Stocks Slip as Investors Consider Biden’s Spending Plan: Live Market Updates

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Next month, thousands of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama can begin voting by mail on whether they want to join a union, a major step for organized labor seeking to break into the giant online retailer.

The National Labor Relations Board said in a ruling on Friday that the ballots would be mailed out to eligible workers in the company’s fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala. on Feb. 8 and must be returned to the federal agency on March 29. The votes will be tallied the next day.

The voting will be the first large union election at Amazon, which has successfully rebuffed organizing efforts at some of its other facilities. In 2014, a small number of technicians at an Amazon warehouse voted against unionizing.

But the vote in Alabama covers the vast majority of the 6,200 workers, including seasonal employees, in the sprawling fulfillment center outside Birmingham. The organizing effort is being led by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union

In legal briefings, lawyers for Amazon tried to convince the N.L.R.B. that the voting should take place in person at the facility in Bessemer, despite virus infection rates in the surrounding community at 17 percent.

Amazon, according the labor relations board, offered to rent out an entire floor of a local hotel and provide transportation for the federal election monitors to help isolate them from the general public in Bessemer.

The company offered to provide digital devices called Distance Assistants or a “human social distancing team” to monitor the workers queuing up to cast their ballots.

But the labor board said for federal employees to use Amazon’s “extensive resources” during the election could create the appearance that the agency was “no longer a neutral party.” The N.L.R.B. also declined to use the social distancing team, saying it could “give the impression of surveillance or tracking.”

Capital One failed to report thousands of suspicious transactions between 2008 and 2014, the Treasury Department said on Friday.
Credit…Emon Hassan for The New York Times

The Treasury Department issued a $390 million penalty against Capital One, saying on Friday that the bank admitted it had “failed to establish and maintain” an effective program against money laundering.

The department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said Capital One did not file reports about thousands of suspicious transactions between 2008 and 2014, despite knowing that many were most likely problematic. Because of the violations, millions of dollars in questionable dealings went unreported, including proceeds connected to organized crime, tax evasion and fraud, according to the agency.

The problems stemmed from Capital One’s check-cashing group, which included between 90 and 150 check cashers in the New York and New Jersey area who usually operated out of storefront locations. Internal assessments deemed many of the group’s customers among the bank’s highest risks for money laundering, according to the agency. One customer, an associate of the Genovese crime family who Capital One knew faced criminal charges, used the check-cashing group to process more than 20,000 transactions valued at $160 million.

“Information received from financial institutions through the Bank Secrecy Act plays a critical role in protecting our national security, and depriving law enforcement of this information puts our nation and our people at risk,” Kenneth A. Blanco, the director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, said in a statement.

“Capital One’s egregious failures,” he added, “allowed known criminals to use and abuse our nation’s financial system unchecked, fostering criminal activity and allowing it to continue and flourish at the expense of victims and other citizens.”

Capital One said in a statement that it was “pleased to resolve this matter,” which it said related to “a small portfolio of check-cashing businesses that Capital One inherited as part of an acquisition and subsequently exited in 2014.”

The bank said it had already paid the penalty. The agency credited an earlier $100 million payment made by Capital One in a related matter.

“Capital One takes its anti-money-laundering obligations very seriously” and has invested in its anti-money laundering program under new leadership over the past several years, the bank said.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a committee chairwoman, in September. She has asked hotels and car rental companies to retain information on customers to aid future investigations.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Megabus, a long-distance bus operator, said on Friday that it would suspend service in and out of Washington until Thursday, as lawmakers asked businesses for help in preventing the “ongoing and extreme threat of further violent attacks” in the lead-up to the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent letters asking businesses such as hotels and car rental companies to retain all information related to bookings and service requests this month for potential use in “future law enforcement or congressional investigations.”

Ms. Maloney also asked the businesses to put in place screening measures to prevent their services from being used to “facilitate violence or domestic terrorism.” She gave the companies until Jan. 29 to provide the committee with details about such policies.

The businesses included Hyatt Hotels, Expedia, Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, Avis, and Greyhound. Those companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Megabus said it was gathering the information that had been requested.

The letter said the “inciters and attackers” in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol had “hijacked” a range of services and companies to further their agenda.

“Trump supporters chartered scores of buses and vans and drove in caravans to the nation’s capital,” the letter stated. “They stayed in D.C. hotels, with videos showing attackers relaxing in the lobby of one hotel after the insurrection.”

Airbnb announced on Wednesday that it would cancel reservations in the Washington area during inauguration week and would block new reservations for that time frame.


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

Stocks drifted lower on Friday, as optimism about President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s plans to spend heavily to address the impact of the pandemic gave way the hard realities of getting the plan through Congress.

The S&P 500 fell as much as 1 percent before recovering some ground and ending 0.7 percent lower.

Mr. Biden outlined a plan for $1.9 trillion in spending on Thursday night that he said would address the “real pain overwhelming the real economy.” It includes money to quicken the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, help for state and local governments to address budget shortfalls, more generous jobless benefits and direct payments of $1,400 to individuals.

On Wall Street, analysts viewed Thursday’s announcement as the starting point for negotiations and political wrangling that will almost certainly produce a more modest package.

Democrats have said they would like to pass the plan through the Senate in a “regular order” vote, which would require 60 votes. But after the Democratic victories in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections earlier this month Democrats will hold only 50 seats in the Senate.

“We do not expect ten Republicans to support a $1.9 trillion relief package,” wrote analysts with Goldman Sachs.

That leaves a so-called budget reconciliation vote in the Senate that would require only Democrats to win a simple majority. But parliamentary rules limit size and type of bills that can be passed using the budget reconciliation process.

“Our back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that more than half of the spending proposals put forward last night do not meet the budget reconciliation requirements,” wrote analysts with Strategas Research.

Investors expressed some disappointment that Mr. Biden’s plan seemed to push off action on infrastructure spending. U.S. Concrete and the civil construction contractor Granite Construction — stocks that had soared on expectations for spending on roads and bridges — both fell.

Other areas of the stock market including energy stocks, banks and industrials, which rise and fall based on expectations for economic growth over the relatively short term, slipped on Friday.

As virus cases keep climbing in many parts of the world, anticipation of Mr. Biden’s spending plans have helped keep stock benchmarks in the United States close to record levels.

Those gains have come even as fresh data shows the economic damage being done by the pandemic. On Thursday, it was a report that more than one million people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits last week. On Friday, the Commerce Department said retail sales fell for a third-straight month in December, despite the holiday shopping season.

But investors are also looking closely at the enormous amount of borrowing that will be necessary to finance Mr. Biden’s proposal. Already, Treasury bonds have sunk in value, and their yields risen. As yields inch up, borrowing costs will rise. That has also raised concerns about tax increases to help underwrite Mr. Biden’s proposal.

Politico on Friday unveiled a new team of writers for Playbook, its trademark political newsletter, a day after the outlet was criticized by its own staff for allowing the right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro to be a guest author for it.

The new team of Playbook authors — Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza and Tara Palmeri — will start on Jan. 19, Politico said in a news release.

Ms. Bade is a former Politico reporter who covered Congress for the Washington Post for the last two years. Mr. Daniels is a Politico reporter who covers Congress. Mr. Lizza is Politico’s chief Washington correspondent and a senior political analyst for CNN. Ms. Palmeri, another Politico alumna, was most recently a podcast host and has covered the White House for ABC News.

Playbook’s authors for the last four years, Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer, left in December to launch a competitor called Punchbowl News. Since their departure, a variety of guest writers have taken turns writing Playbook for a day.

On Thursday, Mr. Shapiro, a former editor at large for the conservative website Breitbart, helmed the newsletter. A number of Politico staff complained about the decision in an internal meeting, with some describing Mr. Shapiro as a bigot who should not have been given the platform, according to two Politico reporters who were on the call.

A Total station near Bordeaux, France, in 2018. Total’s withdrawal from the American Petroleum Institute reflects “huge forces of change” in the oil business, an analyst said. 
Credit…Regis Duvignau/Reuters

One of Europe’s largest energy giants said Friday that it no longer wanted to belong to the American Petroleum Institute, the powerful oil industry group. Paris-based Total said its was acting because of “certain divergences” with the institute on climate change.

These differences, Total said, include the trade association’s opposition to subsidies for electric vehicles and its support for U.S. political candidates who were opposed to American participation in the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change.

That a major company would walk away from what has been one Washington’s most influential trade bodies is indicative of sweeping political shifts that are splitting the energy industry. Pressure is mounting on the oil industry to act on climate change, and European companies like Total and Royal Dutch Shell have been quicker to respond than American firms partly because the Trump administration has largely resisted measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, these measures are often incorporated in law.

The incoming administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. seems likely to favor an approach closer to Europe’s. Mr. Biden has said that he plans to reverse President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord.

“There are huge forces of change, and it is a different world in energy and politics,” said J. Robinson West, managing director of the BCG Center for Energy Impact, a consulting unit.

Like other European oil companies, Total is trying to evolve from being an oil and gas producer to a broader-based energy company with lower CO2 emissions through investing in renewable energy technologies like wind and solar.

“We believe that the world’s energy and environmental challenges are large enough that many different approaches are necessary to solve them,” the American Petroleum Institute said in a statement. The group also said, regarding political candidates, “we have not based our support on where they stand on Paris.”

Britain’s economy declined in November, the earliest signal that the country might be heading for its second round of contraction within months — a double-dip recession — because of the severity of the second wave of the pandemic and the restrictions that have been imposed on businesses and the population.

Gross domestic product dropped 2.6 percent in November, when a second lockdown was imposed across England, after six consecutive months of economic growth, according to the Office for National Statistics.

That said, the impact of this second lockdown was much less economically severe than the closures last spring, when the economy fell by more than 18 percent. The difference this time was, in part, because the restrictions were looser and more businesses had adapted: schools remained open, more people could go to their workplaces and many retail and hospitality businesses had added delivery and pickup services. The construction and manufacturing sectors of the economy were the only ones that grew in November, but the overall decline was smaller than most economists had forecast.

Still, the economic recovery that many thought would come once vaccinations began has been postponed, at least until the spring. Much of Britain is under a third lockdown (longer and stricter than the second), as a more contagious variant of the virus has strained the health care system, and economists are forecasting the economy to contract in the first quarter of 2021.

Trade disruptions created by Britain’s exit from the European Union’s single market and customs union, including delays, lost business, and the halting of some services, is also expected to weigh on the economy in the first few months of the year.

“We should expect the economy to get worse before it gets better,” Rishi Sunak, the chancellor of the Exchequer, said in Parliament on Monday. The next day, Andrew Bailey, the governor of the central bank, said the economy was facing its “darkest hour” and that it was in “a very difficult period.”

Credit…J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

A lawmaker in Washington is asking big banks and other financial services companies to stop processing financial transactions for people and organizations that participated in last week’s attack on the United States Capitol.

Representative Emanuel Cleaver, a Missouri Democrat who serves on the House Financial Services Committee and is chairman of its subcommittee on national security, announced on Thursday that he had written to a trade group, the Electronic Transaction Association, to request the freeze. He also asked the group, which represents companies like Visa, JPMorgan Chase and Square, to immediately stop doing business with anyone who based fund-raising campaigns off the Jan. 6 attack.

“Far-right, white-nationalist and associated domestic terror organizations pose an imminent threat to the national security of the United States and our financial system,” Mr. Cleaver wrote in a letter on Tuesday to the group’s leaders.

“Every effort should be made to identify all terror suspects involved in the attack, prevent the facilitation of further criminal activity, and to disrupt their illicit networks.”

Mr. Cleaver said that several groups, including the Proud Boys, the Boogaloo Bois and the Sons of Liberty, which had been documented as participants in the attack, had already been cut off from many mainstream fund-raising platforms, but were still using “intermediary organizations with questionable terms of service” that might in turn be doing banking and payments business with mainstream companies. He asked that the association’s members assess their “formal and informal relationships” with the groups and work to cut them off He also asked that the group respond to his request by Friday.

“We received the chairman’s letter and are preparing our response on how the payments industry is addressing illegal activity that occurred last week,” Scott Talbott, a lobbyist for the group, said in an email on Thursday.

IBM’s recommendations for government policy changes were released in response to the violence at the Capitol last week.
Credit…Rick Wilking/Reuters

IBM announced a series of recommendations for government policy changes on Friday in response to last week’s riot at the Capitol. They include clearer guidance around presidential transitions, stricter rules on financial disclosures for office holders and more.

The tech giant’s advocacy is noteworthy because these issues aren’t related directly to its business and they’re not backed by a company political action committee. IBM has forbidden corporate political donations for more than a century.

“What companies should be thinking about is policy reforms, not PAC checks,” Christopher Padilla, IBM’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, wrote on the company’s policy blog. “Rather than just suspending PAC contributions as a signal-sending exercise, what makes more sense for us, since we don’t do political contributions, is to try to reform government in a way that will prevent some of this stuff from happening in the future,” he told the DealBook newsletter.

Despite eschewing direct donations, IBM is an active lobbyist and hasn’t shied from hiring people with political ties, including most recently Gary Cohn, President Trump’s former economic adviser, as vice chairman. “IBM looks for people who bring experience and qualifications and doesn’t really look at what their political background is,” Mr. Padilla said.

Employees and shareholders expect companies to be “responsible players, Mr. Padilla said, “and that’s what we’re trying to do.” IBM employees had pressed the company to speak out following the violence in the Capitol, much like they did after George Floyd’s killing last year. Following Mr. Floyd’s death, the company called for changes to police policy and said it would get out of the facial recognition business.

PepsiCo joined companies that have suspended all political donations after the attack on the Capitol.
Credit…Joshua Bright for The New York Times

PepsiCo announced on Thursday that it was suspending all donations from its corporate political action committee, adding to the list of dozens of companies that have come out with some sort of halt on political giving since last week’s violence at the Capitol.

“The peaceful transfer of power is a keystone of the American democratic process, and we categorically denounce the violence last week that attempted to disrupt this process,” a representative said. “In light of these events, we are suspending all political contributions while conducting a full review to ensure they align with our company’s values and our shared vision going forward.”

Pepsi’s PAC spent $140,000 this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In pausing all donations, Pepsi is not going as far as companies like Walmart and Marriott, which halted donations specifically to the 147 Republicans in Congress who objected to certifying the presidential election result. It joins companies like rival Coca-Cola, along with the energy giant BP and the consulting firm EY, formerly Ernst & Young, in halting donations across the board.

The brokerage firm Charles Schwab said this week that it was shutting down its PAC, citing the divisive political environment.

“I’ve never seen the corporate PAC world react to something this uniformly and strongly,” said Kenneth Gross, a partner at the law firm Skadden who focuses on campaign finance law.

“I think there’s a sense of, ‘Let’s not overreact — but we need to do something,’” he said.

A Disneyland parking lot was used as a vaccination site on Wednesday. The resort has been closed for 10 months because of the pandemic.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

Disneyland, which has been closed for 10 months because of California’s strict approach to coronavirus safety, alerted annual passholders that it was ending the popular program, which it started offering to hard-core customers in the 1980s.

The Walt Disney Company said it would begin issuing prorated refunds in the coming days. Annual passes to Disneyland were most recently $419 to $1,449, depending on access and perks.

Disney declined to say how many people were enrolled. The Orange County Register estimated in 2018 that Disneyland sold “hundreds of thousands” annual passes a year.

In part, the program is ending because Disney expects pent-up demand — from passholders and day guests alike — to far outstrip capacity when the attractions eventually reopen. Walt Disney World in Florida returned in July and has been running at 35 percent capacity since the fall.

In a letter to passholders, Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, cited uncertainty about the duration of the pandemic and “expected restrictions around the reopening of our theme parks.”

“We plan to use this time while we remain closed to develop new membership offerings,” he said. He gave no update on when Disneyland might reopen.

Disneyland typically attracts more than 18 million visitors per year; an adjacent Disney theme park in Anaheim, Calif., draws 10 million. Total revenue in 2019 stood at roughly $3.8 billion, according to analysts.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac effectively guarantee roughly half of all mortgages in the United States against default.
Credit…Steven Senne/Associated Press

The Treasury Department said it would allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-controlled mortgage finance firms, to retain more of their profits to guard against future risks in the housing market.

The plan is part of an effort to enable Fannie and Freddie to leave government control — although neither the Treasury nor the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which regulates both firms, expect that to happen anytime soon.

Both firms have been in a government conservatorship since September 2008, when Treasury officials in the Bush administration had to step in with a $187 billion bailout in the early days of the financial crisis. Today, they effectively guarantee roughly half of all mortgages in the United States against default, which helps keep a lid on the interest rate for a traditional 30-year mortgage.

The Treasury and the F.H.F.A. said in a joint statement that the conservatorship was not meant to be indefinite and that federal officials had developed a “blueprint” for privatizing the firms. That blueprint foresees Fannie and Freddie both being able to sell stock to raise capital at some later date.

But the conservatorship, which has already spanned parts of three presidencies, will now be overseen by the Biden administration. That means a new Treasury secretary, and it may soon mean a new F.H.F.A. director.

Mark Calabria, who took over the agency in 2019, has long favored a plan to end the conservatorship. But a case pending before the Supreme Court could allow the president to replace him without waiting for Mr. Calabria’s five-year term to expire.

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