Amazon Union Votes Continue to Be Tallied: Live Updates

Unofficial Tally of Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes 1,608 yes votes are needed for the union to win today. The New York Times·As of 7:19 p.m. Hundreds of ballots have been contested, which could delay either side from reaching the threshold. One ballot was marked as void. The ballots were being 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.Amazon and the union had spent more than a week in closed sessions, reviewing the eligibility of each ballot cast with the labor board, the federal agency that conducts union elections. The union said several hundred ballots had been contested, largely by Amazon, and those ballots were set aside to be adjudicated and counted only if they were vital to determining an outcome. If Amazon’s large margin holds steady throughout the count, the contested ballots are likely to be moot.The incomplete tally put Amazon on the cusp of defeating the most serious organized-labor threat in the company’s history. Running a prominent campaign since the fall, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union aimed to establish the first union at an Amazon warehouse in the United States. The result will have major implications not only for Amazon but also for organized labor and its allies.

Labor organizers have tapped into dissatisfaction with working conditions in the warehouse, saying Amazon’s pursuit of efficiency and profits makes the conditions harsh for workers. The company counters that its starting wage of $15 an hour exceeds what other employers in the area pay, and it has urged workers to vote against unionizing.

Amazon has always fought against unionizing by its workers. But the vote in Alabama comes at a perilous moment for the company. Lawmakers and regulators — not competitors — are some of its greatest threats, and it has spent significant time and money trying to keep the government away from its business.

The union drive has had the retailer doing a political balancing act: staying on the good side of Washington’s Democratic leaders while squashing an organizing effort that President Biden has signaled he supported.

Labor leaders and liberal Democrats have seized on the union drive, saying it shows how Amazon is not as friendly to workers as the company says it is. Some of the company’s critics are also using its resistance to the union push to argue that Amazon should not be trusted on other issues, like climate change and the federal minimum wage.

Sophia June contributed to this report.

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.

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.

A closed restaurant and pastry store in Tucson, Ariz. The Fed chair, Jerome Powell, said the economic recovery from the pandemic has been “uneven and incomplete.”
Credit…Rebecca Noble for The New York Times
  • U.S. stock futures rose on Friday along with government bond yields after the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, reiterated his intention to keep supporting the economic recovery until it is complete.

  • The rollout of vaccinations meant the United States economy could probably reopen soon, but the recovery was still “uneven and incomplete,” Mr. Powell said at the International Monetary Fund annual conference on Thursday.

  • He pointed out that the economic burden of the pandemic was falling most heavily on low-income service workers who were least able to bear it. “I really want to finish the job and get back to a great economy,” Mr. Powell said.

  • The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped 5 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 1.67 percent. The yield on 10-year government bonds rose across Europe, too.

  • The S&P 500 index was set to open 0.1 percent higher and has risen 0.4 percent so far this week.

  • The relatively quiet week in the stock market has sent the VIX index, a measure of volatility, to its lowest level since February 2020. The index was at 17 points on Friday. In mid-March, as the pandemic shut down huge parts of the global economy, it spiked above 80.

  • European stock indexes were mixed on Friday, though the Stoxx Europe 600 was heading for its sixth straight week of gains. The DAX index in Germany rose 0.1 percent after data showed an unexpected drop in industrial production.

  • Oil prices rose slightly with futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, 0.2 percent higher to $59.70 a barrel.

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Fear of Inflation Finds a Foothold in the Bond Market

The so-called bond vigilantes may be back, 30 years after they led a sell-off in Treasury securities over the prospect of higher government spending by a new Democratic administration.

The Federal Reserve has downplayed the risk of inflation, and many experts discount the danger of a sustained rise in prices. But there is an intense debate underway on Wall Street about the prospects for higher inflation and rising interest rates.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes have risen sharply in recent weeks, a sign that traders are taking the inflation threat more seriously. If the trend continues, it will put bond investors on a collision course with the Biden administration, which recently won passage of a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill and wants to spend trillions more on infrastructure, education and other programs.

recall the 1990s, when yields on Treasury securities lurched higher as the Clinton administration considered plans to increase spending. As a result, officials soon turned to deficit reduction as a priority.

coined the term bond vigilante in the 1980s to describe investors who sell bonds amid signs that fiscal deficits are getting out of hand, especially if central bankers and others don’t act as a counterweight.

As bond prices fall and yields rise, borrowing becomes more expensive, which can force lawmakers to spend less.

“They seem to mount up and form a posse every time inflation is making a comeback,” Mr. Yardeni said. “Clearly, they’re back in the U.S. So while it’s fine for the Fed to argue inflation will be transitory, the bond vigilantes won’t believe it till they see it.”

Yields on the 10-year Treasury note hit 1.75 percent last week before falling back this week, a sharp rise from less than 1 percent at the start of the year.

plenty of slack in the economy.

That’s how Alan S. Blinder, a Princeton economist who was an economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and is a former top Fed official, sees it. Even if inflation goes up slightly, Mr. Blinder believes the Fed’s target for inflation, set at 2 percent, is appropriate.

“Bond traders are an excitable lot, and they go to extremes,” he said. “If they are true to form, they will overreact.”

Indeed, there have been rumors of the bond vigilantes’ return before, like in 2009 as the economy began to creep out of the deep hole of the last recession and rates inched higher. But in the ensuing decade, both yields and inflation remained muted. If anything, deflation was a greater concern than rising prices.

It is not just bond traders who are concerned. Some of Mr. Blinder’s colleagues from the Clinton administration are warning that the conventional economic wisdom hasn’t fully accepted the possibility of higher rates or an uptick in prices.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

Robert E. Rubin, Mr. Clinton’s second Treasury secretary, echoed that concern but took pains to support the stimulus package.

“There is a deep uncertainty,” Mr. Rubin said in an interview. “We needed this relief bill, and it served a lot of useful purposes. But we now have an enormous amount of stimulus, and the risks of inflation have increased materially.”

relatively loose for the foreseeable future. If higher prices do materialize, the Fed could halt asset purchases and raise rates sooner.

“We’re committed to giving the economy the support that it needs to return as quickly as possible to a state of maximum employment and price stability,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. That help will continue “for as long as it takes.”

While most policymakers expect faster growth, falling unemployment and a rise in inflation to above 2 percent, they nonetheless expect short-term rates to stay near zero through 2023.

But the Fed’s ability to control longer-term rates is more limited, said Steven Rattner, a veteran Wall Street banker and former New York Times reporter who served in the Obama administration.

“At some point, if this economy takes off bigger than any one of us expect, the Fed will have to raise rates, but it’s not this year’s issue and probably not next year’s issue,” he said. “But we are in uncharted waters, and we are to some extent playing with fire.”

The concerns about inflation expressed by Mr. Rattner, Mr. Rubin and others has at least a little to do with a generational angst, Mr. Rattner, 68, points out. They all vividly remember the soaring inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s that prompted the Fed to raise rates into the double digits under the leadership of Paul Volcker.

The tightening brought inflation under control but caused a deep economic downturn.

“People my age remember well the late 1970s and 1980s,” Mr. Rattner said. “I was there, I covered it for The Times, and lived through it. Younger people treat it like it was the Civil War.”

Some younger economists, like Gregory Daco of Oxford Economics, who is 36, think these veterans of past inflation scares are indeed fighting old wars. Any rise in inflation above 2 percent is likely to be transitory, Mr. Daco said. Bond yields are up, but they are only returning to normal after the distortions caused by the pandemic.

“If you have memories of high inflation and low growth in the 1970s, you may be more concerned with it popping up now,” he said. “But these are very different circumstances today.”

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Fed Lets Break for Banks Expire but Opens Door to Future Changes

The Federal Reserve said on Friday that it would not extend a temporary exemption of a rule that dictates the amount of capital banks must keep in reserve, a loss for big banks and their lobbyists, who had been pushing to extend the relief beyond its March 31 expiration.

At the same time, the Fed opened the door to future tweaks to the regulation if changes are deemed necessary to keeping essential markets functioning smoothly. Banks are required to keep easy-to-access money on hand based on the size of their assets, a requirement known as the supplementary leverage ratio, the design of which they have long opposed.

The Fed introduced the regulatory change last year. It has allowed banks to exclude both their holdings of Treasury securities and their reserves — which are deposits at the Fed — when calculating the leverage ratio.

The goal of the change was to make it easier for the financial institutions to absorb government bonds and reserves and still continue lending. Otherwise, banks might have stopped such activities to avoid increasing their assets and hitting the leverage cap, which would mean having to raise capital — a move that would be costly for them. But it also lowered bank capital requirements, which drew criticism.

$76 billion at the holding company level, although in practice other regulatory requirements lessened that impact. Critics had warned that lowering bank capital requirements could leave the financial system more vulnerable.

That is why the Fed was adamant in April, when it introduced the exemption, that the change would not be permanent.

“We gave some leverage ratio relief earlier by temporarily — it’s temporary relief — by eliminating, temporarily, Treasuries from the calculation of the leverage ratio,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said during a July 2020 news conference. He noted that “many bank regulators around the world have given leverage ratio relief.”

Other banking regulators, like the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, took longer to sign on to the Fed’s exemption, but eventually did.

Even though the exemption had been a tough sell in the first place, persistent worries over Treasury market functioning had raised the possibility that the Fed might keep it in place.

The government has been issuing huge amounts of debt to fund pandemic relief packages, pumping Treasury bonds into the market. At the same time, reserves are exploding as the Fed buys bonds and the Treasury Department spends down a cash pile it amassed last year. The combination risks filling up bank balance sheets. The fear is that banks will pull back as a result.

That’s because the supplementary leverage ratio measures a bank’s capital — the money it can most easily tap to make through times of trouble — against what regulators call its “leverage exposure.” That measure counts both its on-balance sheet assets, like Treasurys, and exposures that do not appear on a bank’s balance sheet but may generate income.

fail to keep capital on hand that matches with their assets, they are restricted from making payouts to shareholders and handing executives optional bonuses.

Banks desperately want to avoid crossing that line. So if there is any danger that they might breach it, they stop taking on assets to make sure that they stay within their boundaries — which can mean that they stop making loans or taking deposits, which count on their balance sheets as “assets.”

Alternatively, banks can pay out less capital to make sure their ratio stays in line. That means smaller dividends or fewer share buybacks, both of which bolster bank stock prices and, in the process, pay for their executives.

The Financial Services Forum, which represents the chief executives of the largest banks, has argued that the temporary exemption should be rolled off more slowly and not end abruptly on March 31. Representatives from the group have been lobbying lawmakers on the issue over the past year, based on federal disclosures. And the trade group — along with the American Bankers Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association — sent a letter to Fed officials asking for the exemptions to be extended.

“Allowing the temporary modification to leverage requirements to expire all at once is problematic and risks undermining the goals that the temporary modification are intended to achieve,” Sean Campbell, head of policy research at the forum, wrote in a post this year.

Some banks have themselves pushed for officials to extend the exemption.

“This adjustment for cash and Treasury should either be made permanent or, at a minimum, be extended,” Jennifer A. Piepszak, JPMorgan Chase’s chief financial officer, said on the bank’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

Ms. Piepszak added that if the exemption for reserves was not extended, the supplementary leverage ratio would become binding and “impact the pace of capital return.” She has separately warned that the bank might have to turn away deposits.

in a letter to Fed leadership.

Banks and their lobbying groups had little to say about the Fed’s move to kill the exemption. The eight largest banks have enough capital to cover their leverage ratios.

“A few weeks ago, it seemed like the consensus was that they would do an extension,” said Ian Katz, an analyst at Capital Alpha. He added that the Fed’s thinking might have been: “The banks were in solid enough shape to absorb this, they were going to have to end this some time, and this seemed like a good time to do it.”

Stacy Cowley and Kate Kelly contributed reporting.

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Bank of Japan Will Relax Its Market Stimulus: Live Updates

also lowered bank capital requirements, which drew criticism.

As a result, the debate over whether to extend the exemptions had been a heated one.

Bank lobbyists and some market analysts have argued that the Fed needed to keep the exemption in place to prevent banks from pulling back from both lending and their role as key bond buyers and sellers. But lawmakers and researchers who favor stricter bank oversight argued that the exemption chipped away at the protective cash buffer that banks had built up in the wake of the financial crisis, leaving them less prepared to handle shocks.

The decision the Fed made took a middle road: It both ended the exemption and opened the door to future changes to how the leverage ratio, which banks have long opposed, is calibrated. The goal is to keep capital levels stable, but also to make sure that growth in government securities and reserves on bank balance sheets — a natural side effect of government spending and the Fed’s own policies — does not prod them to pull back.

“Because of recent growth in the supply of central bank reserves and the issuance of Treasury securities, the Board may need to address the current design and calibration of the SLR over time,” the Fed said in its release, adding that the goal would be “to prevent strains from developing that could both constrain economic growth and undermine financial stability.”

The Fed said that it would “shortly seek comment” on measures to adjust the leverage ratio. And it said that it would make sure that any changes “do not erode the overall strength of bank capital requirements.”

Charles Rettig, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, last year. He said the I.R.S. was planning to automatically issue refunds to taxpayers that were eligible for new tax breaks.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Taxpayers who already filed their 2020 returns should not amend them to take advantage of tax breaks that were created by the new $1.9 trillion pandemic relief legislation, the Internal Revenue Service commissioner, Charles Rettig, told lawmakers on Thursday, saying that the I.R.S. would automatically send refunds to those who qualify.

Mr. Rettig, speaking at a congressional hearing, was referring to a provision in the law that provides a tax exemption on the first $10,200 of jobless benefits collected in 2020 by unemployed workers whose households earned less than $150,000.

“We believe that we will be able to automatically issue refunds associated with the $10,200,” Mr. Rettig said.

According to The Century Foundation, about 40 million Americans received unemployment insurance last year.

The tax changes included in the most recent stimulus bill passed earlier this month, along with tax changes in the December aid package and the rush to disburse economic impact payments, have put severe pressure on the I.R.S. The agency said on Wednesday that Tax Day would be pushed back by a month, from April 15 to May 17, to give itself and taxpayers more time to handle returns and refunds.

The Treasury Department and the I.R.S. are also racing to develop new regulations and update systems to reflect other aspects of the March relief law.

Treasury officials said at a briefing on Thursday that they are working with the I.R.S. to develop a new online portal to disburse advance payments for the expanded Child Tax Credit, which will provide up to $3,600 per child under age 6 and $3,000 for children ages 6 to 17, regardless of whether a family earns enough to pay income taxes.

The portal will allow taxpayers to upload relevant data for midyear payment adjustments, such as the birth of a child, the officials said.

Treasury officials also said the department is working on additional guidance on how states can use money included in the relief law. That will include clarity about how states must repay relief funds if they decide to cut taxes after receiving aid.

Government workers have been particularly hit hard by the pandemic. Nearly 1.4 million of the 9.5 million jobs that have disappeared over the past year came from state and local work forces.

State and local government positions account for about 13 percent of the nation’s jobs, and the sector has historically been more welcoming for women and African-Americans, offering an entryway into the middle class.

But a report from GovernmentJobs.com, a recruiting site for public sector jobs, suggests that even in this corner of the economy, applicants who are not white males can be at a disadvantage.

The study, which analyzed more than 16 million applicants by race, ethnicity and gender in 2018 and 2019, found that among candidates deemed qualified for a job in city, county or state government, Black women are 58 percent less likely to be hired than white men. Over all, qualified women were 27 percent less likely to be hired than qualified men.

The disparity was surprising. In a survey of 2,700 applicants, nearly a third said they thought they were more likely to be discriminated against in the private sector than in the public. Black Americans, who make up 13 percent of the population, rely disproportionately on state and local government jobs, making up 28 percent of the applicants for positions.

There are steps that could mitigate bias. The study found that many more Black women were called in for interviews when all personally identifying information was withheld during the application screening process — so recruiters did not know a candidate’s name, race and gender. Using a standardized rubric with specific guidelines for each score also sizably increased the number of Black women called in.

Penisha Richardson, who is 35 and lives in Newport News, Va., is a specialist in technical support at a company making printers and copiers. She remembers that when she was looking for jobs — in the public and private sectors — she got many more responses when she listed her name as Penny instead of Penisha.

“I had one person tell me I should go by Penny because it’s easier to pronounce,” Ms. Richardson said.

Amazon will show Thursday night games on its Amazon Prime Video service.
Credit…Jennifer Stewart/Associated Press

The N.F.L. signed new media rights agreements with CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN and Amazon collectively worth about $110 billion over 11 years, nearly doubling the value of its previous contracts, Ken Belson and Kevin Draper report for The New York Times.

CBS, Fox and NBC will pay more than $2 billion each to hold onto their slots, with NBC paying slightly less than CBS and Fox, according to four people familiar with the agreements who requested anonymity because they were not authorized by the N.F.L. to speak publicly about the deals. ESPN will pay about $2.7 billion a year to continue airing Monday Night Football, but also to be added into the rotation to broadcast the Super Bowl beginning in 2026. The agreement with ESPN starts one year earlier, in 2022, because its current contract expires one year earlier than the others.

Each of the broadcasters’ deals include agreements for their respective streaming platforms, while Amazon will show Thursday night games on its Amazon Prime Video service.

“Over the last five years, we started the migration to streaming. Our fans want this option, and the league understands that streaming is the future,” said Robert K. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and chairman of the N.F.L.’s media committee.

The N.F.L. has not yet announced who will broadcast Sunday Ticket, a subscription service that lets fans watch out-of-market weekend games that are not broadcast nationally. DirecTV has the rights to that service through 2022.

The contracts also set the stage for the league’s owners to make good on plans to expand the regular season to include a 17th game. It will be the first major expansion to the N.F.L. season in more than four decades, when teams began playing 16 games, up from 14, in 1978.

Prices for used cars have soared during the pandemic. Some investors fear that the prospect of excessive inflation in the overall economy will cause Federal Reserve officials to ease up on stimulus efforts.
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

European and Asian stocks fell on Friday, following a sharp drop in stocks on Wall Street the previous day.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.4 percent, led lower by financial and consumer stocks. The CAC 40 in France dropped 0.6 percent after the government announced Paris and several other regions in France would go into another lockdown beginning at midnight, set to last for a month, to address surging numbers of virus cases filling some French hospitals.

The S&P 500 was set to open little changed on Friday after tumbling 1.7 percent the previous day. The falloff came as government bond yields climbed, raising concerns that faster economic growth would lead to higher inflation and the withdrawal of monetary stimulus by the central bank. Officials at the Federal Reserve have repeatedly said they wouldn’t remove any stimulus without giving markets plenty of warning.

Yields on 10-year Treasury notes fell back below 1.70 percent on Friday. On Thursday, they had reached as high as 1.75 percent.

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U.S. Economic Recovery, Higher Fuel Prices Force Brazil’s Hand in Rate Rise

SÃO PAULO—Brazil on Wednesday became the first major economy to raise interest rates this year, a harbinger for other developing countries that could be forced to raise borrowing costs and endanger their fragile economies.

The central bank’s decision to lift its benchmark lending rate to 2.75% from its record low of 2% comes as inflation hit a four-year high in Latin America’s biggest economy amid a weakening currency and sharply rising fuel prices. On top of that, Brazil is logging nearly a third of all the world’s daily Covid-19 deaths.

Economists say the tightening monetary policy in Brazil underscores risks for emerging markets, many of which have dire outlooks in comparison with developed countries. A strong U.S. recovery is prompting a rise in long-term bond yields, which attracts more investors to buy dollars at the expense of emerging-market currencies. That could lead other developing nations to raise their interest rates to stem the capital outflow, stifling the economic rebound those countries are counting on.

The Brazilian currency has depreciated about 10% against the dollar in the last three months as investors pull their money out of riskier markets that racked up debt during the pandemic, pushing consumer prices higher as imports become more expensive. Rising oil prices, buoyed by a strong recovery in Asian demand, also has increased Brazil’s fuel costs, which helped raise inflation to 5.2% in February, near the top of the central bank’s target range.

“The global monetary backdrop is shifting, and as is always the case, the most vulnerable economies are unfortunately the ones that have to react,”  said Alberto Ramos, a Goldman Sachs economist. “Brazil falls squarely in that category.”

Brazil is by far the largest emerging market to raise interest rates in recent months. Ukraine’s central bank surprised economists this month when it tightened its monetary policy to combat higher inflation. Turkey sharply raised its benchmark interest rate in November and is expected to boost rates again Thursday as inflation surges.

The sharp rise in U.S. bond yields in recent weeks has awakened memories of the 2013 “taper tantrum,” when yields on U.S. government bonds rose sharply after the Federal Reserve said it was considering tapering its bond-buying, sending shock waves around the world.

A pedestrian street in São Paulo was nearly empty Monday hours before a nighttime curfew in the state of São Paulo aimed at controlling the Covid-19 pandemic.

Photo: miguel schincariol/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The result was a widespread decline in emerging-market equity and bond prices, and a weakening of emerging-market currencies. Some central banks raised their key interest rates in response, fearing that a sharp fall in their currencies would make it difficult for businesses to repay U.S. dollar debts, weaken their financial systems and push inflation higher.

This year, the Institute of International Finance, which represents banks, warned a repeat of the taper tantrum was possible if U.S. bond yields rose too quickly as emerging markets see an outflow of capital.

In Brazil, growth projections are being smothered by a surge in coronavirus infections. On Tuesday, 2,841 deaths were registered, and health authorities expect the daily death count to keep rising.

That has forced authorities to implement new restrictions on businesses, as President Jair Bolsonaro faces growing anger over his management of the pandemic.

Mr. Bolsonaro has long played down the pandemic’s health risks as he sought to protect the economy by opposing lockdowns and deploying one of the developing world’s biggest stimulus packages. Brazil’s gross domestic product contracted 4.1% in 2020, a far smaller downturn than the rest of Latin America.

But economists say the president’s minimization of the pandemic’s health risks is now backfiring as the economy sputters and support for Mr. Bolsonaro tumbles. A Datafolha poll published Tuesday found that 54% of Brazilians believe his handling of the pandemic has been bad or very bad, up from 42% in December.

Selma Marconi, a 59-year-old retiree in São Paulo, said she has had to cut back on spending to pay rising food prices. And she laments Mr. Bolsonaro’s management.

“He really messed up on the economy,” Ms. Marconi said. “I don’t buy things based on the brand anymore, I only look at the price.”

Hopes of quickly ending a pandemic that has killed about 280,000 people here are eroding as government efforts to secure enough vaccines flounder. Jason Vieira, chief economist at Infinity Asset Management in São Paulo, said, “The pandemic is hitting hard, and we’re begging to buy vaccines.”

Mr. Bolsonaro’s office declined to comment, but Brazil’s health ministry defended the federal government’s performance, saying it had provided “unrestricted support” to states, cities and the Federal District to combat the pandemic.

The pandemic is forcing Brazil to increase public spending after last year’s stimulus package pushed the national debt to record levels, sparking concern about the fiscal situation.

Congress last week approved a new round of emergency payments to households. Though smaller than the cash payments made to millions of families last year, the payments are considered another driver of inflation.

Investors are also worried about efforts to tame inflation through greater state intervention in the economy. In February, Mr. Bolsonaro nominated an army general to replace the chief executive of state-controlled oil producer Petrobras after the current market-friendly CEO disregarded the president’s criticism of price increases.

Economists say the only way to turn the situation around is to stop the spread of the deadly virus. “The best fiscal policy is to vaccinate the population quickly,” Bruno Funchal, head of Brazil’s Treasury, told the O Globo news organization.

Write to Jeffrey T. Lewis at jeffrey.lewis@wsj.com and Ryan Dube at ryan.dube@dowjones.com

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Fed Projects Patience Even as Economic Outlook Brightens

Federal Reserve officials signaled on Wednesday that they are in no rush to dial back support for an American economy still struggling amid the pandemic, releasing a fresh set of projections that showed the central bank’s policy interest rate on hold at near-zero for years to come even as growth is expected to pick up considerably in the near term.

The Fed slashed its policy interest rate — which guides borrowing costs throughout the economy — to rock bottom in March 2020 and chose to keep it there Wednesday, an effort to keep credit cheap and continue stoking growth. Analysts had expected the steady outcome, but were closely watching the central bank’s fresh set of economic projections, which show officials’s anonymous estimates of how conditions will evolve through 2023 and in the longer run.

The new release showed that officials have become more optimistic about the outlook for growth, unemployment, and inflation since their December estimates came out — but not to the point that they anticipate a wild overheating of the economy or expect to remove policy support rapidly. Most officials still see rates at rock-bottom over the next three years, meaning they are not penciling in a rate increase until at least 2024.

“No one should be complacent,” Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell said at a news conference on Wednesday afternoon, noting that “the path ahead remains uncertain” and highly dependent on the virus.

post-meeting statement, noted that some parts of the economy had improved and Mr. Powell noted that participants pointed to vaccines and fiscal stimulus in revising up their economic expectations. But he noted that the unemployment rate remains elevated, and that millions of jobs are still missing.

“Indicators of economic activity and employment have turned up recently, although the sectors most adversely affected by the pandemic remain weak,” the Fed said in its policy statement, reiterating that it is “committed to using its full range of tools” to bolster growth.

The Fed’s inflation estimates now suggest that price gains will pop this year, with the headline inflation index temporarily reaching 2.4 percent before easing to 2.1 percent by the end of 2023, at the same time as unemployment falls further and more quickly.

The improving job market will come alongside a rapid rebound in overall growth. Officials see economic output growing by 6.5 percent in the final three months of 2021 versus the same period the prior year, up from 4.2 percent growth in their December projections.

“You look at their economic forecasts, they are all better,” said Priya Misra, head of rates strategy at TD Securities. “They’re telling the market that they will let inflation go above 2 percent.”

last updated its economic projections, Congress and the White House have passed two large spending packages — a $900 billion bill in December and another $1.9 trillion earlier this month. That huge infusion of government cash will put money in consumer bank accounts and could help to avert economic damage that Fed officials had worried about, like bankruptcies and evictions.

Americans are also receiving vaccinations at a steady pace, spurring hope that the pandemic might abate enough to allow hard-hit service industry companies to more fully reopen at some point this year.

To add to those positive developments, coronavirus cases themselves have eased, and the unemployment rate suggests that the economy continues to slowly heal. Joblessness fell to 6.2 percent in February, the latest Labor Department data showed, down from a peak of 14.8 percent last April.

Still, there’s a long way to go before the economy returns to full strength. A broader measure of joblessness that Fed officials often cite is around 9.5 percent, and America has about 9.5 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic took hold.

The Fed is trying to guide the economy back to full employment and stable price gains, its Congress-given goals.

Mr. Powell his colleagues have been clear that they want to see a job market that is back at full employment and inflation that is slightly above 2 percent and expected to stay there for some time before lifting interest rates.

In fact, there seemed to be a lot of consensus around leaving rates very low for a long time. Just seven officials penciled in rate increases by the end of 2023, while 11 saw that policy tool remaining on hold.

record highs.

The yield on 10-year government bonds, a closely-watched security, had jumped earlier on Wednesday.

Investors have come to expect that the Fed will not be quite as patient as they had previously anticipated against the brightening backdrop, pulling forward estimates of when the Fed might lift interest rates.

Markets are penciling in slightly higher inflation, and consumer inflation expectations have also risen mildly.

Some prominent economists and commentators have warned that the government’s big spending — which dwarfs the response to the 2008 crisis — risks pushing prices much higher by pumping so many dollars into an already-healing economy.

consistently downplayed those concerns, pointing out that the problem of the modern era has been weak prices — which could risk destabilizing outright price declines, and which saps the Fed’s ability to cut inflation-inclusive interest rates in times of trouble. If prices do take off, officials often say, they have the tools to deal with that.

Price gains are broadly expected to pop in the coming months as the data are measures against very weak readings from last year, but Mr. Powell and his colleagues draw a distinction between a temporary jump and a sustained move higher.

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The Financial Crisis the World Forgot

By the middle of March 2020 a sense of anxiety pervaded the Federal Reserve. The fast-unfolding coronavirus pandemic was rippling through global markets in dangerous ways.

Trading in Treasurys — the government securities that are considered among the safest assets in the world, and the bedrock of the entire bond market — had become disjointed as panicked investors tried to sell everything they owned to raise cash. Buyers were scarce. The Treasury market had never broken down so badly, even in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis.

The Fed called an emergency meeting on March 15, a Sunday. Lorie Logan, who oversees the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s asset portfolio, summarized the brewing crisis. She and her colleagues dialed into a conference from the fortresslike New York Fed headquarters, unable to travel to Washington given the meeting’s impromptu nature and the spreading virus. Regional bank presidents assembled across America stared back from the monitor. Washington-based governors were arrayed in a socially distanced ring around the Fed Board’s mahogany table.

Ms. Logan delivered a blunt assessment: While the Fed had been buying government-backed bonds the week before to soothe the volatile Treasury market, market contacts said it hadn’t been enough. To fix things, the Fed might need to buy much more. And fast.

announced an enormous purchase program, promising to make $500 billion in government bond purchases and to buy $200 billion in mortgage-backed debt.

It wasn’t the central bank’s first effort to stop the unfolding disaster, nor would it be the last. But it was a clear signal that the 2020 meltdown echoed the 2008 crisis in seriousness and complexity. Where the housing crisis and ensuing crash took years to unfold, the coronavirus panic had struck in weeks.

As March wore on, each hour incubating a new calamity, policymakers were forced to cross boundaries, break precedents and make new uses of the U.S. government’s vast powers to save domestic markets, keep cash flowing abroad and prevent a full-blown financial crisis from compounding a public health tragedy.

The rescue worked, so it is easy to forget the peril America’s investors and businesses faced a year ago. But the systemwide weaknesses that were exposed last March remain, and are now under the microscope of Washington policymakers.

cut interest rates to about 1 percent — its first emergency move since the 2008 financial crisis. Some analysts chided the Fed for overreacting, and others asked an obvious question: What could the Fed realistically do in the face of a public health threat?

“We do recognize that a rate cut will not reduce the rate of infection, it won’t fix a broken supply chain,” Chair Jerome H. Powell said at a news conference, explaining that the Fed was doing what it could to keep credit cheap and available.

But the health disaster was quickly metastasizing into a market crisis.

Lockdowns in Italy deepened during the second week of March, and oil prices plummeted as a price war raged, sending tremors across stock, currency and commodity markets. Then, something weird started to happen: Instead of snapping up Treasury bonds, arguably the world’s safest investment, investors began trying to sell them.

The yield on 10-year Treasury debt — which usually drops when investors seek safe harbor — started to rise on March 10, suggesting investors didn’t want safe assets. They wanted cold, hard cash, and they were trying to sell anything and everything to get it.

officially declared the virus outbreak a pandemic, and the morning on which it was becoming clear that a sell-off had spiraled into a panic.

The Fed began to roll out measure after measure in a bid to soothe conditions, first offering huge temporary infusions of cash to banks, then accelerating plans to buy Treasury bonds as that market swung out of whack.

But by Friday, March 13, government bond markets were just one of many problems.

Investors had been pulling their cash from prime money market mutual funds, where they park it to earn a slightly higher return, for days. But those outflows began to accelerate, prompting the funds themselves to pull back sharply from short-term corporate debt markets as they raced to return money to investors. Banks that serve as market conduits were less willing than usual to buy and hold new securities, even just temporarily. That made it harder to sell everything, be it a company bond or Treasury debt.

The Fed’s announcement after its March 15 emergency meeting — that it would slash rates and buy bonds in the most critical markets — was an attempt to get things under control.

But Mr. Powell worried that the fix would fall short as short- and long-term debt of all kinds became hard to sell. He approached Andreas Lehnert, director of the Fed’s financial stability division, in the Washington boardroom after the meeting and asked him to prepare emergency lending programs, which the central bank had used in 2008 to serve as a support system to unraveling markets.

short-term corporate debt and another to keep funding flowing to key banks. Shortly before midnight on Wednesday, March 18, the Fed announced a program to rescue embattled money market funds by offering to effectively take hard-to-sell securities off their hands.

But by the end of that week, everything was a mess. Foreign central banks and corporations were offloading U.S. debt, partly to raise dollars companies needed to pay interest and other bills; hedge funds were nixing a highly leveraged trade that had broken down as the market went haywire, dumping Treasurys into the choked market. Corporate bond and commercial real estate debt markets looked dicey as companies faced credit rating downgrades and as hotels and malls saw business prospects tank.

The world’s most powerful central bank was throwing solutions at the markets as rapidly as it could, and it wasn’t enough.

hit newswires at 8 a.m., well before American markets opened. The Fed promised to buy an unlimited amount of Treasury debt and to purchase commercial mortgage-backed securities — efforts to save the most central markets.

serve as a lender of last resort to troubled banks. On March 23, it pledged to funnel help far beyond that financial core. The Fed said it would buy corporate debt and help to get loans to midsize businesses for the first time ever.

It finally worked. The dash for cash turned around starting that day.

The March 23 efforts took an approach that Mr. Lehnert referred to internally as “covering the waterfront.” Fed economists had discerned which capital markets were tied to huge numbers of jobs and made sure that every one of them had a Fed support program.

On April 9, officials put final pieces of the strategy into play. Backed by a huge pot of insurance money from a rescue package just passed by Congress — lawmakers had handed the Treasury up to $454 billion — they announced that they would expand already-announced efforts and set up another to help funnel credit to states and big cities.

The Fed’s 2008 rescue effort had been widely criticized as a bank bailout. The 2020 redux was to rescue everything.

The Fed, along with the Treasury, most likely saved the nation from a crippling financial crisis that would have made it harder for businesses to survive, rebound and rehire, intensifying the economic damage the coronavirus went on to inflict. Many of the programs have since ended or are scheduled to do so, and markets are functioning fine.

But there’s no guarantee that the calm will prove permanent.

“The financial system remains vulnerable” to a repeat of last March’s sweeping disaster as “the underlying structures and mechanisms that gave rise to the turmoil are still in place,” the Financial Stability Board, a global oversight body, wrote in a meltdown post-mortem.

Industry players are already mobilizing a lobbying effort, and they may find allies in resisting regulation, including among lawmakers.

“I would point out that money market funds have been remarkably stable and successful,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said during a Jan. 19 hearing.

Matt Phillips contributed reporting.

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China Begins Withdrawing Pandemic Stimulus Efforts

HONG KONG—As the first major economy to beat back Covid-19, China is now taking the global lead in moving to unwind its pandemic-driven economic stimulus efforts.

Unlike the U.S. and Europe, which are still flooding their economies with liquidity and spending, China has started reining in credit in some corners.

The shift puts China at the vanguard in confronting a challenge other economies will face in coming years as their economies recover: how to withdraw stimulus without snuffing out growth or causing broader market instability.

China’s policy makers have expressed concern about an overheating housing market and want to prevent bigger imbalances. They are also eager to resume a multiyear campaign to curb debt that started building during the previous global recession.

If mishandled, China’s tightening could impair its recovery, which would crimp the global economy. China’s plans could also create wider problems if they trigger more debt defaults or a bigger correction in China’s stock markets, at a time when global investors are already jittery.

For those reasons, economists say, China is likely to move slowly, gradually tightening credit in certain parts of the economy while avoiding more blunt-force moves like raising interest rates.

“It is very clear that China’s policy makers intend to unwind stimulus and tighten policies,” said Ding Shuang, chief economist for Greater China at Standard Chartered Bank, “but they’ve been treading ahead carefully without making a sudden U-turn.”

China signaled its intentions during annual parliamentary meetings held earlier this month. It set its target for 2021 gross domestic product growth at “above 6%,” a relatively low rate given the economy’s momentum and a sign that Beijing wants flexibility to withdraw stimulus in the coming months, economists said. The International Monetary Fund projects China’s economy will expand by around 8% this year.

China lowered its fiscal deficit target—the gap between government spending and revenue—to 3.2% of GDP this year, from 3.6% in 2020. A smaller deficit suggests a more restrictive fiscal policy. The government also cut the quota for local government special bonds, a type of off-budget financing to fund local investments like infrastructure, to approximately $560 billion, down from $576 billion last year.

Beijing didn’t announce further issuance of special central government bonds this year, after selling approximately $154 billion of such bonds in 2020.

“As the economy resumes growth, we will make proper adjustments in policy but in a moderate way,” China’s premier, Li Keqiang, said at a news conference March 11. “Some temporary policies will be phased out, but we will introduce new structural policies like tax and fee cuts to offset the impact.”

Those moves followed earlier steps and were interpreted by investors as signaling tighter credit. In January, the central bank mopped up more liquidity than expected through daily open-market operations, a tool used to control the money supply available to commercial banks. That briefly sent a key short-term money rate to its highest level in five years, making it costlier for banks to borrow funds.

To tame rising property prices, China’s financial regulators recently imposed new rules making it more difficult for property developers, who are typically highly leveraged, to obtain new bank loans.

Broad credit growth picked up some in February, after declining for four consecutive months. Still, analysts expect lending will slow again given Beijing’s recent signals.

In contrast, last week the U.S. enacted a fresh $1.9 trillion economic aid package and the European Central Bank said it would boost its purchases of eurozone debt.

The different approaches reflect how Beijing views the pandemic as a temporary disruption, while Western policy makers are still trying to revive their economies and prevent long-term damage from the pandemic’s effects.

Beijing’s emergency measures last year included cutting taxes to help small businesses and ordering banks to extend more loans. Still, China’s fiscal measures amounted to far less as a share of GDP than those of the U.S. and many developed economies.

At the end of 2020, China’s total fiscal spending on pandemic stimulus was about 6% of its GDP, versus 19% for the U.S., according to IMF calculations.

China’s economy had recovered its pre-pandemic momentum in the last quarter of 2020, largely because of its success in containing Covid-19 and strong exports.

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Now its leaders worry more about controlling debt and other long-term economic issues, analysts say. Last year China’s overall leverage ratio, which measures the ratio of total debt to GDP, rose 24%—the fastest pace since 2009—to 270%, according to official data.

Many economists expect China’s central bank, the People’s Bank of China, to tame the pace of new credit issuance rather than raise key interest rates, which would risk attracting speculative money inflows that can fuel dangerous asset bubbles. The central bank has pledged to keep its monetary policy prudent and flexible, while avoiding flood-like stimulus.

“The market widely interprets PBOC’s tone as more hawkish” than before, said Mr. Ding of Standard Chartered. That could lead to risks, he said, if inadequate communication leads to market overreactions.

Another possible land mine is the potential for tighter credit to cause more defaults among state-owned enterprises. Many are heavily indebted, and local governments, which have their own debt problems, are increasingly wary of bailing them out.

“As China exits supportive measures, some of the problems that got glossed over last year may show up this year,” said Wang Tao, China economist at UBS. “We expect to see more corporate bond defaults and a higher bad loan ratio.”

Write to Stella Yifan Xie at stella.xie@wsj.com

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European Central Bank to Step Up Stimulus to Keep Borrowing Costs Low

The European Central Bank moved Thursday to counteract market forces that are driving up borrowing costs worldwide, saying it would speed up its purchases of government and corporate bonds to make sure that credit in the eurozone remained cheap.

The action signaled that the bank was worried less about inflation than about the economic distress caused by the pandemic and the likelihood that the eurozone was in recession.

The bank had earlier allocated 1.85 trillion euros, or $2.2 trillion, to fight the effects of the pandemic and keep borrowing costs low. That sum remains unchanged, but the bank will now buy bonds “at a significantly higher pace than during the first months of this year.”

Interest rates in the bond market have been rising in recent weeks because investors are worried that inflation could rise when growth bounces back. Investors have been less willing to buy bonds at the same exceptionally low rates as before.

Underlying price pressures remain subdued in the context of weak demand and significant slack in labor and product markets,” Ms. Lagarde said after a meeting of the bank’s Governing Council. She added that she expected the eurozone economy to shrink in the first quarter of 2021, the second quarterly decline in a row, because of the slow pace of vaccinations and extended lockdowns.

Prices in the eurozone rose at an annual rate of 0.9 percent in March after falling for the last five months of 2020. Some economists expect prices to rise further as the effects of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan spill over into Europe.

Ms. Lagarde said the Governing Council had not taken the U.S. stimulus plan into account because it had not yet been signed into law. Mr. Biden signed the bill on Thursday.

The action announced on Thursday sends a strong signal to financial markets, which have been testing the central bank’s commitment to keep lending costs low in the eurozone while governments, corporations and individuals struggle through the pandemic.

Greenpeace activists landed motorized paragliders on the roof of the central bank’s high-rise headquarters in Frankfurt and unfurled a banner reading, “Stop Funding Climate Killers!”

Ms. Lagarde said on Thursday that she was “on the same page” with the activists in many ways, but added, “We don’t think this is the necessary way to conduct a dialogue.”

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