S&P 500 Has Its Best Day Since June as Bond Market Stabilizes

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

Stocks on Wall Street rallied on Monday, nearly recovering last week’s losses as the bond market stabilized.

The S&P 500 rose 2.4 percent, its biggest daily gain since June. Over the weekend, U.S. federal regulators authorized the one-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, adding to the positive market sentiment.

The 10-year yield on U.S. Treasury notes was at 1.44 percent, down from as high as 1.61 percent on Thursday. Globally, long-dated bond yields fell from Australia to Britain on Monday, pushing markets higher. The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 1.8 percent, and Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 2.4 percent.

Investors sold off government bonds last week amid expectations of rising inflation, pushing up yields on debt and leading some traders to question when central banks would have to pull back on their easy-money policies. And the Bank of England’s chief economist said central bankers needed to avoid being complacent about how difficult it might be to tame inflation.

The prospect of tighter monetary policy knocked stock indexes from the highs they had reached earlier in February. Last week, the S&P 500 fell nearly 2.5 percent while the Nasdaq fell nearly 5 percent as technology stocks lost value.

Even as yields fell on Monday, analysts continued their calls for Fed officials to speak out to calm the markets. “We expect policymakers to emphasize they are ‘closely monitoring’ rising bond yields and the unwanted tightening impact these could have on financial conditions,” Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a research note on Monday. “They should also signal they are vigilant to rising inflation risks.”

The Nasdaq rose 3 percent as tech stocks rebounded, with shares of Apple gaining 5.4 percent.

“We do not expect the tech sell-off to extend much further, and continue to see value in the sector for longer-term investors,” strategists at UBS wrote in a note.

  • Oil prices continued to fall from February’s peak, with West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropping nearly 2 percent to about $60.30 per barrel.

  • Boeing rose nearly 6 percent after United Airlines said it was adding 25 planes to its order for the 737 Max jet, bringing its total to 180 in the coming years, and that it had sped up the delivery timeline as it seeks to position itself for the expected recovery in travel. United also was up about 1.2 percent.

  • Homebuilders such as Persimmon, Barratt Developments and Taylor Wimpey were among the biggest gainers in the FTSE 100 index ahead of the British government’s budget presentation on Wednesday, when the chancellor is expected to announce a new mortgage guarantee program to help people buy houses with small deposits.

The Biden administration said Monday that it would try to use its trade policy to support American workers, mitigate climate change, close racial gaps, make supply chains more resilient and expand opportunities for American exporters.

In a report laying out its trade policy agenda for 2021, the administration said trade would be an essential component of fighting the pandemic, buoying the economy and enacting President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda, which aims to strengthen U.S. infrastructure and innovation and close racial and economic gaps. The administration said it would particularly focus on developing more resilient manufacturing supply chains in the year to come to help the country better confront health crises.

The report, issued by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, said that promoting open markets would remain a fundamental part of U.S. policy but that efforts to lower foreign barriers for American exporters would be considered in tandem with the interests of American “manufacturers, farmers, ranchers, fishers and underserved communities.”

The administration also said it would review past trade policies for any “unintended consequences” for workers, including effects on wage gaps, worker unionization, the safety of workplaces and the presence of forced labor. And it pledged to try to better understand the impact of trade policies on communities of color and the empowerment of women.

In a criticism of the Trump administration, the report said American agriculturalists had been burdened in recent years “by erratic trade actions that were taken without a broader strategy” that triggered retaliation, billions of dollars in lost exports and huge government payments to farmers.

The report also said the Biden administration would develop a more comprehensive and systematic approach to dealing with China “than the piecemeal approach of the recent past.”

It promised to aggressively pursue unfair trade practices from China, “using all available tools” to take on behavior that harms American workers and businesses. But the report provided few details on the concrete policy tools the administration would use, saying that officials were carrying out a comprehensive review of U.S. trade policy as they develop an overall China strategy.

The administration also pledged to make addressing China’s human rights abuses against Uighurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region a top priority, and said it would work with allied countries to try to address global market distortions created by Chinese overcapacity in sectors like steel, aluminum, solar and fiber optics.

The Biden administration said it would engage with allies on issues like how trade policies can affect climate change, build stronger supply chains and end unfair trade practices, among other goals. And it pledged to work with the new director general of the World Trade Organization, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, “to address the challenges facing the global trading system, including growing inequality, digital transformation, and impediments to small business trade.”

A buyout of Michaels would return it to private equity ownership after seven years as a public company.
Credit…Gabby Jones for The New York Times

Apollo Global Management and at least one other private equity firm have expressed interest in acquiring Michaels, the hobby retailer, according to two people familiar with the situation.

A buyout would return the retailer to private hands after seven years as a public company. The values of the bids weren’t clear.

Bolstered by a pandemic boom in home crafts, shares of the retailer, which has more than 1,200 stores and some 44,000 employees, have risen by nearly 300 percent over the past year, giving it a market capitalization of around $2.3 billion.

The people, who requested anonymity because the outreach is still confidential, said it is possible that Michaels would opt against a deal. The company is due to report its latest earnings on Thursday.

Michaels did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Michaels, like others in the arts and crafts industry, has seen its business boosted by the pandemic as people turn to hobbies during stay-at-home orders. Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, once struggling, filed to go public last month after a rise in sales during the pandemic. Shares of Etsy have quadrupled over the past 12 months.

Michaels is also one of several retailers that has accelerated its online investments as the pandemic forced companies to serve shoppers wary of visiting stores in person. It has launched both curbside delivery and same-day delivery over the past year.

The private equity firms Bain Capital and Blackstone acquired Michaels in 2006, taking it private in a deal worth more than $6 billion. The company made its way back into the public markets in 2014, at a market value of about $3.5 billion. Bain is still a large shareholder.

Workhorse made just seven trucks in the fourth quarter, when its operations were temporarily halted because about a third of its workers tested positive for Covid-19.

Workhorse Group, the small company that lost a contract last week to build electric delivery trucks for the United States Postal Service, said Monday that it would meet with officials at the post office on Wednesday to discuss the decision.

Shares of Workhorse tumbled after the Postal Service chose a competitor, Oshkosh Defense, to replace its aging fleet of 229,000 right hand-drive trucks used for letter and parcel delivery.

“This is not the result we had anticipated or hoped for,” Workhorse’s chief executive, Duane Hughes, said in a conference call on Monday to discuss the company’s fourth quarter results. “We intend to explore all avenues that are available to us.”

Mr. Hughes added the company is talking to “different parties and groups” but declined to elaborate on what Workhorse might do to get postal officials to reconsider their decision, which has also been criticized by some lawmakers and environmental groups because most of the trucks under the Oshkosh bid will be powered by gasoline.

Workhorse’s chances of getting a second shot at the Postal Service business may hinge on whether President Biden is able to force out Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general who was installed last year by board members appointed by former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. DeJoy has cut overtime and taken other steps in the name of efficiency that critics have said resulted in significant delays in letter and package deliveries.

Mr. DeJoy oversaw the decision to award a 10-year contract worth $482 million to Oshkosh, which offered to make gasoline-powered trucks that could be converted later to run on battery power. The decision runs counter to Mr. Biden’s recent executive order to replace the 645,000 vehicles in federal fleets with electric vehicles.

After the contract decision was announced, Mr. Biden nominated three new members to the Postal Service board, which has the power to fire the postmaster general.

“I think what you’re seeing is a speedup in what President Biden is doing to put the board of governors together in such a way to support his plan going forward,” Mr. Hughes said.

Workhorse saw its share price rise from less than $2 a year ago to more than $40 at the beginning of February in anticipation that it would win at least part of the Postal Service contract. The stock lost more than half its value after the Post Office announced it had chosen Oshkosh for the contract.

Workhorse said it made $69.8 million in profit in 2020, but only because it brought in $323 million related to the 10 percent stake it owns in Lordstown Motors, an electric pickup truck start-up that was founded by Workhorse’s former chief executive. Workhorse was trading at about $16.60 a share on Monday afternoon, up about 3 percent.

Workhorse has orders for some 8,000 electric delivery vans, but has struggled to ramp up production. It made just seven trucks in the fourth quarter, when its operations were temporarily halted because about a third of its workers tested positive for Covid-19.

The company said it hoped to increase production to three trucks a day by the end of this month, and to 10 trucks a day by the end of June.

Union organizers tried to talk to Amazon workers at a traffic light outside a company warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., last month. 
Credit…Bob Miller for The New York Times

President Biden expressed solidarity with workers attempting to unionize an Amazon facility in Alabama in a video released Sunday that emphasized his broad support of the labor movement — without explicitly backing their cause or naming the company itself.

Around 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, a former steel town outside of Birmingham, are voting over the next week on whether they want to be represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

If successful, they would be the first of Amazon’s 400,000 American workers to join a union — a landmark undertaking and early test of Mr. Biden’s campaign claim that he will be the “most pro-union president” ever.

“Workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Mr. Biden said in a direct-to-camera address posted on the White House Twitter page, after a recent pressure campaign by pro-union groups pushing him to weigh in on the drive.

“Let me be really clear: It’s not up to me to decide whether anyone should join a union,” he said. “But let me be even more clear: It’s not up to an employer to decide that either.”

It is unusual for a president to weigh in on a labor dispute, and Mr. Biden was careful to skirt an all-out endorsement of the drive in his two-minute address. But he warned Amazon and its supporters that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.”

Amazon, which has fought off attempts to unionize its American work force, has been working against the effort, summoning workers to mandatory meetings — and placing anti-union fliers in the stalls in the facility’s bathrooms.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amazon’s chief spokesman, Jay Carney, was Mr. Biden’s press secretary during his early years as vice president and went on to become President Barack Obama’s press secretary.

More than 2,000 of the warehouse’s workers signed cards indicating interest in joining the union, meeting the threshold to hold a vote under National Labor Relations Board rules.

The site of the unionization drive is not insignificant. Alabama was a key battleground for the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, and many of the workers at the Bessemer facility are Black, a fact that Mr. Biden noted on Sunday. But Alabama is now a right-to-work state, making it harder for unions to organize or negotiate with employers — which has made it a draw for big companies, especially auto manufacturers.

The unionization drive takes place at a time of “reckoning on race,” Mr. Biden said, adding, “It reveals the deep disparities that still exist in our country.”

Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced legislation on Monday that would apply a 2 percent tax to individual net worth above $50 million, and an additional 1 percent surcharge above $1 billion.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, introduced legislation on Monday that would tax the net worth of the wealthiest people in America, a proposal aimed at persuading President Biden and other Democrats to fund sweeping new federal spending programs by taxing the richest Americans.

Ms. Warren’s wealth tax would apply a 2 percent tax to individual net worth — including the value of stocks, houses, boats and anything else a person owns, after subtracting out any debts — above $50 million. It would add an additional 1 percent surcharge for net worth above $1 billion. It is co-sponsored in the House by two Democratic representatives, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who leads the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania, a moderate.

The proposal, which mirrors the plan Ms. Warren unveiled while seeking the 2020 presidential nomination, is not among the top revenue-raisers that Democratic leaders are considering to help offset Mr. Biden’s campaign proposals to spend trillions of dollars on infrastructure, education, child care, clean energy deployment, health care and other domestic initiatives. Unlike Ms. Warren, Mr. Biden pointedly did not endorse a wealth tax in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.

But Ms. Warren is pushing colleagues to pursue such a plan, which has gained popularity with the public as the richest Americans reap huge gains while 10 million Americans remain out of work as a result of the pandemic.

Polls have consistently shown Ms. Warren’s proposal winning the support of more than three in five Americans, including a majority of Republican voters.

“A wealth tax is popular among voters on both sides for good reason: because they understand the system is rigged to benefit the wealthy and large corporations,” Ms. Warren said. “As Congress develops additional plans to help our economy, the wealth tax should be at the top of the list to help pay for these plans because of the huge amounts of revenue it would generate.”

Mr. Biden did not propose any tax increases to offset the $1.9 trillion economic aid package that he hopes to sign later this month. Mr. Biden has said he will pay for long-term spending — as opposed to a temporary economic jolt — with tax increases on high earners and corporations.

Business groups and Republicans have already begun to raise concerns about Mr. Biden’s tax plans. Those same groups are not fans of Ms. Warren’s plan, which was a centerpiece of her 2020 Democratic presidential campaign.

Critics say the tax would be difficult for the federal government to calculate and enforce, that it would discourage investment and that it could be ruled unconstitutional by courts. Ms. Warren has amassed letters of support from constitutional scholars who say the plan would pass muster.

HOUSTON — Pressed by investors to pivot toward cleaner energy, Exxon Mobil added two people with no previous ties to fossil fuels to its board of directors on Monday.

The new directors are Jeffrey Ubben, a co-founder of Inclusive Capital Partners, a firm that specializes in investing in environmentally friendly enterprises, and Michael Angelakis, chief executive of Atairos, a private equity firm, and former vice chairman of Comcast, the cable TV and media company. With their addition, Exxon’s board will grow to 13 directors.

Darren W. Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement that the two would help boost shareholder value “while playing a leadership role in the energy transition.”

But it is not clear how much these new directors will be able to push Exxon to change. While BP and other European energy giants have been aggressively investing in renewable energy, Exxon has largely stuck to oil and gas. The company said last month that it would invest $3 billion in projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting with capturing and storing carbon dioxide from industrial plants.

Engine No. 1, an activist investment firm, pushing Exxon to make changes expressed skepticism about the appointments.

“While Exxon Mobil has now conceded the need for board change, what is missing are directors with diverse track records of success in the energy industry who can position the company for success in a changing world,” the firm said in a statement.

Fed Board Governor Lael Brainard during a 2017 speech.
Credit…Brian Snyder/Reuters

Lael Brainard, a governor on the Federal Reserve’s Washington-based board, said that the coronavirus pandemic made clear that the global financial system has some weak spots, and offered suggestions for fixing some of the top problems.

Ms. Brainard pointed out that when spooked investors dashed for cash last March, it caused strains in both short-term markets and the market for government debt, and it took big interventions from the Fed to stem the meltdown.

“A number of common-sense reforms are needed to address the unresolved structural vulnerabilities” in key markets, Ms. Brainard said, speaking from prepared remarks at a webcast event.

Some money market mutual funds, which companies and ordinary investors use to earn more interest than they would if they kept their cash in a savings account, saw massive outflows last year and required a Fed rescue — the second time money funds have needed an emergency intervention in a dozen years. Ms. Brainard suggested that solutions like swing pricing, which penalizes people who pull their cash out during times of trouble, are worth considering.

While banks held up pretty well amid the pandemic meltdown, Ms. Brainard said that strength was owed to post-financial crisis reforms that required big banks to hold shock-absorbing buffers. The Fed’s rescues also helped, she noted.

“Bank resilience benefited from the emergency interventions that calmed short-term funding markets, and from the range of emergency facilities that helped support credit flows to businesses and households,” she said, noting that bank capital fell at the onset of the crisis before rebounding later in the year.

Ms. Brainard’s tone seemed to contrast with that of her colleague, Fed Vice Chair for Supervision Randal K. Quarles. Mr. Quarles suggested during a webinar last week that banks’ strong performance signals that efforts to limit their payouts to conserve capital during times of stress — such as the ones the Fed employed last year — should be rare.

But when it comes to the need for a re-examination of what happened in money market mutual funds, the two are more aligned.

“The March 2020 market turmoil highlighted some structural vulnerabilities” in the funds, Mr. Quarles said in a letter last week, written in his capacity as chair of the global Financial Stability Board. Mr. Quarles said the board will provide reform recommendations in July and a final report in October.

WeWork could soon go public following a $1.5 billion settlement with co-founder Adam Neumann.
Credit…Simon Newman/Reuters

SoftBank said on Friday that it had settled its legal dispute with Adam Neumann, a WeWork co-founder, opening the way for the co-working company to go public just 16 months after SoftBank rescued it from collapse.

SoftBank had offered to buy $3 billion of stock from WeWork shareholders, including Mr. Neumann, who stepped down as C.E.O. during the company’s disastrous attempt at listing in 2019. In April, as the coronavirus was emptying WeWork offices, SoftBank said that it wouldn’t go ahead with the purchase, prompting Mr. Neumann to sue.

As part of the agreement, SoftBank is now spending only $1.5 billion on the stock, according to two people with knowledge of the settlement. But the lower bill is because SoftBank is cutting the number of shares it will buy in half; that means Mr. Neumann will get $480 million instead of up to $960 million. (SoftBank has invested well over $10 billion in WeWork, making it the company’s largest shareholder and allowing it to operate despite losses.)

According to these people, SoftBank also pledged to pay $50 million for Mr. Neumann’s legal fees, to extend a $430 million loan it made to him by five years and to pay the last $50 million of a $185 million consulting fee it owed him.

Settling the dispute removes a big obstacle to taking WeWork public. SoftBank has been in talks to merge with BowX Acquisition, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, run by Vivek Ranadivé, the founder of Tibco Software and owner of the N.B.A.’s Sacramento Kings.

Such a deal, which would give WeWork a public listing, raises some crucial questions.

SoftBank owns 70 percent of WeWork’s shares but has direct control of just under half of shareholder votes. Would those numbers change after an offering? Who does control WeWork?

Would investors balk at WeWork’s financial performance, again? It’s not clear how the company has performed recently; it last publicly disclosed a full set of financials some 18 months ago. A glut of office space is coming onto the market, which might be more attractive to companies than taking WeWork space. And individuals may be less likely to use a co-working space now that they’ve gotten used to working from home.

Berkshire Hathaway released its latest annual results on Saturday, and the accompanying letter to investors from Warren Buffett, the conglomerate’s chairman and chief executive, revealed a clear theme: The investor known as the Oracle of Omaha isn’t taking as many risks — or big swings at deal-making — as he used to, according to the DealBook newsletter.

Berkshire is spending more of its $138 billion in cash on smaller investments, rather than deploying it on the huge acquisitions that he famously made in the past. Berkshire bought back nearly $25 billion of its own shares last year, a record for a company that until recently was reluctant to spend its cash this way.

In his letter to investors, Mr. Buffett sang the praises of buybacks — at Berkshire and at the companies it invests in — writing, “As a sultry Mae West assured us: ‘Too much of a good thing can be … wonderful.’”

When it came to deal-making, Mr. Buffett admitted a big mistake in his last major corporate takeover. He wrote that the $37 billion he paid for Precision Castparts, a maker of airplane parts, was too much. (The 2016 transaction resulted in a $10 billion write-down last year.) “No one misled me in any way,” he wrote. “I was simply too optimistic.”

Berkshire’s biggest bets today include a $120 billion stake in Apple and majority stakes in Burlington Northern railroad and Berkshire Hathaway Energy. That relative conservatism comes as Berkshire’s stock has underperformed the S&P 500 in recent years.