Bankers flock back to Manhattan
Thousands of Goldman Sachs employees returned to their desks in New York this week, marking the beginning of the postpandemic era of investment banking. Their counterparts at Barclays were back en masse too, while others are trickling in more slowly. What did many Wall Streeters’ first week back in the office look like? DealBook has been asking around.
Goldman had live music. (Not DJ D-Sol.) To foster a celebratory atmosphere, the bank hosted performances outside its headquarters, with funk on Tuesday and salsa on Thursday. Inside, the dress was notably more casual than it was prepandemic (a lot of Allbirds, we hear), which made the interns in their full suits stand out even more. For lunch, Goldman brought in food trucks from Blue Smoke, Del Frisco’s and more. The bank required employees to log their vaccination status in a company system last week.
The scene was more muted elsewhere. At Barclays there was no music, and social distancing was enforced at the cafeteria, with half the stations closed and stickers on the floor designating where to stand. Over at JPMorgan, which won’t require bankers to come back to the office until next month, an executive who has been there intermittently spotted one sign that more employees are returning: The newsstand near the office sold out of its copies of The Times before 9:30 a.m.
Banks are still grappling with the vaccine issue:
Bank of America’s C.E.O., Brian Moynihan, told Bloomberg that he wants all vaccinated employees back in the office after Labor Day, and that the bank will “start to make provisions for the other teammates as we move through the fall.” A spokesperson did not clarify what those provisions would entail.
BlackRock will reportedly prohibit unvaccinated workers from returning to the office when it fully reopens in July.
Morgan Stanley is adjusting its approach based on the numbers: “Well over 90 percent of our employees who are in the offices are now vaccinated,” the bank’s C.E.O., James Gorman, said at a conference this week. He expects the share to go even higher, leaving a smaller number of unvaccinated workers to address when the bank’s offices fully reopen in the fall. “Maybe they can’t or they won’t,” Gorman said of the workers without shots. “We’ll deal with that when we get there.”
HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING
The debate over Obamacare shifts after it survives another Supreme Court challenge. In a 7-2 decision, justices turned aside the latest effort by Republicans to overturn the health care law. Congress is now likely to battle over Democratic efforts to further expand coverage. Separately, the Supreme Court also ruled that Nestlé USA and Cargill couldn’t be sued over alleged human rights abuses at Ivory Coast cocoa farms that are suppliers.
Democrats plot out their Plan B on infrastructure. Senate Democrats are weighing a huge economic package that may reach $6 trillion and would require a united front, even as a bipartisan group of lawmakers gained support for a proposal that falls just short of $1 trillion.
Corporate bond spreads plunge as investors pile in. The difference in yields between companies’ bonds and Treasury bonds fell to its lowest level in years, suggesting that investors see less risk in corporate debt as economies recover from the pandemic.
So… does Lordstown have any orders for its vehicles? The electric truck maker said in a regulatory filing yesterday that it had no “binding” orders, contradicting what its president had said earlier in the week. It’s the latest in a series of confusing statements from the company about its financial health.
The World Bank rebuffs El Salvador’s plan to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender. While the World Bank will continue to help the Latin American country on several matters, it said those won’t include helping it adopt the cryptocurrency, citing environmental and transparency issues.
When will Juneteenth be a market holiday?
President Biden signed legislation yesterday making Juneteenth a national holiday, commemorating the end of American slavery on June 19, 1865. The law went into effect immediately, making today the first federal Juneteenth holiday. (June 19 falls on a Saturday this year.) But this won’t stop the bell from ringing on Wall Street, at least for now.
U.S. stock and bond markets are open as usual. The New York Stock Exchange is considering closing for the holiday next year, a spokesperson told CNBC. The Nasdaq plans to show a message of support on its Times Square building on June 19.
Part of the reason for staying open was timing. Bank executives and exchange officials told DealBook that regulators first alerted them at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday that the government would shut down on Friday for the holiday. One industry official told DealBook that market makers and dealers came to the decision that closing down bond and stock markets on such short notice would create “unnecessary risk.”
Regulators do not require exchanges to close on federal holidays, and they’re increasingly reluctant to do so. Columbus Day, Lincoln’s Birthday and Veterans Day all used to be market holidays, but are no longer. The newest market holiday is Martin Luther King’s Birthday, which was added in 1998, 15 years after it became a national holiday.
There is reason to believe that Wall Street will embrace Juneteenth soon. Lawrence Glickman, a professor of American studies at Cornell University and the author of “Buying Power,” said consumer activism has long played a role in the civil rights movement. “I expect that most businesses will want to be seen as supportive of this,” he said.
Daily Business Briefing
There is growing pressure on corporate America to close the racial wealth gap. A report from McKinsey’s newly formed Institute for Black Economic Mobility found that Black Americans collectively earn $220 billion less a year because of wage disparities and underrepresentation in high-income industries. Closing that gap, McKinsey concluded, would create 650,000 new Black-owned businesses as well as add 2 million Black citizens to the ranks of the middle class.
“Juneteenth is a holiday that’s especially meaningful to me. The story was not widely known for a long time, but, thankfully, its significance in our march toward freedom has been increasingly recognized in recent years.”
— Thasunda Brown Duckett, the C.E.O. of TIAA, on Juneteenth becoming a national holiday.
Uncle Sam is selling seized crypto
The General Services Administration sells many of the assets that the federal government seizes — everything from aircraft to jewelry, real estate and cars. Today, the agency is auctioning crypto, specifically 10 lots of Bitcoin, plus some Litecoin that was seized by the I.R.S. for nonpayment of taxes. At current prices, the haul is worth nearly $377,000.
Enthusiasm from buyers is “robust,” a G.S.A. representative said. The agency’s first crypto auction in mid-March attracted 30 bidders and closed at more than 20 percent above market value. A later sale, in April, drew more than 150 bidders but the lots went below the prevailing market price. Over three auctions so far, the G.S.A. has raised more than $935,000 for nearly 17 Bitcoins (at current prices, the same amount of Bitcoin is worth about $640,000). Crypto offerings “have easily been some of our most bid-upon assets,” the spokesperson said.
The Marshals Service also auctions assets forfeited or seized by investigative agencies like the F.B.I., including billions of dollars worth of seized crypto. Its first Bitcoin auction was in 2014 and the service has held nine such events since, disposing of up to 50,000 tokens at a time. Bidders on lots of that size have sometimes framed their purchases as votes of confidence in the viability of the cryptocurrency.
In the papers
Some of the academic research that caught our eye this week, summarized in one sentence:
Weekend reading: Clash of cultures
The Brazilian-Lebanese-French businessman Carlos Ghosn was once widely hailed for resuscitating the ailing Japanese car company Nissan through an alliance with Mitsubishi and the French automaker Renault. Twenty years later, he’s an internationally wanted fugitive. Charged with financial wrongdoing in Japan, Ghosn jumped bail in 2019 and escaped to Lebanon, hidden in a box on a private plane, helped by an American father-son private security team who pleaded guilty this week in a Japanese court to aiding his escape.
Ghosn’s case is unique, said Hans Greimel and William Sposato, the authors of the new book, “Collision Course: Carlos Ghosn and the Culture Wars That Upended an Auto Empire,” but his experience raises general questions about business in a global economy, they told DealBook.
The risks of doing business across borders are sometimes underestimated, the authors said. (Both are longtime American correspondents in Tokyo.) Cultures differ drastically, business laws vary from country to country, and not all concepts translate to even the most worldly travelers, the writers warned.
Ghosn says he was penalized for his foreignness and that he fled Japan to escape prejudice. If so, he remains a prisoner of sorts, his reputation stained and his freedom constrained. He sued in a Dutch court for employment benefits he argued were owed by the automaking alliance he created. Instead, he was ordered to repay some $6 million; the court agreed with Nissan-Mitsubishi that the former chief wasn’t authorized to set his own salary and signing bonus.
Pay globally, not locally? Ghosn wanted to be paid according to an international benchmark, and the sums he sought might not seem outrageous in the U.S., the authors said. But Japan and France are traditionally “two countries that abhor that kind of pay package,” Greimel said. Although Japanese executives are increasingly generously paid, especially at SoftBank, Ghosn’s struggles in the country raise questions about the risks of international mergers, Sposato said. Like people, companies may be unprepared for the difficulties of ventures abroad.
THE SPEED READ
JPMorgan Chase agreed to buy Nutmeg, a digital wealth management start-up, to expand its retail offerings in Britain. (NYT)
Danaher agreed to buy Aldevron, which supplies vaccine components to Moderna, for $9.6 billion. (Reuters)
Politics and policy
Instead of canceling emergency unemployment benefits, some states are using the federal funds to pay bonuses to unemployed people who find jobs. (Quartz)
How English courts have become weapons for autocrats to punish dissidents. (NYT)
Thirty-four women sued the secretive company behind Pornhub, accusing it of profiting from sex trafficking. (CBS News)
Best of the rest
“Many Companies Want Remote Workers — Except From Colorado” (WSJ)
Ronaldo’s rebuffing of Coke shows how athletes are feeling more empowered to push back against league sponsors. (FT)
The Times’s annual collection of essays about money by high school seniors. (NYT)
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