View Source

How AT&T Got Here, and What’s Next: Live Updates

spin off and merge with Discovery. That new streaming giant is a formidable stand-alone competitor to Netflix and Disney. The move leaves AT&T to focus on its telecom business, which looks less bright after being overshadowed by its expensive — and ultimately futile — deal-making binge in media and entertainment under its previous chief, Randall Stephenson.

The DealBook newsletter explains how AT&T got here, in three key deals:

  • A $39 billion bid to buy T-Mobile. After regulatory pushback, in 2011 AT&T walked away from an effort to become the country’s largest wireless company. T-Mobile paired up instead with Sprint, and the two went on to buy huge amounts of spectrum in the high-stakes battle for 5G, leaving AT&T behind as it lobbies regulators to step in. The failed deal hit AT&T with a $3 billion dollar breakup fee, at the time the largest ever.

  • The $67 billion acquisition of DirectTV. In 2015, AT&T bet on cable TV as a way to amass customers whom it could eventually convert to streaming. But DirectTV bled subscribers as customers cut the cord, and AT&T unloaded a stake in the company last year to TPG that valued DirectTV at about a third of its acquisition price. The deal also cost AT&T about $50 million in advisory fees, according to Refinitiv.

  • The $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner. In 2018, Stephenson called the deal a “perfect match,” but the combined group struggled to invest in its telecom business while also spending enough to compete with the entertainment specialists at Netflix and Disney. Three years later, AT&T is now spinning off the company so it can (re)focus on its quest for 5G market share. AT&T paid $94 million in advisory fees to put the two companies together and an estimated $61 million to split them apart.

AT&T’s net debt

After all of that deal-making, AT&T is sitting on more than $170 billion in debt. As part of the deal with Discovery, AT&T will get $43 billion to help reduce its debt load. (The spun-off media business will begin its independent life with $58 billion in debt.)

AT&T also said it would reduce its dividend payout ratio — effectively cutting the amount it pays in half, according to Morgan Stanley. “You can call it a cut, or you can call it a re-sizing of the business,” said John Stankey, AT&T’s chief executive, in an interview. “It’s still a very, very generous dividend.” AT&T’s shares closed down 2.7 percent on Monday.

Market watchers expect the deal to kick off more consolidation among content providers as they race for scale to compete against another giant. Candidates include what John Malone, Discovery’s chairman, calls the “free radicals” — like Lionsgate, ViacomCBS and AMC, as well as NBCUniversal and Fox. Meanwhile, Amazon is in talks to buy another independent studio, MGM.

In a sign of the pressure that players face to spend big to bulk up, shares in Comcast, the telecom company that owns NBCUniversal, fell 5.5 percent on Monday.

A Walmart in Mililani, Hawaii. The retailer reported that its operating profit grew about 27 percent to $5.5 billion in the first quarter.
Credit…Marie Eriel Hobro for The New York Times

Walmart reported a strong first quarter on Tuesday, as its e-commerce business continued to drive sales and customers were helped by stimulus checks.

The retail giant said its sales in the United States in the first quarter increased 6 percent to $93.2 billion, while operating profit grew about 27 percent to $5.5 billion.

“Our optimism is higher than it was at the beginning of the year,” Walmart’s chief executive, Doug McMillon, said in a statement. “In the U.S., customers clearly want to get out and shop.”

Walmart is among a group of larger retailers that have experienced blockbuster sales during the pandemic, particularly for online groceries. The company’s e-commerce sales increased 37 percent in the first quarter.

The question now is whether Walmart can continue its pace of growth as shopping habits start to normalize.

Mr. McMillon said although the second half of the year “has more uncertainty than a typical year, we anticipate continued pent-up demand throughout 2021.”

Sales in the company’s international division declined 8.3 percent in the first quarter, as Walmart divested from some of its subsidiaries in places like Japan and Argentina. The company’s total revenue increased 2.7 percent to $138.3 billion.

Walmart raised its financial guidance for the rest of the year, projecting “high single digit” growth in operating income in its United States operation, with sales up in the single digits.

A worker prepared to shut down an oil well in Alberta, Canada, in 2020. To reach global climate goals, oil production must be reduced by 75 percent by 2050, the International Energy Agency said. 
Credit…Alec Jacobson for The New York Times

Investment in new oil and natural gas projects must stop from today, and sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles must halt from 2035. These are some of the milestones that the International Energy Agency said Tuesday must be achieved for the global energy industry to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

These conclusions seem surprisingly stark for the agency, a multilateral group whose main mandate is helping ensure energy security and stability. But it has increasingly embraced a role in combating climate change under its executive director, Fatih Birol.

In a news conference, Mr. Birol said he wanted to address the gap between the ambitious commitments on climate change that government and chief executives have been making and the reality that global emissions are continuing to rise strongly.

Just a year ago, the agency was deeply concerned about the disruptive implications of the collapse of the oil market from the effects of the pandemic. At the time, Mr. Birol referred to April 2020 as “Black April.”

Now Mr. Birol’s analysts are outlining in a report what looks like decades of disruption for the global energy industry. Oil production, for instance, will need to fall from nearly 100 million barrels a day to around 24 million a day by 2050, the report says.

The agency acknowledges that the disruption for the global energy sector, which produces three-quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, could threaten five million jobs. “The contraction of oil and natural gas production will have far-reaching implications for all the countries and companies that produce these fuels,” the Paris-based group said in a news release.

Oil-producing countries may see different affects. This report, for instance, is likely to lead to further calls from environmental groups for the British government, which heads the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), to end new oil and gas drilling to set a global example. A halt would threaten jobs in Britain’s declining but still large oil and gas industry.

On the other hand, members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries are likely to see their share of a much-reduced market rise from about a third to more than 50 percent, the agency said, as nations with less efficient, higher-cost oil industries cut back.

At the same time, Mr. Birol said, there would be major economic benefits from the trillions of dollars in investment in wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy. Doing so could create 30 million jobs,and add 0.4 percent year to world economic growth, he said.

Foxconn, which hopes to play a bigger role in the auto industry, in 2020 introduced tools and technology aimed at helping automakers develop electric vehicles.
Credit…Yimou Lee/Reuters

Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics heavyweight best known for making Apple’s iPhones, has found a big new partner for its auto-industry ambitions: the European-American car giant Stellantis.

The two companies on Tuesday announced a joint venture for building in-car digital systems and software, which automakers believe will be an increasingly important selling point for consumers in the coming decades.

“This is core to the future of Stellantis,” the automaker’s chief executive, Carlos Tavares, said during a conference call with reporters. The new partnership, he said, “is about putting software at the core of the company.”

Stellantis was created in January from the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA, the French maker of Peugeot, Citroën and Opel cars. The tie-up was motivated in part to put the companies in a stronger position to develop electric cars as fossil fuel-burning vehicles become history.

The 50-50 venture with Foxconn, which is called Mobile Drive, will supply so-called digital cockpits not only to Stellantis brands like Jeep and Maserati, but to other automakers as well, the two companies said on Tuesday. Mobile Drive will make digital systems for gas-powered cars in addition to electric ones.

Foxconn is moving rapidly to claim a bigger role in the car business, betting that its expertise in gadgets will give it a leg up as auto making fuses with electronics.

In October, the company unveiled a kit of technology and tools aimed at helping automakers develop electric vehicles. Last week, it finalized an agreement with the California-based automaker Fisker to develop a new electric car that the companies aim to begin manufacturing in the United States in 2023.

During Tuesday’s call, Stellantis and Foxconn executives declined to say whether the two companies would also explore contract car manufacturing as part of their cooperation.

A British government center that helps people find jobs. Employment remains below prepandemic levels in Britain, but rose in April for the fifth consecutive month.
Credit…John Sibley/Reuters
  • Wall Street was poised for an upbeat opening on Tuesday, following a strong day for stocks in Asia and Europe. Despite regional outbreaks of the coronavirus, traders appeared to be bolstered by the power of vaccines and some positive economic data.

  • S&P 500 futures were 0.2 percent higher after the benchmark index slumped 0.3 percent on Monday. European indexes were higher, with FTSE 100 in Britain gaining 0.4 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.3 percent.

  • In Asia, the Nikkei in Japan gained 2.1 percent the same day the government reported the economy contracted in the first quarter, after two consecutive quarters of growth.

  • In Taiwan, the stock market jumped more than 5 percent following a slump after the government recently imposed restrictions to control an outbreak of Covid infections. Reuters reported that Taipei’s top official in Washington was in talks with President Biden about securing doses of vaccine from the United States.

  • Oil jumped higher, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, gaining 1 percent to reach above $70 a barrel for the first time since early March. The U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate, was 0.8 percent higher, to $66.78 a barrel.

  • Shares in AT&T, which fell 2.6 percent Monday after it announced it was spinning off its WarnerMedia division and becoming more of a strictly telecommunication company, continued its slide in premarket trading, down a further 4.4 percent. Shares of Discovery Inc., which will absorb WarnerMedia and become a new company, also slipped on Monday, ending the day down 5.1 percent. It was unchanged in premarket trading on Tuesday.

  • In Britain, the latest reading on unemployment showed “some early signs of recovery,” the Office for National Statistics said. The jobless rate for January through March was 4.8 percent, 0.3 percentage points lower than the previous quarter. At the same time, the number of payroll employees increased in April for the fifth consecutive month, but remains 772,000 less than it was prepandemic.

  • “The latest U.K. employment data provides further signs that the jobs market has begun to turn a bit of a corner since the turn of the year,” said James Smith, developed markets economist at ING. He noted that unemployment would undoubtedly rise in the fall and probably peak at about 6 percent, when the government’s wage-support program is scheduled to end, “though we think things are likely to be improving again by year-end.”

Travelers at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Prices are rising on everything from airline tickets to used cars as the economy reopens.
Credit…Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

Turn on the news, scroll through Facebook, or listen to a White House briefing these days and there’s a good chance you’ll catch the Federal Reserve’s least-favorite word: Inflation. If that bubbling popular concern about prices gets too ingrained in America’s psyche, it could spell trouble for the nation’s central bank.

Interest in inflation has jumped this year for both political and practical reasons. Republicans, and even some Democrats, have been warning that the government’s hefty pandemic spending could push inflation higher. And as the economy gains steam, demand is coming back faster than supply, The New York Times’s Jeanna Smialek reports.

The Fed has big reasons to avoid overreacting: Inflation been a feature of the economic landscape since the 1980s.

But prices have stayed in control for so long partly because of muted inflation expectations. After decades of Consumers and businesses have learned to expect slow, steady gains year after year. Shoppers who don’t anticipate price increases may be reluctant to accept them, curbing a business’s power to raise them.

If consumers begin to anticipate faster gains, companies could regain their ability to charge more, locking in today’s temporary price bumps and calling into question the Fed’s plan to support the economy for months and even years to come.

Already, there are early signs that expectations could move higher as the economic backdrop changes dramatically. Were they to shoot up more than the Fed finds acceptable, it could force the Fed to react by dialing back support sooner rather than later.

  • Japan’s economy shrank in the first three months of 2021, continuing a swing between growth and contraction as its plodding vaccination campaign threatened to stall its recovery from the pandemic even as other major economies appeared primed for rapid growth. Japan is suffering a resurgence in virus cases, with much of the country under a state of emergency and deaths climbing, especially in Osaka. The yo-yoing economic pattern, analysts said, is unlikely to stop until the country has vaccinated a significant portion of its population, an effort that has just begun and seems unlikely to speed up significantly in the coming months.

  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has been in talks to sell itself to Amazon, according to three people briefed on the matter. It was unclear how much Amazon might be willing to spend, and a timeline for a potential deal was unclear, according to the people briefed on the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the sale process is private. If completed, a deal would turbocharge Amazon’s streaming ambitions by bringing James Bond, Rocky, RoboCop and other film and television properties into the e-commerce giant’s fold. In total, MGM has about 4,000 films in its library.

  • Bob Garfield, a longtime co-host of WNYC’s popular program “On the Media,” has been fired after two separate investigations found he had violated an anti-bullying policy, New York Public Radio, which owns WNYC, said on Monday. Mr. Garfield’s employment was terminated “as a result of a pattern of behavior that violated N.Y.P.R.’s anti-bullying policy,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. In an email on Monday, Mr. Garfield said he was not yet able to speak fully about the circumstances surrounding his firing but defended his behavior as yelling.

Credit…Till Lauer

Homes are selling quickly. About half sell in less than a week, usually after multiple offers, said Daryl Fairweather, the chief economist for the Redfin online brokerage.

The usual tips — like getting preapproved for a mortgage — apply more than ever, Ann Carrns reports for The New York Times. But competition in many cities is leading potential buyers to take steps they may not have considered even a few months ago, including offering tens of thousands of dollars above the asking price; agreeing to let the seller live, rent-free, in the house for several months after the closing; and waiving certain contingencies, like the right to inspect the house before buying.

Here are other measures buyers are going to to close the deal:

  • Buyers will sometimes send personal notes to sellers to distinguish themselves. “It never hurts,” said Mark Strüb, a real estate agent in Austin, Texas, though some Realtors discourage the practice. Mr. Strüb once had a seller with a strong sentimental attachment to the house pass over the highest offer because the potential buyer failed to write a letter, while the others vying for the home had all done so.

  • In some states, buyers may offer direct incentives to sellers outside of the purchase price, sometimes called “option” money, said Maura Neill, an agent with Re/Max Around Atlanta. “It works like a bonus,” she said. She cautioned that buyers and their agents should clarify their state’s laws, but “if you can make it work,” she said, “it’s a very strong tactic.”

  • Shoppers need patience, plus a willingness to move fast. To snag a condo near Piedmont Park, Ga., one client Ms. Neill worked with offered a quick closing, which was important to the sellers, and agreed to waive the appraisal — also an increasingly common practice in competitive markets. That means that if a buyer is financing the purchase with a mortgage and offers more than the property appraises for, the buyer agrees to pay the difference in cash at closing.

View Source

FBI Confirms DarkSide as Colonial Pipeline Hacker

President Biden said on Monday that the United States would “disrupt and prosecute” a criminal gang of hackers called DarkSide, which the F.B.I. formally blamed for a huge ransomware attack that has disrupted the flow of nearly half of the gasoline and jet fuel supplies to the East Coast.

The F.B.I., clearly concerned that the ransomware effort could spread, issued an emergency alert to electric utilities, gas suppliers and other pipeline operators to be on the lookout for code like the kind that locked up Colonial Pipelines, a private firm that controls the major pipeline carrying gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the Texas Gulf Coast to New York Harbor.

The pipeline remained offline for a fourth day on Monday as a pre-emptive measure to keep the malware that infected the company’s computer networks from spreading to the control systems that run the pipeline. So far, the effects on gasoline and other energy supplies seem minimal, and Colonial said it hoped to have the pipeline running again by the end of this week.

The attack prompted emergency meetings at the White House all through the weekend, as officials tried to understand whether the episode was purely a criminal act — intended to lock up Colonial’s computer networks unless it paid a large ransom — or was the work of Russia or another state that was using the criminal group covertly.

the Washington, D.C., Police Department, have also been hit.

The explosion of ransomware cases has been fueled by the rise of cyberinsurance — which has made many companies and governments ripe targets for criminal gangs that believe their targets will pay — and of cryptocurrencies, which make extortion payments harder to trace.

In this case, the ransomware was not directed at the control systems of the pipeline, federal officials and private investigators said, but rather the back-office operations of Colonial Pipeline. Nonetheless, the fear of greater damage forced the company to shut down the system, a move that drove home the huge vulnerabilities in the patched-together network that keeps gas stations, truck stops and airports running.

A preliminary investigation showed poor security practices at Colonial Pipeline, according to federal and private officials familiar with the inquiry. The lapses, they said, most likely made the act of breaking into and locking up the company’s systems fairly easy.

executive order in the coming days to strengthen America’s cyberdefenses, said there was no evidence that the Russian government was behind the attack. But he said he planned to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia soon — the two men are expected to hold their first summit next month — and he suggested Moscow bore some responsibility because DarkSide is believed to have roots in Russia and the country provides a haven for cybercriminals.

“There are governments that turn a blind eye or affirmatively encourage these groups, and Russia is one of those countries,” said Christopher Painter, the United States’ former top cyberdiplomat. “Putting pressure on safe havens for these criminals has to be a part of any solution.”

Colonial’s pipelines feed large storage tanks up and down the East Coast, and supplies seem plentiful, in part because of reduced traffic during the pandemic. Colonial issued a statement on Monday saying its goal was to “substantially” resume service by the end of the week, but the company cautioned that the process would take time.

mounted a not-so-secret effort to put malware in the Russian grid as a warning.

But in the many simulations run by government agencies and electric utilities of what a strike against the American energy sector would look like, the effort was usually envisioned as some kind of terrorist strike — a mix of cyber and physical attacks — or a blitz by Iran, China or Russia in the opening moments of a larger military conflict.

But this case was different: a criminal actor who, in trying to extort money from a company, ended up bringing down the system. One senior Biden administration official called it “the ultimate blended threat” because it was a criminal act, the kind the United States would normally respond to with arrests or indictments, that resulted in a major threat to the nation’s energy supply chain.

By threatening to “disrupt” the ransomware group, Mr. Biden may have been signaling that the administration was moving to take action against these groups beyond merely indicting them. That is what United States Cyber Command did last year, ahead of the presidential election in November, when its military hackers broke into the systems of another ransomware group, called Trickbot, and manipulated its command-and-control computer servers so that it could not lock up new victims with ransomware. The fear at that time was that the ransomware group might sell its skills to governments, including Russia, that sought to freeze up election tabulations.

On Monday, DarkSide argued it was not operating on behalf of a nation-state, perhaps in an effort to distance itself from Russia.

“We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives,” it said in a statement posted on its website. “Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society.”

The group seemed somewhat surprised that its actions resulted in closing a major pipeline and suggested that perhaps it would avoid such targets in the future.

“From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future,” the group said, though it was unclear how it defined “moderation.”

DarkSide is a relative newcomer to the ransomware scene, what Ms. Neuberger called “a criminal actor” that hires out its services to the highest bidder, then shares “the proceeds with ransomware developers.” It is essentially a business model in which some of the ill-gotten gains are poured into research and development on more effective forms of ransomware.

The group often portrays itself as a sort of digital Robin Hood, stealing from companies and giving to others. DarkSide says it avoids hacking hospitals, funeral homes and nonprofits, but it takes aim at large corporations, at times donating its proceeds to charities. Most charities have turned down its offers of gifts.

One clue to DarkSide’s origins lies in its code. Private researchers note DarkSide’s ransomware asks victims’ computers for their default language setting, and if it is Russian, the group moves along to other victims. It also seems to avoid victims that speak Ukrainian, Georgian and Belarusian.

Its code bears striking similarities to that used by REvil, a ransomware group that was among the first to offer “ransomware as a service” — essentially hackers for hire — to hold systems hostage with ransomware.

“It appears this was an offshoot that wanted to go into business for themselves,” said Jon DiMaggio, a former intelligence community analyst who is now the chief security strategist of Analyst1. “To get access to REvil’s code, you’d have to have it or steal it because it’s not publicly available.”

DarkSide makes smaller ransom demands than the eight-figure sums that REvil is known for — somewhere from $200,000 to $2 million. It puts a unique key in each ransom note, Mr. DiMaggio said, which suggests that DarkSide tailors attacks to each victim.

“They’re very selective compared to most ransomware groups,” he said.

View Source

Colonial Pipeline: A Vital Artery for Fuel

HOUSTON — The operator of a vital fuel pipeline stretching from Texas to New Jersey, shut down for days after a ransomware attack, said Monday that it hoped to restore most operations by the end of the week.

Federal investigators said the attackers aimed at poorly protected corporate data rather than directly taking control of the pipeline, which carries nearly one-half of the motor and aviation fuels consumed in the Northeast and much of the South.

The operator, Colonial Pipeline, stopped shipments apparently as a precaution to prevent the hackers from doing anything further, like turning off or damaging the system itself in the event they had stolen highly sensitive information from corporate computers.

Colonial said it was reviving service of segments of the pipeline “in a stepwise fashion” in consultation with the Energy Department. It said the goal of its plan was “substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week.” The company cautioned, however, that “this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation said was carried out by an organized crime group called DarkSide, has highlighted the vulnerability of the American energy system.

Part of that vulnerability reflects Texas’ increased role in meeting domestic demand for oil and gas over the last decade and a half, leading the Northeast to rely on an aging pipeline system to bring in fuel rather than refining imported fuel locally.

Since the pipeline shutdown, there have been no long lines at gasoline stations, and because many traders expected the interruption to be brief, the market reaction was muted. Nationwide, the price of regular gasoline climbed by only half a cent to $2.97 on Monday from Sunday, even though the company could not set a timetable for restarting the pipeline. New York State prices remained stable at $3 a gallon, according to the AAA motor club.

“Potentially it will be inconvenient,” said Ed Hirs, an energy economist at the University of Houston. “But it’s not a big deal because there is storage in the Northeast and all the big oil and gas companies can redirect seaborne cargoes of refined product when it is required.”

The Colonial Pipeline is based in Alpharetta, Ga., and is one of the largest in the United States. It can carry roughly three million gallons of fuel a day over 5,500 miles from Houston to New York. It serves most of the Southern states, and branches from the Atlantic Coast to Tennessee.

Some of the biggest oil companies, including Phillips Petroleum, Sinclair Pipeline and Continental Oil, joined to begin construction of the pipeline in 1961. It was a time of rapid growth in highway driving and long-distance air travel. Today Colonial Pipeline, which is private, is owned by Royal Dutch Shell, Koch Industries and several foreign and domestic investment firms.

It is particularly vital to the functioning of many Eastern U.S. airports, which typically hold inventories sufficient for only three to five days of operations.

There are many reasons, including regulatory restrictions on pipeline construction that go back nearly a century. There are also restrictions on the use of foreign vessels to move products between American ports, as well as on road transport of fuels.

But the main reason comes closer to home. Over the last two decades, at least six refineries have gone out of business in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, reducing the amount of the crude oil processed into fuels in the region by more than half, from 1,549,000 to 715,000 barrels weekly.

“Those refineries just couldn’t make money,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service.

The reason for their decline is the “energy independence” that has been a White House goal since the Nixon administration. As shale exploration and production boomed beginning around 2005, refineries on the Gulf Coast had easy access to natural gas and oil produced in Texas.

That gave them an enormous competitive advantage over the East Coast refineries that imported oil from the Northeast or by rail from North Dakota once the shale boom there took off. As the local refineries shut their doors, the Colonial Pipeline became increasingly important as a conduit from Texas and Louisiana refineries.

The Midwest has its own pipelines from the Gulf Coast, but while the East Coast closed refineries, the Midwest has opened a few new plants and expanded others to process Canadian oil, much from the Alberta oil sands, over the last 20 years. California and the Pacific Northwest have sufficient refineries to process crude produced in California and Alaska, as well as South America.

Not very. The Northeast supply system is flexible and resilient.

Many hurricanes have damaged pipelines and refineries on the Gulf Coast in the past, and the East Coast was able to manage. The federal government stores millions of gallons of crude oil and refined products for emergencies. Refineries can import oil from Europe, Canada and South America, although trans-Atlantic cargo can take as much as two weeks to arrive.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in 2017, damaging refineries, Colonial Pipeline shipments to the Northeast were suspended for nearly two weeks. Gasoline prices at New York Harbor quickly climbed more than 25 percent, and the added costs were passed on to motorists. Prices took over a month to return to previous levels.

The hacking of a major pipeline, while not a major problem for motorists, is a sign of the times. Criminal groups and even nations can threaten power lines, personal information and even banks.

The group responsible for the pipeline attack, DarkSide, typically locks up its victims’ data using encryption, and threatens to release the data unless a ransom is paid. Colonial Pipeline has not said whether it has paid or intends to pay a ransom.

“The unfortunate truth is that infrastructure today is so vulnerable that just about anyone who wants to get in can get in,” said Dan Schiappa, chief product officer of Sophos, a British security software and hardware company. “Infrastructure is an easy — and lucrative — target for attackers.”

View Source

Pipeline Hit by Ransomware Hopes to Restart by End of Week

An oil and gas pipeline system that was forced to shut down on Friday after a ransomware attack is not expected to be “substantially” restored until the end of the week, its operator, Colonial Pipeline, said on Monday.

“While this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve, the Colonial operations team is executing a plan that involves an incremental process that will facilitate a return to service in a phased approach,” the company said in a statement posted on its website. “This plan is based on a number of factors with safety and compliance driving our operational decisions, and the goal of substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week.”

The company said it was monitoring its customers’ supplies and was working with shippers to move fuel. Oil and gas prices came well off their highs of the day after Colonial’s statement.

The sudden shut down of 5,500 miles of pipeline, which the company says carries nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, has been a troubling sign of vulnerabilities in the nation’s energy infrastructure.And the shutdown had raised concerns about fuel supplies to large portions of the country. Prices on gasoline futures had soared on Monday as a result, and analysts had said a prolonged shutdown could drive them even higher — potentially affecting prices consumers pay for gas at the pump.Experts said several airports that depend on the pipeline for jet fuel, including those in Nashville, Baltimore-Washington and Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., could have a hard time later in the week. Airports generally store enough jet fuel for three to five days of operations.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

View Source

Pipeline Shutdown Has Had Little Impact on Supplies So Far

HOUSTON — The shutdown on Friday of the largest petroleum pipeline between Texas and New York after a ransomware attack has had little immediate impact on supplies of gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. But some energy analysts warned that a prolonged suspension could raise prices at the pump along the East Coast.

Nationwide, the AAA motor club reported that the average price of regular gasoline did not budge from $2.96 a gallon from Saturday to Sunday. New York State prices remained stable at $3, and in some Southeastern states like Georgia, which are considered particularly vulnerable if the pipeline does not reopen quickly, prices moved up a fraction of a penny a gallon.

There’s been no sign that drivers are panic buying or that gasoline stations are gouging their customers at the beginning of the summer driving season, when gasoline prices traditionally rise.

But gasoline shortages could appear if the pipeline, operated by Colonial Pipeline, is still shut into the week, some analysts said.

“Even a temporary shutdown will likely drive already rising national retail gas prices over $3 per gallon for the first time since 2014,” said Jay Hatfield, chief executive of Infrastructure Capital Management and an investor in natural gas and oil pipelines and storage.

The shutdown of the 5,500-mile pipeline that carries nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel supplies was a troubling sign that the nation’s energy infrastructure is vulnerable to cyberattacks from criminal groups or nations.

Colonial Pipeline acknowledged on Saturday that it had been the victim of a ransomware attack by a criminal group, meaning that the hacker may hold the company’s data hostage until it pays a ransom. The company, which is privately held, would not say whether it had paid a ransom. It did say it was working to start up operations as soon as possible.

One reason that prices have not surged so far is that the East Coast generally has ample supplies of fuel in storage. And fuel consumption, while growing, remains depressed from prepandemic levels.

Still, there are some vulnerabilities in the supply system. Stockpiles in the Southeast are slightly lower than normal for this time of year. Refinery capacity in the Northeast is limited, and the Northeast Gasoline Supply Reserve, a supply held for emergency interruptions, contains only a total of one million barrels of gasoline in New York, Boston and South Portland, Maine.

That is not even enough for a single day of average regional consumption, according to a report published on Saturday by Clearview Energy Partners, a research firm based in Washington. “Much depends on the duration of the outage,” the report said.

When Hurricane Harvey crippled several refineries on the Gulf Coast in 2017, suspending Colonial Pipeline flows of petroleum products to the Northeast for nearly two weeks, spot gasoline prices at New York Harbor rose more than 25 percent and took nearly a month to ease.

Regional refineries can add to their supplies from Kinder Morgan’s Plantation Pipeline, which operates between Louisiana and Northern Virginia, but its capacity is limited and it does not reach major metropolitan areas north of Washington, D.C.

The East Coast has ample harbors to import petroleum products from Europe, Canada and South America, but that can take time. Tankers sailing from the port of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, at speeds of up to 14 knots can take as long as two weeks to make the trip to New York Harbor.

Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at Oil Price Information Service, said the Biden administration could suspend the Jones Act, which requires that goods shipped between American ports be transported on American-built and -operated vessels. That would allow foreign-flagged tankers to move additional barrels of fuel from Gulf ports to Atlantic Coast harbors. The Jones Act is typically suspended during emergencies like hurricanes.

“One could make the case that the Biden administration might consider such a move sooner rather than later if Colonial software issues persist,” Mr. Kloza said.

View Source

Cyberattack Forces a Shutdown of a Top U.S. Pipeline

A cyberattack forced the shutdown of one of the largest pipelines in the United States, in what appeared to be a significant attempt to disrupt vulnerable energy infrastructure. The pipeline carries refined gasoline and jet fuel up the East Coast from Texas to New York.

The operator of the system, Colonial Pipeline, said in a statement late Friday that it had shut down its 5,500 miles of pipeline, which it says carries 45 percent of the East Coast’s fuel supplies, in an effort to contain the breach on its computer networks. Earlier Friday, there were disruptions along the pipeline, but it was unclear whether that was a direct result of the attack, or the company’s moves to proactively halt it.

Colonial Pipeline has not indicated whether its systems were hit by ransomware, in which hackers hold a victim’s data hostage until it pays a ransom, or whether it was another form of cyberattack. But the shutdown of such a vital pipeline, one that has been serving the East Coast since the early 1960s, highlights the huge vulnerability of aging infrastructure that has been connected, directly or indirectly, to the internet.

In coming weeks the administration is expected to issue a broad-ranging executive order to bolster security of federal and private systems, after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught American intelligence agencies and companies by surprise.

the SolarWinds intrusion by Russia’s main intelligence service, and another against some types of Microsoft-designed systems that has been attributed to Chinese hackers — underscored the vulnerability of the networks on which the government and corporations rely.

announced sanctions against Russia last month for SolarWinds, and is expected to issue an executive order in the coming days that would take steps to secure critical infrastructure, including requiring enhanced security for vendors providing services to the federal government.

The United States has long warned that Russia has implanted malicious code in the electric utility networks, and the United States responded several years ago by putting similar code into the Russian grid.

But actual attacks on energy systems are rare. About a decade ago, Iran was blamed for an attack on the computer systems of Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil producers, which destroyed 30,000 computers. That attack, which appeared to be in response to the American-Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, did not affect operations.

Another attack on a Saudi petrochemical plant in 2017 nearly set off a major industrial disaster. But it was shut down quickly, and investigators later attributed it to Russian hackers. This year, someone briefly took control of a water treatment plant in a small Florida city, in what appeared to be an effort to poison the supply, but the attempt was quickly halted.

Clifford Krauss and Nicole Perlroth contributed reporting.

View Source

Europe’s Economy Shrank in First Quarter, Revealing a Recession: Live Updates

United States disclosed that its economy expanded 1.6 percent over the same period, the European downturn presented a contrast of fortunes on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Propelled by dramatic public expenditures to stimulate growth, as well as swift increases in vaccination rates, the United States — the world’s largest economy — expanded rapidly during the first months of 2021. At the same time, the 19 nations that share the euro currency were caught in the second part of a so-called double-dip recession, reflecting far less aggressive stimulus spending and a botched effort to secure vaccines.

But figures for gross domestic product represent a snapshot of the past, and recent weeks have produced encouraging signs that Europe is on the mend. The alarming spread of Covid-19 in major economies like Germany and France has begun to trend downward, factories have revived production, while growing numbers of people are on the move in cities.

Even as the German economy diminished by 1.7 percent from January to March, Italy and Spain slipped by much smaller magnitudes — 0.4 percent and 0.5 percent respectively. The French economy grew by a modest 0.4 percent, though its prospects face a fresh challenge in the form of new pandemic restrictions imposed this month by the government.

The initial lockdowns last year punished Europe’s economies, bringing large swaths of commercial life to a halt. But the current restrictions are calibrated to reflect improved understanding of how the virus spreads. Rather than closing their doors altogether, restaurants in some countries are serving meals on patios and dispensing takeout orders. Roofers, carpenters and other skilled trades have resumed work, so long as they can stay outside.

“We have sort of learned to live with the pandemic,” said Dhaval Joshi, chief strategist at BCA Research in London. “We are adapting to it.”

Vaccination rates are increasing throughout Europe, a trend likely to be advanced by the European Union’s recent deal to secure doses from Pfizer.

Most economists and the European Central Bank expect the eurozone to expand at a blistering pace over the rest of 2021, yielding growth of more than 4 percent for the full year.

Still, even in the most hopeful scenario, Europe’s recovery is running behind the United States, a reflection of their differing approaches to economic trauma.

Since last year, the United States has unleashed additional public spending worth 25 percent of its national economic output for pandemic-related stimulus and relief programs, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares to 10 percent in Germany.

But Europe also began the crisis with far more comprehensive social safety net programs. While the United States directed cash to those set back by the pandemic, Europe limited a surge in unemployment.

“Europe has more insurance schemes,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Oslo. “You don’t fall as hard, but you don’t rebound that sharply either.”

Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, thanks to rising production and higher chemical prices.
Credit…Lee Celano/Reuters

Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two biggest oil companies in the United States, on Friday reported their first quarterly profits after several quarters of losses, signaling that the energy industry is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices have climbed in recent months and are now roughly where they were before the pandemic’s full force was felt. As a result, Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, compared with a loss of $610 million in the same period a year ago. Chevron said its profit was $1.4 billion, down from $3.6 billion a year earlier. Chevron this week raised its dividend by nearly 4 percent.

The American oil benchmark price, now around $64 a barrel, has tripled since last April. Natural gas prices have also strengthened during the recovery.

“The strong first quarter results reflect the benefits of higher commodity prices and our focus on structural cost reductions,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Only six months ago, many analysts warned that Exxon would have to cut its dividend, but now the shareholder payout appears safe because of rising production and higher chemical prices. Exxon this month reported yet another in a string of big oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana, one of its most important growth areas.

At Chevron, sales and other revenue in the quarter increased to $31 billion, $1 billion more than the year-ago quarter.

“Earnings strengthened primarily due to higher oil prices as the economy recovers,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive.

Both companies suffered losses from the severe Texas freeze in February. Exxon reported that lost sales and repairs cost the company nearly $600 million. Chevron said its results were weakened by $300 million in lost oil and refining production and repairs.

Volkswagen wanted to have a little fun when it introduced the all-electric ID.4 to the United States in March. The Securities and Exchange Commission wasn’t laughing.
Credit…Bryan Derballa for The New York Times

Volkswagen’s American unit was only kidding when it put out the word late in March that it was changing its name to “Voltswagen” to show its commitment to electric vehicles. To say the April Fool’s joke didn’t land is an understatement. Now the misfired marketing gag has prompted an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Volkswagen did not dispute reports in Der Spiegel and other German media that the S.E.C. was looking into whether the carmaker misled shareholders with the faux rebranding. Volkswagen in Germany declined to comment Friday.

Publicly listed companies are not supposed to fool their shareholders, even in jest. Some media reported the purported name change as fact until Volkswagen of America admitted it was all a joke.

German law also requires companies to be honest with their shareholders, but a spokeswoman for the stock market regulator, known as Bafin, said the agency saw no basis to investigate the Voltswagen issue.

It is unlikely that Volkswagen will face a serious penalty if the S.E.C. finds a violation, at least not compared to the tens of billions of dollars that an emissions scandal has cost the company since 2015. The gag does not appear to have had any influence on the price of Volkswagen shares, which rose for several days even after the company admitted it was all a ruse.

Like a comedian bombing onstage, the most painful consequence may be the humiliation.

Comments from Marin. J. Wash, the labor secretary, on gig workers sent shares of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and DoorDash down sharply.
Credit…Pool photo by Pat Greenhouse/EPA, via Shutterstock

Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary, said on Thursday that “in a lot of cases” gig workers in the United States should be classified as employees, not independent contractors. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not, and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” he told Reuters.

Shares of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and DoorDash fell sharply on the news. These companies’ business models depend on classifying workers as independent contractors, who are not entitled to labor protections like a minimum wage or overtime pay.

But how much control does Mr. Walsh have over how companies classify their employees?

There’s no single law that makes workers employees or contractors. The Labor Department can enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. This law applies only to employees, and who should fall into that category has been the subject of a long-running debate.

In 2015, the Obama administration issued guidance that many interpreted to mean that app-based workers should be considered employees. It was rescinded by the Trump administration.

In 2021, the Trump administration issued a rule that would have made it easier for the same companies to classify workers as contractors. It was nixed by the Biden administration. Mr. Walsh’s comments suggest his interpretation will be similar to the Obama administration’s. And David Weil, reportedly President Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, wrote the 2015 guidance.

New guidance wouldn’t change the law, but it could change how the Labor Department decides whether to bring lawsuits against gig economy companies. “It’s implicitly a sign to employers that you should comply with this interpretation or there’s a risk of enforcement,” Brian Chen, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told the DealBook newsletter.

Although such guidance is nonbinding, Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School, said courts “tend to give it deference” when making decisions. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw specific action coming from the department sometime this year,” said William Gould, a Stanford law professor and the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Ari Emanuel, the chief executive of the entertainment conglomerate Endeavor. “We’re platform agnostic, and we serve all parties,” he said of the streaming wars.
Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The Endeavor Group, the entertainment conglomerate run by the Hollywood mogul Ari Emanuel, pulled its initial public offering at the last minute in 2019, amid lukewarm interest from investors. Last year posed its own difficulties, with a pandemic that hurt its live events business as well as its talent agency.

But Endeavor finally made its market debut on Thursday, closing the day with a market cap of more than $10 billion. Mr. Emanuel spoke with the DealBook newsletter about what changed — and what comes next.

On why the I.P.O. went ahead this time:

“There was confusion with regard to the U.F.C., so we cleaned that up,” Mr. Emanuel said about the mixed-martial arts league that Endeavor is acquiring full control of with proceeds from the offering. Debt was also a worry before, and the company’s leverage will be reduced with help from a $1.7 billion private placement, with Third Point and Elliot Management among the investors. S&P Global upgraded the company’s credit rating on Thursday.

Endeavor also used the pandemic period to restructure and consolidate, shifting further away from its talent agency roots. And Mr. Emanuel expects its events business, entertainment relationships and intellectual property will help feed a demand for “content in all forms” after the pandemic: “We’re the story about coming out.”

On Endeavor’s role in the streaming wars:

“We’re platform agnostic, and we serve all parties,” Mr. Emanuel said. The broadcasters are spending “huge” amounts to build out their streaming platforms. “I don’t have to do that,” he said. “I just have to supply it.”

On how he met Elon Musk, who is joining Endeavor’s board:

“I definitely cold called. That’s kind of in my nature,” Mr. Emanuel said. “We’ve represented him in some of his endeavors. And then over time, he and I became friendly.”

“He’s also a great entrepreneur, meaning he knows how hard it is to build and run a company,” he added, noting that they often call each other for advice.

On whether he has any concerns about putting Mr. Musk on the board given the Tesla chief’s run-ins with securities regulators:

“No.”

Receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in Budapest.
Credit…Akos Stiller for The New York Times

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford brought in $275 million in sales from about 68 million doses delivered in the first three months of this year, AstraZeneca reported on Friday.

AstraZeneca disclosed the figure, most of which came from sales in Europe, as it reported its first-quarter financial results. It offers the clearest view to date of how much money is being brought in by one of the leading Covid vaccines.

AstraZeneca, which has pledged not to profit on its vaccine during the pandemic, has been selling the shot to governments for several dollars per dose, less expensive than the other leading vaccines. The vaccine has won authorization in at least 78 countries since December but is not approved for use in the United States.

The vaccine represented just under 4 percent of AstraZeneca’s revenue for the quarter; it was nowhere near the company’s biggest revenue generator. By comparison, the company’s best-selling product, the cancer drug Tagrisso, brought in more than $1.1 billion in sales in the quarter.

AstraZeneca has said it is planning to seek emergency authorization for its vaccine to be used in the United States, even as it has become clear that the doses are not needed. The Biden administration said this week that it would make available to the rest of the world up to 60 million doses of its supply of AstraZeneca shots, pending a review of their quality.

If the company does win authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it could help shore up confidence in a vaccine whose reputation been hit by concerns about a rare but serious side effect involving blood clotting. The F.D.A.’s evaluation process is considered the gold standard globally.

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine was authorized for emergency use at the end of February, reported last week that its vaccine generated $100 million in sales in the United States in the first three months of the year. The federal government is paying the company $10 a dose. Like AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson has pledged to sell its vaccine “at cost” — meaning it won’t profit on the sales — during the pandemic.

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna cost more, and neither company has said that it will forego profits. Pfizer has said that it expects its vaccine to bring in about $15 billion in revenue this year; Moderna said it anticipates $18.4 billion in sales.

Both companies are scheduled to report their first-quarter results next week.


By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet

U.S. stocks fell in early trading on Friday, with the S&P 500 pulling back from a record high reached the day before, as traders closed positions for the end of the month and continued to react to company earnings.

Despite Friday’s decline, the S&P 500 is still on track for a gain of about 5 percent for April, its best monthly showing since November — when stocks rallied nearly 11 percent in the wake of the U.S. presidential election.

The benchmark stock index had hit a record after data showed the American economy grew strongly at the start of the year. Forecasters predict the economy will be back to its prepandemic size by the summer and will help drive global economic growth.

Oil prices fell, with futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropping more than 2 percent to $63.50 a barrel.

Tesla has been losing market share even as demand for rooftop solar power has grown.
Credit…Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

Tesla’s solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly.

After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem, Ivan Penn reports for The New York Times.

The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.

The shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.

Tesla is not the only company to pursue the idea of embedding solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.

But given Mr. Musk’s success with Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.

During a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Mr. Musk insisted that demand for Tesla’s solar roofs “remains strong” even though the company had raised prices substantially. He described the last-minute increases as a teething problem.

Customers are unhappy with the growing pains. Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.

“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”

The average selling price of Ford models rose 8 percent in the first three months of 2021 compared with a year ago, to $47,858, according to the auto-sales data provider Edmunds.com.
Credit…Mohamed Sadek for The New York Times

In the first months of 2021, what was good for the auto industry was decidedly good for the American economy.

Spending on motor vehicles and parts rose almost 13 percent in the first quarter, making a big contribution to the increase in gross domestic product, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Strong sales of new and used vehicles were propelled by consumers who had delayed purchases earlier in the pandemic and by others who — because of the virus — wanted to rely less on public transit or shared transportation services like Uber.

Two rounds of stimulus payments since late December were a big factor. Low interest rates, readily available credit, rising home values and stock prices, and strong trade-in values for used models also eased the path for consumers.

In fact, demand in the first quarter was robust enough that the auto industry was able to post healthy results despite a shortage of computer chips that forced temporary shutdowns of many auto plants.

The number of new cars and light trucks sold increased 11 percent from the comparable period a year earlier, to 3.9 million, according to the auto-sales data provider Edmunds.com.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor reported it made a $3.3 billion profit in the quarter, its highest total since 2011. While it produced 200,000 fewer vehicles in the quarter than it had planned, the average selling price of Ford models rose to $47,858, 8 percent higher than in the first quarter a year ago, Edmunds reported.

The combination of strong consumer demand and tight inventories — partly a result of the chip shortage — has produced something of a dream scenario for auto retailers. At AutoNation, the country’s largest chain of dealerships, many vehicles are being sold near or at sticker price even before they arrive from the factory.

“I’ve never seen so much preselling of shipments,” said Mike Jackson, the chief executive. “These vehicles are coming in and going right out.”

In the first quarter, AutoNation’s revenue jumped 27 percent, to $5.9 billion, and the company reported $239 million in profit. That was a turnaround from a loss a year ago, when the pandemic crimped sales and forced AutoNation to close stores.

View Source

Exxon Mobil and Chevron Report Quarterly Profit After String of Losses

Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two biggest oil companies in the United States, on Friday reported their first quarterly profits after several quarters of losses, signaling that the energy industry is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices have climbed in recent months and are now roughly where they were before the pandemic’s full force was felt. As a result, Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, compared with a loss of $610 million in the same period a year ago. Chevron said its profit was $1.4 billion, down from $3.6 billion a year earlier. Chevron this week raised its dividend by nearly 4 percent.

The American oil benchmark price, now around $64 a barrel, has tripled since last April. Natural gas prices have also strengthened during the recovery.

“The strong first quarter results reflect the benefits of higher commodity prices and our focus on structural cost reductions,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Only six months ago, many analysts warned that Exxon would have to cut its dividend, but now the shareholder payout appears safe because of rising production and higher chemical prices. Exxon this month reported yet another in a string of big oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana, one of its most important growth areas.

At Chevron, sales and other revenue in the quarter increased to $31 billion, $1 billion more than the year-ago quarter.

“Earnings strengthened primarily due to higher oil prices as the economy recovers,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive.

Both companies suffered losses from the severe Texas freeze in February. Exxon reported that lost sales and repairs cost the company nearly $600 million. Chevron said its results were weakened by $300 million in lost oil and refining production and repairs.

View Source

U.S. Economy Rebounds as Pain Caused by Pandemic Eases: Live Updates

the first-quarter growth rate was 6.4 percent.

2019 Q4 LEVEL

$20 trillion

+1.6%

FROM

PRIOR

QUARTER

Gross domestic product,

adjusted for inflation and

seasonality, at annual rates

2019 Q4 LEVEL

$20 trillion

+1.6%

FROM

PRIOR

QUARTER

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation

and seasonality, at annual rates

“This was a great way to start the year,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. “We had the perfect mix of improving health conditions, strong fiscal stimulus and warmer weather.”

“Consumers are now back in the driver’s seat when it comes to economic activity, and that’s the way we like it,” he added. “A consumer that is feeling confident about the outlook will generally spend more freely.”

Looking ahead, economists said they expected to see even better numbers this quarter.

“It’s good news, but the better news is coming,” said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “There’s nothing in this report that makes me think the economy won’t grow at a gangbusters pace in the second and third quarter.”

The expansion last quarter was spurred by stimulus checks, he said, which quickly translated into purchases of durable goods like cars and household appliances.

“This demonstrates the value of government intervention when the economy is on its knees from Covid,” he added. “But in the coming quarters, the economy will be much less dependent on stimulus as individuals use the savings they’ve accumulated during the pandemic.”

Cumulative percent change in

G.D.P. from the start of the

last five recessions

Final quarter

before

recession

5 quarters

into recession

Cumulative percent change in G.D.P.

from the start of the last five recessions

Final quarter

before

recession

5 quarters

into recession

Overall economic activity should return to prepandemic levels in the current quarter, Mr. Anderson said, while cautioning that it will take until late 2022 for employment to regain the ground it lost as a result of the pandemic.

Still, the labor market does seem to be catching up. Last month, employers added 916,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell to 6 percent, while initial claims for unemployment benefits have dropped sharply in recent weeks.

Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a recruiting and staffing firm in Chicago, said: “It’s the best job market I’ve seen in 25 years. We have 50 percent more openings now than we did pre-Covid.”

Hiring is stronger for junior to midlevel positions, he said, with strong demand for professionals in accounting, financing, marketing and sales, among other areas. “Companies are building up their back-office support and supply chains,” he said. “I think we’re good for at least 18 months to two years.”

Spending on goods like automobiles led the way in the first quarter, but demand for services like dining out should revive in the second quarter, said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “I think we will see a surge in services spending,” she said.

As more Americans become vaccinated, many economists expect a decline in new unemployment claims.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Initial jobless claims fell last week to yet another pandemic low in the latest sign that the economic recovery is strengthening.

About 575,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week’s revised figure. It was the third straight week that jobless claims had dropped.

In addition, 122,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 12,000 from the previous week.

Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 553,000.

“Today’s report, and the other data that we got today, signals an improving labor market and an improving economy,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “It is encouraging that claims are continuing to fall.”

Although weekly jobless claims remain above levels reached before the pandemic, vaccinations and warmer weather are offering new hope. Most economists expect the slow downward trend in claims to continue in the coming months as the economy reopens more fully.

But challenges lie ahead. The long-term unemployed — a group that historically has had a more difficult time rejoining the work force — now make up more than 40 percent of the total number of unemployed. Of the 22 million jobs that disappeared early in the pandemic, more than eight million remain lost.

“The labor market is definitely moving in the right direction,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist at the online job site Indeed. She noted that job postings as of last Friday were up 22.4 percent from February 2020.

Still, she cautioned that industries like tourism and hospitality would probably remain depressed until the pandemic was firmly under control. She also stressed that child care obligations might be preventing people ready to return to work from seeking jobs.

“We still are in a pandemic — the vaccinations are ramping up but there is that public health factor still,” Ms. Konkel said. “We’re not quite there yet.”

The NBC sitcom “The Office” became a big streaming hit for Netflix and is now back in the Comcast fold, available on its streaming service Peacock.
Credit…Chris Haston/NBC

If you want a clear picture of the state of the media industry in upheaval, Comcast offers a good snapshot.

The company, which includes NBC, Universal Pictures, several theme parks, and the Peacock streaming service, beat Wall Street’s expectations in its first-quarter earnings report on Thursday as it continued to shift its emphasis from cable to digital.

To start, take these figures from its results:

Despite the regular pace of cord cutting, Comcast’s cable television business pulled in over $5.62 billion in revenue for the first quarter. That was flat compared with last year, but it’s still the company’s biggest business, accounting for a fifth of all revenue.

Peacock, on the other hand, is the fastest growing, but it loses the most money. Last year, it approached $700 million in pretax losses. This year, the streaming platform is expected to lose $1.3 billion as Comcast spends big to load it up with original shows and sports programming with the aim of attracting more viewers.

That’s the operating thesis behind every major media company today: replace the eroding base of profit-rich cable customers with loss-making streaming viewers in the hope that over time the digital audience will become more valuable. The Walt Disney Company, ViacomCBS, Discovery Inc. and AT&T’s WarnerMedia are all trying to make the transformation without entirely losing their shirts.

Peacock’s 42 million sign-ups should also come with an asterisk. The service is free and easy to join, but that doesn’t mean everyone is watching. (The figure includes paid versions of Peacock, which feature more content and fewer commercials.) A February report from the tech news site The Information revealed that a little more than 11 million households were watching the service.

Even so, the aim of Peacock is to replace the lost advertising from Comcast’s cable and broadcast channels as people continue to cut the cord. Peacock, which is available nearly everywhere, can also act as a hedge against other cable operators such as Charter or Cox when Comcast’s media division, NBCUniversal, negotiates carriage fees.

Peacock offers some of the most popular streaming shows, including “The Office,” a top hit on Netflix before it lost the rights to the series in 2021 when the license expired and the show reverted back to its owner, Comcast.

In a few years, Peacock will have the rights to stream National Football League games on Sunday alongside NBC as part of a new agreement. That could ruffle feathers with some of NBC’s affiliate stations if viewers drop TV and opt for Peacock to watch football. The streamer will also have some games exclusively. In March, the service added WWE.

Comcast sells something that has proved more durable than sports and entertainment: broadband, the piping that carries all streaming platforms. The company saw a surge in subscribers during the pandemic. In the first quarter, sales increased 12 percent to $5.6 billion. It’s likely to overtake cable television as the company’s biggest business.

At NBCUniversal, sales sharply dropped as movie theaters remained mostly shut and fewer people were visiting theme parks under the pandemic. Revenue fell 9 percent to $7 billion and pretax profit decreased 12 percent to $1.5 billion. Advertising at its television networks, which include NBC, MSNBC and Syfy, fell 3.4 percent to $2.1 billion.

Overall, the company beat expectations, reporting adjusted profit of 76 cents a share on $27.2 billion in revenue, and its stock was climbing on Thursday morning. Investors were looking for 59 cents in per-share profit and $26.6 billion in sales.

Microsoft will decrease the share of money it charges independent developers that publish computer games on its online store, starting in August, the company said on Thursday.

Developers will keep 88 percent of the revenue from their games, up from 70 percent. That could make Microsoft’s store more attractive to independent studios than competitors like Valve’s gaming store, called Steam, which typically starts by taking a 30 percent cut. Epic Games’ store takes 12 percent.

“We want to make sure that we’re competitive in the market,” said Sarah Bond, a Microsoft vice president who leads the gaming ecosystem organization. “Our objective is to have a leading revenue share and really a leading platform.”

The share of revenue that developers get to keep has come under greater scrutiny across the tech industry. Google and Apple have faced antitrust questions for the 30 percent fees they charge developers whose programs appear in their app stores.

Last year, Epic sued Apple and Google separately, claiming they violated antitrust laws by forcing developers to use their payment systems. Epic had tried to bypass the fees by letting customers pay for items in its Fortnite video game directly through Epic. That caused Apple and Google to boot Fortnite from their app stores.

Apple and Google have since reduced fees for some developers. Epic’s lawsuit against Apple is set to head to trial on Monday in U.S. District Court in Oakland, Calif.

A Shell recharging station for electric vehicles in the Netherlands. Despite investments in renewable energy, Shell’s profit last quarter was largely the result of rising oil and gas prices.
Credit…Koen Van Weel/EPA, via Shutterstock

Strong profit increases from two of Europe’s largest energy companies, Royal Dutch Shell and Total, demonstrated that what really matters for the financial performance of these companies remains the price of oil and natural gas.

Their recent investments in clean energy, described by company officials as essential for the future, remain marginal.

Total said that adjusted net income rose by 69 percent compared with the period a year earlier, when the effects of the pandemic were beginning to kick in, to $3 billion, while Shell said that what it calls adjusted earnings rose by 13 percent to $3.2 billion.

The main factor in the improved performance by both companies was a roughly 20 percent rise in oil prices along with an increase in natural gas prices, leading to higher revenues. During a news conference to discuss the results, Jessica Uhl, Shell’s chief financial officer, said that a $10 jump in oil prices would translate into a $6.4 billion increase in cash for the company’s coffers on an annual basis.

Shell, which cut its dividend last year for the first time since World War II, confirmed that it would increase the payout for the quarter by 4 percent, to about 17 cents a share.

Both companies have tethered their futures to generating and distributing renewable sources of energy. Shell in February said its oil production had peaked in 2019, and it has been investing in various clean energy ventures, including a network of 60,000 charging stations for electric vehicles. And Total has, among other things, invested in options to build offshore wind farms off Britain.

In its earnings statement, Total took the lead among the oil majors in providing details on its investments in renewable energy like wind and solar. The company said these businesses brought in $148 million for the quarter, measured as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. This figure was about 2 percent of the overall total for the company of $7.3 billion, according to analysts at Bernstein, a research firm.

Although Airbus reported a quarterly profit after a full-year loss for 2020,  “the market remains uncertain,”  said Guillaume Faury, the company’s chief executive.
Credit…Chema Moya/EPA, via Shutterstock

Airbus announced Thursday that it had returned to a profit in the first quarter following a 1.1 billion euro loss last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, but its top executive warned that the economic toll would continue.

“The first quarter shows that the crisis is not yet over for our industry, and that the market remains uncertain,” Guillaume Faury, chief executive of the world’s largest airplane maker, said in a statement.

Airbus booked a net profit of 362 million euros ($440 million) between January and March, compared with a loss of 481 million euros a year earlier, as cost-cutting measures — which included more than 11,000 layoffs announced last year for its global operations — bolstered the bottom line. Revenue fell 2 percent to 10.5 billion euros.

Airbus delivered 125 commercial aircraft to airlines in the three-month period, up from 122 a year earlier. Over all, Airbus delivered 566 aircraft to airlines in 2020, 40 percent less than expected before the pandemic.

Airbus has previously warned that the industry might not recover from the disruption caused by the pandemic until as late as 2025, as new virus variants delay a resumption of worldwide air travel.

Given the uncertain outlook, Airbus won’t ramp up aircraft deliveries this year. The company said it expected to deliver 566 aircraft on back order from airline companies, the same number as last year.

It maintained its forecast for an underlying operating profit of two billion euros for the year.

S&P 500

%

Nasdaq

%

As of

Data delayed at least 15 minutes

Source: Factset


Stocks on Wall Street jumped on Thursday, rising with European stock indexes, amid indications that the economy is moving toward a recovery to prepandemic levels.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the U.S. economy expanded 1.6 percent in the first three months of 2021, compared with 1.1 percent in the final quarter last year, or 6.4 percent on an annualized basis.

A day earlier, the Federal Reserve said that the outlook was improving and that it would continue to provide substantial monetary support, easing investors’ concerns that it would soon start easing the stimulus efforts it launched a year ago when the Covid-19 crisis forced a near shutdown of many parts of the economy.

“While the level of new cases remains concerning,” Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said, “continued vaccinations should allow for a return to more normal economic conditions later this year.” The central bank kept interest rates near zero and said it would continue buying bonds at a steady clip.

The S&P 500 rose 0.7 percent. Market sentiment continued to rise after President Biden detailed more of his spending plans — which total $4 trillion — to fund expanded access to education and reduce the cost of child care, among other things.

Oil prices rose. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, climbed more than 2 percent to above $5 a barrel.

The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.3 percent as a measure of economic confidence for the eurozone surged higher.

Amazon announced raises for half a million employees in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Amazon will increase pay between 50 cents and $3 an hour for half a million workers in its warehouses, delivery network and other fulfillment teams, the company said on Wednesday.

The action follows scrutiny of Amazon from lawmakers and an unsuccessful unionization push that ended this month at its large warehouse in Alabama. In 2018, Amazon raised its minimum pay to $15 an hour. In recent months, it has publicly campaigned to raise the federal minimum to $15, too.

Amazon has been on a hiring spree during the pandemic. As more customers ordered items online, the company added 400,000 employees in the United States last year. Its total work force stands at almost 1.3 million people.

Amazon typically revaluates wages each fall, before the holiday shopping season. But this year, it moved those changes earlier, said Darcie Henry, an Amazon vice president of people experience and technology. The new wages will roll out from mid-May through early June. Ms. Henry said the company was hiring for “tens of thousands” of open positions.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and chief executive, recently told shareholders in his annual letter that he recognized the company needed “a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.” He said that Amazon had always striven to be “Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company,” and that now he wanted it to be “Earth’s Best Employer and Earth’s Safest Place to Work” as well.

Amazon is scheduled to report quarterly earnings on Thursday.

Gary Gensler’s tenure leading the Securities and Exchange Commission is off to a rocky start: Alex Oh, who he named just days ago to run the regulator’s enforcement division, has resigned following a federal court ruling in a case involving one of her corporate clients, ExxonMobil.

In her resignation letter on Wednesday, Ms. Oh said the matter would be “an unwelcome distraction to the important work” of the enforcement division.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter followed a ruling on Monday from Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia over the conduct of Exxon’s lawyers during a civil case involving claims of human rights abuses in the Aceh province of Indonesia.

According to Judge Lamberth’s ruling, Exxon’s lawyers claimed without providing evidence that the plaintiffs’ attorneys were “agitated, disrespectful and unhinged” during a deposition. He ordered Exxon’s lawyers to show why penalties were not warranted for those comments.

The ruling did not single out any lawyers by name. Ms. Oh was one of the lead lawyers for Exxon.

The judge’s order also granted the plaintiffs’ motion that Exxon pay “reasonable expenses” associated with litigating their request for sanctions and with an accompanying motion to compel additional testimony from Exxon related to the deposition.

Ms. Oh’s resignation letter did not mention the Exxon case by name, but a person briefed on the matter confirmed that the ruling from Judge Lamberth had prompted her to step down.

Ms. Oh, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who worked for the elite firm Paul, Weiss for nearly two decades, was picked by Mr. Gensler to oversee the S.E.C.’s 1,000-attorney enforcement division on April 22. The same day, she filed a notice with the court in the Exxon case saying she had withdrawn from the matter because she had resigned from the firm to join the federal government.

The civil litigation involving Exxon is nearly two decades old and involves allegations by the plaintiffs that Exxon’s security personnel “inflicted grievous injuries” on them. The lawsuit was brought under the federal Alien Tort Claims Act, which enables residents of other countries to sue in the United States for damages arising from violations of U.S. treaties or “the law of nations.”

Mr. Gensler said in a news release that Melissa Hodgman, who had been the enforcement division’s acting chief since January, will return to that position. Ms. Hodgman has been an enforcement attorney with the agency since 2008. He thanked Ms. Oh for her “willingness to serve the country.”

Ms. Oh could not immediately be reached for comment.

Brad Karp, chairman of Paul, Weiss, said the firm would not comment on the matter because it involved ongoing litigation. “Alex is a person of the utmost integrity and a consummate professional with a strong ethical code,” he added.

Ms. Oh is a highly respected lawyer, but her selection had been criticized by the Revolving Door Project, a good-government group, because she had been in private practice for so many years and had defended some of the largest U.S. companies.

Increased supply-chain and freight costs for cereal makers could translate into higher retail prices for customers.
Credit…Sara Hylton for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, when suppliers raised the cost of diapers, cereal and other everyday goods, retailers often absorbed the increase because stiff competition forced them to keep prices stable.

Now, with Americans’ shopping habits having shifted rapidly — with people spending more on treadmills and office furniture and less at restaurants and movie theaters — retailers are also adjusting, Gillian Friedman reports for The New York Times.

The Consumer Price Index, the measure of the average change in the prices paid by U.S. shoppers for consumer goods, increased 0.6 percent in March, the largest rise since August 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Procter & Gamble is raising prices on items like Pampers and Tampax in September. General Mills, which makes cereal brands including Cheerios, is facing increased supply-chain and freight costs that could translate into higher retail prices for customers.

At the beginning of the pandemic, companies were focused on fulfilling demand for toilet paper, cleaning supplies, canned food and masks, said Greg Portell, a partner at Kearney, a consulting firm. The government was watching for price-gouging, and customers were wary of being taken advantage of.

Now that the economy is beginning to stabilize, companies are starting to rebalance pricing so that it better fits their profit expectations and takes into account inflation. “This isn’t an opportunistic profit-taking by companies,” Mr. Portell said. “This is a reset of the market.”

Gary Gensler, the chair of the Securities Exchange Commission, has some expertise with cryptocurrencies.
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

For many cryptocurrency supporters and investors, regulatory approval of a Bitcoin exchange-traded fund in the United States represents the holy grail. It would allow the crypto-curious to get exposure to Bitcoin without having to buy the tokens themselves, signifying that digital assets are really, truly mainstream.

But it’s not meant to be — yet. On Wednesday, the Securities and Exchange Commission delayed a decision on a Bitcoin E.T.F. proposal from the investment manager VanEck, saying it needs more time but offering no other explanation.

Delay is not denial, and it may be a good sign, Todd Cipperman, the founder of the compliance services firm CCS, told the DealBook newsletter. When considering the concept of a crypto E.T.F. in 2018, the S.E.C. raised questions about investor protection issues and put a “wet blanket on the whole idea,” he said.

Now, crypto is much bigger, and Gary Gensler, who taught courses about blockchain technology at M.I.T., is chair of the S.E.C. His expertise doesn’t guarantee success for crypto E.T.F.s, but it will be easier for an expert in the field to approve them, Mr. Cipperman suggested.

The S.E.C. gave itself until mid-June, with the option to take more time, but it must decide before year’s end. The regulator has rejected every proposal to date, starting with the first Bitcoin E.T.F. pitch in 2013, presented by the Winklevoss twins, which was eventually dismissed in 2017 (and again in 2018). There are several E.T.F. proposals on the table now, including one from the traditional finance giant Fidelity.

Canada is moving faster, approving all kinds of crypto E.T.F.s, after allowing its first Bitcoin E.T.F. in February. Hester Peirce, an S.E.C. commissioner and vocal crypto champion, told DealBook earlier this month that she has been “mystified” by her agency’s response to some prior applications, which met the standards in her view. With more players now engaging in the process, approval could be looming — eventually.

View Source