- 4 months ago
Business Updates: Global Markets Are Calm in Wake of Russia Sanctions
Lawyers representing Sarah Palin in her unsuccessful defamation lawsuit against The New York Times have told a federal judge that they plan to ask for a new trial and will file several other motions seeking to scrutinize the timing of his announcement that he intended to dismiss the case for lack of evidence if a verdict favored Ms. Palin. His statement arrived while the jury was still deliberating last week.
The decision by Judge Jed S. Rakoff — which was consistent with the verdict the jury arrived at the next day, holding that The Times was not liable for publishing and later correcting an editorial that erroneously linked the political rhetoric of Ms. Palin to a mass shooting — was the subject of a brief conference call on Wednesday between the judge and lawyers for both sides.
Judge Rakoff said Ms. Palin’s requests amounted to “five interesting motions,” including one that he be retroactively disqualified from the case. Another would allow her lawyers to interview the jurors, several of whom learned of his decision from push notifications they received on their phones while deliberating. In an order last week, Judge Rakoff said several jurors had told the court’s law clerk that the notifications “had not affected them in any way or played any role whatever in their deliberations.”
The judge said he would review the motions once they had been filed. The motions would become part of the record should Ms. Palin appeal, which she is expected to do. Judge Rakoff also said he would expedite writing his decision outlining why he agreed to dismiss the case. He expects that to be ready by March 1.
Another of Ms. Palin’s motions sought to reveal what, if any, communications Judge Rakoff had with the news media during the trial — an insinuation he appeared irritated by.
“I had zero communications with media during the trial,” he said. “None whatsoever.” He explained that while he had responded to a reporter’s urgent phone message after the verdict — which turned out to be about the push notifications — he had not communicated with the media at all while the trial was ongoing.
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The United States is prepared to release oil from its Strategic Petroleum Reserve as the Russia-Ukraine crisis helps drive up prices.
Russia is the No. 3 producer of oil, after the United States and Saudi Arabia, and it pumps about 10 percent of the world’s demand. Little of that goes to the United States, but the escalating tensions between Russia and the West have helped fuel a global increase in prices, which already were the highest since 2014.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday that a release of reserves was “certainly an option on the table.”
America’s emergency stockpile, which has about 580 million barrels of oil, has already been tapped recently: President Biden ordered a release of 50 million barrels in November as he sought to drive down gas prices that have contributed to high inflation and pushed OPEC Plus, the cartel of oil producers that includes the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and others, to pump more oil. The United States consumes roughly 20 million barrels of oil a day.
That release had little, if any, effect. Oil prices, which had been around $76 before the announcement, actually rose after it — analysts had been expecting a larger release. Prices eventually fell after the announcement of the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which stoked fears of another slowdown in travel.
But the price for a barrel of U.S. crude has since jumped. Brent crude, the global benchmark, neared $100 a barrel on Tuesday, and West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. benchmark, has topped $95 a barrel. Both have since fallen in price slightly. Prices at the pump have ticked up, too.
The pain from any disruption could be most acute in Europe. Russia supplies a large portion of the region’s natural gas, which has been soaring in price over the past year. The region’s stockpiles are low, and relief is unlikely to come soon — on Tuesday, Germany said it was stopping regulatory progress on Nord Stream 2, a new natural gas pipeline connecting it with Russia, part of a set of coordinated sanctions after President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered troops into breakaway regions of Ukraine. There is also concern Mr. Putin could cut off or limit supplies in retaliation.
So far, sanctions have not directly targeted Russia’s energy industry and there has not been any direct impact to supplies. And prices have been steadied by reports last week of progress on talks to revive a nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran, a development that could allow tens of millions of barrels of oil onto the market.
As Google prepares to bring workers back to its offices, the company is relaxing some of its Covid-19 workplace policies, including a rule requiring U.S. employees to be vaccinated. But workers will still have to be vaccinated if they plan to use the company’s offices.
In an email to San Francisco Bay Area employees last week, Google said it was easing some of its pandemic restrictions. It will no longer require employees to be tested weekly to enter its U.S. offices. Also, it will not require staff to wear masks in the office, with the exception of Santa Clara County — home to Google’s main Mountain View headquarters.
Google also said it planned to restore many of its famed office amenities, such as fitness centers, cafeterias, massage services and commuter shuttles. CNBC reported the change in policies earlier.
“Based on current conditions in the Bay Area, we’re pleased that our employees who choose to come in now have the ability to access more on-site spaces and services,” Google wrote in a statement.
Separately, the company has dropped its requirement that U.S. employees provide evidence of vaccination status or apply for a medical or religious exemption, Lora Lee Erickson, a Google spokeswoman, said.
Last year, Google said employees who failed to do so would be placed on administrative leave and could be fired eventually. Ms. Erickson did not explain why the company had changed its position.
Like many companies, Google has had to adapt its policies to the frequently changing conditions of the pandemic. It has repeatedly pushed back plans for when it will ask employees to start working on a hybrid schedule that mixes remote work and in-office time.
Google’s offices are a key component to its work culture, and the company has resisted going fully remote like other technology companies.
Instead of a global mandate, Google has repeatedly said it will allow different regions to determine when to start requiring workers to come in a few times a week. In the United States, Google said, it is still assessing the right time to begin its hybrid work schedule and hasn’t set a date for workers to return to the office.
While returning to the office is still voluntary, Google said about 30 percent of its Bay Area employees came into the office last week.
The National Labor Relations Board dealt a blow to Starbucks’s legal strategy in response to a growing union campaign on Wednesday, rejecting the company’s argument that workers seeking to unionize in a geographic area must vote in a single union election.
In a ruling involving an election in Mesa, Ariz., the board noted the longstanding presumption that a single store is an appropriate unit for a vote — as union supporters have insisted.
Starbucks workers at more than 100 stores nationwide have filed for union elections and workers at two stores in Buffalo have already unionized.
Unions typically prefer smaller elections, which tend to increase their chances of winning, albeit on a smaller scale. Workers United, the union seeking to represent Starbucks employees, has complained that Starbucks has repeatedly resisted store-by-store elections despite gaining little traction on the issue as a way to delay votes and stop the union’s momentum.
Starbucks has argued that the elections should be marketwide because employees can work at multiple locations and because the stores in a market are managed as a relatively cohesive unit. It has made this case in its requests to appeal labor board decisions ordering elections on a store-by-store basis in Buffalo and Mesa, and in other filings related to union elections around the country.
Before Wednesday’s ruling, the board had been unmoved by the company’s argument in Buffalo as well. But unlike the request for an appeal in Buffalo, which the board rejected on an ad hoc basis, the action in the Arizona case sets a binding precedent and will most likely make it more difficult for Starbucks to successfully raise such objections in the future.
Nonetheless, the company indicated it would still press the issue. “Our position since the beginning has been that all partners in a market or district deserve the right to vote on a decision that will impact them,” Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, said in a statement, using the company’s term for its employees. “We will continue to respect the N.L.R.B.’s process and advocate for our partners’ ability to make their voices heard.”
Workers in Mesa and at three Buffalo-area locations have voted in store-by-store elections, but the board postponed those vote counts while resolving Starbucks’s appeals. In the short term, the board decision means that a vote count at a Starbucks store in Mesa can go forward after being postponed last week.
In a statement Wednesday, the union criticized both Starbucks and the labor board for the delays in counting ballots. “Partners are confident in our ability to stand strong, but justice delayed is justice denied, and we will continue to push for our right to organize without delay,” the statement said.
The rollout of Truth Social, former President Donald J. Trump’s social media alternative to Twitter, has gotten off to a slow start.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump’s account on the app, available free on Apple’s App Store since Monday, had just under 50,000 followers. That is a far cry from the tens of millions of followers he had on Twitter before the social media platform barred him last year after some of his supporters attacked the Capitol.
Mr. Trump’s account still has a single post, which the company calls “truths” as opposed to “tweets.”
The official debut of Truth Social on Monday was marred by error messages and a long waiting list for people who had already signed up to download the app. (This reporter was at 94,000 on the list but was able to download the app on Tuesday.)
Technical glitches for new apps are not uncommon, and the parent company, Trump Media Technology Group, had said it didn’t expect the new platform to be fully operational before the end of March. Truth Social posted a message from its own account that said “our team is working as fast as possible.”
The app’s glitchy start didn’t appear to have deterred investors, who continue to push up the share price of Digital World Acquisition, the special purpose acquisition company that Trump Media announced plans to merge with in October. On Tuesday, Digital World’s stock rose 14 percent to close at just over $96 a share.
Digital World has become the best performing SPAC — a kind of company that goes public first, raising money from investors to buy a private company. The stock has continued to rise even in the face of regulatory investigations into how exactly Digital World’s deal with Trump Media came about.
Because of an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is unclear when the merger will close. If and when it does, Trump Media will gain access to nearly $1.3 billion in cash, which would help build its social media business.
Large companies operating in the European Union could be held responsible for environmental violations or human rights abuses committed by businesses in their supply chains under a law proposed on Wednesday by the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm.
“We can no longer turn a blind eye on what happens down our value chains,” said Didier Reynders, the European Union’s commissioner for justice.
Under the legislation, known as a due diligence law, businesses would need to establish regulations to detect, prevent and mitigate breaches of human rights, such as child labor, as well as environmental hazards in their supply chains. National governments would define the financial penalties for companies violating the rules.
Victims could sue for compensation in domestic courts of E.U. member nations, even if the harm occurred outside the bloc.
The commission proposed the rules after some member nations, including Germany and France, introduced different versions of due diligence law at the national level.
The legislation will now be discussed by the European Parliament and the 27 national governments, with all parties able to modify the language. The final draft will require passage by the E.U. lawmakers and member nations. The whole process could take a year or more.
The proposal would initially apply to companies with more than 500 employees and annual revenue over 150 million euros (about $170 million), a group that includes about 10,000 E.U. businesses, about 1 percent of the total. Around 2,000 companies based outside the bloc but doing business in the European Union, amounting to an annual revenue of more than €150 million, would also be covered. After two years, the range would be expanded to include smaller businesses in so-called high-impact sectors, such as textiles, food products and mining.
Businesses expressed concern over the proposal.
“It is unrealistic to expect that European companies can control their entire value chains across the world,” said Pierre Gattaz, president of BusinessEurope, a trade organization. “Ultimately these proposals will harm our companies’ ability to remain competitive worldwide.”
But Richard Gardiner of Global Witness said the legislation had the potential to become “a watershed moment for human rights and the climate crisis,” if the European Union resisted efforts to water down the proposed measures.
“We’ve been investigating big corporations for decades, and when we reveal the harm they’re causing to people and planet, the response is invariably the same: ‘We weren’t aware,’” Mr. Gardiner said. “Today’s proposal from the commission may make that response illegal.”
But some analysts remained skeptical, pointing out that the commission’s final proposal, which was delayed several times, is much less ambitious than what was initially planned.
“This outcome is the result of an unprecedented level of corporate lobbying,” said Alberto Alemanno, a professor of European Union law at the business school HEC Paris. He said the final result “was downgraded into yet another narrow piece of tick-the-boxes compliance law.”
Julia Linares Sabater, a senior officer at the WWF European Policy Office, said the businesses affected “represent a drop in the ocean of the E.U.’s total economy.”
“The E.U. needs to be far more ambitious to successfully tackle the climate and biodiversity crises,” she added.
Stocks fell again on Wednesday, pushing further into correction territory, as investors responded to the coordinated sanctions Western countries imposed on Russia and the Pentagon’s assessment that a full-scale military assault on Ukraine was most likely imminent.
The SP 500 fell 1.8 percent in afternoon trading, reversing earlier gains and adding to Tuesday’s drop of 1 percent. The Nasdaq composite fell 2.6 percent. And the Stoxx Europe 600 index, which had spent most of the day in positive territory, ended down 0.3 percent.
Tuesday’s trading saw the SP 500 drop as much as 1.9 percent. Even after rebounding off those lows by the end of the day, the index still closed more than 10 percent off its January peak. A drop that big is known on Wall Street as a correction and generally indicates a marked shift in sentiment among investors.
After Wednesday’s losses, the SP 500 is 11.9 percent off its record.
Russia is under increasing pressure as the United States and its allies have rolled out penalties in response to the crisis in Ukraine. The global response began Tuesday in an effort to deter President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia from further aggression. Germany halted a key natural gas pipeline for Russia, while Britain imposed sanctions on several Russian banks and three Russian billionaires.
Oil prices edged lower after they surged to nearly $100 a barrel during Tuesday’s session after Russia ordered troops into eastern Ukraine. On Wednesday, Brent crude gained 0.2 percent, at about $96.64 a barrel.
Correction: Feb. 23, 2022
An earlier version of this article misstated the last time stocks fell into a correction. It was February 2020 not February 2000.
It said creatures were living on the moon, argued that Santa Claus is real and inspired Marlon Brando to plead, “I coulda been a contender.”
The New York Sun, which published a paper for more than 100 years before closing in 1950 and was briefly revived in the 2000s, is back as an online-only publication.
“We are a newspaper for this very moment,” Dovid Efune, The Sun’s publisher, said in a statement. Mr. Efune, a former top editor of The Algemeiner, a Jewish-interest print and online publication based in New York, bought The Sun in October from Seth Lipsky, who ran it from 2002 through 2008 and will do so again.
A former Wall Street Journal reporter and editorial writer, Mr. Lipsky in 1990 established The Forward, an English-language offshoot of the venerable Yiddish-language newspaper, and served as its editor for 10 years.
By 2001, Mr. Lipsky was raising funds to introduce a new version of The New York Sun, which debuted in 2002 and shuttered in 2008. That year, The New York Times described it as “an audacious bet that there was room for a cerebral, politically conservative daily in the already crowded New York City newspaper market.”
The Sun has made splashes from its inception. It debuted in 1833 and two years later began publishing a series of bogus articles about creatures found living on the moon. Later, in 1897, it answered a letter from a young reader with what became one of journalism’s most famous editorials: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”
The 1954 film “On the Waterfront” (in which Mr. Brando says, “I coulda been a contender”) was inspired by The Sun’s coverage of labor union corruption. And the final scene of the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada” was filmed inside The Sun’s office.
Mr. Efune praised The Sun last year for “practicing precisely the form of journalism that’s so lacking in today’s media environment: values-based, principled and constitutionalist.”
Subscriptions to The Sun — which cost a penny when it debuted on newsstands in 1833 — will range from $12 a month for articles and access to comments, to $25 a month for audio, video and crossword puzzles, to $2,500 annually, for “invitations to regular phone briefings and exclusive events,” according to a company statement.
The automaker Stellantis said its profit more than doubled in 2021 to 13.3 billion euros, a result of cost savings and higher car prices that more than offset disruptions to production and sales caused by the global shortage of computer chips.
The company, which was formed a year ago by the merger of Fiat Chrysler and France’s Peugeot, said revenue for the year was €149 billion ($168 billion). The two companies had combined revenue of €134 billion in 2020.
In a conference call with analysts, the company’s chief executive, Carlos Tavares, said Stellantis was watching the tension between Ukraine and Russia closely. The automaker has a plant in Russia, and Mr. Tavares said it was unclear how the economic sanctions imposed by Western nations on Russia would affect it.
The sanctions are intended to punish President Vladimir Putin of Russia for recognizing two breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine and deter him from invading Ukraine.
The Stellantis plant, in Kaluga, about 165 miles southwest of Moscow, makes small delivery vans and has the capacity to make up to 125,000 vehicles a year. Stellantis has been planning to export vans from the plant.
“If we cannot supply the plant, if that is the reality, we have either to transfer that production to other plants or just limit ourselves,” Mr. Tavares said.
Stellantis is the fourth-largest automaker in the world and sells cars under 14 brands, including Chrysler, Ram and Jeep in the United States and Peugeot, Opel and Fiat in Europe.
Next week, Mr. Tavares is scheduled to outline a long-term strategic plan for the company, which will include the development of more than two dozen electric models over the next several years.
The automaker’s 2021 profit was a big improvement from 2020, when Fiat Chrysler’s and Peugeot’s combined profit would have totaled just €4.8 million. In 2021, Stellantis benefited from €3.2 billion in cost savings made possible by the merger, the company said.
Stellantis sold 6.1 million cars and light trucks last year, up from 5.9 billion in 2020. Its North American operations generated about half of the company’s revenue and €11.3 billion in pretax profit.
“The current conditions are very positive for margins,” Mr. Tavares said.
A renewed emphasis on energy independence and national security may encourage policymakers to backslide on efforts to decrease the use of fossil fuels that pump deadly greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Already, skyrocketing prices have spurred additional production and consumption of fuels that contribute to global warming. Coal imports to the European Union in January rose more than 56 percent from the previous year, Patricia Cohen reports for The New York Times.
In Britain, the Coal Authority gave a mine in Wales permission last month to increase output by 40 million tons over the next two decades. In Australia, there are plans to open or expand more coking coal mines. And China, which has traditionally made energy security a priority, has further stepped up its coal production and approved three new billion-dollar coal mines this week.
“Get your rig count up,” Jennifer Granholm, the U.S. energy secretary, said in December, urging American oil producers to raise their output. Shale companies in Oklahoma, Colorado and other states are looking to resurrect drilling that had ceased because there is suddenly money to be made. And this month, Exxon Mobil announced plans to increase spending on new oil wells and other projects.
Ian Goldin, a professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, warned that high energy prices could lead to more exploration of traditional fossil fuels. “Governments will want to deprioritize renewables and sustainables, which would be exactly the wrong response,” he said.
Europe’s transition to sustainable energy has always been an intricate calculus. READ THE FULL ARTICLE →
Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes about a pandemic surprise: Physical stores beat online shopping in 2021.
Sign up for the On Tech With Shira Ovide newsletter, for Times subscribers only. A guide to how technology is changing the world, in wonderful and not-so-wonderful ways.
The bribery and money-laundering trial of a former Goldman Sachs executive was thrown into turmoil after federal prosecutors — for the second time in a little over a week — said the government had failed to promptly turn over thousands of pages of emails and other personal documents belonging to a key witness for the prosecution.
The federal judge presiding over the trial of Roger Ng in Brooklyn said Wednesday that the government’s failure to produce documents was “particularly troubling” and would result in a delay in the proceedings so that defense lawyers had time to review the additional materials.
“I am going to give the defense as much time as they need,” said Judge Margo K. Brodie, the chief judge for the Eastern District of New York, during a brief hearing with the jury.
She made her decision after Marc Agnifilo, one of Mr. Ng’s lawyers, said he was considering asking the judge to declare a mistrial. He added that he might ask for the charges against his client to be dismissed because of what he called “government misconduct.”
Judge Brodie offered no insight on how she might rule on those requests. But a mistrial would be a shocking development in the case, 16 months after Goldman pleaded guilty to a criminal charge and paid $5 billion in fines for its role in a far-reaching foreign corruption and bribery scheme involving a big Malaysian sovereign wealth fund.
Mr. Ng, who was a banker for Goldman in Malaysia, is likely to be the only person to stand trial in the United States over the scandal, since the mastermind of the scheme — Jho Low — is a fugitive and believed to be living in China.
In a letter filed with the court late Tuesday, federal prosecutors said they had just become aware that about 15,000 emails and other documents belonging to the government’s star witness, Timothy Leissner, were never turned over to the defense. They added that the belated discovery of those documents was an “inexcusable error” and that they were open to a delay in the trial, which began on Feb. 14.
Prosecutors blamed the problem on another team of government lawyers tasked with reviewing the documents to make sure they could be provided to defense lawyers without violating any of Mr. Leissner’s rights. A similar issue arose after the trial started when the government belatedly turned over 120,000 pages of emails and other documents belonging to Mr. Leissner, a former Goldman partner.
“We are still going over the 120,000 pages we got,” Mr. Agnifilo said. “This is a categorical failure.”
The break is likely to last for several days after Mr. Leissner wraps up his direct testimony. He agreed to cooperate with the government and pleaded guilty in 2018 for his part in the brazen scheme to loot more than $4 billion from Malaysia’s 1MDB fund. He also agreed to forfeit about $47 million in ill-gotten gains and is expected to be sentenced this summer.
Starting last week, Mr. Leissner has been walking the jury through the details of the scheme. He testified that he and Mr. Ng had been integral players in the plot to use some of the looted money to pay bribes to foreign officials so that Goldman would secure the rights to arrange $6.5 million in bonds for the 1MDB fund.
He testified that both he and Mr. Ng were at a 2012 meeting where Mr. Low described the plan to pay bribes. Mr. Leissner said Mr. Low, a flamboyant Malaysian businessman with a penchant for high living, had told the former Goldman executives that they would be “taken care of.”
Mr. Leissner also testified that he had used $10 million of the looted 1MDB money to buy a house for a former girlfriend. He said he had bought the house to stop the girlfriend from alerting the authorities to his activities.
Prosecutors have claimed that Mr. Ng and his wife got up to $35 million in illicit proceeds from the scheme. But Mr. Agnifilo has said the money came from legitimate unrelated transactions. He said the $35 million had been owed to Mr. Ng’s wife by Mr. Leissner’s former wife, Judy Chan, who owns a large vineyard in China.
Mr. Agnifilo said the documents that the government had been slow in producing could be critical to his client’s defense. He said Covid-19 restrictions had limited his ability to pursue investigative leads in Asia.