“You would think that there would be enough data and enough history to see that a little more clearly,” he added. “But it also suggests that times are changing and they are changing fast and more dramatically.”

Strong consumer spending may have saved the economy from ruin during the pandemic, but it has also led to enormous excess and waste.

Retailers have begun to slash prices on inventory in their stores and online. Last Monday, Walmart issued the industry’s latest warning when it said that its operating profits would drop sharply this year as it cut prices on an oversupply of general merchandise.

above a reclaimed strip mine dating back to when this region was a major coal producer. Today, the local economy is home to dozens of e-commerce warehouses that cover the hilly landscape like giant spaceships, funneling goods to the population centers in and around New York and Philadelphia.

Liquidity Services, a publicly traded company founded in 1999, decided to open its new facility as close as it could to the Scranton area’s major e-commerce warehouses, making it easy for retailers to dispense with their unwanted and returned items.

Even before the inventory glut appeared this spring, returns had been a major problem for retailers. The huge surge in e-commerce sales during the pandemic — increasing more than 40 percent in 2020 from the previous year — has only added to it.

The National Retail Federation and Appriss Retail calculate that more than 10 percent of returns last year involved fraud, including people wearing clothing and then sending it back or stealing goods from stores and returning them with fake receipts. But more fundamentally, industry analysts say the increasing returns reflect consumer expectations that everything can be taken back.

burned in incinerators that generate electricity.

stock price plummeted nearly 25 percent in one day. Other retailers’ share prices have also fallen.

Target’s stumbles have been an opportunity for people like Walter Crowley.

Mr. Crowley regularly rents a U-Haul and drives back and forth to the liquidation warehouse from his home near Binghamton, N.Y.

Mr. Crowley, who turns 54 next month, focuses mostly on discounted home improvement goods, which he resells to local contractors, like multiple pallets of discontinued garage door openers, tiles and flooring.

But on a sweltering day earlier this month, he stood outside the warehouse in his U-Haul loading up on items from Target.

“I saw its stock got tanked,” said Mr. Crowley, a cigarette dangling from his mouth and sweat pouring down his face. “It’s an ugly situation for them.”

He bought several cribs, a set of sheets for his own house and a pink castle for a girl in his neighborhood who just turned 5.

“I end up giving a lot of it away to my neighbors, to be honest,” he said. “Some people are barely getting by.”

The buyers bid for the goods through online auctions and then drive to the warehouse to pick up their winnings.

It’s a diverse group. There was a science teacher who stocked up on plastic parts for his class, as well as a woman who planned to resell her purchases — neon green Igloo coolers, a table saw, baby pajamas — in the Haitian and Jamaican communities of New York. She ships other items to Trinidad.

The Pennsylvania warehouse, one of eight that Liquidity Service operates around the country, employs about 20 workers, some of whom have been hired on a temporary basis. The starting pay is $17.50 an hour.

Charles Benincasa, 39, is a temporary worker who has had numerous “warehousing” jobs, the most recent at the Chewy pet food distribution center in nearby Wilkes-Barre.

Mr. Benincasa said his friends and family had gotten in the habit of returning many of the goods they buy online. But as he’s watched the boxes pile up in the Liquidity Services warehouse, he worries about the implications for the economy.

“Companies are losing a lot of money,” he said. “There is no free lunch.”

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Germans Tip-Toe Up the Path to Energy Savings

AUGSBURG, Germany — Wolfgang Hübschle went into city government expecting a simple life, planning things like traditional festivals replete with lederhosen.

Instead, these days he has the unpopular task of calculating which traffic lights to shut off, how to lower temperatures in offices and swimming pools — and perhaps, if it comes to it, pulling the plug on Bavarians’ beloved but energy-intensive breweries.

Municipal officials like Mr. Hübschle, the economic adviser to the provincial Bavarian city of Augsburg, sit on the front line of a geopolitical struggle with Russia since European Union leaders agreed this week to try to reduce natural gas consumption by 15 percent, fearing that President Vladimir V. Putin could cut exports in retaliation for Europe’s support for Ukraine.

a second pipeline from Russia, until the war forced the project to be suspended.

underlined the threat this week when it reduced flows through Nord Stream 1 into Germany to just 20 percent, citing, unconvincingly for many, problems with its German-made turbines.

Roughly half of all homes in Germany are heated with gas, while a third of the country’s gas is used by industry. If the coming winter is particularly cold, a cutoff would be brutal.

reopening coal-fired power plants to replace those that burn gas and rapidly expanding infrastructure for liquefied natural gas, along with securing contracts for deliveries from Qatar and the United States.

In a recent social media post, Mr. Habeck admonished people to change their daily habits as part of the effort to reach the country’s goal of saving 20 percent.

“If you think, OK, swapping out the shower head, thawing out the freezer or turning down the heater, none of that makes a difference — you are deceiving yourself,” Mr. Habeck said. “It is an excuse to do nothing.”

Some officials have expressed concern that the government is stoking panic. And some are hoping incentives will encourage careful energy use.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to increase housing subsidies and shield renters from evictions over unpaid heating bills. This week, Munich announced an “energy bonus” of 100 euros to households that cut their annual consumption by 20 percent, and its utility company launched an energy-saving competition for customers this autumn.

Germans seem to be responding. The Federal Association of Energy and Water said the country was using almost 15 percent less gas compared to the same period last year, a trend they partly attributed to the record price of energy. Costs will increase further by the beginning of October, when the government introduces a gas surcharge.

In response, space heaters and wood ovens are selling out in many cities, and there is a long wait for mini-solar-panel units to power some home devices.

Claudia Kemfert, an energy economist with the German Institute for Economic Research, said such savings were critical but worried the country had wasted several months with appeals to citizens instead of taking more robust action with business.

Companies have shown they can reduce their gas consumption when they are not given a choice. Automaker Mercedes-Benz said on Wednesday it had trimmed 10 percent of its gas usage, and could cut as much as 50 percent while maintaining full operations.

“There is a lot we can achieve through market-based approaches, we should exhaust every option we have on that front so that we can avoid an emergency situation,” Ms. Kemfert said.

Municipal officials say they will have no way to understand how much their efforts can help until they get more data.

In Munich, capital of the southern state of Bavaria and an epicenter of German industry, the deputy mayor, Katrin Habenschaden, is skeptical.

“I honestly don’t believe that this can be compensated for, as much as I appreciate it through our efforts now to save energy.” she said. “Rather, I believe that we simply need other options or other solutions.”

As the deputy responsible for managing economic affairs, she has been helping the city with a kind of economic triage — assessing what kind of rationing different companies could face. Businesses, big and small, are courting the city, to make their case for why they should be spared.

Bavaria is of particular concern because it is home to companies that are drivers of German industry, like BMW and Siemens. The conservative regional government’s reluctance to challenge its heavy dependence on gas and push forward on renewable energies has also left it particularly vulnerable, Ms. Habenschaden, a Green, argued.

In Augsburg and Munich, local officials have requested that every city employee send their suggestions. One Augsburg civil servant pointed out the city’s two data centers were a major energy drain. They are now considering whether they can rely on just one.

More quietly, many local leaders are pondering which energy-hungry German traditions may have to be put on the chopping block, should the country be forced into energy rationing: Beer making? Christmas markets?

Mr. Hübschle said he believes Bavaria should shut down its famous breweries before letting its chemical industry face gas shortages.

Meanwhile, Rosi Steinberger, a member of Bavaria’s regional parliament, now works in a dark office to cut her consumption, and is debating whether to provoke the inevitable ire of Munich by suggesting it cancel its world-famous Oktoberfest. It is scheduled to return this fall after a two-year pandemic pause.

“I haven’t asked yet,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “But I also think that when people say there should be no taboos in what we consider — well, that’s what you have to think about.”

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F.T.C. Sues to Block Meta’s Virtual Reality Deal as It Confronts Big Tech

WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday filed for an injunction to block Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, from buying a virtual reality company called Within, potentially limiting the company’s push into the so-called metaverse and signaling a shift in how the agency is approaching tech deals.

The antitrust lawsuit is the first under Lina Khan, the commission’s chair and a leading progressive critic of corporate concentration, against one of the tech giants. Ms. Khan has argued that regulators must stop competition and consumer protection violations when it comes to the bleeding edge of technology, including virtual and augmented reality, and not just in areas where the companies have already become behemoths.

The F.T.C.’s request for an injunction puts Ms. Khan on a collision course with Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, who is also named as a defendant in the request. He has poured billions of dollars into building products for virtual and augmented reality, betting that the immersive world of the metaverse is the next technology frontier. The lawsuit could crimp those ambitions.

in its lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “Instead, it chose to buy” a top company in what the government called a “vitally important” category.

attack on innovation and that the agency was “sending a chilling message to anyone who wishes to innovate in V.R.”

Meta had said it would acquire Within, which produces the highly popular fitness app called Supernatural, last year for an undisclosed sum. The company has promoted its virtual reality headsets for fitness and health purposes.

The F.T.C.’s lawsuit is highly unusual and pushes the boundaries of antitrust law. Regulators mostly focus on deals between large companies in large markets, rather than their acquisitions of small start-ups in nascent tech areas. Courts have also been skeptical applying antitrust law to block mergers based on the hypothetical that the two companies involved would later become competitors if the deal was blocked.

Instagram, the photo-sharing app that has since grown to more than one billion regular users. Instagram has helped Meta dominate the market on social photo sharing, though other start-ups have sprung up since.

lawsuit against Facebook that argued the company shut down nascent competition through acquisitions. The Justice Department has also sued Google over whether the company abused a monopoly over online search.

More cases could be coming. The F.T.C. is investigating whether Amazon has violated antitrust laws, and the Justice Department has inquiries into Google’s dominance over advertising technology and into Apple’s App Store policies.

For Mr. Zuckerberg, the F.T.C. lawsuit is a setback. He has been pushing Meta away from its roots in social networking as its apps, like Facebook and Instagram, face more competition amid stumbles in privacy and content moderation. Instead, he has bet on the metaverse.

Mr. Zuckerberg has reassigned employees and put a top lieutenant in charge of metaverse efforts. He has also authorized executives to pursue some of the most popular games in the V.R. space. In 2019, Facebook purchased Beat Games, makers of the hit title Beat Saber, one of the top V.R. games on the Oculus platform. He has also authorized the purchase of roughly half a dozen other virtual reality or gaming studios over the past three years.

The F.T.C. filed suit on Wednesday hours before Meta reported its first decline in quarterly revenue since it went public in 2012. The company has recently trimmed employee perks and reined in spending amid uncertain economic conditions. John Newman, the deputy director of the F.T.C.’s Bureau of Competition, said the agency acted on the Within deal because Meta was “trying to buy its way to the top.” The company already owned a best-selling virtual reality fitness app, he said, but then chose to acquire Within’s Supernatural app “to buy market position.” He said the deal was “an illegal acquisition, and we will pursue all appropriate relief.”

The F.T.C.’s vote to authorize the filing was split 3 to 2. Christine Wilson, a Republican commissioner at the agency, said she was one of the two votes against the lawsuit. She declined to comment on her reasoning.

The F.T.C. said in its request that asking for an injunction was sometimes a prelude to filing a complaint against a merger, which could embroil Meta and the agency in a lengthy trial and appeals process. A F.T.C. spokeswoman said the agency had not filed such a complaint and declined to comment further on the agency’s strategy.

Ms. Khan, 33, who was appointed by President Biden last year to acclaim from the left, has tried to make good on expansive promises to rein in corporate power. She became prominent after she wrote an article in law school in 2017 criticizing Amazon. As F.T.C. chair, she has called for regulators to vigorously enforce antitrust laws and has said she may craft sweeping online privacy rules that would implicate Silicon Valley companies.

The lawsuit drew praise from Ms. Khan’s allies. Sandeep Vaheesan, the legal director of the Open Markets Institute, a liberal think tank, said in a statement that the lawsuit was a “step toward making building, not buying, the norm for Facebook.”

But tech industry allies assailed Ms. Khan’s actions. Adam Kovacevich, the chief executive of Chamber of Progress, an industry group funded partly by Meta, said that with the new lawsuit, “the agency is more focused on getting headlines than results.” He said Meta “isn’t any closer than pickleball or synchronized swimming are to locking up the fitness market.”

Meta said in a blog post that the F.T.C. would fail to prove that the Within deal would “substantially lessen competition,” which is the bar that is typically set to block a deal under federal antitrust law.

In its lawsuit, the F.T.C. said that if Meta bought Within’s Supernatural, it would no longer have an incentive to improve Beat Saber, the virtual reality fitness game it already owns. But Nikhil Shanbhag, an associate general counsel for Meta, said in the blog post that the games weren’t competitors.

“Beat Saber is a game people play to have fun and it has many competitors,” he said. “Supernatural couldn’t be more different.”

Seamus Hughes contributed research.

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Ukraine News: Turkey Says a Deal Has Been Reached to Unblock Ukrainian Grain Exports

Credit…Jens Buettner/DPA, via Associated Press

Russia’s decision to restart the flow of natural gas through a vital pipeline on Thursday brought a moment of relief to Germany, which uses the fuel to power its most important industries and heat half its homes. But it is unlikely to be much more than that.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has made clear that he intends to use his country’s energy exports as a cudgel, and even a weapon, to punish and divide European leaders — loosening or tightening the taps as it suits him and his war aims in Ukraine.

He is counting on that uncertainty to impose heavy economic and political costs on European leaders. Those elected officials are under growing pressure to bring down energy prices and avoid gas rationing that might force factories and government buildings to close and require people to lower thermostats in winter. Leaders in some nations, like Spain and Greece, are already chafing at a European Union plan to have every member country cut its gas use, arguing that they are already much less reliant on Russia than Germany.

Many questions remain about the stability of the gas supplies that began flowing again on the pipeline, the Nord Stream 1, which directly connects Russia and Germany. But, analysts said, it is clear that Europe, and Germany in particular, could remain on edge for months about whether there will be enough energy.

In the weeks leading up to the 10-day shutdown for planned maintenance that just ended, Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy monopoly, had already reduced flows through the pipeline to 40 percent of its capacity. Analysts have warned that such levels will not be enough to prevent an energy crisis next winter.

“The resumed gas supplies from Russia via Nord Stream 1 are no reason to give the all clear,” said Siegfried Russwurm, president of the Federation of German Industries. “It remains to be seen whether gas will actually flow in the long term and in the amount contractually agreed.”

He added, “Germany and Europe must not become the plaything of blackmailing Russian politics.”

On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, who previously held senior positions in the German government, introduced a proposal for European Union members to reduce their gas consumption 15 percent to prepare for uncertain and possibly unsteady supply before the winter.

Before Russian forces invaded Ukraine in late February, Germany got 55 percent of its natural gas from Russia. Few E.U. countries come close to that level of dependence — a fact that is starting to fracture European unity on Russia and energy policy.

Many Europeans already think Germany, the bloc’s largest economy, is a wealthy neighbor that is not always eager to help weaker countries. That characteristic was most recently highlighted by the country’s attitude toward helping Greece, Spain and other countries that use the euro when they were struggling financially about a decade ago.

Now, some of those very same countries are signaling that they are unwilling to make their businesses and people endure more suffering when energy prices are soaring to help bail Germany out of its dependence on Russia.

The Spanish energy minister, Teresa Ribera, said on Thursday that her country would encourage but not require its citizens to cut gas use. “Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our means from an energy point of view,” she told El País newspaper, echoing the description some German ministers used during the eurozone crisis.

The Greek government has also pushed back against the European Union’s call for a 15 percent cut in gas use. Although Greece relies on Russia to meet 40 percent of its gas needs, its supplies have not been cut.

Stoking such divisions is at the heart of Mr. Putin’s strategy of cutting off gas deliveries through pipelines that cross Ukraine and Poland while limiting the volume of natural gas flowing under the Baltic Sea through the 760-mile Nord Stream 1 pipeline.

“The entire European energy system is going through a crisis, and even with today’s restart of Nord Stream 1, the region is in a tight position,” Rystad Energy, a research firm, wrote in a market note on Thursday.

Mr. Putin appears to be drawing out the uncertainty about whether and for how long the gas will keep flowing to Germany to try to maximize his leverage as long as he can.

Hours before the flow of gas resumed on Thursday, Gazprom said in a statement that it still had not received documents from Siemens for a turbine that was sent to Canada for repairs. The papers are necessary for the part to be returned, the company said, adding that the engine, and others like it, had “a direct influence on the operational safety of the Nord Stream pipeline.”

Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister and vice chancellor, rejected a statement from Gazprom earlier in the day that the resumption of gas through the pipeline was proof that the Russian company was a “guarantor” of energy security in Europe.

“The opposite is the case,” Mr. Habeck said. “It is proving to be a factor of uncertainty.”

The German government has already activated the second of three steps of its gas emergency plan. Included was the swapping of gas-fired power plants with ones that burn coal, which releases many more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than burning gas. The third and final step would allow the government to ration supplies.

Credit…Virginia Mayo/Associated Press

On Thursday, Mr. Habeck announced additional measures aimed at increasing the country’s gas reserves, like conservation incentives that include more ambitious targets for the storage facilities and reactivating power plants that burn lignite — the dirtiest fossil fuel.

He said the government was also weighing strict limits on how people could use gas. For example, the government might forbid people to heat private swimming pools with gas. When pressed on how such measures would be enforced, Mr. Habeck drew a parallel to bans on holding private gatherings during the initial lockdowns of the coronavirus pandemic, which were rarely enforced — unless neighbors alerted the authorities.

“I do not think that the police will visit every homeowner. That is not our intention and not the country I want to live in,” Mr. Habeck said. “But if it was pointed out that someone is not going along with it, then we would certainly look into that.”

Whether Germans, who were among the Europeans most willing to follow public health rules in 2020 when the pandemic started only to rebel months later, will be willing to sacrifice their comfort in solidarity with Ukraine has yet to be fully put to the test.

The German government is facing what Janis Kluge, an analyst on Russia with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin, called “a very delicate balance” in how it communicates with the public.

“On the one hand, they have to mobilize everybody to save energy, to save gas and tell everybody that there could be an energy emergency in the winter, while at the same time avoiding that this turns into criticism about the sanctions policy and support for Ukraine,” he said.

“This is exactly what Putin wants to achieve,” Mr. Kluge added. “That when we make the next decision about arms deliveries to Ukraine, that somewhere in the back of our heads, there is this thought, well, what is this going to do to our gas deliveries?”

Berlin has been scrambling to buy more gas from the Netherlands, Norway and the United States. The government has set aside 2.94 billion euros, about $3 billion, to lease four floating terminals in the hopes that they will be operating by midwinter to help ward off a crisis that threatens a recession.

For years, Germany ignored warnings from its neighbors and allies that it was making itself vulnerable by becoming increasingly dependent on Russia for its energy needs.

“Germany will become totally dependent on Russian energy if it does not immediately change course,” President Donald J. Trump said at the United Nations in 2018.

In response, the German delegation, which included the country’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, laughed.

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Real Estate Powerhouse Fredrik Eklund Introduces REAL, New App to Change the Global Real Estate Industry by Elevating Agents’ Profiles and Connecting Followers With Their Ideal Agents

LAS VEGAS–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Fredrik Eklund, founder of Douglas Elliman’s top-producing team, the Eklund | Gomes Team, and alum of Bravo TV’s “Million Dollar Listing” franchise, announced he is the co-founder of a new groundbreaking social app for real estate called REAL. Eklund joined forces with Thomas Ma, an entrepreneur and licensed real estate agent from Hong Kong with notable success in proptech and start-ups, because they saw how large proptech platforms were diminishing agents’ roles and control.

The high-speed app offers an Instagram-style platform combined with a WhatsApp-style chat feature, enabling agents to promote themselves for free rather than having to advertise to attract followers interested in connecting with them.

“The pandemic changed how we communicate; everything is digital and much faster,” explained Fredrik Eklund, co-founder and chief visionary of REAL. “National – and even global – real estate is becoming one big market as people are moving around more and searching globally. Agents are getting licensed in many different states and there’s a complete crossover happening, especially in the luxury market. Current real estate apps, like Zillow, do not provide quick answers and MLSs are slow. I run a large team and see all facets of the market, in all price points, and how quickly it moves. People want to use their mobile phones for this, they want it to be fun, and they want it to be FAST. At the same time, they see what people around them like and look at. Consumers are smarter today. They don’t want to see what listings Zillow pushes because agents have paid for those hidden ads. They want to see what’s truly popular socially.”

Advantages of REAL:

The potential of a large business and financial impact for an app of this nature is why Eklund joined forces with Ma, known for leveraging his learnings by bringing insights from Hong Kong to the U.S. market. Ma understood the challenges, the significant time and the investments agents put toward developing leads and securing listings. He also understood how the shift toward proptech platforms meant agents were being asked to advertise their own services with little to no return on investment.

Ma explained: “REAL launched on the app store 11 months ago, has 147,500 downloads to date and that number is growing. Traditionally, agents are referred by someone, your friend or relative, your acquaintance, or even a friend of a friend. The agents you’re introduced to don’t really know who you are, your unique tastes, your lifestyle, or your needs to facilitate your home search. We wanted to give talented agents an opportunity to share their stories, their knowledge, and their experience, and give them control of what listings and recommendations they bring to their audience. Users – agents, home buyers and sellers – can then choose to follow or connect with those agents based on compatibility and personality to fit their specific needs. Fredrik’s extensive real estate experience and his journey to becoming a leader in the industry gives him unique insight into the challenges related to building a network as an agent. He knows the importance of acquiring a following to foster and retain connections. We could not have asked for a better co-founder and chief visionary for our company.”

Fredrik Eklund’s Eklund | Gomes team currently has 91 agents across 13 markets and five states and the majority of those are already using and enjoying the REAL app. REAL currently has a team of 14 programmers.

About REAL

REAL is the first and only social app combined with messaging for real estate that puts agents back in control of their business. For the first time, agents can generate free leads without expensive online ads, labor-intensive emails, or extraneous and ineffective cold calls. REAL helps agents build professional relationships online with interested prospects, keeping them connected and enabling the agents and their prospects to engage with one another at any time. They can do this all through REAL’s social platform designed exclusively for real estate. REAL agents curate their feature images, content and chat topics to reflect their expertise and knowledge. When future buyers and sellers browse REAL’s online magazine, they view content curated by agents and follow those whose interests align with their own. REAL was co-founded by Hong Kong real estate entrepreneur Thomas Ma and Fredrik Eklund, co-founder of Douglas Elliman’s Eklund | Gomes Team and former star of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing NY & LA.”

About Fredrik Eklund

With record-breaking sales and socks as colorful as his personality, Fredrik Eklund has become an icon in real estate and on Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing” series, appearing as the only cast member to star in both the New York and Los Angeles versions. Co-founder of The Eklund | Gomes Team, co-founded by John Gomes, the dynamic duo have secured over $15 billion in closed sales over the last decade and have become a staple of New York, California, Texas and Florida real estate. Consistently ranked on industry hot lists, including The Hollywood Reporter Power Brokers and Variety’s Real Estate Elite, Eklund | Gomes continues to sit on the top, bringing in $4.5 billion in sales in 2021 alone. In 2022, they notched the priciest sale of the year for New York at 432 Park Ave., for $70.5 million, and are taking their momentum to Nevada where they are expanding this summer.

About Thomas Ma

Thomas Ma, who hails from one of Hong Kong’s leading real estate developer families, became successful in his own right when he ventured into tech. Ma became an active business leader in proptech and subsequently brought his passion and in-depth understanding of real estate from international waters to the U.S. market. He saw the industry shift toward large proptech platforms, presenting steep financial hurdles for agents and decided to develop a new way for agents to showcase their listings. This led to him co-founding REAL, giving agents back control of their listings to generate leads and maximize their online presence. Prior to launching REAL, Ma created HOJOJO. The rental marketplace and leasing management system helped corporate landlords maintain every aspect of their rental properties — from receiving offers to collecting rent payments. Now, as the CEO of REAL, Ma is leveraging his past learnings to introduce an emerging technology to the U.S. real estate industry.

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Germany Hopes to Outrace a Russian Gas Cutoff and Bone Cold Winter

Russian natural gas has fired the furnaces that create molten stainless steel at Clemens Schmees’s family foundry since 1961, when his father set up shop in a garage in the western part of Germany.

It never crossed Clemens’s mind that this energy flow could one day become unaffordable or cease altogether. Now Mr. Schmees, like thousands of other chieftains at companies across Germany, is scrambling to prepare for the possibility that his operations could face stringent rationing this winter if Russia turns off the gas.

“We’ve had many crises,” he said, sitting in the company’s branch office in the eastern city of Pirna, overlooking the Elbe River valley. “But we have never before had such instability and uncertainty, all at once.”

Nord Stream 1, the direct gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, was shut down for 10 days of scheduled maintenance.

“gas crisis” and triggered an emergency energy plan. Already landlords, schools and municipalities have begun to lower thermostats, ration hot water, close swimming pools, turn off air-conditioners, dim streetlights and exhort the benefits of cold showers. Analysts predict that a recession in Germany is “imminent.” Government officials are racing to bail out the largest importer of Russian gas, a company called Uniper. And political leaders warn that Germany’s “social peace” could unravel.

The crisis has not only set off a frantic clamber to manage a potentially painful crunch this winter. It has also prompted a reassessment of the economic model that turned Germany into a global powerhouse and produced enormous wealth for decades.

Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.

More than any other economy in the region, Germany’s is built on industrial giants — mighty chemical, auto, glass and steel producers — that consume enormous amounts of fuel, two-thirds of it imported. The chemical and pharmaceutical industries alone use 27 percent of the country’s gas supply.

Most of it came from Russia. Before Mr. Putin invaded Ukraine five months ago and set off retaliatory sanctions from Europe, the United States and their allies, Russia delivered 40 percent of Germany’s imported oil and more than 55 percent of its imported gas.

Gazprom, Russia’s gas monopoly, cut deliveries in June, and if they are reduced further, German industries may soon confront fuel shortages that will compel them to scale back production, Mr. Kirkegaard said. “I don’t think there are that many other European countries that have to do that,” he said.

Over the next five to eight years, until more of an ongoing transition to renewable energy is completed, the country will be “under acute pressure,” he added. “That is the time period when Germany’s economy is still basically going to be fueled by fossil fuels.”

China, Germany’s biggest trading partner, is expected to see substantially slower growth than in the previous decade, reporting on Friday that the economy expanded just 0.4 percent in the second quarter. That slowdown is likely to ripple through other emerging nations in Asia, dragging down their growth as well.

security risks of globalized trade?

Some economists have argued that the German business models were partly based on an erroneous assumption and that cheap Russian gas wasn’t as cheap as it looked.

The economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate, said the market failed to accurately price in the risk — however unlikely it may have seemed at the time — that Russia could decide to reduce or withhold gas to apply political pressure.

It would be like figuring the costs of building a ship without including the cost of lifeboats.

“They didn’t take into account what could happen,” Mr. Stiglitz said.

Inflation last month was 7.6 percent. Investor confidence in Germany has dropped to its lowest point in a decade.

in February.)

Households, hospitals and essential services will be considered priorities if gas rationing becomes unavoidable, but industrial representatives have been pleading their cases in Berlin.

as much as 12 percent once ripple effects on industries beyond energy and consumers were taken into account.

Looking ahead to the winter, Mr. Krebs said much depended on the temperature and Russian gas delivery levels.

“The best case is stagnation with high inflation,” he said. But over the longer term, he argued, Germany could come out more competitive if it manages the energy transition well and provides speedy and significant public investment to create the requisite infrastructure.

Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute for Economic Research, agreed. Germany’s industrial success is based on added value more than cheap energy, he said. Most German exports, he said, are “highly specialized products — that gives them an advantage and makes them competitive.”

Labor policy, too, will have an impact.

Wage negotiations for the industrial sector are scheduled to begin in September. The powerful I.G. Metall union will seek an 8 percent wage increase for its 3.9 million members. And starting Oct. 1, a new minimum wage law will establish for the first time a single national rate — 12 euros an hour.

For now, supply chain breakdowns are still causing headaches, and businesses that were only beginning to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic are busy devising contingency plans for gas shortages.

Beiersdorf, maker of skin care products including Nivea, has had a crisis team in place since May to draw up backup plans — including readying diesel generators — to ensure production keeps running.

At Schmees, high costs have already forced the shutdown of one furnace, cutting into the foundry’s ability to meet deadlines. Customers waiting for deliveries of stainless steel include companies that run massive turbines used in icebreaker ships and artists who use it in their sculptures.

Mr. Schmees, an energetic man who prides himself on having nurtured a strong company culture, is planning to ask his employees to work a six-day week through the end of the year, to ensure that he can fill all of the firm’s orders by December. That is how long he’s betting that Germany’s natural gas supplies will hold if Russia cuts off the flow entirely.

“The tragedy,” Mr. Schmees said, “is that we have only now realized what we’ve gambled away with this cheap gas from Russia.”

Katrin Bennhold contributed reporting from Berlin.

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New Supply Chain Risk: 22,000 Dockworkers Who May Soon Strike

In a world contending with no end of economic troubles, a fresh source of concern now looms: the prospect of a confrontation between union dockworkers and their employers at some of the most critical ports on earth.

The potential conflict centers on negotiations over a new contract for more than 22,000 union workers employed at 29 ports along the West Coast of the United States. Nearly three-fourths work at the twin ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the primary gateway for goods shipped to the United States from Asia, and a locus of problems afflicting the global supply chain.

The contract for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expires at the end of June. For those whose livelihoods are tied to ports — truckers, logistics companies, retailers — July 1 marks the beginning of a period of grave uncertainty.

A labor impasse could worsen the floating traffic jams that have kept dozens of ships waiting in the Pacific before they can pull up to the docks. That could aggravate shortages and send already high prices for consumer goods soaring.

impacts of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and as China imposes new Covid restrictions on industry.

The dockworkers have moved unprecedented volumes of cargo during the pandemic, even as at least two dozen succumbed to Covid-19, according to the union. They are aware that many of the shipping terminals in Southern California are controlled by global carriers that have been racking up record profits while sharply increasing cargo rates — a fact cited by President Biden in his recent State of the Union address as he promised a “crackdown” to alleviate inflation.

With ports now capturing attention in Washington, some within the shipping industry express confidence that negotiations will yield a deal absent a disruptive slowdown or strike.

“There’s too much at stake for both sides,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said during a recent interview in his office overlooking towering cranes and stacks of containers. “There’s an incentive because the nation is watching.”

Savannah, Ga.

“If they don’t come to a compromise, then freight will get permanently diverted to the East Coast,” Mr. Matinifar said.

Animating contract talks is the popular notion that the longshoremen are a privileged class within the supply chain, using the union to protect their ranks — a source of resentment among other workers.

“They treat us like we’re nobodies,” said Mr. Chilton, the truck driver. “The way they talk to us, they’re very rude.”

traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:

Union officials declined to discuss their objectives for a new contract.

Mr. McKenna, the maritime association chief executive, said the union had yet to outline demands while declining to engage in discussions before May.

He expected that the union would resist efforts to expand automation at the ports, a traditional point of contention. He said greater automation — such as adding self-driving vehicles and robotics to move cargo — was unavoidable in ports in dense urban places like Los Angeles. There, land is tight, so growth must come from increasing efficiency, rather than physically expanding.

The last time the I.L.W.U. contract expired, West Coast ports suffered months of debilitating disruptions — the source of enduring recriminations.

Terminal operators accused dockworkers of slowing operations to generate pressure for a deal. The union countered that employers were the ones creating problems.

Some dockworkers question whether terminal owners are sincerely seeking to speed up cargo handling, given that shipping rates have soared amid chaos at the ports.

Jaime Hipsher, 45, drives a so-called utility tractor rig — equipment used to move containers — at a pair of Southern California shipping terminals. One is operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk, a Danish conglomerate whose profits nearly tripled last year, reaching $24 billion.

She said maintenance of equipment was spotty, producing frequent breakdowns, while the terminals were often understaffed — two problems that could be fixed with more spending.

A Maersk spokesman, Tom Boyd, rejected that characterization.

“Freight rates have been impacted by the global Covid-19 recovery and the demand outpacing supply,” he said in an emailed statement. “Ships at anchor are not productive, nor are they earning revenue against a backdrop of large fixed costs.”

That Ms. Hipsher spends her nights on the docks represents an unexpected turn in her life.

Her father was a longshoreman. He urged her to attend college and do something that involved wearing business attire, in contrast to how he spent his working hours — climbing a skinny ladder to the top of ships and loading coal onto vessels.

“He would come home after work and he would have coal dust coming out of his ears, out of his nose,” Ms. Hipsher recalled. “His hands would just be completely black.”

But in 2004, when she was working as a hairstylist, her brother — also a longshoreman — suggested that she enter a lottery for the right to become a casual dockworker.

The ports had changed, her brother said. Growing numbers of women were employed.

Eighteen years later, Ms. Hipsher has gained the security of seniority, health benefits and a pension.

As contract talks approach, she pushes back against the notion that the union poses a threat to the global economy.

“You’re complaining about my wages, thinking that my wages are the source of inflation, and we don’t deserve it,” she said. “Well, look at the billions that the owners are making.”

Emily Steel contributed reporting.

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How China’s Xi Jinping Is Staging the Beijing Olympics on His Terms

When the International Olympic Committee met seven years ago to choose a host for the 2022 Winter Games, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, sent a short video message that helped tip the scale in a close, controversial vote.

China had limited experience with winter sports. Little snow falls in the distant hills where outdoor events would take place. Pollution was so dense at times that it was known as the “Airpocalypse.”

Mr. Xi pledged to resolve all of this, putting his personal prestige on what seemed then like an audacious bid. “We will deliver every promise we made,” he told the Olympic delegates meeting in Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.

host of the Summer Olympics, the Games have become a showcase of the country’s achievements. Only now, it is a very different country.

China no longer needs to prove its standing on the world stage; instead, it wants to proclaim the sweeping vision of a more prosperous, more confident nation under Mr. Xi, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Where the government once sought to mollify its critics to make the Games a success, today it defies them.

Beijing 2022 “will not only enhance our confidence in realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” said Mr. Xi, who this year is poised to claim a third term at the top. It will also “show a good image of our country and demonstrate our nation’s commitment to building a community with a shared future for mankind.”

Mr. Xi’s government has brushed off criticism from human rights activists and world leaders as the bias of those — including President Biden — who would keep China down. It has implicitly warned Olympic broadcasters and sponsors not to bend to calls for protests or boycotts over the country’s political crackdown in Hong Kong or its campaign of repression in Xinjiang, the largely Muslim region in the northwest.

combat Covid and imposed stricter safety measures than those during the Summer Olympics in Tokyo last year. It has insisted on sustaining its “zero Covid” strategy, evolved from China’s first lockdown, in Wuhan two years ago, regardless of the cost to its economy and its people.

an accusation of sexual assault by the tennis player Peng Shuai, a three-time Olympian, the I.O.C. did not speak out. Instead, it helped deflect concerns about her whereabouts and safety.

staggering costs of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, and the white-knuckle chaos of preparations for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

blue skies. High-speed railways have slashed the trip from Beijing to the most distant venues from four hours to one.

In an area perennially short of water, China built a network of pipelines to feed a phalanx of snow-making machines to dust barren slopes in white. Officials this week even claimed the entire Games would be “fully carbon neutral.”

Christophe Dubi, executive director of the upcoming Games, said in an interview that China proved to be a partner willing and able to do whatever it took to pull off the event, regardless of the challenges.

“Organizing the Games,” Mr. Dubi said, “was easy.”

The committee has deflected questions about human rights and other controversies overshadowing the Games. While the committee’s own charter calls for “improving the promotion and respect of human rights,” officials have said that it was not for them to judge the host country’s political system.

Instead, what matters most to the committee is pulling off the Games. By selecting Beijing, the committee had alighted on a “safe choice,” said Thomas Bach, the committee’s president.

unseasonably warm weather. Sochi 2014 — intended as a valedictory of Vladimir V. Putin’s rule in Russia — cost a staggering $51 billion.

Growing wariness of organizing the quadrennial event gave China an unexpected advantage. Beijing — no one’s idea of a winter sports capital — could reuse sites from the 2008 Games, including the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium for the opening ceremony. The Water Cube, which held the swimming and diving events 14 years ago, was rebranded as the Ice Cube.

Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, once a republic of the Soviet Union.

The final tally was 44 to 40 for Beijing, with one abstention. Almaty’s supporters were left to fume over a glitch in the electronic voting system that prompted a manual recount to “protect the integrity of the vote.” That Kazakhstan has plunged into political turmoil on the eve of the Games seems now, in hindsight, further validation of the choice to pick Beijing.

Xinhua, compared to 480,000 three years before.

ceremonial scepter popular in the Qing dynasty, complete with a 6,000-seat stadium at the bottom that is supposed to hold soccer matches after the Olympics.

military preparations for the Games, including the installation of 44 antiaircraft batteries around Beijing, even though the likelihood of an aerial attack on the city seemed far-fetched.

“A safe Olympics is the biggest symbol of a successful Beijing Olympic Games, and is the most important symbol of the country’s international image,” he said then.

accusation of sexual harassment rocked the sports world last fall, the committee found itself caught in the furor.

fumed in private. Without the protective cover of the international committee, they feared reprisals if they spoke out individually.

The 2008 Olympics also faced harsh criticism. A campaign led by the actress Mia Farrow called the event the “genocide games” because of China’s support for Sudan despite its brutal crackdown in the Darfur region. The traditional torch relay was hounded by protests in cities on multiple continents, including Paris, London, San Francisco and Seoul.

The accusations against China today are, arguably, even more serious. The United States and other countries have declared that China’s crackdown against the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang amounts to genocide. Ms. Farrow’s biting sobriquet has resurfaced for 2022, with a Twitter hashtag.

only screened spectators of its own choosing. It will mostly be a performance for Chinese and international television audiences, offering a choreographed view of the country, the one Mr. Xi’s government has of itself.

If the coronavirus can be kept under control, Beijing could weather the Olympics with fewer problems than seemed likely when it won the rights to the Games seven years ago. Mr. Xi’s government has already effectively declared it a success. A dozen other Chinese cities are already angling for the 2036 Summer Olympics.

“The world looks forward to China,” Mr. Xi said in an New Year’s address, “and China is ready.”

Chris Buckley contributed reporting. Claire Fu, Liu Yi and Li You contributed research.

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