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Daily Business Briefing

Sept. 9, 2021Updated 

Sept. 9, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ET

Sept. 9, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ETCredit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

After staying quiet on vaccine mandates for months, companies began this summer to announce new requirements as vaccination rates stalled and the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus began to spread. The issue 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.

A combination of mandates at the government level, as well as full Food and Drug Administration approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, have made it easier for executives to go ahead.

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 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 frontline workers. Many companies are dealing with labor shortages and varying levels of vaccine hesitancy across state lines.

More mandates are coming. 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.

The approach to mandates runs 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, are offering those with religious or medical exemptions to undergo weekly testing as an alternative for vaccination. Some, including UBS, have said that employees who do not want the vaccine may work from home.

A recent poll conducted 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 terminate a worker for refusing to get vaccinated.

Companies are 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 are using deterrents, including loss of employment. Delta Air Lines, for example, is requiring unvaccinated employees to pay an extra $200 a month to stay on the airline’s health plan. Other companies are restricting office entry for those who are not vaccinated.

Workers who are unvaccinated because of a disability or conflicting religious beliefs have been told they must follow strict safety guidelines like regular coronavirus testing, masking and social distancing. Some are allowed to work remotely.

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.

Read morePassengers lining up at the Sydney International Airport to check in for a Qantas flight to New Zealand in April.Credit…James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Qantas, Australia’s largest airline, will require that all passengers on international flights are vaccinated against the coronavirus when it restarts worldwide operations in December, its chief executive said Wednesday, making it one of the first airlines in the world to require proof of vaccination for everyone on board.

Alan Joyce, the chief executive of the airline’s parent company, Qantas Group, made the announcement in an interview with the Trans-Tasman Business Circle, a network for business leaders in Australia and New Zealand.

“Qantas will have a policy that internationally we’ll only be carrying vaccinated passengers because we think that’s going to be one of the requirements to show that you’re flying safe,” he said, adding that many countries are requiring arriving travelers to be vaccinated anyway. He said he hoped the policy would be in place “by Christmas.”

Qantas, which is headquartered in Sydney, suspended international operations during the pandemic — but did resume flights to New Zealand in April this year before suspending them again on July 31. The airline plans to restart flights abroad in December. Mr. Joyce said in November of last year that he was considering banning unvaccinated travelers on international flights, but did not offer a timeline.

Other airlines have announced that they will require flight attendants and pilots to be vaccinated, but few other airlines have committed to banning unvaccinated passengers. Air Canada seems to be the only other airline that is poised to soon begin turning away unvaccinated passengers. By the end of October, the Canadian government will require all commercial airline employees and passengers to be vaccinated. Air Canada endorsed the government’s position in August.

Leonard J. Marcus, the co-director of the National Preparedness Leadership Initiative at Harvard University and the director of an initiative focused on public health on flights, said he hoped that other airlines would follow Qantas’s lead.

“I think this would be a bold and courageous step in the right direction,” he said. Requiring passenger vaccinations is currently easier in Australia than in other parts of the world, he said, because the country has a uniform system of validating vaccination status, in contrast to places like the United States.

Qantas did not respond to an inquiry on whether it would make exceptions for children too young to be eligible for vaccination and for people who cannot take the shots for medical reasons, two of the populations that would be most affected by the vaccination status of passengers sitting near them.

Qantas has made vaccination central to its marketing strategy throughout the pandemic. A recent television ad, which has been widely shared, shows Australians longing to travel and then getting vaccinations before heading off on international flights.

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  • Microsoft delayed its office return indefinitely, it said in a blog post on Thursday. The company had pushed the full reopening of its U.S. offices to no earlier than Oct. 4., but revised those plans because of the threat of the Delta variant of the coronavirus. “It’s a stark reminder that this is the new normal,” wrote Jared Spataro, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for modern work. “Our ability to come together will ebb and flow.” The company has said it will require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors and guests to enter its offices.

  • UPS said on Thursday that it planned to hire more than 100,000 employees to help manage the annual influx of packages during the holiday season, from October through January. The company said that many individuals who apply will receive an offer within 30 minutes and that, in the past, about a third of those hired during the holiday season received a permanent position with the company.

  • U.S. stocks fluctuated in midday trading on Thursday, with the S&P 500 pointing to a loss for a fourth consecutive day. The index was flat, while the Nasdaq composite ticked up 0.2 percent.

  • Initial jobless claims in the United States dropped by 35,000 to 310,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

  • European indexes were little changed, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing slightly lower. The European Central Bank said on Thursday it would slow the pace of its pandemic-era bond-buying program, one of the main tools it has used to support the eurozone economy through lockdowns.

  • GameStop stock fell 1.7 percent in early trading after the video game retailer reported on Wednesday a net loss of $61.6 million in the quarter that ended in July.

  • Shares for Lululemon Athletica rose 11 percent after the apparel company reported on Wednesday that its revenue rose 61 percent compared with the same time last year.

A Ford showroom near Mumbai. People in India tend to buy smaller, more affordable cars than in the United States and EuropeCredit…Divyakant Solanki/EPA, via Shutterstock

Ford Motor will stop making cars at two plants in India, ending a long and costly effort to build a presence in one of the world’s largest emerging auto markets.

The company said on Thursday that it will stop production at a plant in Sanand, in western India, this month, and will stop making vehicles and engines in the southern city of Chennai next year.

Ford has lost more than $2 billion in the past 10 years in India, the company’s chief executive Jim Farley, said in a statement. “We are taking difficult but necessary actions to deliver a sustainably profitable business longer-term and allocate our capital to grow and create value in the right areas.”

Other major automakers have also struggled to gain a foothold in India, where people tend to buy smaller, more affordable cars than in the United States and Europe. General Motors stopped selling cars in the country in 2017. Roughly half of all new cars sold in India are made by Maruti Suzuki, in which Suzuki of Japan owns a majority stake.

The withdrawal from India is the latest move by Ford to pare its losses from its international operations. In January, the company said it would close its three plants in Brazil Before that, it closed several plants and eliminated several thousand jobs in Europe.

Separately, Ford said Thursday that it will idle a truck plant near Kansas City, Mo., next week because of a global shortage of computer chips. The plant makes the F-150 pickup truck and the Transit van and is scheduled to resume production on Sept. 20. And G.M. said that several of its North American plants that had been idled will resume production next week, including factories in Ft. Wayne, Ind., and Silao, Mexico.

A Delta Air Lines employee helping travelers at Los Angeles International Airport in August.Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Airlines ended the traditional summer travel season on a high note, but hopes for the fall have dimmed as employers delay office reopenings and the Delta variant of the coronavirus has eroded sales and driven up cancellations in recent weeks.

United Airlines said in a securities filing on Thursday that it no longer expected to turn a profit, before taxes, for the three months ending in September and that revenue would probably be down about a third from the same period in 2019. Nevertheless, the airline said it expected to reap previously predicted cost savings.

Delta Air Lines appeared to be in a stronger position. The airline said in a filing that it still expected a pretax profit for the quarter, but that revenue would probably be at the lower end of a forecast it made earlier this summer. Costs were at the higher end of expectations as Delta staffed up to keep operations running smoothly through the rebound.

“The story for the quarter really has been about the amazing surge in demand that we’ve witnessed,” Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, said at a Thursday conference hosted by Cowen, an investment bank.

Both United and Delta said they expected to see the recovery resume once virus cases peaked, with Mr. Bastian adding that the airline was already seeing a rebound in the South, where infections began rising sharply in the summer. United and Southwest Airlines said in filings that the latest wave of infections had less of an effect on the business than previous jumps in coronavirus cases.

American Airlines and Delta said that they had performed better than expected in July, but that the pace of the recovery paused in August. Delta said the rebound in business travel had frozen, too, as companies delayed or scaled back plans to reopen offices. Still, the airline said, ticket sales had generally stabilized in the last 10 days.

American said in a securities filing on Thursday that although its third-quarter financial results would probably be weaker than an earlier forecast, the company still expected the quarter to be its best by certain measures since the pandemic began.

For Southwest, a slower-than-expected September will be a drag on revenue, but the company said it still expected to end the quarter within the range it had predicted. Corporate travel was down nearly two-thirds in July and August from the same months in 2019 and is expected to remain down a similar amount in September. Mr. Bastian said Delta was seeing similar trends in corporate travel.

For much of the summer, which is the industry’s busiest season, airlines were flying about 80 percent as many customers as in 2019. That figure started to sag in the second half of August, but rebounded over the Labor Day holiday, according to Transportation Security Administration passenger screening data.

Though it’s early still, American and Southwest said they had solid ticket sales for holiday travel at the end of the year.

Read moreChristine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, insisted the slowdown in purchases wasn’t a tapering of asset purchases that would reduce buying to zero.Credit…Ronald Wittek/EPA, via Shutterstock

The European Central Bank said on Thursday that it would slow down its pandemic-era bond-buying program, one of the main tools it has used to support the eurozone economy through lockdowns, citing “favorable financing conditions” and the inflation outlook.

The program, which lately has been buying about 80 billion euros, or $95 billion, of mostly government bonds each month, is a way to keep borrowing costs low and spur economic growth.

Despite the bank’s depiction of an improving economic outlook for the eurozone, its decision to “moderately” reduce the pace of purchases wasn’t designed to signal to markets that monetary stimulus in the region was being tightened yet. The central bank is still trying to secure a sustained recovery and get inflation to reach its 2 percent target over a longer period.

Traders seemed to understand the message: Government bond yields drifted lower, and the euro was little changed after the announcement.

The central bank’s president, Christine Lagarde, insisted that the slowdown in purchases wasn’t a tapering of asset purchases that would reduce buying to zero, a step the U.S. Federal Reserve is preparing to take. Instead it was a “recalibration” of the program, approved unanimously by the bank’s policymakers.

“The lady isn’t tapering,” Ms. Lagarde said at a news conference.

“The rebound phase in the recovery of the euro-area economy is increasingly advanced,” she said. She added that the economy was expected to return to its prepandemic size by the end of the year.

But, she said, “the current increase in inflation is expected to be largely temporary, and underlying price pressures are building up only slowly.”

The pandemic bond-buying program began in March 2020 as the coronavirus spread across Europe and was meant to buy €1.85 trillion in bonds and run until at least March 2022. The slowdown would help ensure that the purchases end on schedule, though the central bank hasn’t ruled out an extension.

“Based on a joint assessment of financing conditions and the inflation outlook, the governing council judges that favorable financing conditions can be maintained with a moderately lower pace of net asset purchases,” the central bank said in statement on Thursday.

Analysts at the Dutch bank ING and the British bank Barclays both said they expected the central bank to buy between €60 billion and €70 billion of assets each month to the end of the year.

Other policy measures were left unchanged. Interest rates were held steady, including the so-called deposit rate, which remained at –0.5 percent. The negative rate is essentially a charge on deposits to encourage commercial banks to lend more. Policymakers also maintained the size of the bank’s other bond-buying program, which was restarted in 2019 to head off a regional recession.

Thursday’s decisions are the first test of the central bank’s updated forward guidance. In July, policymakers said they were willing to overlook short-term jumps in inflation and would raise interest rates only once it was clear that the annual inflation rate would reach 2 percent “well ahead” of the end of the central bank’s projection horizon and stay around that level over the medium term.

The central bank slightly increased its inflation forecasts for the next few years from three months ago, but the upgrade still showed inflation below the target in the medium term. Annual inflation is predicted to be 2.2 percent in 2021, 1.7 percent in 2022 and 1.5 percent in 2023.

This strengthens the central bank’s case for keeping policy looser for longer even though inflation rose to 3 percent in August, the highest in nearly 10 years, the region’s statistics agency said last week. Policymakers have been betting that the jump in inflation will be temporary, as have other central banks around the world.

The European Central Bank as a whole has been more cautious than the Federal Reserve and the Bank of England about preparing markets for a return to normal policy. While the eurozone economy is rebounding faster than expected — rising 2.2 percent in the second quarter from the first three months of the year — Ms. Lagarde has also highlighted the risks to the expansion. There is the uncertainty posed by the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which could further slow consumer spending, and there is the risk that supply chain disruptions could last longer than expected, resulting in wage increases and other price pressures. This would undermine the belief that most of the short-term increase in inflation will be temporary.

“There remains some way to go before the damage to the economy caused by the pandemic is overcome,” Ms. Lagarde said, noting that there are more than two million fewer people employed than before the crisis.

The central bank is expected to maintain its older bond purchase effort, under which the bank buys €20 billion in assets each month. Many analysts expect policymakers to increase the size of purchases to keep providing stimulus to the economy even after the immediate impact of the pandemic has passed.

Ms. Lagarde said that the governing council did not discuss what would happen to either purchase program next year and that it would be on the agenda for December’s meeting, when the next round of staff forecasts for the economy will be available.

The central bank “clearly remains data-dependent, and has kept all options open for December,” strategists at Rabobank wrote in a note. “The bank is still a long way from ending asset purchases altogether.” The older bond-buying program and other policy tools will “take over the reins in pursuit of the inflation goal,” they wrote.

Read moreVideoVideo player loadingThe disgraced founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos arrived at the federal courthouse and stood trial for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.CreditCredit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Lawyers for the government and the defense made their opening statements on Wednesday in the trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, and a former controller for the company began to testify before the proceedings ended for the day.

The trial will pause for a day and continue on Friday. [Read more about the trial’s opening statements.]

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.

Credit…Nick Otto/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Carlos Chavarria for The New York Times

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, stands trial for two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.

Here are some of the key figures in the case →

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Stephen Lam/Reuters

Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 as a 19-year-old Stanford dropout. She raised $700 million from investors and was crowned the world’s youngest billionaire, but has been accused of lying about how well Theranos’s technology worked. She has pleaded not guilty.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Ramesh Balwani, known as Sunny, was Theranos’s president and chief operating officer from 2009 through 2016 and was in a romantic relationship with Holmes. He has also been accused of fraud and may stand trial next year. He has pleaded not guilty.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

David Boies, a prominent litigator, represented Theranos as its lawyer and served on its board.

He tried to shut down whistle-blowers and reporters who questioned the company’s business practices.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Getty Images

The journalist John Carreyrou wrote stories exposing fraudulent practices at Theranos.

His coverage for The Wall Street Journal helped lead to the implosion of Theranos.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, via Getty Images

Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung are former Theranos employees and were whistle-blowers. They worked at the start-up in 2013 and 2014.

Shultz is a grandson of George Shultz, a former secretary of state who was on the Theranos board.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.Eric Thayer for The New York Times

James Mattis, a retired four-star general, was a member of Theranos’s board.

He went on to serve as President Donald J. Trump’s secretary of defense.

Who’s Who in the Elizabeth Holmes Trial

Erin WooErin Woo📍Reporting from San Jose, Calif.

Edward Davila, a federal judge for the Northern District of California, will oversee the case.

Kevin Downey, a partner at the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly, is the lead lawyer for Holmes.

Robert Leach, an assistant United States attorney for the Northern District of California, will lead the prosecution for the government, along with other prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office.

Read more about Elizabeth Holmes:

Aug. 30, 2021

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Read moreSpanish households are paying roughly double what they paid for electricity a year ago, prompting protests against utility companies.Credit…Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Wholesale prices for natural gas are at their highest in years — nearly five times where they were at this time in 2019, threatening to become a drag on the economies of Europe and elsewhere, Stanley Reed and Raphael Minder report for The New York Times.

  • Spanish households are paying roughly 40 percent more than what they paid for electricity a year ago as the wholesale price has more than doubled, prompting angry protests against utility companies.

  • Citing record natural gas prices, Britain’s energy regulatory agency, Ofgem, recently gave utilities a green light to increase the ceiling on energy bills for millions of households paying standard rates by about 12 percent, to 1,277 pounds, or $1,763, a year.

  • Gas prices in the United States have risen as well, but they are only around a quarter of those being paid in Europe. The United States has a big price advantage over Europe because of its large domestic supply of relatively cheap gas from shale drilling and other activities, while Europe must import most of its gas.

Europe imports around 60 percent of its gas, with supplies coming by pipeline from Russia and to a lesser extent Algeria and Libya. READ THE ARTICLE →

The Biden administration wants the nation to move toward producing almost half of its electricity from the sun by 2050.

That was the goal in a new report released on Wednesday by the Energy Department, according to Ivan Penn, one of our energy reporters. To achieve that from the current level of 4 percent, the country would have to double the amount of solar energy installed every year over the next four years and then double it again by 2030.

It is not clear how hard the administration will push to advance solar energy through legislation and regulations. Many details will ultimately be decided by Congress.

Still, the Energy Department said its calculations showed that solar panels had fallen so much in cost that they could produce 40 percent of the country’s electricity by 2035 — enough to power all American homes — and 45 percent by 2050.

Solar panels are now the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the country. The use of solar and wind energy has also grown much faster in recent years than most government and independent analysts had predicted.

But getting there will mean trillions of dollars in investments by homeowners, businesses and the government. The electric grid would have to be almost completely remade with the addition of batteries, transmission lines and other technologies that can soak up electricity when the sun is shining and to send it from one corner of the country to another.

Building and installing enough solar panels to generate up to 45 percent of the country’s power needs will strain manufacturers and the energy industry, increasing demand for materials like aluminum, silicon, steel and glass. The industry will also need to find and train tens of thousands of workers and quickly. Some labor groups have said that in the rush to quickly build solar farms, developers often hire lower-paid nonunion workers rather than the union members Mr. Biden frequently champions.

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