Daily Business Briefing
June 16, 2021Updated
June 16, 2021, 1:34 p.m. ET
June 16, 2021, 1:34 p.m. ET
The Federal Reserve is about to release its first set of economic projections since March, after months of data surprises have shown the labor market healing more slowly and inflation moving up more quickly than many officials expected.
One of the documents released on Wednesday will show each Fed policymaker’s expectation for where the central bank’s benchmark interest rate — currently near zero — will be in the months and years ahead, and the latest update could get a lot of attention in financial markets.
Some economists predict the officials will pull forward their expectations for the first interest rate increase amid stronger inflation. In March, the median official did not expect rates to increase until at least 2024.
If three of the 18 Fed policymakers move up their rate estimates, the median projection would point to a first increase in the federal funds rate — the Fed’s main policy tool — by late 2023. That would still make for a long period of very low borrowing costs ahead, but it could be an early signal to investors that rock-bottom rates will not be around forever.
Any unexpected indication that rates are going to rise, even far in the future, could spur Wall Street to rethink its expectations for corporate profit growth and its appetite for risky investments like stocks. Earlier this year, a rise in government bond yields, which are the basis for borrowing costs across the economy, roiled financial markets as traders worried that higher inflation might cause the Fed to raise rates sooner.
The economic projections will also offer the officials’ latest outlook for inflation and the unemployment rate. Policymakers will almost certainly raise their 2021 inflation forecast; inflation has come in so strong in recent months that it is probably already on track to surpass the rate the median official projected three months ago.
The question now is how quickly policymakers expect that pop to fade from inflation data. The fresh estimates will extend into 2023 and offer a longer-run projection.
It is possible that Fed officials will become less optimistic on the unemployment rate, which in March they projected falling to 4.5 percent by the end of the year. Progress in the labor market has been choppy, with job openings surging but hiring proceeding more slowly than many expected.
Read moreCredit…Mike Blake/Reuters
Hundreds of Southwest Airlines flights were delayed or canceled again on Wednesday as the company sought to resolve disruptions from earlier in the week.
As of midday Wednesday, about 8 percent of the airline’s flights had been canceled and another 14 percent had been delayed, according to FlightAware, a flight tracking service.
The headaches for Southwest, its staff and its customers began on Monday night, when a weather data supplier suffered performance issues preventing the airline from safely flying planes. The issue was resolved within hours. Then on Tuesday, the airline suffered its own technological problems for a few hours resulting in another round of delays and cancellations. Spillover from that episode caused Wednesday’s problems, the airline said.
“While our technology issues from Tuesday have been resolved, we are still experiencing a small number of cancellations and delays across our network as we continue working to resume normal operations,” Dan Landson, a Southwest spokesman, said in a statement.
The flight disruptions came at a critical time.
After seeing demand for travel plummet during the pandemic, Southwest and other airlines are experiencing a rebound as coronavirus cases in the United States fall and vaccinations increase. More people are flying for summer vacations and businesses and states and cities are opening up — the governors of California and New York said on Tuesday they had lifted most pandemic restrictions. The Transportation Security Administration screened more than two million people at airports on Sunday, more than at any point since March 2020.
Southwest was fortunate in that the delays and cancellations occurred during a part of the week that is typically less busy.
One passenger, Efia Brown, and her daughter were trying to return to their home in St. Louis from Los Angeles on Monday when Southwest Airlines canceled a connecting flight while they were waiting at the airport in Denver. Ms. Brown’s daughter became sick on their earlier flight and, after the airline notified them of the cancellation, Ms. Brown booked another for 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday. But her daughter had to be admitted to the hospital on Tuesday after vomiting several times in the airport gate and the family is still in Denver.
“It’s very disappointing because this is the only airline I fly with,” Ms. Brown said. “When this happened, it was so frustrating, I had to hold back my tears.”
The disruptions have been difficult for Southwest’s staff, too, said Lyn Montgomery, president of Transport Workers Union Local 556, which represents Southwest’s flight attendants. The airline’s management has been providing regular updates to flight attendants and worked to provide accommodations for those who were stranded, she said, adding that such outages happen.
“We are all victims to computers and computer issues,” she said, “and when it happens at an airline, it tends to be massive.”
Read moreCredit…Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen urged lawmakers to pass President Biden’s $4 trillion jobs and infrastructure plans on Wednesday, warning that the United States must invest to combat “destructive forces” that are holding back millions of Americans from prosperity.
Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, Ms. Yellen made the case that it is a critical time to deploy “ambitious fiscal policy” to reshape the economy in the aftermath of the pandemic. She pointed to income and racial inequality, declining labor force participation and climate change as festering economic problems that need to be addressed.
“We need to make these investments at some point, and now is fiscally the most strategic time to make them,” Ms. Yellen said.
The hearing, which was focused on Mr. Biden’s budget proposal, comes as the White House is negotiating with lawmakers in Congress over how to move forward with infrastructure legislation. Mr. Biden has expressed a willingness to narrow the scope of his plan to win support from some Republicans, but Democrats are also considering moving ahead with legislation on their own if talks break down.
Republican senators expressed deep skepticism about Mr. Biden’s economic agenda on Wednesday, questioning Ms. Yellen about international negotiations over a global minimum tax and plans to ramp up funding for the Internal Revenue Service so that it can shrink the “tax gap.” The Treasury Department estimates that $7 trillion in taxes owed to the government will go uncollected in the next decade if the agency is not modernized and given greater enforcement powers.
“President Biden feels that it’s crucial that we have a tax system that’s fair and one where we enforce tax laws so that individuals and corporations pay what they owe,” Ms. Yellen said.
Ms. Yellen said that Mr. Biden’s plans were fiscally responsible and that the investments in the economy would be paid for with an overhaul of the tax code. Mr. Biden’s tax proposals would raise taxes on the wealthy and on big companies, but he has promised not to increase taxes on anyone making less than $400,000 a year.
The Treasury secretary told lawmakers that the government needs to make these investments in child care and infrastructure because the private sector is not doing enough on its own to train workers or reduce carbon emissions.
“We need to remedy this lack of investment,” Ms. Yellen said.
Republicans have been resistant to most of Mr. Biden’s proposals, arguing that such robust spending threatens to overheat an economy at a time when deficits are growing and inflation is on the rise.
Ms. Yellen argued on Wednesday that because interest rates are so low, this is the best time to spend.
“We expect the cost of federal debt payments will remain well below historical levels through the coming decade,” she said. “We have a window to invest in ourselves.”
Asked about inflation, Ms. Yellen said that she is not taking the threat lightly.
“We’re monitoring inflation very carefully and do take it very seriously,” Ms. Yellen said. “No one wants to return to the bad high inflation day of the ’70s.”
Managing inflation falls to the Federal Reserve, not to the Treasury Department, but Republicans have suggested the Biden administration’s spending plans are contributing to a recent spike in prices. Ms. Yellen’s views on inflation and interest rates are watched closely, however, because she previously served as Fed chair.
Read moreCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
The Federal Reserve will release its June policy decision and newest economic projections at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, and investors will be scrutinizing its announcements for clues on whether the central bank’s thinking about inflation might be changing.
Price gains have been coming in quicker than central bankers had expected when they last released economic projections in March, and that has invited questions about whether and when the Fed will need to begin removing its economic policy supports, which remain set to emergency mode. Any tweaks to the Fed’s policy statement or estimates about the outlook will be closely watched.
Economists generally expect Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, to stick to the script when it comes to price increases: Predicting that inflation pressures will fade as the United States gets through a funky reopening period and noting that the central bank has the tools to deal with inflation if gains do last.
There are reasons to expect the bump to wane. Prices sank during lockdowns last year, making the year-over-year comparison look artificially big, and prices are rising now because demand is bouncing back faster than supply. Officials expect that the bottlenecks restricting the supply of items like cars and airline tickets will clear up as things return to normal.
But as climbing costs for consumers dominate headlines and political debates in Washington, Mr. Powell is likely to face questions about how much inflation the Fed is willing to tolerate before the situation is no longer seen as manageable and temporary.
Here are the inflation indicators the Fed is working with headed into its meeting:
Personal consumption expenditures, the Fed’s preferred gauge: up 3.6 percent in April from the prior year, the fastest pace in 13 years.
Core P.C.E., which strips out volatile food and energy prices: up 3.1 percent in April over the year, the fastest pace since 1992.
Consumer Price Index, an important Labor Department gauge: up 5 percent in May from a year earlier.
University of Michigan consumer inflation expectation for next year: moderated to 4 percent in preliminary June data, but still up from 3 percent at the start of the year.
University of Michigan consumer inflation expectation for five years from now: moderated to 2.8 percent in preliminary June data, little changed from 2.7 percent at the start of 2021.
Five-year, five-year forward inflation expectation rate, a market-based measure: appears to have stabilized around 2.3 percent after climbing sharply earlier this year.
Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s Survey of Consumer Expectations, inflation expectation for next year: 4 percent, up from 3 percent at the start of the year.
New York Fed Survey of Consumer Expectations, inflation expectation for three years from now: 3.6 percent, up from 3 percent at the start of the year.
The Fed targets 2 percent inflation on average, and officials had been hoping to coax inflation slightly higher so that price gains average their goal rate after years of weakness. Officials have also aspired to lift inflation expectations, which had been drifting too low. As a result, the recent moves higher might be received as good news.
The key question is how long stronger price pressures will last — and at what point they will have overstayed their welcome.
Read moreCredit…General Motors, via Associated Press
General Motors is accelerating its plans to produce electric vehicles, the latest sign that automakers are engaged in a competitive race to transform themselves and embrace the electrification of cars and trucks.
The automaker said on Wednesday that it planned to build two more battery plants in the United States over the next several years, in addition to two battery factories it is already building in Ohio and Tennessee.
The company said it planned to spend $35 billion on E.V.s in the five years ending in 2025. That’s the second increase in the last eight months. A year ago, G.M. said it would spend $20 billion in that period, and in November increased the figure to $27 billion.
“E.V. adoption is increasing and reaching an inflection point, and we want to be ready to produce the capacity that we need to meet demand over time,” G.M.’s chief financial officer, Paul Jacobson, said in a conference call with reporters. “We know we’ll need those battery plants to further our goals.”
At the same time, G.M. also said it expected operating profit in the first half of the year to be $8.5 billion to $9 billion, a significant improvement over an earlier forecast. The company credited improved supplies of computer chips, better-than-expected earnings from its financing arm and strong overall demand and pricing for new vehicles. G.M. had previously expected a steep drop in second quarter operating profit because of the global semiconductor shortage.
G.M.’s push to increase E.V. spending follows an announcement by Ford Motor that it would start making an electric version of its F-150 pickup truck later this year. Ford recently said it expected to spend $30 billion on electric cars and trucks by 2025.
Ford has already started selling an electric sport-utility vehicle, the Mustang Mach E. Volkswagen has a similar model, the ID.4, that is now in dealerships. Tesla is leading the shift to electric vehicles and is expected to sell about 800,000 cars globally this year.
G.M. this year introduced an updated version of its electric car, the Chevrolet Bolt, that can travel farther on a full charge and has added to roomier version of the same car. A battery-powered GMC Hummer pickup truck is set to go into production late this year and is supposed to be followed by more than 20 electric models over the next four years.
The company did not say where it planned to locate the two additional battery plants. It is building the battery plants in a joint venture with the Korean manufacturer LG Chem.
As part of its announcement on Wednesday, G.M. said it had reached an agreement with Honda Motor to make an electric S.U.V. for the Japanese company’s Honda brand and another for its luxury Acura line.
G.M. has set a goal of selling one million E.V.s a year by 2025. It also hopes to produce only electric cars and trucks by 2035.
Read moreCredit…Paul Warchol/Google
Five years ago, Google started making its own smartphones and voice-assisted speakers. Now, Google has a store to sell them in.
The company is set to open its first-ever physical store on Thursday on the ground floor of its Manhattan headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood. The store will carry a full array of Google’s gadgets, including Pixel smartphones, Nest home devices and Fitbit’s wearable fitness products, the company said.
Inside, shoppers can try out devices and subscription services, while existing customers can get on-site repairs of broken products. The 5,000-square-foot store will include rooms where customers can experience “real-life scenarios” in which Google products can be useful, the company said.
Some non-Google products and Google-branded gear, such as T-shirts, hats and dog toys, will also be sold.
The store is Google’s latest attempt to give its fledgling hardware division a shot in the arm and an extension of pop-up stores that the company opened in the last few years.
Since Google started selling Google-branded smartphones in 2016, it has expanded the kinds of devices it sells. It has also acquired Fitbit and integrated Nest, a maker of devices like thermostats. Nest had been a separate subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet.
Although Google has invested heavily in the hardware division, it is still an afterthought to the company’s main advertising arm and its fast-growing cloud computing unit. Google would not comment on whether it had plans to open more stores.
The track record of technology companies that have opened retail stores is mixed. Apple’s stores stand out as a major success, elevating the brand and offering a showcase for new products. Microsoft, on the other hand, said it was shuttering all of its stores last year, more than a decade after it started opening retail outlets to augment its own push into hardware.
Read moreCredit…Neil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock
Inflation in Britain accelerated at its fastest pace in nearly two years last month, as businesses reopened and social distancing restrictions were relaxed. Consumer prices rose 2.1 percent in May compared with last year, the national statistics agency said on Wednesday.
It is the first time the annual inflation rate has climbed above the Bank of England’s 2 percent target since July 2019. In April, the rate was 1.5 percent.
Prices rose 0.6 percent in May from the previous month, driven by increases in clothing, transport, restaurants and hotels, and recreational expenses like computer game downloads.
Across Europe and the United States, policymakers and investors are watching inflation closely for signs of whether the current upward pressure on prices is temporary or here to stay. Some of the jump in annual inflation rates can be explained by the fact that prices were so low a year ago, when economies shut down in response to the pandemic.
But the reopening is also causing prices to jump as businesses try to keep up with a sudden increase in demand. If inflation remains high and keeps rising faster than expected, it could be a sign the economy is overheating and central banks would be forced to pull back on monetary stimulus. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve will make its next policy announcement amid rising inflation expectations in the United States.
“The firming of price pressures in the U.K. is part of a global phenomenon as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic,” Ambrose Crofton, a strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, wrote in a note. “As a result, central banks are gradually tiptoeing towards the exit of their emergency monetary support programs.”
The Bank of England expects inflation to rise to about 2.5 percent by the end of this year before drifting lower. Its next policy meeting is on June 24.
Read moreCredit…Jerod Harris/Getty Images
VidCon, the annual online video convention that has become the biggest event in the influencer industry, is returning to the Anaheim Convention Center in California this fall. And it has a new top sponsor: TikTok.
The announcement on Tuesday, which was first reported by Variety, solidified the app’s ascendancy after a year of tremendous growth and reflected a changed social media landscape, one where overnight stardom is more likely to happen on TikTok than on YouTube, which had been VidCon’s top sponsor since 2013.
TikTok, which was introduced in the United States in 2018, made a memorable appearance at the last VidCon, in 2019. Its splashy party drew such a crowd that hundreds of creators were left standing at the entrance.
This year, the company’s presence will only be bigger. TikTok will bring many of the app’s top creators to appear at events, and an executive at the company will deliver the keynote address.
Since its founding in 2010, VidCon has been an opportunity for creators to network with executives in entertainment and technology; source brand deals; socialize; and meet fans. Last year’s VidCon drew more than 75,000 attendees.
In years past, YouTubers dominated the convention, but the creator economy has changed substantially in the last year.
A YouTube representative said that the company would maintain a large presence at this year’s event, which is scheduled to take place Oct. 21-24.
“We prioritized the health and safety of our creators, fans and employees as we thoughtfully worked through our VidCon plans months ago,” the representative wrote in an email. “We are excited to continue our investment in our creators and VidCon as we have done since 2013 through new and different opportunities as part of the overall program.”
Royal Caribbean postponed the inaugural sailing of its cruise ship Odyssey of the Seas after eight crew members tested positive for the coronavirus, the company’s chief executive, Michael Bayley, said Tuesday night on Facebook. All 1,400 crew members aboard the Odyssey, which is based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were vaccinated on June 4 and are now in quarantine. The positive cases were identified after the vaccinations but before they were considered fully effective. The cruise was set to embark on July 3; no new departure date was given. “While disappointing, this is the right decision for the health and well-being of our crew and guests,” Mr. Bayley wrote.
DraftKings rose to popularity by making it easy for sports fans to compete in daily fantasy sports competitions, and counts Major League Baseball, ESPN and Michael Jordan as partners.
But it now faces an opponent of its own: a hedge fund known for taking on a number of companies associated with the Wall Street trend that helped take DraftKings public.
Hindenburg Research announced on Wednesday that it was betting against DraftKing’s stock price, accusing the company of being overvalued and secretly profiting from questionable business practices, the DealBook newsletter notes.
In recent months, Hindenburg has taken on businesses that have gone public by merging with so-called special purpose acquisition companies, or SPACs, which allow them to begin trading on public markets more quickly — and, critics argue, with less scrutiny. Among the companies that the hedge fund has taken aim at are the electric vehicle makers Nikola and Lordstown Motor and the health insurer Clover Health.
In many of those cases, Hindenburg has shorted the companies’ stocks, essentially hoping to profit from a fall in their share prices.
Now the hedge fund has trained its focus on DraftKings, which is considered to have carried out one of the most successful SPAC deals of the current boom. It went public last year in unusual fashion: Not only did it combine with a SPAC, Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corporation, but it also merged with a sports betting technology provider, SBTech.
SBTech was a major focus of Hindenburg’s critique: Through it, the firm argues, DraftKings has exposure to “black or unregulated markets.” It cited purported conversations with former employees to accuse SBTech of running illicit operations in China and other countries, and previously doing business in Iran.
Hindenburg also asserted that DraftKings traded at “an extremely rich valuation” equal to its four next-biggest rivals combined. And it questioned the sports-betting company’s heavy spending on promotion to win new customers, while it continues to run up losses.
Shares in DraftKings fell 4 percent on Tuesday after Hindenburg published its report, though they remain well above where it began trading on the public markets.
A spokesman for DraftKings said that the report was “written by someone who is short on DraftKings stock with an incentive to drive down the share price” and that the company was comfortable with SBTech after reviewing its business before their merger.
Read moreCredit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times
The housing market — like the broader economy — is split between two divergent tracks, according to the annual State of the Nation’s Housing Report released by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies on Wednesday.
While one group of households is rushing to buy homes with savings built during the pandemic, another group is essentially locked out of ownership as prices continue to rise. And millions of lower-income families who bore the brunt of the job losses during the pandemic remain saddled with debt and in danger of losing their homes, Conor Dougherty and Glenn Thrush report for The New York Times.
Roughly seven million tenants were behind on rent earlier this year. With savings tapped out and unemployment benefits set to lapse, the financial damage to low-income households remains severe enough that they will need more support if they’re to recover with the broader economy, the Harvard report said.
At the peak last year, the majority of states and large cities had some sort of heightened eviction protection in place, though the degree of protection varied widely. Many of those safeguards have expired over the past few months, and the federal eviction moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September is set to lapse at the end of the month.
Markets dipped on Wednesday as investors awaited the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s latest policy meeting.
The Fed will have an opportunity on Wednesday afternoon to address a rise in prices that has been stronger than expected, and also update its projections for the economy and the path ahead for interest rates.
“We share the Fed’s view that the recent increase in inflation, which pushed the U.S. Consumer Price Index up 5 percent year-over-year in May, is likely to be transitory,” analysts at UBS wrote in a note. But they expect the yield on 10-year Treasury notes to keep rising to 2 percent by the end of the year as the economy continues to reopen.
The S&P 500 was down about 0.2 percent by midday. Most European stock indexes rose, with the Stoxx 600 Europe gaining 0.2 percent.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes held steady at about 1.49 percent.
Oil prices rose slightly, and West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, held near its highest level since October 2018 at $72.15 a barrel.
Shares in Roblox dropped about 8 percent after the company reported a decline in May in average daily users and bookings, which is essentially the value of the virtual currency sold in its gaming world.