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Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
After the economic rebound fizzled in December, government data on Friday is likely to paint a less dire picture.
Forecasters generally expect at least nominal growth in the jobs report for January, though estimates vary widely. The reading, however, will probably signal continued weakness in the labor market after a winter coronavirus surge.
“There’s no doubt that the labor market is navigating the pandemic,” said Becky Frankiewicz, president of the staffing and placement company ManpowerGroup North America. “There are twists and turns — we take two steps forward and two steps back.”
Nearly a year after the pandemic devastated the job market, many forecasters predict that the economy will strengthen from here on. The $900 billion federal relief package enacted in December is expected to bolster the economy, with more aid potentially on the way. The vaccination push, though slower than hoped, is paving the way for wider reopenings even as coronavirus mutations around the world make the rollout more urgent.
But the winter slowdown could leave lasting wounds. In December, the resurgent pandemic ravaged the leisure and hospitality industries, resulting in the first net decline in payrolls since April. Though the economy has regained more than half of the 22 million jobs lost last spring, millions of people have been unemployed for a long period — potentially making it harder to rejoin the work force — or are no longer classified as unemployed because they have stopped looking for a job.
“It is difficult on a monthly basis to really see what the long-term impacts will be,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “But certainly the long-term economic scarring is something that is a huge concern for the recovery.”
The January numbers are certain to affect the debate in Washington over further federal intervention. The Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers have been pressing for a $1.9 trillion measure, while some Republicans have said a smaller package would suffice and others have said it is too soon for another round of aid.
Democrats took a step forward in enacting the $1.9 trillion proposal early Friday morning. The Senate narrowly passed a budget resolution that will next go to the House, where Democrats will not need Republican support to approve it.
Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times
Wall Street stock indexes were set up open higher on Friday, extending a rally that has brought the S&P 500 back up to record highs. Later, the Labor Department will publish its jobs report for January.
Most forecasters expect the payroll data to show some growth in hiring, though the estimates vary widely. On Thursday, a separate report showed new claims for state unemployment benefits fell for a third-straight week.
The S&P 500 has gained 5 percent already this week. It has more than recovered from last week when a frenzy by retail traders in “meme stocks” unnerved markets.
Oil prices have risen nearly 9 percent this week, the biggest jump since October. West Texas Intermediate futures were at $56.72 a barrel, while Brent crude, the European benchmark, approached $60 a barrel.
Robinhood, AMC and other meme stocks
GameStop shares have slid 84 percent this week, but were rising again in premarket trading, and AMC Entertainment shares have dropped 46 percent as trading volumes were about half of last week’s levels.
Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, met with market regulators on Thursday to discuss the volatility; afterward, the Treasury Department issued a statement that said the markets’ “core infrastructure was resilient” and that the Securities and Exchange Commission should publish a study of what happened.
Robinhood, the online trading app that enraged users when it restricted buying some of the most popular stocks, announced “there are currently no temporary limits” on buying shares.
Most European stock indexes were higher on Friday, with Italy’s still leading the way, as investors expressed confidence in Mario Draghi, the former head of the European Central Bank, forming a new Italian government. The FTSE MIB in Italy has gained 7 percent this week, compared with a 3.3 percent gain in the Stoxx Europe 600 index.
Shares in French Connection, a British fashion retailer, jumped more than 50 percent as it confirmed two offers to buy the company. Britain’s high-street retail industry is undergoing an accelerated shake up because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. The shares surged as much as 92 percent.
Yields on 10-year British government bonds rose 5 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 0.49 percent, the highest since March. Bond prices fell and the yields rose after the Bank of England said on Thursday that it wanted banks to be prepared for negative rates but it had no intention of introducing them imminently. The central bank said it expected the vaccine rollout to prompt a swift economic recovery later this year. The optimism has helped lift bond yields across Europe and the United States.
Among the winners in the meme-stock frenzy is the Koss family of Milwaukee. The Nasdaq-listed headphone maker that bears their name was swept up in the recent market frenzy, pushing the company’s share price up by nearly 2,000 percent in a matter of days. Koss, like other so-called meme stocks, was singled out by traders because it had attracted a lot of interest from short-sellers, which the buyers hoped to squeeze by bidding up the company’s shares.
Koss insiders sold some $44 million in stock this week, an amount worth more than the company’s entire market cap before crowds of retail traders sent its shares soaring. Michael J. Koss, the chief executive and son of the firm’s founder, sold shares worth more than $13 million, according to a regulatory disclosure. He was joined by other family members, executives and directors in paring their holdings.
The company, founded in 1958, was a pioneer in personal headsets, inventing the first stereo headphone. The company reported around $18 million in revenue in its latest fiscal year, with about a fifth of its sales going to Walmart. It employs just over 30 people directly, in addition to contracting with manufacturers in Asia.
Although executives at other companies at the center of the frenzy, namely GameStop and AMC, haven’t sold shares during the rally, there is nothing untoward legally about the move, provided that the insiders did not have access to private information about the rally. The Reddit-fueled surge in demand was largely conducted in the open, by investors cheering each other on via a public message board.
“As the stock goes up in price, whether it makes sense or not, the people on the end of the short sale suffer,” said Craig Marcus, a partner at the law firm Ropes & Gray. “People who hold the stock and have the opportunity to sell it and benefit from it, benefit from it.”
Credit…Wu Hong/EPA, via Shutterstock
Kuaishou, a short-video app, has captured the eyeballs of people across China. It has also caught the attention of stock pickers in Hong Kong, who nearly tripled the value of its shares in its public debut on Friday.
The app, which offers similar features to Periscope, Snapchat and Instagram, raised $5.4 billion and became the largest initial public offering by a Chinese internet company in Hong Kong. (Alibaba and other Chinese giants that are listed in Hong Kong brought in bigger hauls, but they debuted in New York before issuing secondary listings in Hong Kong.)
The company is now worth $160 billion, a valuation that surpasses that of Wells Fargo. More than 1.4 million individual retail investors in Hong Kong put in orders for Kuaishou shares ahead of its listing, according to a person with knowledge of the offering’s details, demonstrating the appetite for Chinese internet companies.
The video app has a large following outside of China’s high-rise metropolises. It is known for videos that focus on slice-of-life vignettes, often in rural areas. In a country that spends much of its waking hours online, Kuaishou has turned ordinary people like train conductors and welders into celebrities. It has also, at times, caught the attention of China’s censors.
Kuaishou’s fund-raising success is a vote of confidence for Hong Kong’s reputation as a top finance capital. Hong Kong is a part of China that operates under separate laws, but the city faces political uncertainty after a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement and the imposition of a national security law by Beijing.
The city has long served as a bridge between the world and mainland China, and for years has served as a home for multinational companies that relied on its legal protections and free flow of information, features that are not available on the mainland.
Beijing’s increasingly heavy hand in the city’s affairs has undermined some of these assumptions. The decision by Chinese regulators to pull the plug on the initial public offering of Ant Group just days ahead of its planned debut in November added to concerns about the risks of interference by Beijing.
Kirin, one of Japan’s biggest breweries, announced on Friday that it would halt a joint venture in Myanmar after the coup earlier this week.
Beginning in 2015, the company set up two brewing companies in Myanmar, hoping to “contribute positively to the people and the economy of the country as it entered an important period of democratization,” Kirin said in a statement on Friday.
But in light of the coup, Kirin decided to exit its joint venture with Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited, it said in the statement, citing the company’s connections to Myanmar’s military. It did not specify a time frame but said it was taking steps “as a matter of urgency.”
Kirin had been under pressure to cut ties with its partner in Myanmar after the release late last year of an Amnesty International report that said the Japanese brewer’s Burmese partner had directed payments to military units implicated in systematic violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority. The report’s allegations could not be independently verified.
In a statement, Amnesty International said Kirin’s decision showed it was “taking its human rights responsibilities in Myanmar seriously.”
Over 400 Japanese companies currently operate in Myanmar, according to data collected by Japan’s external trade agency.
Credit…Dolly Faibyshev for The New York Times
Peloton, the home fitness company, reported a jump in quarterly sales and profits on Thursday. But its stock price fell more than 8 percent in after-hours trading, as supply-chain issues continue to weigh on the company and as investors consider whether demand for its bikes and treadmills may fall as gyms reopen.
Peloton’s value has soared nearly sixfold to $46 billion over the past year as pandemic lockdowns made its internet-connected fitness equipment a hot commodity. But the company has struggled to get the bikes to customers because of supply-chain challenges and delivery delays.
Peloton reported $1.1 billion in revenue for the three months that ended in December, a 128 percent increase from a year earlier. It reported a net income of $64 million, compared with a net loss of $55 million a year earlier. Peloton now counts 4.4 million members, it said, including 1.67 million who own its fitness devices and subscribe to its streaming classes.
In a letter to shareholders, Peloton said port closures on the West Coast and other “Covid-related factors” continued to delay deliveries. In December, the company acquired Precor, a fitness company with factories in the United States. It has also begun production in a new factory in Taiwan.
Peloton also said it would invest $100 million to expedite deliveries and would ship equipment by air rather than sea, incurring costs that are 10 times higher than normal.
“These unprecedented measures are for these unprecedented times,” John Foley, Peloton’s chief executive, wrote in a letter to customers.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
And now for something completely unexpected: The New York Post recorded a profit for the first time in decades.
The colorful, pun-happy tabloid made money in the most recent quarter, its parent company, News Corp, said Thursday as part of its earnings report.
The Post, which was remade by Rupert Murdoch into the sensationalist, Fleet Street form he preferred, was famous within media circles for being a money-losing enterprise. But it afforded Mr. Murdoch a significant voice in American media. Its aggressive coverage of boldfaced names and intense focus on Wall Street made it a must-read among the powerful. And its financial losses, which at one point reached more than $40 million annually, was considered well worth the cost.
But the irony in The Post’s new profit milestone is that it comes at a time when the paper has arguably lost much of its sensationalist charm and no longer enjoys its reputation as a potent tabloid teaser.
Losses at Mr. Murdoch’s papers in Australia and Britain have forced News Corp to tighten belts at every division in the last few years. The Post also underwent deep cost cuts, laying off more than 20 staff members last year and announcing a leadership change in January. In October, some of the paper’s reporters revolted when they were asked to put their names to a dubious report tying Joseph R. Biden Jr. to his son Hunter’s lobbying activities abroad.
News Corp didn’t say exactly how much profit the paper made, but Robert Thomson, the chief executive, touted the moment and added, “Our task now is to ensure its long-term profitability.”
Mr. Murdoch’s other U.S. paper, The Wall Street Journal, continued to see strong financial results. The broadsheet had 3.22 million print and digital subscribers as of the end of December, a 19 percent jump over the previous year. Of that number, about 2.46 million were for digital-only customers, a 28 percent increase over the previous year, amounting to a gain of about 106,000 new digital customers for the period.
Dow Jones, which includes The Journal, the sister publication Barron’s, and Risk and Compliance, an expensive subscription product targeted primarily to banks and other big businesses, saw a 4 percent increase in revenue, to $446 million. Profit before taxes rose 43 percent to $109 million, a portion of which was driven by Risk and Compliance.
As at other papers, advertising revenue at Dow Jones, which includes The Journal, continued to fall, with a 29 percent decrease in print ads, but digital advertising rebounded, growing 29 percent over the previous year. Advertising decreased overall by 4 percent, the company said.
News Corp reported a 3 percent decline in its overall revenue, to $2.41 billion, and a pretax profit of $497 million for the three months ending in December, the company’s second fiscal quarter.
But the company’s biggest bright spot was at the book publisher HarperCollins, where revenue jumped 23 percent, to $544 million, as the division saw higher sales in every book category. News Corp recently lost its bid to Penguin Random House to buy the rival publisher Simon & Schuster.
Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times
Ford Motor lost $1.3 billion in 2020 as car sales slumped during the coronavirus pandemic and the company ran up large restructuring costs for its overseas operations.
The automaker, which was forced to stop making cars for about 60 days last spring to prevent the spread of the virus, reported $127 billion in revenue for the year, down from $156 billion in 2019, when it made a small profit.
Ford is racing to develop electric cars and trucks in the hope they will juice its sales in the next several years and said it now plans to spend $22 billion on electric vehicles over the 10-year period ending in 2025. It previously planned to spend $11.5 billion through 2022.
But Ford’s chief executive, Jim Farley, said in a conference call with analysts that he isn’t ready to commit to a phaseout of gasoline-powered models. General Motors said last week that it aims to stop making internal combustion vehicles by 2035, replacing them with electric models.
“It’s stunning how fast the industry is changing,” Mr. Farley said. “I don’t think any of us really has an answer” to when electric cars will take over completely.
Ford’s 2020 earnings were hurt by $5 billion in restructuring charges in the fourth quarter. Last month the company said it would close its plants in Brazil in a bid to halt losses in South America. It is also losing money in China and trying to improve profitability in Europe.
The automaker said it expected business to improve this year as the economy recovers and the pandemic wanes.
But its recovery faces a big challenge. Ford said that a global shortage of computer chips that has forced it and other automakers to slow production around the world could depress this year’s pretax profit by $1 billion to $2.5 billion.
“The semiconductor situation is changing constantly, so it’s premature to try to size what availability will mean for our full-year performance,” Ford’s chief financial officer, John Lawler, said in a statement. “Right now, estimates from suppliers could suggest losing 10 percent to 20 percent of our planned first-quarter production.”
Earlier on Thursday, Ford said it would slow production of its best-selling F-150 pickup truck at two plants because of the shortage of semiconductors. The company will operate just one shift at a Dearborn, Mich., plant for one week beginning Feb. 8, instead of the usual three shifts. A plant near Kansas City, Mo., will go to two shifts instead of three.
Ford relies on the F-150 for a big chunk of its profits. Its F-series trucks are the top-selling vehicle line in the United States.
On Wednesday, G.M. said that it would idle three North American plants next week because of the chip shortage.