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The Bank of England stands pat as its inflation hawk dissents.

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Daily Business Briefing

June 24, 2021, 11:31 a.m. ET
Credit…Toby Melville/Reuters

Britain’s economic recovery is continuing apace and inflation is now expected to climb even higher than previously predicted, but the Bank of England’s policymakers on Thursday stood firm and saw little need to scale back their large monetary stimulus program.

That is, all but one.

In his final meeting, Andy Haldane, the central bank’s chief economist, cast the lone dissenting vote, arguing that the bank should pare back its bond-buying program because of the improved economic outlook and rising price pressures. It continued a theme he has sounded for months. In February, he described inflation as a sleeping tiger that had been “stirred from its slumber.”

Since the central bank’s previous meeting in May, it has raised its expectations for economic growth and predicted that the annual inflation rate would temporarily climb above 3 percent, higher than previously forecast and exceeding its 2 percent target.

“It is possible,” the minutes from this week’s meeting said, that “upward pressure on prices could prove somewhat larger than expected.”

Still, the majority of policymakers were not ready to withdraw any of the support they were giving to the economy, arguing that the central bank should not undermine the economic recovery by tightening monetary policy too quickly, the minutes said.

The policy-setting committee held interest rates at a record low of 0.1 percent and kept the size of its bond-buying program at £895 billion. It offered few clues about when it might reduce stimulus. After the announcement, the pound dropped 0.5 percent against the U.S. dollar.

Mr. Haldane contends the economy is approaching takeoff speed and, for a second consecutive month, urged the central bank to reduce its target for the amount of bonds it intends to buy by £50 billion. That would end the program in August, instead of at the end of the year.

It was the 68th and last policy meeting for Mr. Haldane, 53, who joined the bank in his early 20s and has recently been one of the most optimistic proponents of strong economic recovery in Britain — and a leading worrier that central banks risk underreacting to rising inflation.

He is leaving to run the Royal Society of Arts, a British think tank focused on the future of work and sustainable business practices.

With Mr. Haldane’s departure, the monetary policy committee will lose its most hawkish member as it has to decide how to emerge from its pandemic response measures. Even while Britain was enduring a strict lockdown through a cold and dark winter, Mr. Haldane kept up his confidence in the economy.

In February, he said there was “enormous amounts of pent-up financial energy waiting to be released, like a coiled spring.” Since then, that spring has turned into warnings about the “beast of inflation.”

Now central bankers face their “most dangerous moment” since the early 1990s, when policymakers began using targets for inflation to guide decisions, Mr. Haldane recently wrote in New Statesman magazine. “While nothing is assured, acting early as inflation risks grow is the best way of heading off future threat.”

Mr. Haldane’s imaginative language and directness has been a consistent feature of his time at the Bank of England, which he joined in 1989. He became a member of the policy-setting committee and became chief economist in 2014.

After the 2008 financial crisis, he was outspoken about the risks banks and large asset managers could pose to national economies, sometimes making him a pariah in the financial sector. But he just as eagerly addressed what he believed was a crisis in economics that left his profession blindsided, and has warned against groupthink in central banks. He has also voiced his support for the Occupy movement, and worked with students determined to reform economics education to make it more intellectually diverse.

In 2009, Mr. Haldane founded the charity Pro Bono Economics, which sends economists into charities to help them use data to measure their impact, and while also advocating higher levels of math skills across the country. Although he has said economics needs to be more easily accessible, Mr. Haldane has also insisted that economists need to better understand the public. He has crisscrossed Britain meeting community groups and school students to discuss topics including homelessness and mental health.

“Technocratic institutions require the continuous consent, not just of Parliament, but of the wider public,” Mr. Haldane wrote in the forward to “The Econocracy,” a book by ex-students on reforming economics.

Mr. Haldane’s successor has not been named.

Jonah Peretti, the chief executive of BuzzFeed, in 2016.
Credit…Cole Wilson for The New York Times

BuzzFeed, the digital media company, said it planned to go public through merger with a special purpose acquisition company.

Here are the details, from BuzzFeed’s statement on Thursday:

  • BuzzFeed will merge with a publicly listed shell company called 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, in what is known as a SPAC deal. 890 Fifth Avenue Partners holds $288 million in cash in its trust account.

  • BuzzFeed has also lined up about $150 million in debt financing from a handful of investors, and says its implied valuation when the deal closes will be $1.5 billion.

  • The company plans to acquire Complex Networks, which publishes websites and hosts events on food, sports and sneaker collecting.

  • The deal is expected to close by the end of the year, and the shares will trade under the ticker BZFD.

BuzzFeed’s stock market debut will come a decade after it was founded by Jonah Peretti, who started it as an experiment in creating content meant to be shared on the web. It soon became one of the fastest-growing digital publishers, eventually raising $500 million at a valuation of $1.7 billion, and was hailed as the future of news media. But in recent years, it has missed ambitious revenue targets, and some of its investors have agitated for a sale.

After a series of layoffs in 2019, BuzzFeed started to diversify its business, selling branded cookware and ramping up its product recommendation section, garnering a commission on each sale through affiliate agreements with Amazon and other companies. “Our model evolved,” Mr. Peretti said in an interview last year.

In November, Mr. Peretti orchestrated BuzzFeed’s acquisition of HuffPost, the site he helped found with Arianna Huffington and the investor Kenneth Lerer.

A couple living in a park in Phoenix after they were evicted from their hotel room after they ran out of money.
Credit…Juan Arredondo for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday approved a one-month extension of the national moratorium on evictions, scheduled to expire on June 30, but administration officials said this will be the final time they push back the deadline.

The moratorium, instituted by the C.D.C. last September to prevent a wave of evictions spurred by the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus pandemic, has significantly limited the economic damage to renters and sharply reduced eviction filings.

On Thursday, the C.D.C. director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky signed the extension, which goes through July 31, after a week of internal debate at the White House, which has been under pressure from tenants rights groups pushing for a longer extension.

Congressional Democrats, local officials and tenant groups have been warning that the expiration of the moratorium at the end of the month, and the lapsing of similar state and local measures, might touch off a new eviction crisis.

The step is one of a series of actions that the administration plans to take in the next several weeks, involving several federal agencies, officials said.

Other initiatives include a summit on housing affordability and evictions, to be held at the White House later this month; stepped-up coordination with local officials and legal aid organizations to minimize evictions after July 31; and new guidance from the Treasury Department meant to streamline the sluggish disbursement of the $21.5 billion in emergency aid included in the pandemic relief bill in the spring.

White House officials, requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly, said that the one-month extension, while influenced by concerns over a new wave of evictions, was prompted by the lag in vaccination rates in some parts of the country and by other factors that have extended the coronavirus crisis.

Forty-four House Democrats wrote to Ms. Walensky, on Tuesday, urging them to put off allowing evictions to resume. “By extending the moratorium and incorporating these critical improvements to protect vulnerable renters, we can work to curtail the eviction crisis disproportionately impacting our communities of color,” the lawmakers wrote.

Many local officials have also pressed to extend the freeze as long as possible and are bracing for a rise in evictions when the federal moratorium and similar state and city orders expire over the summer.

Still, groups representing private landlords maintain that the health crisis that justified the freeze has ended and that continuing the freeze even for an extra four weeks would be an unwarranted government intrusion in the housing market.

“The mounting housing affordability crisis is quickly becoming a housing affordability disaster fueled by flawed eviction moratoriums, which leave renters with insurmountable debt and housing providers holding the bag,” said Bob Pinnegar, president of the National Apartment Association, a trade group representing owners of large residential buildings.

Workers install solar panels at a photovoltaic power station in Hami in China's Xinjiang region in 2011.
Credit…Polat Niyaz/Featurechina, via Associated Press

The White House on Thursday announced a series of steps to crack down on forced labor in the supply chain for solar panels in China, including a ban on importing products from a silicon producer in the Xinjiang region.

A significant portion of the world’s polysilicon, which is used to make solar panels, comes from Xinjiang, where the United States has accused China of committing genocide through its repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

In one of the newly announced actions, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has banned imports of silica-based products made by Hoshine Silicon Industry Company as well as goods made using those products.

The Commerce Department also added Hoshine Silicon Industry (Shanshan) Company and four other Chinese entities to a trade blacklist, a move that restricts American companies from exporting products and technology to them. The other entities are Xinjiang Daqo New Energy Company, Xinjiang East Hope Nonferrous Metals Company, Xinjiang GCL New Energy Material Technology Company and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps.

Those entities, the department said, “have been implicated in human rights violations and abuses in the implementation of China’s campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detention, forced labor and high-technology surveillance against Uyghurs, Kazakhs and other members of Muslim minority groups” in Xinjiang.

In addition, the Labor Department added Chinese polysilicon to a list of goods believed to be produced by child labor or forced labor. The list, which already contained a number of other Chinese goods, is intended to increase awareness about exploitative labor practices.

Allegations of forced labor in the solar panel supply chain have created a dilemma for President Biden and his aides. The administration wants to press China over human rights abuses, but it also wants to expand the use of clean energy sources like solar power in the United States as it seeks to reduce carbon emissions.

Shortly before Mr. Biden took office, the Trump administration banned imports of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang. The Biden administration had faced pressure to take action regarding products containing polysilicon produced in the region.

In a letter this month to the acting head of Customs and Border Protection, a group of House Democrats wrote that there was “overwhelming evidence of the use of forced labor in polysilicon production,” adding, “Our government cannot sit idly by.”

The bans could create diplomatic and economic ripples.

China is the dominant global producer of the polysilicon products that are a key part of solar energy panels, and Xinjiang has over the past decade risen as the country’s main production base for the material. Xinjiang makes about 45 percent of the world’s polysilicon, according to InfoLink, a renewable energy research company.

The Biden administration has pursued a strategy of pressing the Chinese government on areas of contention, such as Xinjiang, while seeking to cooperate on global priorities like climate change. The ban on the solar energy products — important for reducing fossil fuel use — will test how far Beijing is willing to go along with that bifurcated approach, and the Chinese government may hit back through its growing arsenal of retaliatory powers.

A spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian, suggested earlier this week that Beijing could retaliate against the possible bans, which had been reported by Politico, though he did not specify what form that could take. Asked again on Thursday, Mr. Zhao said that the United States wanted “turmoil in Xinjiang to contain China’s development.”

“The U.S. is using lies as its basis,” he said at a regular news conference in Beijing, before the bans were announced in Washington. “This act not only violates the rules of international trade rules and market economies, it is also damaging global industry and supply chains.”

Stocks on Wall Street rose in early trading after the Labor Department reported on Thursday that the initial claims for state jobless benefits declined last week. The weekly figure was about 393,000, down 15,000 from the previous week. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as businesses return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

“We expect the labor market recovery to gather momentum in the months ahead and anticipate a total of eight million jobs will be created in 2021” analysts at Oxford Economics wrote in a note.

Tech stocks could pose a risk as new laws aimed at regulating Big Tech move forward. On Wednesday, House lawmakers took their first votes on a suite of bills that would bulk up antitrust agencies, make it harder to acquire potential rivals, and prevent platforms from selling or promoting their own products to disadvantage competitors.

  • The S&P 500 was up 0.5 percent on Thursday, while the Nasdaq composite rose 0.7 percent.

  • Oil prices fell, with futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, down 0.6 percent to $72.66. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was also down 0.5 percent to $74.80.

  • Most European stock indexes rose. The Stoxx Europe 600 climbed 0.7 percent, reversing most of Wednesday’s losses.

  • Shares in Deliveroo, a London-based food delivery company, jumped as much as 6.8 percent on Thursday after it said a British court had ruled that its riders are self-employed. When the company went public in March, its shares plummeted amid concern that its reliance on gig workers would leave Deliveroo vulnerable to higher costs if their employment status changed. The company has not reported a profit. Earlier this year, a different British court ruled that Uber drivers were workers warranting certain rights.

The venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz announced a $2.2 billion cryptocurrency fund on Thursday, during a stormy week for Bitcoin in a season of extremes for digital assets. A crackdown in China has driven down crypto prices in recent days, the latest bout of volatility that makes regulators wary of the industry as it moves into the mainstream.

Katie Haun, a co-chair of the fund, is a former federal prosecutor who created the first U.S. government cryptocurrency task force. Anyone who has been around crypto for years realizes it will be “a bumpy ride,” she told the DealBook newsletter before the announcement. Nonetheless, the fund is oversubscribed. “We could have quite easily raised a lot larger funds without any issue at all,” she said.

The crypto fund is “all weather,” investing at all stages, in both the equity of companies and directly in crypto coins and tokens, according to a statement from the fund. “We are radically optimistic about crypto’s potential,” Ms. Haun and her fellow co-chair, Chris Dixon, said in the statement. “The size of this fund speaks to the size of the opportunity before us: crypto is not only the future of finance but, as with the internet in the early days, is poised to transform all aspects of our lives.”

This is Andreessen’s third crypto fund. Each is progressively bigger, as the firm expands into new areas and doubles down on what worked before. Ms. Haun said the latest fund — focused on infrastructure, non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, and decentralized finance, or DeFi — is made up entirely of repeat investors. Through the ups and downs, interest in crypto is only getting stronger, she said. That’s why the industry needs more clarity about “the rules of the road,” she added.

To that end, Andreessen isn’t just betting on crypto businesses, but hiring former government insiders to help steer its strategy as crypto regulation evolves. Bill Hinman, the former director of the SEC’s corporate finance division, where he worked on digital asset issues, is joining as an advisory partner, as is Brent McIntosh, the former under secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs, who coordinated the G7’s work on crypto. Tomicah Tillemann, the technologist and former adviser to Joe Biden in the Senate, is joining to run global policy.

“As with any new computing movement, crypto has endured a variety of challenges and misconceptions,” the statement said. “That’s why we are also bringing together heavy-hitters across several functions to help translate crypto to the mainstream.”

  • Initial claims for state jobless benefits fell last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

  • The weekly figure was about 393,000, down 15,000 from the previous week. New claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for jobless freelancers, gig workers and others who do not ordinarily qualify for state benefits, totaled 105,000, up 7,000 from the week before. The figures are not seasonally adjusted. (On a seasonally adjusted basis, state claims totaled 411,000, a decrease of 7,000.)

  • A total of 26 states have announced plans to discontinue some or all federal pandemic unemployment benefits this month or next — including a $300 supplement to other benefits — even though they are funded through September.

  • New state claims remain high by historical standards but are one-half the level recorded in early February. The benefit filings, something of a proxy for layoffs, have receded as businesses return to fuller operations, particularly in hard-hit industries like leisure and hospitality.

Climate activists protest during the G7 summit in Cornwall, Britain, earlier this month.
Credit…Jon Rowley/EPA, via Shutterstock

An influential watchdog group on Thursday said the British government was doing far too little to carry out the ambitious pledges it has made on tackling climate change.

Although the government has promised to cut its greenhouse emissions to net zero by 2050, it has failed to take interim steps — such as tax incentives for reducing emissions — essential to meet that goal, according to a report by the group, the Committee on Climate Change.

“The trouble is the action, the delivery has just not been there,” said John Gummer, chairman of the committee, which is funded by the British government to advise lawmakers on environmental policies.

The criticism may prove uncomfortable for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has made leadership on climate diplomacy a key pillar for the post-Brexit Britain that he is trying to shape.

Britain’s ambitions to wield influence in this area will be on display later this year in Glasgow, Scotland, where Mr. Johnson is expected to lead a significant international gathering known as COP26, which leaders like President Biden hope will be a forum for advancing the global climate agenda.

In 2019, Mr. Johnson sketched a vision for a “green industrial revolution” in Britain, pledging to ban the sale of most new gasoline and diesel-powered cars by 2030 and holding out the prospect of creating some 250,000 jobs in areas like offshore wind, hydrogen and battery production. The ideas followed legislation passed in 2019, before Mr. Johnson took office, that established the net-zero pledge for 2050.

On Thursday, though, the committee said that while such pledges were “historic,” the government was badly lagging in making good on them.

“What we have seen since then is almost nothing at all,” Chris Stark, the chief executive of the committee, said in an interview.

The committee and environmentalists have warned that continued lack of follow-through could make it difficult for Mr. Johnson to persuade other governments to take potentially painful steps on reducing emissions at the climate summit.

“Everyone is looking for action and delivery, not for promises,” said Mr. Gummer, a former cabinet minister who, like Mr. Johnson, is a member of the Conservative Party.

Credit…Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament, via Reuters

Unless the government comes up with credible plans, he said, “the whole concept of global Britain being a leader will, in fact, be undermined.”

In a report published on Thursday, the committee wrote that reaching net zero as well as interim milestones will require what it called a significant change in government action. In addition to tax incentives to spur reduced emissions, the committee called for dedicated government spending to reduce emissions from industry, buildings and agriculture, and a bigger effort to point out the opportunities offered to people and businesses by tackling climate change.

So far, the report’s authors wrote, “it is hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the last 12 months.”

Analysts say that the criticism may well nudge the government to do more, especially with the climate summit coming.

Doug Parr, the chief scientist of the environmental group Greenpeace UK, said the committee’s critique would be “awkward” for the government. “In this year of all years, yes, it will matter,” he added.

Responding to the report, George Eustice, the government’s environment secretary, told the BBC that Mr. Johnson was closely following climate issues. “This is an agenda that matters to the prime minister, and it not true to say that he just made a promise and isn’t following through,” he said.

The committee has clout because it is part of the legal framework credited with Britain’s achievements to date on climate. In recent decades, Britain has by some metrics been among the world leaders on tackling climate change, reducing emissions by 40 percent from 1990 to 2019.

Many observers give credit for Britain’s performance to legislation in 2008 that set legally binding emissions targets and established the committee to monitor progress and advise the government.

At the same time, many say, government foot-dragging at this juncture is not surprising, because Britain has previously picked the low-hanging fruit on climate change and now faces more difficult hurdles to make further progress.

A large portion of the earlier gains have come in the power sector. Britain has replaced most of its highly polluting coal-fired generators — first with natural gas-fueled plants and, more recently, with renewable generation sources, carpeting the shallows of the North Sea with wind turbines.

Analysts say reducing carbon in electric power is relatively easy because the consumer does not see any real change when she flips a light switch. Future progress may require more intrusive and expensive measures, such as replacing natural gas heating systems with devices known as heat pumps and widespread retrofitting of homes with insulation.

“All politicians are deeply afraid of having to engage with consumers and people’s houses because of the political sensitivities,” said Nick Mabey, the chief executive of E3G, an environmental group.

The New York Stock Exchange in March 2020. The early days of the pandemic in the United States rattled the markets.
Credit…John Taggart for The New York Times

Laurence D. Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, was in frequent touch with the Federal Reserve chair, Jerome H. Powell, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the days before and after many of the Fed’s emergency rescue programs were announced in late March, Jeanna Smialek reports for The New York Times.

Emails obtained by The New York Times through a records request, along with public releases, underscore the extent to which Mr. Fink planned alongside the government for parts of a financial rescue that his firm referred to in one message as “the project” that he and the Fed were “working on together.”

Mr. Mnuchin held 60 recorded calls over the frantic Saturday and Sunday leading up to the Fed’s unveiling on Monday, March 23, of a policy package that included its first-ever program to buy corporate bonds, which were becoming nearly impossible to sell as investors sprinted to convert their holdings to cash. Mr. Mnuchin spoke to Mr. Fink five times that weekend, more than anyone other than the Fed chair.

The Fed and Treasury consulted with many financial firms as they drew up their response — and practically all of Wall Street and much of Main Street benefited — but no other company was as front and center.

The Fed has explained the decision to hire the advisory side of the house in terms of practicality.

“We hired BlackRock for their expertise in these markets,” Mr. Powell has since said in defense of the rapid move. “It was done very quickly due to the urgency and need for their expertise.”

  • President Biden removed the chief of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hours after the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the president had the authority to dismiss the agency’s director. The director, Mark Calabria, had overseen a number of rules aimed to end the federal government’s conservatorship of Fannie and Freddie, imposed in 2008 at the start of the financial crisis. Mr. Calabria favored the eventual privatization of the mortgage giants, and his dismissal hit the companies’ share prices, hurting hedge funds that had bet on an exit from government control.

  • BuzzFeed, the digital publisher known for quizzes, listicles and a news division that won its first Pulitzer Prize this month, is close to reaching a merger deal that would take the company public, a person with knowledge of the company said Wednesday. An announcement could come as soon as this week, the person added. BuzzFeed declined to comment. Led by its founder and chief executive, Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed has been in talks to merge with an already public shell company, 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, in what is known as a SPAC deal.

  • After nearly two decades leading Southwest Airlines, Gary C. Kelly, will step down from the chief executive position next year, the airline said on Wednesday. He will be replaced by Robert E. Jordan, a top executive who has held a number of jobs at the company. Both men have worked for Southwest since the 1980s. Mr. Kelly, 66, has been in the top job since 2004, expanding Southwest into the nation’s largest airline by passengers carried. Mr. Jordan, 60, an executive vice president who oversees communication and outreach and human resources, will become chief executive on Feb. 1.


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