The Omicron variant of the coronavirus comes at a challenging moment for the Federal Reserve, as officials try to pivot from containing the pandemic’s economic fallout toward addressing worryingly persistent inflation.
The central bank has spent the past two years trying to support a still-incomplete labor market recovery, keeping interest rates at rock bottom and buying trillions of dollars’ worth of government-backed bonds since March 2020. But now that inflation has shot higher, and as price gains increasingly threaten to remain too quick for comfort, its policymakers are having to balance their efforts to support the economy with the need to keep price trends from leaping out of control.
That newfound focus on inflation may limit the central bank’s ability to cushion any blow Omicron might deal to America’s growth and the labor market. And in an unexpected twist, the new variant could even speed up the Fed’s withdrawal of economic support if it intensifies the factors that are causing inflation to run at its fastest pace in 31 years.
“In every one of the previous waves of the virus, the Fed was able to react by effectively focusing on downside risks to growth, and trying to mitigate them,” said Aneta Markowska, chief financial economist at Jefferies. “They’re no longer able to do that, because of inflation.”
said in an interview last week.
The Status of U.S. Jobs
The pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy in a multitude of ways. One key factor to keep an eye on is the job market and how it changes as the economic recovery moves forward.
Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary and a former Fed chair, made similar remarks at an event on Thursday.
“The pandemic could be with us for quite some time and, hopefully, not completely stifling economic activity but affecting our behavior in ways that contribute to inflation,” she said of the new variant.
during congressional testimony last week. “I think the risk of higher inflation has increased.”
What to Know About Inflation in the U.S.
Fed officials initially expected a 2021 price pop to fade quickly as supply chains unsnarled and factories worked through backlogs. Instead, inflation has been climbing at its fastest pace in more than three decades, and fresh data set for release on Friday are expected to show that the ascent continued as a broad swath of products — like streaming services, rental housing and food — had higher prices.
Given that, Mr. Powell and his colleagues have pivoted to inflation-fighting mode, trying to ensure that they are poised to respond decisively should price pressures persist.
Mr. Powell said last week that officials would discuss speeding up their plans to taper off their bond-buying program — prompting many economists to expect them to announce a plan after their December meeting that would allow them to stop buying bonds by mid-March. The Fed announced early in November that it would slow purchases from $120 billion a month, making the possible acceleration a notable change.
Ending bond-buying early would put officials in a position to raise their policy interest rate, which is their more traditional and more powerful tool.
nearly four million people are still missing from the labor market compared with just before the pandemic began. Some have most likely retired, but surveys and anecdotes suggest that many are lingering on the sidelines because they lack adequate child care or are afraid of contracting or passing along the coronavirus.
If the Fed begins to remove its support for the economy, slowing business expansion and hiring, the labor market could rebound more slowly and haltingly when and if those factors fade.
But the balancing act is different from what it was in previous business cycles. The factors keeping employees on the sidelines right now are mostly unrelated to labor demand, the side of the equation that the Fed can influence. Employers appear desperate to hire, and job openings have shot up. People are leaving their jobs at historically high rates, such a trend that job-quitting TikTok videos have become a cultural phenomenon.
In fact, the at-least-temporarily-tight labor market is one reason inflation might last. As they compete for workers and as employees demand more pay to keep up with ballooning consumption costs, companies are raising wages rapidly. The Employment Cost Index, which the Fed watches closely because it is less affected by many of the pandemic-tied problems that have muddied other wage gauges, rose sharply in its latest reading — catching policymakers’ attention.
If companies continue to increase pay, they may raise prices to cover their costs. That could keep inflation high, and anecdotal signs that such a trend is developing have already cropped up in the Fed’s survey of regional business contacts, called the Beige Book.
“Several contacts mentioned that labor costs were already being passed along to consumers with little resistance, while others said plans were underway to do so,” the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reported in the latest edition, released last week.
Still, some believe that inflation will fade headed into 2022 as the world adjusts to changing shopping patterns or as holiday demand that has run up against constrained supply fades. That could leave the Fed with room to be patient on rate increases, even if it has positioned itself to be nimble.
Lifting rates “before those people come back is a little bit like throwing in the towel,” Ms. Markowska said. “I have a hard time believing that the Fed would throw in the towel that easily.”
Disappointing August jobs numbers intensified the economic uncertainty caused by the Delta variant, putting pressure on the Federal Reserve as it considers when to reduce its policy support and on the White House as it tries to get more Americans vaccinated.
Fed officials and President Biden had been looking for continued improvement in the job market, but the Labor Department reported on Friday that employers added just 235,000 jobs in August — far fewer than projected and a sign that the ongoing coronavirus surge may be slowing hiring.
“There’s no question that the Delta variant is why today’s job report isn’t stronger,” Mr. Biden said in remarks at the White House. “I know people were looking, and I was hoping, for a higher number.”
A one-month slowdown is probably not enough to upend the Fed’s policy plans, but it does inject a dose of caution. It also will ramp up scrutiny of upcoming data as the central bank debates when to take its first steps toward a more normal policy setting by slowing purchases of government-backed bonds.
speech last week that as of the central bank’s July meeting, he and most of his colleagues thought they could start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year if the economy performed as they expected.
sharp pullback in hotel and restaurant hiring, which tends to be particularly sensitive to virus outbreaks. The participation rate, a closely watched metric that gauges what share of the population is working or looking, stagnated.
Daily Business Briefing
But there were other signs that underlying demand for workers remained strong. Wages continued to rise briskly, suggesting that employers were still paying up to lure people into work. Over the last three months, job gains have averaged 750,000, which is a strong showing. And the unemployment rate continued to decline in spite of the weakness in August, slipping to 5.2 percent.
4.2 percent in the year through July — well above the 2 percent average that officials aim to achieve over time.
Officials widely expect those price gains to slow as the economy returns to normal and supply chain snarls clear up. But they are monitoring consumer inflation expectations and wages keenly: Prices could keep going up quickly if shoppers begin to accept higher prices and workers come to demand more pay.
That’s why robust wage gains in the August report stuck out to some economists. Average hourly earnings climbed by 0.6 percent from July to August, more than the 0.3 percent economists in a Bloomberg survey had forecast. Over the past year, they were up 4.3 percent, exceeding the expected 3.9 percent.
The fresh data put the Fed “in an uncomfortable position — with the slowdown in the real economy and employment growth accompanied by signs of even more upward pressure on wages and prices,” wrote Paul Ashworth, the chief North America economist at Capital Economics.
referred to that consideration in a footnote to last week’s speech.
“Today we see little evidence of wage increases that might threaten excessive inflation,” he said.
Plus, it is unclear whether pay gains will remain robust as workers return. While it is hard to gauge how much enhanced unemployment benefits discouraged workers from taking jobs, and early evidence suggests that the effect was limited, a few companies have signaled that labor supply has been improving as they sunset.
Other trends — the end of summer and the resumption of in-person school and day care — could allow parents who have been on the sidelines to return to the job search, though that might be foiled if Delta keeps students at home.
“There’s still so much disruption, it’s hard for businesses and workers to make plans and move forward when you don’t know what’s coming around the next bend,” said Julia Coronado, the founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives, adding that this is a moment of “delicate transition.”
Distressed homeowners with loans owned by private banks or investors should contact their mortgage servicer to see what options they’re offering. Some of them have followed a framework similar to federally backed loans, but others’ terms may be murkier.
No matter what type of loan you have, the most important action to take now is to reach out to your mortgage servicer to find out when your payments will resume and how much they will be. If you cannot afford them, the servicer can lay out your options. For more guidance, you can also seek out a housing counselor.
The changes made to food stamps — now largely known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — during the pandemic were complicated.
But one significant change, a 15 percent bump in benefits for all recipients, runs only through Sept. 30. So if you currently receive SNAP benefits, they may go down then. (Congress is considering an extension, SNAP policy experts said, and other changes unrelated to the pandemic — including a regular inflation adjustment, along with a potential change to the basket of food that benefits are based on — could also help offset any potential cuts.)
A number of other temporary changes will remain in many states for several more months.
Those changes increased benefits for the program, which is federally funded but run through the states. Beneficiaries have received emergency allotments, which increased their monthly benefits to the maximum amounts permitted or higher. All told, the average daily benefit per person rose to $7 from $4 by April of this year, according to Ellen Vollinger, legal director at the Food Research & Action Center.
Access to the program also became somewhat easier: Certain college students became eligible, unemployed people under 50 without children weren’t subject to time limits and there were fewer administrative hurdles to remaining enrolled, experts said.
The extra allotments can continue to be paid as long as the federal government has declared a public health emergency, which is likely to remain for at least the rest of the year. But the state administering the benefits must also have an emergency declaration in place, and at least six states — Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and South Carolina — have either ended or will soon begin to pull back that extra amount, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Several of the central figures under investigation by the Haitian authorities in connection with the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse gathered in the months before the killing to discuss rebuilding the troubled nation once the president was out of power, according to the Haitian police, Colombian intelligence officers and participants in the discussions.
The meetings, conducted in Florida and the Dominican Republic over the last year, appear to connect a seemingly disparate collection of suspects in the investigation, linking a 63-year-old doctor and pastor, a security equipment salesman, and a mortgage and insurance broker in Florida.
All have been identified by the Haitian authorities as prominent players in a sprawling plot to kill the president with the help of more than 20 former Colombian commandos and seize political power in the aftermath. It is unclear how the people under investigation could have accomplished that, or what powerful backers they may have had to make it possible.
But interviews with more than a dozen people involved with the men show that the suspects had been working together for months, portraying themselves in grandiose and often exaggerated terms as well-financed, well-connected power brokers ready to lead a new Haiti with influential American support behind them.
Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a doctor and pastor who divided his time between Florida and Haiti, conspired with the others to take the reins of the country once Mr. Moïse was killed. During a raid of Mr. Sanon’s residence, they say, the police found six holsters, about 20 boxes of bullets and a D.E.A. cap — suggesting that it linked him to the killing because the team of hit men who struck Mr. Moïse’s home posed as agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration. Mr. Sanon is now in custody.
Haitian officials are investigating whether the president’s own protection force took part in the plot as well, and on Thursday they detained the head of palace security for Mr. Moïse. Colombian officials say the palace security chief made frequent stopovers in Colombia on his way to other countries in the months before the assassination.
The Haitian authorities offered little explanation as to how Mr. Sanon — who did not hold elected office — planned to take over once the president was killed. It was also difficult to understand how he might have financed a team of Colombian mercenaries, some of whom received American military training when they were members of their nation’s armed forces, to carry out such an ambitious assault, given that he filed in Florida for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 2013.
But the interviews show that several of the key suspects met to discuss Haiti’s future government once Mr. Moïse was no longer in power — with Mr. Sanon becoming the country’s new prime minister.
“The idea was to prepare for that eventuality,” said Parnell Duverger, a retired adjunct economics professor at Broward College in Florida, who attended about 10 meetings on Zoom and in person with Mr. Sanon and other experts to discuss Haiti’s future government.
street protests demanding his removal — would eventually have no choice but to step down. Mr. Duverger, 70, described the meetings as cabinet-style sessions intended to help Mr. Sanon form a potential transition government once that happened.
that hired the former Colombian commandos and brought them to Haiti.
The other was Walter Veintemilla, who leads a small financial services company in Miramar, Fla., called Worldwide Capital Lending Group. On Wednesday, the Haitian authorities accused him of helping to finance the assassination plot.
Mr. Intriago arrived in Haiti, he and Mr. Veintemilla met in the neighboring Dominican Republic with Mr. Sanon.
On Wednesday, Haitian and Colombian officials said that a photograph showed the three men at the meeting with another central suspect in the investigation: James Solages, a Haitian American resident of South Florida who was detained by the Haitian authorities shortly after the assassination.
It is unclear whether any of the discussions crossed into a nefarious plot that led to the death of Mr. Moïse. The Haitian police have provided little concrete evidence, and American and Colombian officials familiar with the investigation said their officers in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, had been unable to interview most of the detained suspects as of Wednesday morning, forcing them to rely on the accounts of the Haitian authorities.
Another participant in one of the meetings with Mr. Sanon also said there was never any hint of a plot to kill the president.
websites, which claim to offer generic financial services such as mortgages and insurance, do not mention any notable deals.
And the owner of the company that hired the Colombian commandos, Mr. Intriago, has a history of debts, evictions and bankruptcies. Several relatives of the Colombian soldiers said they had never received their promised wages.
After the assassination, 18 of the Colombian soldiers were detained by the Haitian authorities and accused of participating in the killing. Another three Colombians, including the recruiter, Mr. Capador, were killed in the hours after the president’s death.
On Thursday, the Colombian police said Mr. Capador and a retired Colombian captain, German Alejandro Rivera, had conspired with the Haitian suspects as early as May to arrest Haiti’s president, providing the first indication of at least some of the veterans’ complicity in the plot.
It remained unclear how the plot turned into murder, but the Colombian authorities said seven Colombian commandos had entered the presidential residence on the night of the attack, while the rest guarded the area.
“What happened there?” said the wife of one of the detained former soldiers, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concern for her safety. “How does this end?”
Reporting was contributed by Mirelis Morales from Miramar, Fla.; Sofía Villamil from Bogotá, Colombia; Edinson Bolaños from Villavicencio, Colombia; Zolan Kanno-Youngs from Washington; and Catherine Porter.
JPMorgan Chase named two female executives as joint heads of its largest division, potentially paving the way for the nation’s largest bank to be led by a woman.
Marianne Lake, chief executive of the consumer lending division, and Jennifer Piepszak, chief financial officer, both age 51, were named heads of JPMorgan’s consumer and community bank, the sprawling division that handles auto loans, mortgages and private wealth management for bank customers. Their promotions are effective immediately.
In a message to employees on Tuesday, Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s longtime chief executive, praised both Ms. Lake and Ms. Piepszak, who will now run a division that takes in more than $50 billion per year in revenue and competes neck and neck with the bank’s corporate and investment bank for dominance.
“We are fortunate to have two such superb executives who are both examples of our extremely talented and deep management bench,” Mr. Dimon wrote. “They have proven track records of working successfully across the firm.”
The two executives step into a role previously held by Gordon Smith, the firm’s co-president and chief operating officer, who said he would retire at the end of the year. His retirement also paves the way for Daniel Pinto, the other co-president and chief operating officer, as well as the head of its corporate and investment bank, to become the sole No. 2. Jeremy Barnum, currently global head of research for the corporate and investment bank, will succeed Ms. Piepszak as chief financial officer.
Tuesday’s announcement brings renewed attention to what has been a hotly debated question within financial circles for years: who would replace Mr. Dimon, the charismatic C.E.O. who led JPMorgan through the financial crisis and is the longest-tenured bank leader on Wall Street. Mr. Dimon, 65, took on his role in late 2005 and has since quadrupled the bank’s stock price. He has said that leading JPMorgan is his calling, adding on more than one occasion that he planned to stay at the helm for at least another five years. But over the past decade, as a number of executives once viewed as potential successors have exited, concerns about who might replace Mr. Dimon have mounted.
The market’s reaction to the announcements was modest, suggesting that investors didn’t expect imminent changes at the top of the bank.
“Obviously, with each year that goes by, how could he not be a year closer,” Glenn Schorr, a banking analyst who covers JPMorgan for Evercore ISI, said of Mr. Dimon’s retirement. At the same time, he added, the elevation of Ms. Lake and Ms. Piepszak doesn’t necessarily mean that the chief executive’s departure is any closer. “I’ve seen this so many times,” Mr. Schorr said. “It doesn’t mean that at all.”
“The board has said it would like Jamie to remain in his role for a significant number of years,” Joseph Evangelisti, a JPMorgan spokesman, said in a statement.
In the end, the sellers accepted her offer, and she closed on the condo on May 7. She learned that the sellers liked that she had shown up promptly to an appointment, which helped seal the deal. “Be on time,” she said. And, she advised, use an experienced real estate agent. The current competitive market moves too quickly for do-it-yourself shopping.
In Nashville, buyers are getting creative. Brian Copeland, the president of Greater Nashville Realtors, said he had recently learned of an offer that promised the seller a “V.I.P.” meet-and-greet with a celebrity musician as an inducement. In another sale, a buyer offered to pay for a party with a bounce house for the seller’s children. And in a third, the buyer saw a Peloton bike in the house and offered to pay for a year’s subscription to online classes.
“We’re seeing all kinds of weird perks,” Mr. Copeland said, noting, “I am not condoning any of these practices.”
Angelica Olmsted, an agent in Denver, said tight markets demanded creative thinking. She tracks listings that have expired to see if the owner might still be interested in selling. “It may have been overpriced eight months ago,” she said, “but now it’s a steal.”
Here are some questions and answers about home shopping:
What are current mortgage rates?
A bright spot for home buyers is that mortgage rates have remained low — below 3 percent, on average, for the past month for a 30-year fixed-rate home loan, according to Freddie Mac’s weekly survey. Rates for fixed-rate 15-year loans averaged 2.26 percent last week.
I can’t pay above the asking price. Is there any hope for me?
Yes — if you’re willing to compromise, agents say. Mr. Copeland, in Nashville, said the majority of homes in Davidson County were still selling at or below the asking price. The most extreme competition, he said, is in a few ZIP codes in the city’s urban core. If you can live a bit farther away, he said, there’s probably a home you can afford.
How long is this going to last?
It is going to take time for construction to catch up to demand, especially for entry-level homes, economists say. But there are some reasons for optimism. A recent survey from Realtor.com suggests that more owners will be putting homes on the market in the next 12 months as the effects of the pandemic wane.
Richard Cordray, a close ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren who served as the first director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during the Obama years, has been selected as the new head of federal student aid in the Biden administration, a post that will put him at the center of the swirling debate over forgiving student debt.
The issue is a tricky one for President Biden. Though he has endorsed canceling up to $10,000 per borrower through legislation, Mr. Biden has been pressured by some Democrats to forgive much more, and to sign an executive order making it happen if Congress fails to act.
But with his new position within the federal Education Department, the primary lender for higher education, Mr. Cordray might be able to relieve the president of that burden by canceling student debt administratively. Democratic leaders are pushing for up to $50,000 in debt relief.
Mr. Cordray is a former Ohio attorney general who worked alongside Ms. Warren on financial issues before her election to the Senate. He headed the consumer protection bureau from 2012 to 2017, leaving in the first year of the Trump administration to make a failed bid for governor of Ohio.
a five-time “Jeopardy!” champion, has also been a vocal critic of for-profit colleges. “I hate how these hollowed-out businesses and subpar colleges are cheating consumers, employees and whole communities,” he wrote in a guest essay in The Plain Dealer, Ohio’s largest newspaper.
the agency sued Navient, one of the Education Department’s largest student loan servicers, for errors and omissions that Mr. Cordray said improperly added billions of dollars to borrowers’ tabs.
The lawsuit is ongoing, and six state attorneys general have filed similar cases. The lawsuits describe routine mistakes and lapses in oversight that over time added up to systematic failures, eerily similar to the mortgage servicing industry’s bungling of borrower accounts and property foreclosures during the 2008 recession.
extensive errors and obstacles in the department’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is intended to forgive the debts of teachers, military members, nonprofit workers and others in public-service careers.
The agency is also grappling with claims from hundreds of thousands of borrowers seeking relief through a program intended to eliminate the debts of people who were defrauded by schools that broke consumer protection laws.
WASHINGTON — Four months after Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental aid, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and in many places it is impossible even to file an application.
The program requires hundreds of state and local governments to devise and carry out their own plans, and some have been slow to begin. But the pace is hindered mostly by the sheer complexity of the task: starting a huge pop-up program that reaches millions of tenants, verifies their debts and wins over landlords whose interests are not always the same as their renters’.
The money at stake is vast. Congress approved $25 billion in December and added more than $20 billion in March. The sum the federal government now has for emergency rental aid, $46.5 billion, rivals the annual budget of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Experts say careful preparation may improve results; it takes time to find the neediest tenants and ensure payment accuracy. But with 1 in 7 renters reporting that they are behind on payments, the longer it takes to distribute the money, the more landlords suffer destabilizing losses, and tenants risk eviction.
scheduled to expire in June.
“I’m impressed with the amount of work that unsung public servants are doing to set up these programs, but it is problematic that more money isn’t getting out the door,” said Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor at New York University who is studying the effort. “There are downstream effects if small landlords can’t keep up their buildings, and you want to reach families when they first hit a crisis so their problems don’t compound.”
Estimates of unpaid rents vary greatly, from $8 billion to $53 billion, with the sums that Congress has approved at the high end of the range.
The situation illustrates the patchwork nature of the American safety net. Food, cash, health care and other types of aid flow through separate programs. Each has its own mix of federal, state and local control, leading to great geographic variation.
programs with discretionary money from the CARES Act, passed in March 2020. These efforts disbursed $4.5 billion in what amounted to a practice run for the effort now underway with 10 times the money.
Lessons cited include the need to reach out to the poorest tenants to let them know aid is available. Technology often posed barriers: Renters had to apply online, and many lacked computers or internet access.
nearly 1 renter household in 5 reported being behind on payments.
The national effort, the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, is run by the Treasury Department. It allocates money to states and also to cities and counties with populations of at least 200,000 that want to run their own programs. About 110 cities and 227 counties have chosen to do so.
The program offers up to 12 months of rent and utilities to low-income tenants economically harmed by the pandemic, with priority on households with less than half the area’s median income — typically about $34,000 a year. Federal law does not deny the aid to undocumented immigrants, though a few states and counties do.
Modern assistance seems to demand a mix of Jacob Riis and Bill Gates — outreach to the marginalized and help with software. Progress slowed for a month when the Biden administration canceled guidance issued under President Donald J. Trump and developed rules that require less documentation.
Other reasons for slow starts vary. Progressive state legislators in New York spent months debating the best way to protect the neediest tenants. Conservatives legislators in South Carolina were less focused on the issue. But the result was largely the same: Neither legislature passed its program until April, and neither state is yet accepting applications.
“I just don’t know why there hasn’t been more of a sense of urgency,” said Sue Berkowitz, the director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. “We’ve been hearing nonstop from people worried about eviction.”
committee in the state House of Representatives found that after 45 days, the program had paid just 250 households.
By contrast, a program jointly run by the city of Houston and Harris County had spent about a quarter of its money and assisted nearly 10,000 households.
Not everyone is troubled by the pace. “Getting the money out fast isn’t necessarily the goal here, especially when we focus on making sure the money reaches the most vulnerable people,” said Diane Yentel, the director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
2018 study found the area had the country’s highest eviction rate. Charleston County ran three rounds of rental relief with CARES Act money, and the state ran two.
The second state program, started with $25 million in February, drew so many applications that it closed in six days. But South Carolina is still processing those requests as it decides how to distribute the new federal funds.
Antonette Worke is among the applicants awaiting an answer. She moved to Charleston from Denver last year, drawn by cheaper rents, warmer weather and a job offer. But the job fell through, and her landlord filed for eviction.
Ms. Worke, who has kidney and liver disease, is temporarily protected by the federal eviction moratorium. But it does not cover tenants whose leases expire, as hers will at the end of next month. Her landlord said he would force her to move, even if the state paid the $5,000 in overdue rent.
Still, she said the help was important: A clean slate would make it easier to rent a new apartment and relieve her of an impossible debt. “I’m stressing over it to the point where I’ve made myself sicker,” she said.
Moving faster than the state, Charleston County started its $12 million program two weeks ago, and workers have taken computers to farmers’ markets, community centers and a mall parking lot. Christine DuRant, a deputy county administrator, said the aid was needed to prevent foreclosures that could reduce the housing stock. But critics would pounce if the program sent payments to people who do not qualify, she said: “We will be audited,” possibly three times.
Latoya Green is caught where the desire for speed and accounting collide. A clerk who lost hours in the pandemic, she owes $3,700 in rent and utilities and is protected by the eviction moratorium only until her lease expires next month.
She applied for help on the day the county program started but has not completed the application. She said she is unsettled by the emails requesting her lease, which she lacks, and proof of lost income.
Still, Ms. Green does not criticize Charleston County officials. “I think they’re trying their best,” she said. “A lot of people run scams.”
With time running short, she added: “I just hope and pray to God they’ll be able to assist me.”
Good morning. Have you gotten your vaccine yet? The Biden administration is offering tax breaks to companies that give their workers paid time off to get their shot. Here’s what else you should know in business and tech for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles
What’s Up? (April 18-24)
On Earth Day, President Biden kicked off a virtual climate summit with a guest list of who’s who in world power — including the pope, Bill Gates and President Xi Jinping of China. He put forth a high-flying goal for the United States to slash greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, setting the bar for other leaders to follow suit. The plan is aggressive in scope but vague on specifics. Climate experts say it would require drastic changes in many areas of the country’s economy — too drastic, according to some critics. Think a rapid transition to electric cars, the end of coal-fueled power plants and a vast expansion of wind turbine energy.
The Last Word
Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, who is stepping down from his role as the company’s chief executive next quarter, addressed a few elephants in the room in his latest (and last?) shareholder’s letter. Such as: Even though Amazon workers in Alabama recently rejected a major campaign to unionize, he still thinks that “we need to do a better job for our employees.” He also said that workers get bathroom breaks whenever they want (i.e. they do not have to pee in bottles, contrary to what you may read on Twitter). Anyway, what else is new at Amazon? The company is developing a furniture assembly service to compete with the home goods e-commerce giant Wayfair, for one thing. Oh, and opening a hair salon in London where you can preview hairdos virtually before trying them out in real life.
home prices up by about 16 percent since the pandemic began. Analysts believe the market will stay strong through the end of the year at least.
What’s Next? (April 25-May 1)
iSpy … Less
Apple introduced its latest slate of products and software last week, including new computer colors — a mustard-yellow desktop monitor, anyone? As expected, it also revealed the AirTag, a $29 disc that attaches to keys, wallets and other items so they can be tracked down if lost. But slipped in with the jazzy stuff was new privacy software that will make it harder for advertisers to monitor people. The feature will require apps to get explicit permission from users before spying on — sorry, tracking — their digital behavior. If people decline, companies that rely on digital advertising (like, say, Facebook) are expected to gather less data about users’ activity.
Tax Dollars at Work
Mr. Biden rolled out a new plan that would raise taxes on the rich to reduce costs for child care and education. The proposals align with his campaign promise to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, but not on households earning less than $400,000. Still, Wall Street wasn’t happy about it, and the stock market fell after his announcement. Mr. Biden is expected to defend his ideas when he gives his first address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
The tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes specifically to Black communities for decades, and they are used by 85 percent of Black smokers. (Because of their flavor, menthol cigarettes are considered easier to get hooked on and harder to quit.) As a result, Black Americans suffer disproportionate health consequences of addiction to menthol cigarettes. This Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will respond to a court order that compels it to take a position on whether to ban the product. But it’s complicated. Some critics of the ban say that it could cause police to more aggressively target Black Americans suspected of selling illegal cigarettes.
“Right now, sellers are in the position where they can direct buyers to have as few contingencies as possible,” Ms. Newquist-Nolan, the California broker, said. That’s a smart move, she said, because fewer contingencies means fewer opportunities when a transaction might fall through.
Take home inspections for example. From September 2020 through February 2021, 13.2 percent of winning Redfin offers had waived the inspection contingency, up from 7.3 percent a year ago, the brokerage reports. (Such a contingency would allow buyers to pull out of a deal if an inspection uncovered unexpected repair issues.) “Most buyers are waiving home inspections right now in our area,” Ms. Wethman said. “Pre-offer inspections have become the norm.”
Most sellers are now open to allowing buyers to bring in a home inspector before they make an offer on a home. A pre-offer inspection that finds few problems could give a buyer the confidence to waive an inspection contingency, which subsequently might make the buyer’s offer a more appealing choice for the seller.
Buyers are also finding ways to waive home appraisal contingencies, in an effort to make their bid more attractive to a seller. (Appraisal contingencies allow buyers to terminate a contract if an appraisal comes in lower than their offer price.)
“Some buyers who are putting down 20 percent are agreeing to reduce their down payment to pay the difference if there’s an appraisal gap,” Ms. Wethman said. For example, in a deal where a buyer is offering $300,000 for a home, and has a 20 percent down payment, if the house is appraised at $270,000, the buyer could drop their down payment to 10 percent, and use that 10 percent in cash to make up the appraisal shortfall.
Comparing Apples to Apples
The best approach that sellers can take when weighing offers, Mr. Lejeune said, is to compare them side-by-side.
His strategy: “I present offers to my clients in an Excel spreadsheet that specifics the offer price, loan amount, type of loan, contingencies, and other important metrics,” he said. “It’s basically a cheat sheet for sellers.”