Dow Today – An annual report on U.S. poverty and Apple’s newest products: the week ahead.
Oil demand outlook: OPEC is scheduled to release a report providing oil demand estimates for next year. The demand outlook could be affected by mounting uncertainty caused by the Delta variant.
Consumer price Index: The Labor Department is set to publish its monthly report on price increases. Investors will look for signals on whether inflation is temporary or could last longer than economists and policymakers currently expect.
Poverty report: The Census Bureau will release its annual report on income and poverty in the United States. Poverty is expected to have risen slightly last year, despite the huge increase in unemployment, signaling that government aid helped offset the economic impact of the pandemic.
Retail sales: The Commerce Department will publish data on spending for the month of August. Shopping at U.S. retailers dropped sharply in July, and another decline in sales could signal a slowdown in the broader economic recovery.
Consumer sentiment: The University of Michigan will publish its monthly consumer sentiment index, a key indicator into the economic recovery. The index fell more than 13 percent in July as consumers expected price increases to continue.
U.S. stocks fell for a fifth straight day on Friday, with the S&P 500 ending the week down 1.7 percent in its longest losing streak since February.
For the day, the S&P, the benchmark U.S. index, fell 0.8 percent.
Apple, which as the largest company in the S&P 500 by market capitalization has an outsize impact on the index, dropped 3.3 percent after a federal judge ordered the company to stop restricting app developers in its App Store from directing customers to other ways to pay for their services. Google, which is locked in its own court case over payments for apps, fell 1.9 percent. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite ended the day 0.9 percent lower.
But the losses weren’t confined to the tech sector. Companies relying on the end to pandemic-related precautions took a beating, one day after President Biden announced that he was resorting to what will effectively be a vaccine mandate for tens of millions of U.S. workers.
American Airlines was one of the worst-performing stocks of the day, falling 6.2 percent, and United Airlines and Delta Air Lines performed nearly as poorly. The casino company Penn National Gaming fell 4.9 percent, and Las Vegas Sands was down 4.2 percent.
The health care giant Cigna fell 4.3 percent. Kroger, the grocery store chain, fell 7.5 percent after it reported that sales in the three months ending Aug. 14 declined from the same period last year.
U.S. producer prices rose 0.7 percent in August from July, the Labor Department reported on Friday, a sign of continuing inflation. The Producer price Index was up 8.3 percent from a year earlier, the largest jump since the 12-month data was first calculated in 2010, according to the Labor Department.
In a call following its financial report, Kroger executives said that the costs of products were rising and that it believed that “inflation for the full year will be higher than originally contemplated.”
When Mattel introduced the brawny superhero He-Man in 1982, he was an instant hit. Four years later, at the peak of its popularity, sales of the sword-and-sorcery toy line soared to $400 million in the U.S.
Now, nearly four decades after their first appearance, He-Man and the rest of the Masters of the Universe are looking to conquer the toy aisles again.
But Mattel is trying to revive a dormant franchise for a new generation of consumers — ones who expect content that reflects their world. To help, the toymaker has teamed up with Netflix to produce two new animated series to go along with two toy lines that have already hit retailers’ shelves.
And Mattel is expanding the Masters of the Universe’s roster of muscled heroes with the introduction of Sun-Man, a Black character created in 1985 by a New Jersey mother who wanted to create a role model for her son.
“My son said he couldn’t be a superhero because he was Black. He was 3,” said Yla Eason, an assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers University.
So she started her own company, Olmec Toys, to make Sun-Man and other toys for Black, Hispanic and Native American children. “The intention was to give positive Black presentation in imagination and creativity,” she said.
That concept resonates more powerfully today, said Ed Duncan, a senior vice president at Mattel who is overseeing Sun-Man’s official introduction into the lineup.
“Reintroducing a Black hero for today’s kids not only feels good, it feels important,” he said in an email. “Sun-Man is such an aspirational character, from his aesthetic design to his character traits and powers.”
In the two Netflix series — “Masters of the Universe: Revelation,” (developed by Kevin Smith, who created raunchy films like “Clerks” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”), and “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” (aimed at younger audiences) — some characters were reimagined as Black.
Children need to see themselves represented in the world around them, said Rob David, the vice president of creative content for Mattel Television and an executive producer for the two animated series. “The TV screen is a window and also a mirror,” he said.
The Masters of the Universe revival is part of a larger expansion strategy under Mattel’s chief executive, Ynon Kreiz, to dust off aging franchises. “We have a treasure trove of brands, some that were shelved for whatever reason,” said Richard Dickson, the president and chief operating officer of Mattel. Brands that are lined up for expansion include the Magic 8 Ball, the Major Matt Mason action figure and the card game Uno.
Expanding its intellectual properties could make Mattel more profitable at a time when the toy industry is booming. After tumbling 4 percent in 2019, U.S. toy sales jumped 16 percent to $25.1 billion last year, according to the NPD Group, a research firm. Mattel reported a 40 percent increase in net sales in its most recent quarter compared with the same period in 2020.
“Ynon Kreiz changed a lot about the business,” said Gerrick Johnson, an equity research analyst for BMO Capital Markets. “He looked at the profitability of the licenses.” Pulling a brand like Masters of the Universe out of the vault is a smart strategy, he said, because Mattel can turn around and sell licenses for a range of products, like bedsheets and backpacks.
Beyond toys and the series — and a long-gestating movie project — Mattel is lining up partnerships in publishing and in softgoods, which include clothing and bedding, said Mr. Dickson, who declined to provide additional details.
Adults who grew up with the original He-Man and kept the brand alive on fan websites and conventions like Power-Con, which starts Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., are excited about his comeback, but wary of overkill at mainstream retailers.
“I’m worried about there being too much and crowding the market,” said Danny Eardley, the lead author of “The Toys of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.” “Poor performance could signal to Mattel that there is not enough interest.”
But Mr. Dickson wants to allay those fears. “It’s obvious that we let the property go dormant over time,” he said. But “we are strategic about every toy that we put out.”
Toyota Motor said on Friday that it will make about 40 percent fewer cars and trucks around the world in October as a result of complications from a shortage of computer chips and Covid-19 restrictions affecting the production of parts in Southeast Asia.
It will be the second month in a row that Toyota, the world’s largest automaker by the number of cars and trucks sold, has slashed production because of the shortage and the pandemic. It is the latest sign that the auto industry could be hamstrung by the chip shortage well into 2022.
In a statement, Toyota said it now expects to produce 330,000 fewer vehicles in October than it had previously planned. Its North American operations would likely see production lowered by 60,000 to 80,000 vehicles in October. The company also said global output in September would fall about 70,000 vehicles short of previously lowered production targets.
“Key reasons for the production adjustment include a decline in operations at several local suppliers due to the prolonged spread of Covid-19 in Southeast Asia and the impact of tighter semiconductor supplies,” the automaker said. “Although our plants and suppliers are taking thorough quarantine and vaccination measures in response to the pandemic in Southeast Asia, the spread of Covid-19 infections remains unpredictable, making it difficult to maintain operations due to lockdowns at various locations.”
For the fiscal year ending March 31, Toyota now expects to produce nine million cars and trucks, down from an earlier estimate of 9.3 million.
Until recently, Toyota had weathered the chip shortage better than many other automakers because of its close ties with suppliers and its large stockpile of parts and components. Most automakers had forecast that the chip shortage would ease in the second half of this year. Yet, companies are still being forced to slow output and temporarily idle plants.
The issue of vaccine mandates has been a delicate balance for employers, weaving in politics, health and privacy. But the government has put increasing pressure on employers to play a role in helping to vaccinate the country — and executives are desperate to get back to a degree of normalcy.
On Thursday, President Biden said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was drafting a rule mandating that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their employees to either get vaccinated against the coronavirus or face mandatory weekly testing. That move would affect some 80 million workers.
Even before that announcement, mandates and inducements by city, state and federal governments, as well as full Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer–BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, made it easier for executives to go ahead.
What’s in the new OSHA rule?
The specifics have not yet been made public, but the president said two new requirements would apply to businesses with 100 or more employees: They must require that workers get vaccinated against the coronavirus or be tested at least once a week, and they must give workers paid time off to receive the vaccine and recover from any side effects.
Lawyers said Thursday that it was not immediately clear whether the rule would apply to all employees or only those who work in company offices or facilities.
Does OSHA have authority to do this?
OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a grave danger and that the rule is necessary to address that danger. The rule must also be feasible for employers to enforce.
Such a standard would pre-empt existing rules by state governments, except in states that have their own OSHA-approved workplace agencies — about half the states in the country. States with their own programs have 30 days to adopt a standard that is at least as effective, and that must cover state and local government employees, such as teachers. Federal OSHA rules do not cover state and local government employees.
The legal basis for a challenge is likely to be weakest in states that are directly within OSHA’s jurisdiction. Among them are some of the states that have recently been hardest hit by Covid-19 and where politicians have been resistant to mandates — such as Texas and Florida.
“I think that the Department of Labor probably is in good stead to be able to justify its mandate for health and safety reasons for the workers,” said Steve Bell, a partner at the law firm Dorsey & Whitney who specializes in labor and employment.
“They’ve got a broad pretty solid basis for saying: ‘We’re here to protect the workers, and this is part of our purview, and we think that this is something that will protect employees,’” he said.
How extensive are company mandates already?
Corporate vaccine mandates began to roll out substantially in late July, shortly after the Biden administration announced that it was requiring all civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to submit to regular testing and other strict requirements. Walmart and Disney led the way, followed by others including Uber and Google. When the F.D.A. granted its approval on Aug. 23, more mandates came flooding in from Goldman Sachs, Chevron and others.
Still, many are not comprehensive. Companies like Walmart and Citigroup have mandates for their corporate employees but not for frontline workers. Many companies are dealing with labor shortages and varying levels of vaccine hesitancy across state lines.
In a recent Willis Towers Watson survey of nearly 1,000 companies, which together employ almost 10 million people, 52 percent of respondents said they planned to have vaccine mandates by the end of the year, compared with 21 percent that said they already had vaccine requirements.
How are companies carrying out mandates?
The approach to mandates has run the gamut. Some, like Tyson Foods, which is requiring vaccines for its entire U.S. work force, have said that vaccines are a condition for employment. United Airlines has said it will fire employees who do not abide by the airline’s vaccine mandate or get an exemption; those who are exempt will be placed on temporary leave, in many cases unpaid.
Others, though, have worked a degree of flexibility into their requirements. Many, like AstraZeneca, have allowed employees with religious or medical exemptions to undergo weekly testing as an alternative to vaccination. Some, including UBS, have said employees who do not want the vaccine may work from home.
A recent poll by Aon of 583 global companies found drastically different policies. Of employers that have vaccine mandates, 48 percent said they were allowing for religious exemptions; just 7 percent said they would fire a worker for refusing to get vaccinated.
What are companies doing about unvaccinated employees?
Companies have been offering incentives to persuade workers to get the vaccine. Some, such as Kroger, have offered bonuses, while others have provided vaccinations in the workplace and additional paid time off to increase inoculation rates.
But others have been using deterrents, including loss of employment. Delta Air Lines, for example, has been requiring unvaccinated employees to pay an extra $200 a month to stay on the airline’s health plan. Other companies have been restricting office entry for those who are not vaccinated.
Workers who are unvaccinated because of a disability or conflicting religious beliefs have been told that they must follow strict safety guidelines like regular coronavirus testing, masking and social distancing. Some are allowed to work remotely.
How does the law cover vaccine mandates?
Companies are legally permitted to make employees get vaccinated, according to guidance from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, though a number of states have proposed legislation limiting the ability to mandate for employees or guests.
Employers are allowed to ask about a worker’s vaccination status, which is not protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPAA. The law, which protects a patient’s confidential health information, applies only to companies and professionals in the health care field.
Do you run or work at a business that will be affected by the new vaccine mandate? If so we’d like to hear from you. Email [email protected] and please let us know how to reach you if we need to learn more.
The Federal Aviation Administration announced more than $100 million in grants on Friday to help make flying more environmentally sustainable and less noisy, the first such awards since 2015 under a decade-old program.
The grants, which are part of the Biden administration’s efforts to combat climate change, will go to some of the world’s largest aviation companies, including Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, Honeywell Aerospace and GE Aviation. The money is designated for projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions or noise pollution. Recipients must invest at least as much of their money as they receive from the government.
“Across the country, communities have been devastated by the effects of climate change — but, if we act now, we can ensure that aviation plays a central role in the solution,” the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, said in a statement.
The nation’s largest airlines this year pledged to eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050, but it is not clear how they will achieve that goal. Electric airplanes that can carry a few hundred people do not exist and may not be feasible for many years or decades. Some companies, like Boeing, have said replacing or supplementing oil-based jet fuel with alternatives, sometimes made from waste, could help reduce emissions. Airbus is working on developing a hydrogen-powered plane. It’s not clear how viable either approach will be.
President Biden has taken a series of actions aimed at slashing carbon emissions, including setting goals of eliminating emissions from the power sector by 2035 and having as many as half of new cars sold be electric by 2030. On Thursday, his administration set a target for replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050.
The new grants are the third round of funding under the Continuous Lower Energy, Emissions and Noise program, a public-private partnership that began in 2010. No grants were issued under former President Donald Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax.”
The F.A.A. has already spent $225 million on such grants, including on projects to improve engine systems, aircraft wings, flight path software and alternative jet fuels. The investments have helped develop technology that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions equal to removing about three million cars from the road by 2050, according to the agency.
GE Aviation said it and the F.A.A. would together invest $55 million over the next five years to explore engine improvements, electrification, noise reduction and alternative fuels. Those efforts include exploring new engine fan designs, improved heat management and new combustors that could lower the amount of nitrogen oxides released by the company’s engines.
“It just allows us to move faster,” said Arjan Hegeman, general manager of advanced technologies for the company. “We only have so many people and so much of a budget, and any type of participation and partnership that can help us do more and bring some of these important technologies earlier to maturation and therefore earlier to the market is just a fantastic opportunity.”
Mr. Hegeman said some of the technologies being developed now could appear in finished products by the end of the decade or soon after.
The maintenance, repair and overhaul division of Delta Air Lines and other companies plan to use the grant money to develop better coatings for engine fan blades to reduce fuel use and extend the life of engines.
“Like our quest for safer skies, making flying sustainable requires us to constantly look for ways to improve,” the F.A.A. administrator, Steve Dickson, a former Delta pilot, said in a statement.
Separately, United Airlines and Honeywell on Thursday announced an investment in Alder Fuels, a producer of alternative jet fuels. United said it would buy 1.5 billion gallons of the fuel.
The British economy almost stalled in July, even as most of the final pandemic restrictions were lifted. The services sector, which had been the engine of the economic recovery this year, ground to a halt as the Delta variant spread across the country, forcing people to stay home and consumer spending to decline.
Gross domestic product increased by 0.1 percent in July from the previous month, according to the first estimate by the Office for National Statistics, a slower expansion than most analysts had expected. Although Britain eked out a sixth consecutive month of gains, the pace was considerably slower.
The main reason the economy grew at all was the reopening of an oil field after planned maintenance. Services and manufacturing output were flat and construction contracted for a fourth month.
Output from the service industry, which include shops, restaurants and hotels, fell for the first time since January, the statistics agency said, primarily because of a decline in retail sales. These services are still nearly 7 percent below their prepandemic level. In the overall services sector, the return of music festivals and other large events in July wasn’t enough to offset declines in advertising, real estate and elsewhere.
At the same time, manufacturing was hampered by a struggle to fill vacancies and construction companies were waylaid by price increases and scarce materials such as steel and lumber.
The economy was still 2.1 percent below its prepandemic size in July and could struggle to fully recover as shortages of staff and products weigh on economic activity.
“Making up that last G.D.P. ‘lost’ portion of output will be the hard bit as the early gains from the reopening have been largely exhausted,” analysts at the Royal Bank of Canada wrote in a note.
The Bank of England expects the economy to return to its prepandemic size this year, but the shape of the recovery has changed. The central bank said last month that faster growth in the second quarter would be offset by a slowdown in the third quarter.
Since then, the central bankers have been paying close attention to supply chain disruptions and their impact on inflation. Because of the persistence of the virus, the central bank still hasn’t seen the rebalancing of demand toward services (such as travel and office catering), and away from goods (like cars and work-from-home equipment) that it expected, Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England governor, told British lawmakers this week.
And so, the global demand for goods was pushing commodity prices higher, like oil and metals, he said.
Policymakers expected supply bottlenecks to eventually be resolved as the pandemic comes to an end, but Mr. Bailey said he was more concerned about how long the mismatches in the labor market would go on. Businesses across nearly every sector have complained about not being able to fill positions, even though unemployment has risen and many people are still furloughed from their jobs.
“At the moment, we’re seeing some leveling off of the recovery,” Mr. Bailey said on Wednesday.
Ford Motor’s decision to close its Indian operations was met with shock and defensiveness on Friday, after it became the latest American company to close its doors in a country with both tremendous possibilities and high hurdles.
The decision announced on Thursday would affect 4,000 employees as well as hundreds of dealers and a considerable number of customers.
More than $272 million has been invested in setting up dealerships that employ about 40,000 people, said Vinkesh Gulati, president of the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations in India, which represents more than four-fifths of the country’s retailers.
Many Indians were expecting delivery of their new Ford vehicles on Friday, the day of the Hindu festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, the birthday of a god worshiped as the harbinger of good things and a symbol of prosperity. Now, selling those cars could become difficult.
“The first priority is service, but when a company exits, whatever they may say for confidence building, no comment will ring true because customers are scared,” Mr. Gulati said in a telephone interview.
Ford is the latest prominent American vehicle manufacturer to leave India, following Harley Davidson which exited in the winter of 2020 and General Motors , which quit the local market in 2017.
Global manufacturing giants had long looked at India’s growing middle class as a market to grab. They had also been enticed by the country’s cheap labor and promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to cut red tape and make business easier to conduct.
Though the government has made some progress, it has struggled to remove barriers and construct a robust ecosystem. Industry experts say a lack of demand has discouraged the private sector.
The economy has also taken a hit from the pandemic. India recently posted strong economic growth on paper, but the official figures benefited from a sharp contraction last year when the government locked down the economy to contain the coronavirus.
Economists say India will struggle in coming years to make up the growth lost from the pandemic. Real household income fell last year, as unemployment grew and tens of millions of middle-class Indians fell into poverty.
Ford plans to phase out its plants in India. A vehicle assembly plant on its western coast in Gujarat will be shuttered by the fourth quarter of 2021 and another for vehicle and engine manufacturing in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu by the second quarter of 2022. The company hopes to restructure its operations around electric vehicles and niche markets, like providing imported Mustangs to India.
Government officials on Friday defended India’s business environment in the local media, saying other automakers have prospered. Still, industry figures showed that demand for new vehicles has weakened in recent years, and automakers are dealing with industrywide challenges like a tight market for computer chips.
Bank of America overhauled its top management Friday after the decisions of two key executives to retire prompted a cascade of changes.
Alastair Borthwick, who has run the commercial banking business for nine years, was appointed chief financial officer starting in the fourth quarter, the bank said in a statement. He succeeds Paul Donofrio, who will become vice chair and oversee sustainable finance.
Lauren Mogensen will become global general counsel at the end of the year, succeeding David Leitch, who will retire next year. The heads of the bank’s investment-banking and trading divisions will stay in their current roles and report directly to the chief executive, Brian Moynihan.
“As we focus on the path ahead and what it requires, and individuals decide they are ready to transition and/or retire, we are able to promote and expand colleagues from inside the company resulting in new opportunities, smooth transitions, and continued momentum,” Mr. Moynihan wrote in a memo to staff.
Aditya Bhasin was promoted to chief technology and information officer. His predecessor, Cathy Bessant, will become vice chair of global strategy.
The judge in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, canceled Friday’s proceedings after a juror said he might have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.
The juror reported no symptoms, and is getting a lab test on Saturday. Out of caution, Judge Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California proposed going dark while awaiting the test results. The trial is expected to last four months.
Lawyers for the government and the defense made their opening statements on Wednesday, and a former controller for the company began to testify before the proceedings ended for the day. [Read more about the trial’s opening statements.]
The government’s case
Robert Leach, an assistant U.S. attorney, methodically described the times that Theranos came close to going out of business. “Out of time and out of money, Elizabeth Holmes decided to lie,” he said, in what became a refrain
Mr. Leach described Theranos’s false claims that its technology was being used on battlefields. He showed apparently falsified reports that Ms. Holmes gave to investors from pharmaceutical companies endorsing Theranos’s technology. He said she had peddled wildly exaggerated revenue projections and had used the news media to execute her fraud.
“The scheme brought her fame, it brought her honor, and it brought her adoration,” Mr. Leach said.
The defense argued that Ms. Holmes was a hardworking, if naïve, entrepreneur who did not succeed but did not commit any crimes.
“The villain the government just presented is actually a living, breathing human being who did her very best each and every day,” said Lance Wade, a lawyer with Williams & Connolly who represents Ms. Holmes. “Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime.”
Mr. Wade argued that the reality of Theranos’s failure was more complicated than the government’s presentation and that the company had built some valuable blood-testing technology.
Interest in the trial was so high that a line began forming to get into the federal courthouse before 5 a.m. Entering the windy alley in front of the courthouse at about 8 a.m., Ms. Holmes was swarmed by camera crews. She was escorted through the scrum by her boyfriend, Billy Evans, and family members.
Curious members of the public also showed up, as did a crew of three blond-haired women in black suits who resembled the defendant. At one point, Mr. Evans and the women in black passed around a padded seat for the courtroom’s hard benches.
Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, stands trial for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud.
Here are some of the key figures in the case →
The largest American companies spent a record $728 billion on stock buybacks in 2019.
Now, Democrats are coming together on a plan to tax those share repurchases as part of the Senate’s budget bill to offset some of its $3.5 trillion in social policy spending. Democrats say the tax changes would bring in about $270 billion over 10 years, while pushing companies to invest more in their workers and their business, The New York Times’s Jonathan Weisman and Peter Eavis report.
Cash-rich companies like Apple, JPMorgan Chase, Exxon Mobil and Pfizer spend billions of dollars each year to buy back publicly traded stocks, in hopes of bolstering the price of the remaining stock and signaling confidence in the company’s health. The practice has come under withering criticism, especially after President Donald J. Trump’s huge corporate tax cut was enacted in 2017.
Proponents of that tax cut promised that companies would use the tax law’s windfall to raise worker wages and expand their businesses and the economy. Instead, the tax law touched off an explosion of stock buybacks that critics say has made top executives and industry insiders even more wealthy.
Senators Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, and Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the Finance Committee chairman, have decided to tax the amount companies spend on such buybacks at 2 percent — enough, they say, to bring in revenue while making companies price in the financial risk and distortions that large-scale buybacks can pose to the economy.
The plans show how far Democrats are willing to go in using tax policy to reshape business behavior. Also being proposed are tighter rules around business partnerships that have allowed rich companies to shield profits from taxation.