the latest craze in financial markets, having taken off with investors and celebrities alike. SPACs are public shell companies that list on an exchange and then hunt for private companies to buy.

London has been left behind in the SPAC fervor. Last year, 248 SPACs listed in New York, and just four in London, according to data by Dealogic. In March, Cazoo, a British used car retailer, announced that it was going public via a SPAC in New York.

Already there are signs that Amsterdam could steal the lead in this booming business for Europe. There have been two SPACs each in London and Amsterdam this year, but the value of the listings in Amsterdam are five times that of London.

Britain’s financial regulatory agency said it would start consultations on SPACs soon and aim to have new rules in place by the summer.

regain ground lost to Germany, France and other European countries on the issuing of green bonds to finance projects to tackle climate change.

London’s finance industry isn’t in danger of imminent collapse, but because of Brexit a cornerstone of the British economy isn’t looking as formidable as it once did. And as London tries to keep up with New York, it is looking over its shoulders at the financial technology coming out of Asia.

The government has continuously billed Brexit as an opportunity to do more business with countries outside of the European Union. This will be essential as international companies begin to ask whether they want to base their European business in London or elsewhere.

When it comes to the future of Britain, it’s “almost a back-to-the-future approach of London as an international center as opposed to being an international and European center,” said Miles Celic, the chief executive of the CityUK, which represents the industry. “It’s doubling down on that international business.”

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Michelin Resumes Its Ratings of U.S. Restaurants

After a pause last year because of the pandemic, the Michelin Guides for restaurants in several cities in the United States are up and running again.

The venerable French company announced Thursday that starting next week, it would begin revealing the stars and other ratings for restaurants in Washington D.C., Chicago and New York. The 2021 restaurant guides will be rolled out one week at a time and be entirely virtual; no red books are being printed, nor are they likely to be in the future. A guide to California will be announced at a later date.

The rating process for these guides was completed by the end of 2020. Although the ratings for restaurants in the United States are usually released in the fall, Gwendal Poullennec, the international director of the guides, said the company decided to wait until now to allow more time for restaurants to reopen and Michelin inspectors more time to visit them.

“If anything we were benevolent as to the selections,” he said of the restaurants. “We were impressed with their incredible achievement throughout the crisis. Some of them went above and beyond the standards we usually expect. That’s a positive trend right now.”

app is also available.

Michelin Guide, guide.michelin.com.

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Coinbase Could Lead a Crypto Charge Into Public Markets

The answer, in short, is as big as a financier can dream. This week, a blank-check firm that raised $500 million in its I.P.O. got $4 billion in additional funding from private investors to merge with Grab in a deal worth $40 billion. That’s a difference of nearly 8,000 percent between the cash in the SPAC and the value of the company that will take over its listing. It’s the largest ratio on record, according to data from SPAC Research.

The size of a SPAC is only loosely related to that of the target it seeks. Additional funding these companies arrange alongside a merger allows them to take on bigger targets, and the bigger the target, the less dilutive the SPAC sponsor’s stake in the combined entity, making it more attractive to other shareholders. So far this year, the value of announced SPAC mergers has been more than 800 percent larger, on average, than the cash in the SPACs; that’s up from roughly 600 percent last year and 400 percent in 2019.


Jon Kelly, a former Vanity Fair editor, plans to launch a new media company with an unusual business model, Ed Lee and DealBook’s Lauren Hirsch report for The Times. The venture has raised about $7 million from investors, including the private equity firm TPG. Notably, it will pay its yet-to-be-named writers a portion of the subscription fees they personally generate, creating a compromise between the dominant business models of old and new media companies.

Upstart media brands are betting on star power to drive subscriptions. Mr. Kelly’s new venture, which may be called Puck, the name of an American humor magazine of the late 1800s and early 1900s, plans to use its revenue-sharing model to attract big-name writers. The push to “monetize individuality” has attracted increasingly high-profile figures to new platforms: Substack offers lucrative contracts to select writers who use it to launch newsletters.

Established companies rely more on prestige, breadth and experience. The largest media companies lean on their brands to attract both talent and subscribers.

It gets murky in the middle. Digital media players like BuzzFeed, Vice, Vox Media and Group Nine rely more on ads than subscriptions, and they’ve stumbled as the pandemic has ravaged that industry. In an increasingly crowded, differentiated field, they’re trying to bulk up via mergers or go public to raise funds and satisfy early investors.


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How Coinbase Performed in the Market on its First Day

Shares in Coinbase, the first major cryptocurrency company to list its shares on a U.S. stock exchange, jumped in their market debut on Wednesday, showing that investors are hungry to get a piece of the hot market for digital currencies.

Coinbase began trading on Wednesday afternoon at $381 a share, a 52 percent increase over a $250 reference price set by Nasdaq on Tuesday. (A reference price is set by a stock exchange based on expectations for where the stock will open.)

The stock swung as low as $310 and as high as $429 in a volatile day of trading that reflected the unpredictable nature of cryptocurrency prices. Coinbase ended the day at $328.28, valuing the company at $85.7 billion counting all of its outstanding shares — more than 10 times its last valuation as a private company.

prices to new highs.

avoid political discussions, a stance that has caused controversy. Some of the company’s former Black and female employees have also spoken out against unfair treatment and were found to have been underpaid in a company report.

their pleas for help.

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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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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

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Online Scammers Have a New Offer For You: Vaccine Cards

SAN FRANCISCO — On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, little rectangular slips of paper started showing up for sale in late January. Printed on card stock, they measured three-by-four inches and featured crisp black lettering. Sellers listed them for $20 to $60 each, with a discount on bundles of three or more. Laminated ones cost extra.

All were forgeries or falsified copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, which are given to people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States.

“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands were sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The coronavirus has made opportunists out of many people, like those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who cheated recipients out of their stimulus checks. Now online scammers have latched onto the latest profit-making initiative: the little white cards that provide proof of shots.

Airlines and other companies have recently said they may require proof of Covid-19 immunization so that people can safely travel or attend events.

The cards may also become central to “vaccine passports,” which offer digital proof of vaccinations. Some tech companies developing vaccine passports ask people to upload copies of their C.D.C. cards. Los Angeles also recently began using the C.D.C. cards for its own digital proof of immunization.

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. The officials said they were monitoring the activity and were concerned that unvaccinated people would misuse the cards to attend large events, potentially spreading the virus and prolonging the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a huge market for these false cards online,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, whose office has investigated fraud related to the virus. “This is a dangerous practice that undermines public health.”

The C.D.C. said it was “aware of cases of fraud regarding counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine cards.” It asked people not to share images of their personal information or vaccine cards on social media.

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 C.D.C. 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.

“My body my choice,” wrote one commenter in a Facebook post last month. Another person replied, “can’t wait to get mine too, lol.”

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.

One Etsy seller, who declined to be identified, said she had sold dozens of fake vaccine cards for $20 each recently. She justified her actions by saying she was helping people evade a “tyrannical government.” She added that she did not plan to get inoculated.

Vaccine proponents say they have been troubled by the proliferation of forged and stolen cards. To hold those people accountable, Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist in Biloxi, Miss., began posting videos on TikTok last month naming the sellers of falsified vaccine cards.

In one video, Ms. Sparks explained how she had tracked down the name of a pharmacy technician in Illinois who had nabbed several cards for herself and her husband and then posted about it online. The pharmacy technician had not disclosed her identity, but had linked the post to her social media accounts, where she used her real name. The video has 1.2 million views.

“It made me so mad that a pharmacist was using her access and position this way,” Ms. Sparks said. The video drew the attention of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which said it reported the video to a state board for further investigation.

Ms. Sparks said her work had drawn detractors and vaccine opponents, who have threatened her and posted her home phone number and address online. But she was undeterred.

“They should be first in line advocating for people to get vaccinated,” she said of pharmacists. “Instead, they’re trying to use their positions to spread fear and help people circumvent getting the vaccine.”

Mr. Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, said in addition to violating federal copyright laws, the sale of counterfeit and stolen cards most likely broke civil and consumer protection laws that mandate that an item can be used as advertised. The cards could also violate state laws regarding impersonation, he said.

“We want to see them stop immediately,” Mr. Shapiro said of the fraudsters. “And we want to see the companies take serious and immediate action.”

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Deliveroo Heads to I.P.O. as Challenges Pile Up

LONDON — The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders.

Major investors, meanwhile, said they would sit out the offering.

Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at £3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as £4.60. Earlier this week the company said that it wanted to price the shares “responsibly” and that it had received “very significant demand” from investors.

Deliveroo, which is based in London and was founded in 2013, is now in 12 countries and has over 100,000 riders, recognizable on the streets by their teal jackets and food bags. Last year, Amazon became its biggest shareholder with a 16 percent stake, which will drop to 11.5 percent after the I.P.O. The Deliveroo listing is the latest test for gig economy companies, whose business model is increasingly under threat in Europe as legal challenges mount.

Two weeks ago, Uber reclassified more than 70,000 drivers in Britain as workers who will receive a minimum wage, vacation pay and access to a pension plan, after a Supreme Court ruling. Analysts said the move could set a precedent for other companies and increase costs. In mainland Europe, where Deliveroo also operates, the European Commission is reviewing the legal status of gig economy workers.

a joint investigation by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism was published based on invoices of hundreds of Deliveroo riders. It found that a third of the riders made less than £8.72 an hour, the national minimum wage for people over 25.

Deliveroo dismissed the report, calling the union a “fringe organization” that didn’t represent a significant number of Deliveroo riders. The company said that riders were paid for each delivery and earn “£13 per hour on average at our busiest times.” In Britain, Deliveroo has 50,000 riders.

“Our way of working is designed around what riders tell us matters to them most — flexibility,” Deliveroo said in response to the investigation.

DoorDash, the American food delivery company, went public in December to much fanfare. Its share price jumped 86 percent on the first day of trading, closing at $189.51. On Monday, DoorDash stock closed at $129.98.

Some of Britain’s largest asset managers, including Legal & General Investment Management, which manages more than £1.2 trillion in assets, have said they will sit out the I.P.O. amid concerns about shareholder voting rights and worker rights. Like many start-up companies, Deliveroo will have two classes of shares, which for as long as three years will give William Shu, a co-founder and the chief executive, 57 percent of the voting rights.

The offering has prompted a debate over whether companies with dual-class shares should be allowed to join the “premium listings” section of the London Stock Exchange, which would permit them to be part of indexes like the FTSE 100, forcing many index funds to buy them.

While the New York Stock Exchange and other major exchanges allow this kind of privilege to dual-class companies (consider Google or Facebook), the London exchange does not — although some would like it to.

Legal & General said it was urging Britain’s financial regulator to preserve the rule keeping dual-class companies out of the premium listings.

This would protect smaller investors “against potential poor management behavior, that could lead to value destruction and avoidable investor loss,” the asset manager said. This year has also brought “increasing signs of countries and governments reviewing the gig economy status.”

But a recent review of Britain’s listings rules that has been embraced by the government recommended that companies with dual-class shares be allowed into the premium listings, with some restrictions. The review is part of a series of efforts by the Treasury to find ways to enhance London’s appeal as a global financial center, after Britain’s divorce from the European Union sent some trading activity to cities like New York and Amsterdam. One of the Treasury’s goals is to make the London stock market more appealing to tech companies after a dearth of major listings in recent years.

Rishi Sunak, said that it was a “fantastic” decision and that Deliveroo was a “true British tech success story.”

“The U.K. is one of the best places in the world to start, grow and list a business — and we’re determined to build on this reputation now we’ve left the E.U.,” Mr. Sunak said.

Michael J. de la Merced contributed reporting.

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Google Aims to Be the Anti-Amazon of E-Commerce. It Has a Long Way to Go.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Google tried to copy Amazon’s playbook to become the shopping hub of the internet, with little success. Now it is trying something different: the anti-Amazon strategy.

Google is trying to present itself as a cheaper and less restrictive option for independent sellers. And it is focused on driving traffic to sellers’ sites, not selling its own version of products, as Amazon does.

In the last year, Google eliminated fees for merchants and allowed sellers to list their wares in its search results for free. It is also trying to make it easier for small, independent shops to upload their inventory of products to appear in search results and buy ads on Google by teaming up with Shopify, which powers online stores for 1.7 million merchants who sell directly to consumers.

But like Google’s many attempts during its two-decade quest to compete with Amazon, this one shows little sign of working. Google has nothing as alluring as the $295 billion that passed through Amazon’s third-party marketplace in 2020. The amount of goods people buy on Google is “very small” by comparison — probably around $1 billion, said Juozas Kaziukenas, the founder of Marketplace Pulse, a research company.

grew 30 percent to $17.6 billion in 2020, trailing only Google and Facebook in the United States.

But as the pandemic has forced many stores to go online, it has created a new opening for Google to woo sellers who feel uneasy about building their businesses on Amazon.

Christina Stang, 33, opened Fritzy’s Roller Skate Shop near Pacific Beach in San Diego last March. Shelter-in-place orders forced her to set up an online storefront on Shopify.

She got lucky. She was sitting on a huge supply of skates when demand surged as skating videos became popular on TikTok during the pandemic.

the pressure to spend more to succeed. Merchants on Amazon do not have a direct relationship with their customers, limiting their ability to communicate with them and to generate future business. And because everything is contained within the Amazon world, it is harder to create a unique look and feel that express a brand’s identity the way companies can on their own websites.

piloting its own same-day delivery service, but it shuttered the project as costs ballooned. It tried to forge partnerships with traditional retail giants, only to see the alliances wilt from a lack of sales. It built its own marketplace to make it easier for shoppers to buy the things they find on Google, but was not able to break consumers from their Amazon habit.

Last year, Google brought in Bill Ready, a former chief operating officer at PayPal, to fill a new senior position and spearhead an overhaul of its shopping strategy.

Around the time of his hiring, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, warned senior executives that the new approach could mean a short-term crimp in advertising revenue, according to two people familiar with the conversations, who requested anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss them publicly. He asked teams to support the e-commerce push because it was a company priority.

When the pandemic spurred huge demand for online shopping, Google eliminated fees, allowing retailers to list products for free and walking back a 2012 decision to allow only advertisers to display goods on its shopping site.

Three months after hiring Mr. Ready, Google said the free listings would show up on its main search results. Then Google said customers could buy products directly from merchants on Google with no commissions. It also said Google would open its platform to third parties like Shopify and PayPal so that sellers could continue to use their existing tools to manage inventory and orders and processing payments.

flocked to the software platform during the pandemic. About 9 percent of U.S. online shopping sales took place on storefronts powered by Shopify as of October, according to research firm eMarketer. That was up from 6 percent the prior year and second only to Amazon’s share of 37 percent.

Harley Finkelstein, Shopify’s president, said Google and Shopify were developing new ways for merchants to sell through Google services, such as experiments to allow customers to buy items directly on YouTube and to display what products stores are carrying in Google Maps.

Mr. Ready walked a fine line when it came to Amazon, which is a big buyer of ads on Google, but he made it clear he believed Amazon’s dominance in e-commerce posed a threat to other merchants.

“Nobody wants to live in a world where there is only one place to buy something, and retailers don’t want to be dependent on gatekeepers,” he said in an interview.

Google said it had increased the number of sellers appearing in its results by 80 percent in 2020, with the most significant growth coming from small and midsize businesses. And existing retailers are listing more products.

Overstock.com, a seller of discount furniture and home bedding, said it had paid to list products on Google in the past. But now that listings are free, Overstock is adding low-margin products, too.

“When all shopping starts and stops at Amazon, that’s bad for the industry,” said Jonathan E. Johnson, Overstock’s chief executive. “It’s nice to have another 800-pound tech gorilla in this space.”

BACtrack, a maker of breathalyzers, has more than doubled its advertising spending on Amazon in the last two years because that is where the customers are, it said, while it has spent 6 percent less advertising its products on Google.

“It seems like more and more people are skipping Google and going straight to Amazon,” said Keith Nothacker, the chief executive of BACtrack.

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