start date may well turn out to have been Tuesday morning, when new data on consumer prices was released.

The potential for misunderstanding derives from several forces crashing against each other at once. There are sure to be shortages of some goods and services as the economy creaks back to life, which could create scattered price increases for airplane tickets or hotel rooms or, as has been the case recently, certain computer chips.

There are valid concerns that the trillions of dollars of government stimulus dollars could push the economy beyond its limits and create a broad-based overheating.

But to be a savvy consumer of economic data, it’s important to separate those potential forces from the inflation data coming right now, which tells us more about the past than the future. Don’t take the backward-looking information in the new report as proof that those inflation warnings are coming true.

strange episode last April when the price of crude oil futures went negative?).

Demand for gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products is finally rising, but energy producers can’t flip a switch and produce enough fuel to meet that demand overnight, and are doubtless scarred by their losses last spring.

Similarly, grocery prices are up substantially: an annualized 3.8 percent rise since February 2020, led by a 5.9 percent rise in the price of meat, poultry, fish and eggs. If it feels as if proteins are more expensive than before the pandemic, you’re not imagining it.

Central bankers tend to look past swings in energy and food prices, which tend to fluctuate in ways that don’t portend inflation across the economy. But some elements of “core” inflation are also showing odd inflation dynamics, even when corrected for base effects.

Used cars and trucks, for example, are up an annualized 11 percent since February 2020, most likely because many people sought a way to get around besides public transport.

The flip side of that: Airfare is still far below its prepandemic levels, down an adjusted 23.9 percent from February 2020. There is plenty of reason to expect that airplanes will be crowded this summer, especially on routes to leisure destinations, as a newly vaccinated population looks to stretch its wings. But prices still have not caught up to their prepandemic norm.

Oh, and clothing is still cheaper than prepandemic levels as well, with a 2.7 percent adjusted fall in apparel prices since February 2020.

The sharp divergences in these sectors show the importance of looking at economic data more deeply than usual in the months ahead. Many of the sectors with the most extreme price effects from the pandemic bottomed out in April or May, not March — meaning the distortions in year-over-year numbers will get even bigger over the next few months.

But beyond that, with so many parts of the economy going through wrenching change, headline numbers on inflation or anything else will mean less than usual in the coming months. Rather it’s better to break things down by sector to understand whether the dynamics reflect a one-time reset of the economy or something bigger.

The Biden administration and the Federal Reserve are betting on a one-time reset, with temporary price spikes followed by a steadying of both inflation and growth in 2022. If something more pernicious arrives, it won’t show up as a few weird data points in 2021, but as a broad-based surge in prices across the economy that becomes a cycle of rising prices.

To understand an economy in uncharted territory, the details matter more than the headlines.

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Inflation Is Expected to Rise, but Don’t Be Alarmed: Live Updates

consumer price inflation reading at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Wall Street investors will be eagerly watching the data point, which is expected to jump starting this month.

Inflation data matters because it gives an up-to-date snapshot of how much it costs Americans to buy the goods and services they regularly consume. And because the Federal Reserve is charged in part with keeping increases in prices contained, the data can influence its decisions — and those affect financial markets.

But there’s a big reason not to read too much into the expected bounce in March and April — and it lies in so-called base effects.

In March’s data, inflation is expected to rise

substantially above 2 percent.

March 2021

forecast:

+2.5%

PERCENT CHANGE

IN CONSUMER

PRICE INDEX

FROM A YEAR AGO

However, some of the jump can be explained

through what’s known as base effects — prices fell

significantly last spring, so the increase now from the

year prior is larger, even if prices are not rising as

dramatically.

2021 Consumer price index

In March’s data, inflation is expected to rise substantially above 2 percent.

March 2021

forecast:

+2.5%

PERCENT CHANGE IN CONSUMER

PRICE INDEX FROM A YEAR AGO

However, some of the jump can be explained through what’s known as base effects — 

prices fell significantly last spring, so the increase now from the year prior is larger, even

if prices are not rising as dramatically.

2021 Consumer price index

Consumer inflation is usually measured on a year-over-year basis. Statisticians take a bundle of goods and services Americans buy — everything from fresh fruit to apartment rent — and aggregate it into a price index. The inflation rate that is reported each month shows how much that index changed from one year to the next.

For a quarter century, most measures of inflation have held at low levels. The Consumer Price Index moves around a bit because of volatile food and fuel prices, but a “core” index that strips out those factors has mostly come in shy of 2 percent.

But the data reported for March and April may show something different because price indexes dropped sharply a year ago as the country went into lockdown and airlines slashed ticket costs, clothing stores discounted sweaters, and hotels saw occupancy plunge.

That means inflation measures are about to lap super-low readings, and as that low base falls out, it will cause the year-over-year percent changes to jump — a little bit in March, and then a lot in April.

To be sure, climbing prices could last for a while as businesses reopen, consumers spend down big pandemic savings and producers scramble to keep up with demand. Economists and Federal Reserve officials do not expect those increases to persist for more than a few months, but if they did, it would matter to consumers and investors alike.

But a bump in prices isn’t the kind of demand-driven inflation that would prompt the Fed to lift interest rates or slow bond buying in a bid to control prices. March’s figures are most likely just a mathematical quirk.

A Grab food delivery rider in Singapore.
Credit…Wallace Woon/EPA, via Shutterstock

Grab — a ride-hailing company, bank and food delivery business all rolled into one — is set to make its debut in the largest offering by a Southeast Asian company on a U.S. stock exchange.

The company, which is based in Singapore, announced a deal on Tuesday with Altimeter Growth, a company listed for the sole purpose of buying a business. These special purpose acquisition vehicles, or SPACs, have snapped up companies over the past year at a rapid-fire pace. But this deal, which values Grab at roughly $39.6 billion, is expected to the largest such deal to date. Grab shares will trade on the Nasdaq stock exchange

The deal also includes an investment of more than $4 billion from a group that includes BlackRock, T. Rowe Price Associates and Temasek. Altimeter Capital Management, the investment firm backing the vehicle acquiring Grab, has agreed to hold certain shares in the company for at least three years.

Grab offers a “super app” that allows users to order food, pay bills and hail a car. It’s a model already popular in China, where WeChat offers a range of services, but is growing in Southeast Asia, particularly as the region builds its digital businesses. The pandemic helped propel the trend forward, with Southeast Asian consumers spending more than $10 billion online last year.

Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia operations in 2018 and a digital banking license as part of a consortium in 2020. It has attracted investors including Booking Holdings, Hyundai, Microsoft, SoftBank and Toyota.

The company is going public as deal-making is flourishing in Southeast Asia. Bain, the consulting firm, said in 2018 it expected that the region would have had at least 10 unicorns, or start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, by 2024. One of those, the e-commerce company Sea, went public in the United States in 2017. Shares of the company have risen more than 400 percent over the past year, giving it a market capitalization of $125 billion.

“It gives us immense pride to represent Southeast Asia in the global public markets,” Grab’s chief executive, Anthony Tan, said in a statement. “This is a milestone in our journey to open up access for everyone to benefit from the digital economy.”

Greensill Capital’s offices in Warrington, England. Since Greensill’s collapse, Credit Suisse has paid $4.8 billion to investors in its funds.
Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Credit Suisse said it would be able to pay back additional money to investors in funds whose troubles were among a series of disasters that have battered the Swiss bank’s reputation and finances.

The bank said it would pay an additional $1.7 billion to investors in funds linked to Greensill Capital, which collapsed last month. The latest payment means that investors will get back close to half of their money, with the prospect for more payments as Credit Suisse liquidates the funds.

Credit Suisse’s asset management unit oversaw $10 billion in funds put together by Greensill based on financing it provided to companies, many of which had low credit ratings or were not rated at all.

“There is potential for recovery in these cases although clearly there is a considerable degree of uncertainty as to the amounts that ultimately will be distributed to investors,” Credit Suisse said in a statement.

The more money that Credit Suisse can salvage from the funds, the better its chances of repairing its reputation and its ability to attract new customers. The bank has been in crisis following a series of debacles, including its disclosure last week that it will lose almost $5 billion because of money it lent to Archegos Capital Management, which crumbled this month after a high-risk stock market play went sour.

Including the $1.7 billion payment announced Tuesday, Credit Suisse has paid $4.8 billion to investors in the Greensill funds. The bank said it would take legal action to recover more money and “is engaging directly with potentially delinquent obligors and other creditors.” Some losses may be covered by insurance.

“We remain acutely aware of the uncertainty that the wind-down process creates for those of our clients who are invested in the funds,” Credit Suisse said. “We are doing everything that we can to provide them with clarity, to work through issues as they arise and, ultimately, to return cash to them.”

The headquarters of Ant Group in Hangzhou, China. The company was one of nearly three dozen ordered to ensure compliance with China’s antimonopoly rules.
Credit…CHINATOPIX, via Associated Press

China has ordered 34 of its most prominent internet companies to ensure their compliance with antimonopoly rules within the next month and to submit to official inspections thereafter — with “severe punishment” promised for any illegal practices that are uncovered.

The demand, which China’s market regulator announced on Tuesday, represents the government’s latest cracking of the whip in its campaign to tighten supervision over giant internet platforms.

For years, Beijing gave internet companies wide berth to grow rich and innovate. But in China, as in the West, concerns have been growing about the ways the companies use their clout to edge out rivals, their use and abuse of algorithms and big data and their acquisitions of smaller peers. In recent months, China has begun using both regulatory enforcement actions and public shaming to keep tech companies in check.

The country’s market regulator imposed a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine on Alibaba, the e-commerce titan, on Saturday. And on Monday, Alibaba’s fintech sister company, Ant Group, unveiled a revamp of its business in response to government demands.

Officials from China’s market watchdog, internet regulator and tax authority met with the companies on Tuesday, according to the government’s statement. At the meeting, the officials “affirmed the positive role of the platform economy” but also told the companies to “give full play to the cautionary example of the Alibaba case.”

The nearly three dozen companies included almost all of the top names in the Chinese internet industry, from established titans like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu to newer powerhouses such as TikTok’s parent, ByteDance; the food delivery giant Meituan; the e-commerce site Pinduoduo; and the video platform Kuaishou.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the companies were told to strengthen their “sense of responsibility” and to “put the nation’s interests first,” the regulator’s statement said.

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 good 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 is 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.

The owner of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and 15 other movie theaters said it would not reopen after the pandemic.
Credit…Kate Warren for The New York Times

ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, including the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, will permanently close all its locations, Pacific Theaters announced on Monday, after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

ArcLight’s locations in and around Hollywood have played host to many a movie premiere, in addition to being favorite spots for moviegoers seeking out blockbusters and prestige titles. They are operated by Pacific Theaters, which also manages a handful of theaters under the Pacific name, and are owned by Decurion.

“After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations,” the company said in a statement.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” it added, “but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.”

Between the Pacific and ArcLight brands, the company owned 16 theaters and more than 300 screens.

The movie theater business has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. But in recent weeks, the majority of the country’s largest theater chains, including AMC and Regal Cinemas, have reopened in anticipation of the slate of Hollywood films that have been put back on the calendar, many after repeated delays because of pandemic restrictions. A touch of optimism is even in the air as a result of the Warner Bros. movie “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which has generated some $70 million in box office receipts since opening over Easter weekend.

Still, the industry’s trade organization, the National Association of Theater Owners, has long warned that the punishing closures were most likely to affect smaller regional players like ArcLight and Pacific. In March, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, which operates about 40 locations across the country, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but would keep most of its locations operational while it restructured.

That does not seem to be the case for Pacific Theaters, which, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, fired its entire staff on Monday.

The reaction to ArcLight’s closing around Hollywood has been emotional, including an outpouring on Twitter.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief.
Credit…Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The election technology company Smartmatic pushed back on Monday against Fox News’s argument that it had covered the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election responsibly, stating that Fox anchors had played along as guests pushed election-related conspiracy theories.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief filed in New York State Supreme Court. “The Fox defendants do not get a do-over with their reporting now that they have been sued.”

The brief came in response to motions filed by Fox Corporation and three current and former Fox hosts — Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs — to dismiss a Smartmatic lawsuit accusing them of defamation.

Smartmatic and another company, Dominion Voting Systems, became the focus of baseless conspiracy theories after the Nov. 4 election that they had manipulated vote totals in contested states. Those conspiracy theories were pushed by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, serving as personal lawyers to former President Donald J. Trump, on Fox News, Mr. Trump’s longtime network of choice. Smartmatic, which says that the conspiracy theories destroyed its reputation and its business, provided election technology in only one county during the election.

Last month, Dominion also sued Fox News. Together, the two suits represent a billion-dollar challenge to the Fox empire, which, after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit, canceled the Fox Business program hosted by Mr. Dobbs.

“The filing only confirms our view that the suit is meritless and Fox News covered the election in the highest tradition of the First Amendment,” the network said in a statement late Monday.

Fox’s motion, as well as those of its anchors, argued that the mentions of Smartmatic were part of its reporting on a newsworthy event that it was duty-bound to cover: A president’s refusal to concede an election and his insistence that his opponent’s victory was not legitimate.

But the response Smartmatic filed on Monday, which runs for 120 pages, said that argument amounted to wishful thinking and that Fox had not covered the claims about Smartmatic objectively or fairly.

“The Fox defendants wedded themselves to Giuliani and Powell during their programs,” the brief said. “They cannot distance themselves now.”

Fox will have several weeks to respond to the brief, and a judge will eventually consider whether to allow Smartmatic’s case to proceed.

The death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright prompted protests in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

Reporters from multiple local organizations were denied entry to a news conference on Monday about the shooting of Daunte Wright, whose death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota has set off protests.

Mr. Wright, 20-year-old Black man, was killed by the officer on Sunday during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. As national and international media flooded in, Brooklyn Center officials organized a news conference for Monday to address the shooting and release body-camera video.

Andy Mannix, a federal courts reporter for The Star Tribune, the largest newspaper in Minnesota, said on Twitter that he and his colleagues were denied access to the news conference while he watched national and international media be let in.

Suki Dardarian, a senior managing editor of The Star Tribune, said in an email that the paper had sent three journalists to the news conference. Two were denied entry, while one, a videojournalist, was able to get in, she said.

A spokeswoman for Minnesota Public Radio said that credentialed M.P.R. journalists also were not granted access. An article in The Star Tribune said journalists from the Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit newsroom, were also denied.

Ms. Dardarian said local media should be allowed to attend police news conferences and ask questions.

“We were offered no explanation for why the reporter and photographer were not allowed in (as well as some other local journalists), except for someone saying the room was full,” Ms. Dardarian said. “Our videojournalist observed that there was still space in the room.”

“The chief indicated in his remarks that he is committed to transparency,” she said. “We believe that should include allowing the local media to attend a press conference to which they were invited — and agreeing to answer our questions following his statement.”

Dan Shelley, the executive director of Radio Television Digital News Association, a national industry group, said local journalists should be included in news conferences because they are part of the communities on which they’re reporting.

“If you have a genuine desire to be transparent, why would you exclude local journalists from a news conference?” Mr. Shelley said.

The city of Brooklyn Center and the city’s police department did not respond to requests for comment.

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Corporate Leaders Urged to Wade Into Debate Over Voting Laws: Live Updates

across the United States. Snap polls during the call suggested that most of the participants favor doing something, though what that would be isn’t yet clear, the DealBook newsletter reports.

The voting-rights debate is fraught for companies, putting them at the center of an increasingly heated partisan battle. Ken Chenault, the former American Express chief, and Ken Frazier, the Merck chief executive, urged the executives on the call to publicly state their support for broader ballot access. The two had gathered 70 fellow Black leaders to sign a letter last month calling on companies to fight bills that restrict voting rights, like the one that recently passed in Georgia.

A survey this month of 1,221 Americans shows support for companies wading into politics. The data, provided by the market research firm Morning Consult, was presented to the business leaders on the call, which was convened by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale. Here are some highlights:

In a separate survey of 2,200 Americans by Morning Consult, 62 percent of “avid” fans said they supported Major League Baseball’s decision to move the All-Star Game from Georgia in response to the state’s new voting restrictions. Support was lower among all adults (39 percent), but if the league was worried about the effect on its most dedicated fans, this is an important finding.

Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft, which is pushing to expand its health care technology services.
Credit…Kyle Johnson for The New York Times

Microsoft said on Monday that it would buy Nuance Communications, a provider of artificial intelligence and speech-recognition software, for about $16 billion, as it pushes to expand its health care technology services.

In buying Nuance, whose products include Dragon medical transcription software, Microsoft is hoping to bolster its offerings for the fast-growing field of medical computing. The two companies have already partnered on ways to automate the process of transcribing doctors’ conversations with patients and integrating that information into patients’ medical records.

Nuance is also known for providing the speech recognition software behind Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. In recent years, however, it has focused on creating and selling software focused on the medical field.

Under the terms of the deal announced on Monday, Microsoft will pay $56 a share in cash, up 23 percent from Nuance’s closing price on Friday. Including assumed debt, the transaction values Nuance at about $19.7 billion.

The deal is Microsoft’s biggest takeover since its 2015 acquisition of LinkedIn for $26.2 billion.

“Nuance provides the A.I. layer at the health care point of delivery and is a pioneer in the real-world application of enterprise A.I.,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“We’re not talking about how the caregiving crisis is impacting the learning loss for kids and how it’s disproportionately impacting girls and girls of color,” said Reshma Saujani, the founder of the nonprofit group Girls Who Code.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

A year into the pandemic, there are signs that the American economy is stirring back to life, with a falling unemployment rate and a growing number of people back at work. Even mothers — who left their jobs in droves in the last year in large part because of increased caregiving duties — are slowly re-entering the work force.

But young Americans — particularly women between the ages of 16 and 24 — are living an altogether different reality, with higher rates of unemployment than older adults. And many thousands, possibly even millions, are postponing their education, which can delay their entry into the work force.

New research suggests that the number of “disconnected” young people — defined as those who are in neither school nor the work force — is growing. For young women, experts said, the caregiving crisis may be a major reason many have delayed their education or careers.

Last year, unemployment among young adults jumped to 27.4 percent in April from 7.8 percent in February. The rate was almost double the 14 percent overall unemployment rate in April and was the highest for that age group in the last two decades, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

At its peak in April, the unemployment rate for young women over all hit 30 percent — with a 22 percent rate for white women in that age group, 30 percent for Black women and 31 percent for Latina women.

Those numbers are starting to improve as many female-dominated industries that shed jobs at the start of the pandemic, like leisure, retail and education, are adding them back. But roughly 18 percent of the 1.9 million women who left the work force since last February — or about 360,000 — were 16 to 24, according to an analysis of seasonally unadjusted numbers by the National Women’s Law Center.

At the same time, the number of women who have dropped out of some form of education or plan to is on the rise. During the pandemic, more women than men consistently reported that they had canceled plans to take postsecondary classes or planned to take fewer classes, according to a series of surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau since last April.

“We’ve focused in particular on the digital divide and the impact of that on the learning loss for kids,” said Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit group Girls Who Code. “But we’re not talking about how the caregiving crisis is impacting the learning loss for kids and how it’s disproportionately impacting girls and girls of color.”

All of this can have long-term knock-on effects. Even temporary unemployment or an education setback at a young age can drag down someone’s potential for earnings, job stability and even homeownership years down the line, according to a 2018 study by Measure of America that tracked disconnected youth over the course of 15 years.

Decorating a restaurant before its reopening on April 12.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

For the past year, the British economy has yo-yoed with the government’s pandemic restrictions. On Monday, as shops, outdoor dining, gyms and hairdressers reopened across England, the next bounce began.

The pandemic has left Britain with deep economic wounds that have shattered historical records: the worst recession in three centuries and record levels of government borrowing outside wartime.

Last March and April, there was an economic slump unlike anything ever seen before when schools, workplaces and businesses abruptly shut. Then a summertime boom, when restrictions eased and the government helped usher people out of their homes with a popular meal-discount initiative called “Eat Out to Help Out.”

Beginning in the fall, a second wave of the pandemic stalled the recovery, though the economic impact wasn’t as severe as it had been last spring. Still, the government has spent about 344 billion pounds, or $471 billion, on its pandemic response. To pay for it, the government has borrowed a record sum and is planning the first increase in corporate taxes since 1974 to help rebalance its budget.

By the end of the year, the size of Britain’s economy will be back where it was at the end of 2019, the Bank of England predicts. “The economy is poised like a coiled spring,” Andy Haldane, the central bank’s chief economist said in February. “As its energies are released, the recovery should be one to remember after a year to forget.”

Even though a lot of retail spending has shifted online, reopening shop doors will make a huge difference to many businesses.

Daunt Books, a small chain of independent bookstores, was busy preparing to reopen for the past week, including offering a click-and-collect service in all of its stores. Throughout the lockdown, a skeleton crew “worked harder than they’ve ever worked before, just to keep a trickle” of revenue coming in from online and telephone orders, said Brett Wolstencroft, the bookseller’s manager.

“The worst moment for us was December,” Mr. Wolstencroft said, when shops were shut in large parts of the country beginning on Dec. 20. “Realizing you’re losing your last bit of Christmas is exceptionally tough.”

He says he is looking forward to having customers return to browse the shelves and talk to the sellers. “We’d sort of turned ourselves into a warehouse” during the lockdown, he said, “but that doesn’t work for a good bookshop.”

With the likes of pubs, hairdressers, cinemas and hotels shut for months on end, Brits have built up more than £180 billion in excess savings, according to government estimates. That money, once people can get out more, is expected to be the engine of this recovery — even though economists are debating how much of this windfall will end up in the tills of these businesses.

Monday is just one phase of the reopening. Pubs can serve customers only in outdoor seating areas, and less than half, about 15,000, have such facilities. Hotels will also remain closed for at least another month alongside indoor dining, museums and theaters. The next reopening phase is scheduled for May 17.

Over all, two-fifths of hospitality businesses have outside space, said Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of U.K. Hospitality, a trade group.

“Monday is a really positive start,” she said. “It helps us to get businesses gradually back open, get staff gradually back off furlough and build up toward the real reopening of hospitality that will be May 17.”

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.
Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said the economy was at an “inflection point.”
Credit…Pool photo by [PLEASE FILL IN]

Global stocks drifted lower from recent highs on Monday ahead of a batch of first-quarter earnings reports. The S&P 500 was set to open 0.4 percent lower, futures indicated, after reaching a record high on Friday.

Most European stocks indexes fell. The Stoxx Europe 600 also declined from a high reached on Friday. The index was 0.2 percent lower on Monday, with energy and airline stocks among the companies that fell the most. The FTSE 100 in Britain was down 0.2 percent.

Stocks have recently been propelled higher by expectations that the global economy will recover strongly from the pandemic this year. Much of the impetus is expected to come from the United States, where trillions of dollars are being spent on various economic recovery packages. On Sunday, Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, said the economy was at an “inflection point” and on the cusp of growing more quickly.

But there are still concerns about the uneven nature of the global recovery. For example, parts of Europe and South America are still struggling to contain outbreaks of the coronavirus and the vaccine rollout is slower than in the United States and Britain.

The deadline to file a 2020 individual federal return and pay any tax owed has been extended to May 17. But some deadlines remain April 15, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times. So it’s a good idea to double-check deadlines.

Most, but not all, states are following the extended federal deadlines, and a few have adopted even more generous extensions.

But the Internal Revenue Service has not postponed the deadline for making first-quarter 2021 estimated tax payments. This year, the first estimated tax deadline remains April 15. Some members of Congress are pushing for the I.R.S. to reconcile the deadlines, but it’s unclear whether that will happen, with April 15 less than a week away.

Most states have retained their usual deadlines for first-quarter estimated taxes. One exception is Maryland, which moved both its filing deadline and the deadline for first- and second-quarter estimated tax payments to July 15.

During the pandemic, Amazon workers around the country have joined groups and staged walkouts to amplify their concerns about safety and pay.
Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

Even as unionization elections, like the lopsided vote against a union at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., have often proven futile, labor has enjoyed some success over the years with an alternative model — what sociologist of labor calls the “air war plus ground war.”

The idea is to combine workplace actions like walkouts (the ground war) with pressure on company executives through public relations campaigns that highlight labor conditions and enlist the support of public figures (the air war). The Service Employees International Union used the strategy to organize janitors beginning in the 1980s, and to win gains for fast-food workers in the past few years, including wage increases across the industry, Noam Scheiber reports for The New York Times.

“There are almost never any elections,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “It’s all about putting pressure on decision makers at the top.”

Labor leaders and progressive activists and politicians said they intended to escalate both the ground war and the air war against Amazon after the failed union election, though some skeptics within the labor movement are likely to resist spending more revenue, which is in the billions of dollars a year but declining.

Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the retail workers union, said in an interview that elections should remain an important part of labor’s Amazon strategy. “I think we opened the door,” he said. “If you want to build real power, you have to do it with a majority of workers.”

But other leaders said elections should be de-emphasized. Jesse Case, secretary-treasurer of a Teamsters local in Iowa, said the Teamsters were trying to organize Amazon workers in Iowa so they could take actions like labor stoppages and enlist members of the community — for example, by turning them out for rallies.

Unfair housing, zoning and lending policies have prevented generations of Black families from gathering assets.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

President Biden’s sweeping pandemic relief bill and his multitrillion-dollar initiatives to rebuild infrastructure and increase wages for health care workers are intended to help ease the economic disadvantages facing racial minorities.

Yet academic experts and some policymakers say still more will be needed to repair a yawning racial wealth gap, in which Black households have a mere 12 cents for every dollar that a typical white household holds.

The disparity results in something of a rigged game for Black Americans, in which they start out behind in economic terms at birth and fall further behind during their lives, Patricia Cohen writes in The New York Times. Black graduates, for example, have to take out bigger loans to cover college costs, compelling them to start out in more debt — on average $25,000 more — than their white counterparts.

The persistence of the problem affects the entire economy: A study by McKinsey & Company found that consumption and investment lost because of the gap cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

It also has deep historical roots. African-Americans were left out of the Homestead Act, which distributed land to citizens in the 19th century, and largely excluded from federal mortgage loan support programs in the 20th century.

As a result, the gap is unlikely to shrink substantially without policies that specifically address it, such as government-funded accounts that provide children with assets at birth. Several states have experimented with these programs on a small scale.

“We have very clear evidence that if we create an account of birth for everyone and provide a little more resources to people at the bottom, then all these babies accumulate assets,” said Michael Sherraden, founding director of the Center for Social Development at Washington University in St. Louis, which is running an experimental program in Oklahoma. “Kids of color accumulate assets as fast as white kids.”

A QR code in a London cafe, for use with the British government’s contact tracing app.
Credit…Neil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock

An update to the contact tracing app used in England and Wales has been blocked from release by Apple and Google because of privacy concerns, renewing a feud between the British government and the two tech giants about how smartphones can be used to track Covid-19 cases.

In an attempt to trace possible infections, the update to the app would have allowed a person who tests positive for the virus to upload a list of restaurants, shops and other venues they recently visited, data that would be used by health officials for contact tracing. But collecting such location information violates the terms of service that Google and Apple forced governments to agree to in exchange for making contact tracing apps available on their app stores.

The dispute, first reported by the BBC, highlights the supernational role that Apple and Google have played responding to the virus. The companies, which control the software of nearly every smartphone in the world, have forced governments to design contact tracing apps to their privacy specifications, or risk not have the tracking apps made available to the public. The gatekeeper role has frustrated policymakers in Britain, France and elsewhere, who have argued those public health decisions are for governments, not private companies to make.

The release of the app update was to coincide with England’s relaxation of lockdown rules. On Monday, the country began loosening months of Covid-related restrictions, allowing nonessential shops to reopen, and pubs and restaurants to serve customers outdoors.

An older version of the contact tracing app continues to work, but the data is stored on a person’s device, rather than being kept in a centralized database.

To use the app, visitors to a store or restaurant take a photo of a poster with a QR code displayed in the business, and the software keeps a record of the visit in case someone at the same location later tests positive.

Apple and Google are blocking the update that would let people upload the history of the locations they have checked into directly to health authorities.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it is in discussions with Apple and Google to “provide beneficial updates to the app which protect the public.”

Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Google declined to comment.

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Myanmar Coup Puts the Seal on Autocracy’s Rise in Southeast Asia

Late last month, foreign officials in army regalia toasted their hosts in Naypyidaw, the bunkered capital built by Myanmar’s military. Ice clinked in frosted glasses. A lavish spread had been laid out for the foreign dignitaries in honor of Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day.

That very day, the military, which had seized power on Feb. 1, gunned down more than 100 of its own citizens. Far from publicly condemning the brutality, the military representatives from neighboring countries — India, China, Thailand and Vietnam among them — posed grinning with the generals, legitimizing their putsch.

The coup in Myanmar feels like a relic of a Southeast Asian past, when men in uniform roamed a vast dictators’ playground. But it also brings home how a region once celebrated for its transformative “people power” revolutions — against Suharto of Indonesia and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines — has been sliding back into autocracy.

From Cambodia and the Philippines to Malaysia and Thailand, democracy is languishing. Electoral politics and civil liberties have eroded. Obedient judiciaries have hobbled opposition forces. Entire political classes are in exile or in prison. Independent media are being silenced by leaders who want only one voice heard: their own.

alliance of democracies.” With China and Russia involved, the United Nations Security Council has done nothing to punish Myanmar’s generals.

Covid-19 with them.

A scheduled special meeting on Myanmar by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations offers little hope of action. That consensus-driven group avoids delving into members’ internal affairs. Earlier negotiations among regional foreign ministers didn’t result in a single policy that would deter Myanmar’s coup-makers.

Besides, many of the region’s leaders have no wish to uphold democratic ideals. They have used the courts to silence their critics and met protest movements with force.

But if authoritarians are looking out for one another, so, too, are protesters. In Thailand, students have stood up to a government born of a coup, using a three-fingered salute from the “Hunger Games” films to express defiance. The same gesture was adopted after the putsch in Myanmar, the leitmotif of a protest movement millions strong.

its first commoner president, and Malaysia would shunt aside a governing party bloated by decades of graft and patronage. Thailand’s generals had managed to go years without a coup. Even in Vietnam, the Communist leadership was pushing forward with liberalization.

The most significant transformation seemed to be in Myanmar. The military had led the country since a 1962 coup, driving it into penury. In 2015, the generals struck a power-sharing agreement with a civilian leadership fronted by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who spent 15 years under house arrest. President Barack Obama went to Myanmar to sanctify the start of a peaceful political transition.

Now Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi is again locked in her villa, facing possible life imprisonment. Her supporters have been arrested and tormented. Soldiers picked up one of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s followers and burned a tattoo of her face off his arm.

Much of the rest of Southeast Asia is in full-fledged democratic retreat. The leader of Thailand’s last coup, Prayuth Chan-ocha, is still the prime minister. His government has charged dozens of student protesters, some in their teens, with obscure crimes that can carry long sentences. Thai dissidents in exile have turned up dead.

After a brief interlude out of government, Malaysia’s old establishment is back in power, including people associated with one of the largest heists of state funds the world has seen in a generation. Vietnam’s crackdown on dissent is in high gear. In Cambodia, Hun Sen, Asia’s longest-ruling leader, has dismantled all opposition and set in place the makings of a family political dynasty.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines may enjoy enduring popularity, but he has presided over thousands of extrajudicial killings. He has also cozied up to China, presenting it as a more constant friend than the United States, which once colonized the Philippines.

Protesters in Thailand, who gathered by the hundreds of thousands last year, have resumed their rallies, even though most of their young leaders are now in prison.

As the riot police fired rubber bullets near the Grand Palace in Bangkok last month, Thip Tarranitikul said she wanted to erase the military from politics.

army chief, appears to have underestimated the people’s commitment to democratic change. Millions have marched against him. Millions have also joined nationwide strikes meant to stop his government from functioning.

There is little reason to believe the military will back down, given its decades in power. Over the past two months, it has killed more than 700 civilians, according to a monitoring group. Thousands have been arrested, including medics, reporters, a model, a comedian and a beauty blogger.

But the resistance has demographics on its side.

Southeast Asia may be ruled by old men, but more than half its population is under 30. Myanmar’s reforms over the past decade benefited young people who eagerly connected to the world. In Thailand, this same cohort is confronting the old hierarchies of military and monarchy.

Regional defenders of democracy, including the besieged dissidents of nearby Hong Kong, have formed what they call the Milk Tea Alliance online, referring to a shared affinity for the sweet brew. (Twitter recently gave the movement its own emoji.) On encrypted apps, they trade tips for protecting themselves from tear gas and bullets. They have also bonded over the disproportionate impact the pandemic has had on young workers, in countries where income inequality is growing wider.

“The youth of Southeast Asia, these young digital natives, they inherently despise authoritarianism because it doesn’t jibe with their democratic lifestyle. They aren’t going to give up fighting back,” said Mr. Thitinan of Chulalongkorn University. “That’s why, as bad as things may seem now, authoritarianism in the region is not a permanent condition.”

In Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, protesters have faced the military’s rifles with a sense of an existential mission.

“I’m not afraid to die,” said Ko Nay Myo Htet, a high school student manning one of the barricades built to defend neighborhoods. “I want a better life for the future generation.”

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

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Saudi Aramco Sells Oil Pipeline Stake for $12.4 Billion

BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.

“We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”

Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.

Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.

“Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”

BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

After its initial public offering imploded, WeWork went public through a SPAC deal.
Credit…Kate Munsch/Reuters

After weeks of wading into the debate over how to regulate SPACS, the popular blank-check deals that provide companies a back door to public markets, the Securities and Exchange Commission is sending its first shot across the bow.

John Coates, the acting director of the corporate finance division at the S.E.C., issued a lengthy statement on Thursday about how securities laws apply to blank-check firms, the DealBook newsletter reports.

“With the unprecedented surge has come unprecedented scrutiny,” Mr. Coates wrote of the recent boom in blank-check deals.

In particular, he is interested in a crucial (and controversial) difference between SPACs and traditional initial public offerings: blank-check firms are allowed to publish often-rosy financial forecasts when merging with an acquisition target, while companies going public in an I.P.O. are not. Regulators consider such forecasts too risky for firms as yet untested by the public markets.

Investors raise money for SPACs via an I.P.O. of a shell company, and those funds are used within two years to merge with an unspecified company, which then also becomes a publicly traded company. Because the deal is technically a merger, it’s given the same “safe harbor” legal protections for its financial forecasts as a typical M.& A. deal. And that’s why there are flying-taxi companies with little revenue going public via a SPAC while promising billions in sales far in the future.

The S.E.C. thinks allowing financial forecasts for these deals might be a problem. They can be “untested, speculative, misleading or even fraudulent,” Mr. Coates wrote. And he concludes his statement by suggesting a major rethink of how the “full panoply” of securities laws applies to SPACs, which could upend the blank-check business model.

If the S.E.C. does not treat SPAC deals as the I.P.Os they effectively are, he writes, “potentially problematic forward-looking information may be disseminated without appropriate safeguards.”

The letter serves as a warning, but perhaps not much else — yet. Unless the S.E.C. issues new rules (as it did for penny stocks) or Congress passes legislation, SPAC projections will continue. But this strongly worded statement could moderate or even mute them.

“The S.E.C. has now put them on notice,” Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant of the agency, said.


Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

Either side needed 1,521 votes to win.

A total of 505 ballots were challenged; 76 were void.·Source: National Labor Relations Board

Amazon beat back the unionization drive at its warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., the counting of ballots in the closely watched effort showed on Friday.

A total of 738 workers voted “Yes” to unionize and 1,798 voted “No.” There were 76 ballots marked as void and 505 votes were challenged, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The union leading the drive to organize, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, said most of the challenges were from Amazon.

About 50 percent of the 5,805 eligible voters at the warehouse cast ballots in the election. Either side needed to receive more than 50 percent of all cast ballots to prevail.

The ballots were counted in random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham, Ala., and the process was broadcast via Zoom to more than 200 journalists, lawyers and other observers.

The voting was conducted by mail from early February until the end of last month. A handful of workers from the labor board called out the results of each vote — “Yes” for a union or “No” — for nearly four hours on Thursday.

Sophia June and Miles McKinley contributed to this report.

A screenshot of a “vax cards” page on Facebook. 

Online stores offering counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards have mushroomed in recent weeks, according to Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The efforts are far from hidden, with Facebook pages named “vax-cards” and eBay listings with “blank vaccine cards” openly hawking the items, Sheera Frenkel reports for The New York Times.

Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.

An empty conference room in New York, which is among the cities with the lowest rate of workers returning to offices.
Credit…George Etheredge for The New York Times

In only a year, the market value of office towers in Manhattan has plummeted 25 percent, according to city projections released on Wednesday.

Across the country, the vacancy rate for office buildings in city centers has steadily climbed over the past year to reach 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, the highest in about a decade. That number could climb further if companies keep giving up office space because of hybrid or fully remote work, Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report for The New York Times.

So far, landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green have not suffered huge financial losses, having survived the past year by collecting rent from tenants locked into long leases — the average contract for office space runs about seven years.

But as leases come up for renewal, property owners could be left with scores of empty floors. At the same time, many new office buildings are under construction — 124 million square feet nationwide, or enough for roughly 700,000 workers. Those changes could drive down rents, which were touching new highs before the pandemic. And rents help determine assessments that are the basis for property tax bills.

Many big employers have already given notice to the owners of some prestigious buildings that they are leaving when their leases end. JPMorgan Chase, Ford Motor, Salesforce, Target and more are giving up expensive office space and others are considering doing so.

The stock prices of the big landlords, which are often structured as real estate investment trusts that pass almost all of their profit to investors, trade well below their previous highs. Shares of Boston Properties, one of the largest office landlords, are down 29 percent from the prepandemic high. SL Green, a major New York landlord, is 26 percent lower.

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House appearance on Thursday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President Biden proposed a vast expansion of federal spending on Friday, calling for a 16 percent increase in domestic programs as he tries to harness the government’s power to reverse what officials called a decade of underinvestment in the nation’s most pressing issues.

The proposed $1.52 trillion in spending on discretionary programs would significantly bolster education, health research and fighting climate change. It comes on top of Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3 trillion on the nation’s infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s first spending request to Congress showcases his belief that expanding, not shrinking, the federal government is crucial to economic growth and prosperity. It would direct billions of dollars toward reducing inequities in housing and education, as well as making sure every government agency puts climate change at the front of its agenda.

It does not include tax proposals, economic projections or so-called mandatory programs like Social Security, which will all be included in a formal budget request the White House will release this spring.

Among its major new spending initiatives, the plan would dedicate an additional $20 billion to help schools that serve low-income children and provide more money to students who have experienced racial or economic barriers to higher education. It would create a multi-billion-dollar program for researching diseases like cancer and add $14 billion to fight and adapt to the damages of climate change.

It would also seek to lift the economies of Central American countries, where rampant poverty, corruption and devastating hurricanes have fueled migration toward the southwestern border and a variety of initiatives to address homelessness and housing affordability, including on tribal lands. And it asks for an increase of about 2 percent in spending on national defense.

The request represents a sharp break with the policies of President Donald J. Trump, whose budget proposals prioritized military spending and border security, while seeking to cut funding in areas like environmental protection.

All told, the proposal calls for a $118 billion increase in discretionary spending in the 2022 fiscal year, when compared with the base spending allocations this year. It seeks to capitalize on the expiration of a decade of caps on spending growth, which lawmakers agreed to in 2010 but frequently breached in subsequent years.

Administration officials would not specify on Friday whether that increase would result in higher federal deficits in their coming budget proposal, but promised its full budget would “address the overlapping challenges we face in a fiscally and economically responsible way.”

As part of that effort, the request seeks $1 billion in new funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax laws, including “increased oversight of high-income and corporate tax returns.” That is clearly aimed at raising tax receipts by cracking down on tax avoidance by companies and the wealthy.

Officials said the proposals did not reflect the spending called for in Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, which he introduced last week, or for a second plan he has yet to roll out, which will focus on what officials call “human infrastructure” like education and child care.

Congress, which is responsible for approving government spending, is under no requirement to adhere to White House requests. In recent years, lawmakers rejected many of the Trump administration’s efforts to gut domestic programs.

But Mr. Biden’s plan, while incomplete as a budget, could provide a blueprint for Democrats who narrowly control the House and Senate and are anxious to reassert their spending priorities after four years of a Republican White House.

Part of Saudi Aramco’s giant Ras Tanura oil terminal. The company said it would raise $12.4 billion from selling a minority stake in its oil pipeline business.
Credit…Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters

Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, has reached a deal to raise $12.4 billion from the sale of a 49 percent stake in a pipeline-rights company.

The money will come from a consortium led by EIG Global Energy Partners, a Washington-based investor in pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

Under the arrangement announced on Friday, the investor group will buy 49 percent of a new company called Aramco Oil Pipelines, which will have the rights to 25 years of payments from Aramco for transporting oil through Saudi Arabia’s pipeline networks.

Aramco is under pressure from its main owner, the Saudi government, to generate cash to finance state operations as well as investments like new cities to diversify the economy away from oil.

The company has pledged to pay $75 billion in annual dividends, nearly all to the government, as well as other taxes.

Last year, the dividends came to well in excess of the company’s net income of $49 billion. Recently, Aramco was tapped by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s main policymaker, to lead a new domestic investment drive to build up the Saudi economy.

The pipeline sale “reinforces Aramco’s role as a catalyst for attracting significant foreign investment into the Kingdom,” Aramco said in a statement.

From Saudi Arabia’s perspective, the deal has the virtue of raising money up front without giving up control. Aramco will own a 51 percent majority share in the pipeline company and “retain full ownership and operational control” of the pipes the company said.

Aramco said Saudi Arabia would retain control over how much oil the company produces.

Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich neighbor, has struck similar oil and gas deals with outside investors.

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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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A Bleak Forecast for Canada’s 600,000 Energy Industry Workers

We don’t know exactly what Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, will present when she becomes the country’s first woman to deliver a federal budget later this month. But the Liberal government has made it abundantly clear that economic and employment recovery will be its broad theme.

paints a dire picture for one group of workers whose employment is threatened by much more than the pandemic. It forecasts that as the world grapples with climate change, reduced demand for oil and gas will cause to 50 to 75 percent of 600,000 jobs in Canada’s energy sector to vanish.

Beata Caranci, the bank’s chief economist and the main author of the report, told me that while she anticipates the budget will include something for energy workers, the work to transition them to new jobs in the low carbon world should already be underway.

hollowing out of middle income jobs. Wealth and jobs, in turn, became concentrated in a handful of cities.

But in Canada the loss of manufacturing work was offset by well paying jobs in the expanding Canadian energy industry. The rise of fly-in, fly-out work, in which residents of Atlantic Canada and elsewhere commuted to jobs in the oil sands, spread those economic benefits around the country.

visited Canada regularly from 1951, Marilyn Berger writes that he “tried to shepherd into the 20th century a monarchy encrusted with the trappings of the 19th. But as pageantry was upstaged by scandal, as regal weddings were followed by sensational divorces, his mission, as he saw it, changed. Now it was to help preserve the crown itself.” And in Opinion, Tina Brown, author of the forthcoming book “The Palace Papers,” offers her assessment of the Duke of Edinburgh.

  • Canada is among the nations seized by vaccine envy.

  • Robert A. Mundell, the Nobel Prize winning economist who was born in Kingston, Ontario, has died. He championed the idea that low tax rates and easy fiscal policies should be used to spur economies, and that higher interest rates and tight monetary policy were the proper tools to curb inflation. Former President Ronald Reagan embraced Professor Mundell’s ideas. Their effects remain a matter of debate.

  • Vaccine passports might reopen the world. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is among those concerned fairness of a two-tier system for haves and have-nots.


  • A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


    How are we doing?
    We’re eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to nytcanada@nytimes.com.

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    Lee Delaney, C.E.O. of BJ’s Wholesale Club, dies unexpectedly

    Lee Delaney, the president and chief executive of BJ’s Wholesale Club, died unexpectedly on Thursday of “presumed natural causes,” according to a statement released Friday by the company. He was 49.

    “We are shocked and profoundly saddened by the passing of Lee Delaney,” said Christopher J. Baldwin, the company’s executive chairman, said in a statement. “Lee was a brilliant and humble leader who cared deeply for his colleagues, his family and his community.”

    Mr. Delaney joined BJ’s in 2016 as executive vice president and chief growth officer. He was promoted to president in 2019 and became chief executive last year. Before joining BJ’s, he was a partner in the Boston office of Bain & Company from 1996 to 2016. Mr. Delaney earned a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, and attended the University of Massachusetts, where he pursued a double major in computer science and mathematics.

    Mr. Delaney led the company through the unexpected changes in consumer demand spurred by the pandemic, with many customers stockpiling wholesale goods as they hunkered down at home. “2020 was a remarkable, transformative and challenging year that structurally changed our business for the better,” Mr. Delaney said in the company’s last quarterly earnings report.

    The BJ’s board appointed Bob Eddy, the chief administrative and financial officer, to serve as the company’s interim chief executive. Mr. Eddy joined the company in 2007 and became the chief financial officer in 2011, adding the job of chief administrative officer in 2018.

    “Bob partnered closely with Lee and has played an integral role in transforming and growing BJ’s Wholesale Club,” Mr. Baldwin said. He said that the company would announce decisions about its permanent executive leadership in a “reasonably short timeframe.”

    BJ’s, based in Westborough, Mass., operates 221 clubs and 151 BJ’s Gas locations in 17 states.

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    Biden’s Corporate Tax Proposal Could Raise Trillions

    The Biden administration has unveiled its corporate tax overhaul, intended to raise $2.5 trillion over 15 years to pay for an infrastructure program. “Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain,” President Biden said, but he stressed that “inaction is not an option.”

    “America’s corporate tax system has long been broken,” the Treasury secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed coinciding with the plan’s release. In addition to raising the headline corporate tax rate, the administration’s proposal takes aim at companies that shift profits abroad, especially to low-tax havens like Bermuda or Ireland. Some of the changes could be enacted by regulation, but things like raising the corporate tax rate will need the approval of Congress.

    What’s in the plan? Here are the main provisions:

    • Raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. The increase from 21 percent would put the U.S. more in line with other big countries and, the administration says, lift corporate tax receipts that have fallen to their lowest levels as a share of the economy since World War II.

    global minimum tax rate by midyear, but previous efforts have faltered when it came to nailing down the details.

    • Punish companies that headquarter in low-tax countries. A provision in the plan would target “inversions,” where American companies merge with a foreign entity in order to move headquarters to a low-tax country.

    • Replace fossil-fuel tax subsidies with clean-energy incentives. Previous attempts to eliminate subsidies on oil and gas met with stiff industry and congressional opposition.

    • Beef up the I.R.S. The agency’s enforcement budget has fallen by 25 percent over the past decade, and the proposal would bolster the budget for experts in complex corporate litigation.

    What effect would it have? A Wharton School budget model concluded that the corporate tax rate increase would “not meaningfully affect the normal return on investment,” but when combined with the proposed minimum tax on book income, business investment would fall somewhat. All told, by 2050 the tax provisions would reduce government debt by more than 11 percent from the current baseline, but also reduce G.D.P. by 0.5 percent over that period.

    “I’m actually OK at 28 percent.”

    For more on this, see our sister newsletter, The Morning: “Corporate Taxes Are Wealth Taxes

    The counting of votes in the Amazon union drive begins soon. The union seeking to represent workers at a warehouse in Alabama said that 3,215 ballots were cast, representing 55 percent of eligible workers. The hand count of the ballots will begin either later today or tomorrow.

    Britain curbs the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people under 30. The decision came as regulators increasingly suspect a link between the shot and rare blood clots. While Britain has enough vaccines from other makers to avoid a slowdown in its inoculation efforts, the concerns may dent vaccination efforts in developing countries.

    Senator Mitch McConnell walks back his comments on companies and politics, sort of. The minority leader conceded that his criticism of companies for speaking out against voting restrictions was not spoken “artfully.” (Democrats noted that Republicans have benefited from corporate donations.) “They are certainly entitled to be involved in politics,” Mr. McConnell said.

    Tencent’s biggest shareholder sells a slice of its holdings for $14.7 billion. Prosus, the Europe-based tech investor, sold 2 percent of its stake in the Chinese tech giant in the biggest-ever block trade (breaking its own record). Prosus still owns a 29 percent stake in the company.

    hadn’t told top executives or his board of the arrangement. He is accused of having the gun-rights group file for Chapter 11 to stymie an investigation by New York State’s attorney general.

    Many parts of the economy have held up during the pandemic — but corporate real estate isn’t one of them. Landlords and cities are worried that remote working will irreversibly sap demand for office space, The Times’s Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report.

    The numbers are grim for landlords. The national office vacancy rate in city centers has hit 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, a decade-long high. In Manhattan alone, over 17 percent of all office space is available, the most in over 30 years. And rents on existing space could also face pressure from new buildings coming online, representing 124 million square feet.

    Some are staying hopeful. Landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green haven’t suffered big financial losses from the pandemic, thanks to many tenants being locked into long leases. They’re also betting many companies want their workers to meet in person to better collaborate and train younger employees.

    The final damage won’t be known for some time. Companies are still trying to figure out their real estate needs, based on their work policies: While Amazon expects a return to an “office-centric culture,” JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon said that the bank may need only 60 seats for every 100 employees after the pandemic.


    — Peter Thiel, the tech investor, on how cryptocurrency threatens the U.S. dollar. “China wants to do things to weaken it, so China’s long Bitcoin,” he added.

    Florida and Texas banned them. Airlines, universities, event venues and other businesses are also testing various methods of vaccine verification. The starkly different approaches reflect a wider national and global debate on proof of health in the pandemic era.

    “There are a lot of ways it could be done badly,” Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union told DealBook, but he suggested a “narrow path” to a certification system that could work. The ideal system would be paper-based with a digital supplement, Mr. Stanley argues, so that people who lack access to technology aren’t disadvantaged. Encrypted data would be stored on a decentralized network, protected with a public key for vaccine providers and private keys for users to ensure privacy. Fairness also demands a standardized approach, rather than the current variety of systems, which could result in “a mess for civil liberties, equity and privacy,” he said.

    The Biden administration has said it won’t mandate vaccine passports, a point it reiterated this week, but it is working on standards the private sector can adopt. New York partnered with IBM on the state’s opt-in Excelsior Pass, which allows access to restricted activities and venues.

    The certificates can raise a slew of social and legal issues, depending on who is asking for proof of vaccination and why, according to the Stanford law professor David Studdert. Government mandates trigger more concerns than opt-in programs, he noted, and companies will have different considerations if they seek certification from customers or workers. Given all the variations, he said, “within reason” the market should decide what works, and officials should avoid both mandates and bans: “Different communities and employers have a different tolerance for risk.”

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