Despite Investors’ Worries, Inflation Remains Subdued: Live Updates

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Gasoline prices rose 6.4 percent in February, the Labor Department said.
Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

Inflation rose modestly in February, nudged by an increase in gasoline prices that lifted the overall Consumer Price Index by 0.4 percent.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the index rose by 0.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Wednesday morning. With the prospect of faster economic growth on the horizon, investors and market watchers have been paying close attention to the threat of heightened inflation, although it has yet to materialize for the most part.

The imminent passage of the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package has intensified those worries, with some concerned that the money will pour fuel on an economy that is already poised to heat up as businesses reopen this spring and the pandemic recedes in the face of widespread vaccinations.

Gasoline prices alone were up 6.4 percent in February. But over all, the data matched expectations, suggesting inflation remains under control, despite a recent rise in prices for commodities like oil and copper.

“Outside of another buoyant advance in energy prices in February, consumer price inflation remains very tame,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics.

Over the long term, inflation is a concern because it erodes the value of assets, especially stocks and bonds. An uptick in bond yields in recent weeks, which correlate with inflation fears, helped prompt a sell-off on Wall Street, particularly among high-flying tech stocks.

What’s more, once inflation becomes entrenched it can be hard to subdue, reawakening memories of the 1970s, when rampant inflation haunted the American economy.

But conditions are far different than they were back then, and most mainstream economists doubt a sustained bout of inflation is on its way. The Federal Reserve, which is committed to preserving price stability, has signaled that it intends to maintain its support for the economy and not tighten monetary policy anytime soon.

“The inflation narrative has switched to concerns about rising prices,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics. “For the Fed, price response to the economy reopening is seen as transitory and is unlikely to cause too much angst, given inflation pressures are not expected to be sustained.”

Stocks on Wall Street rose on Wednesday after a monthly reading of inflation in the United States came in within economists expectations and bond yields stabilized.

Investors and policymakers have been closely watching inflation and expectations about where it will go next. After years of very low inflation, some economists and investors argue that too much fiscal stimulus during the recovery from the pandemic could cause the economy to overheat and send prices surging. But many central bankers say there are long-term disinflationary forces and an increase in inflation is likely to be temporary.

Inflation rose modestly last month, nudged by an increase in gasoline prices that lifted the overall Consumer Price Index by 0.4 percent. Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, the C.P.I. rose by 0.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Wednesday morning.

Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast an increase of 0.4 percent for overall C.P.I., and 0.2 percent for the “core” measure, which had excludes food and energy costs.

U.S. stocks, especially shares of tech companies, have been rattled by higher bond yields for various reasons, including the fact that higher interest rates increase borrowing costs and eat into the value of a company’s future earnings.

The S&P 500 index rose about 0.5 percent on Wednesday, adding to a gain of 1.4 percent on Tuesday. The Nasdaq composite climbed more than 1 percent, adding to a sharp rebound on Tuesday. The yield on 10-Year U.S. Treasury notes was unchanged at 1.54 percent.

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.5 percent while the FTSE 100 was flat.

  • Just Eat Takeaway, the online food-delivery service, was one of the biggest gainers in the FTSE 100 index in Britain, with its shares rising as much as 5 percent after the company said revenue increased 54 percent last year. It also said it expected to keep gaining market share this year, even as restaurants reopen, and expected its acquisition of Grubhub to be completed in the first half of the year.

  • The European Central Bank begins its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. Like in the United States, bond yields are rising in Europe. German 10-year yields are at minus 0.3 percent. Policymakers have been debating whether they will need to take action to stop yields rising too high. Some analysts say the central bank on Thursday could announce a plan to pick up the pace of its bond purchases to push down yields.

  • The Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong closed 0.5 percent higher and the Nikkei 225 in Japan ended the day little changed.

  • Cathay Pacific shares fell after the Hong Kong-based airline reported a $2.8 billion loss for 2020. The company’s share price has dropped about 30 percent since the end of 2019. Last year, the airline cut 8,500 jobs.

The American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the Senate over the weekend and is now back before the House of Representatives, would put pump $1.9 trillion into the economy.

The New York Times’s personal finance experts, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, combed through the bill to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:

A jet engine at GE’s aviation engine overhaul facility in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, in 2016.
Credit…Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

General Electric said on Wednesday that it would sell its airplane leasing unit to a rival, AerCap, in a deal that would reshape an aviation industry already transformed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The deal, valued at $30 billion, would combine the world’s two largest aircraft leasing companies, creating a behemoth that owns or manages about one out of every six leased planes globally, according to Cirium, an aviation data firm. If the sale is approved, the combined company will have about 300 customers globally and more than 2,000 aircraft in its portfolio, AerCap said in a statement.

The sale of the unit, GE Capital Aviation Services, could give the new business even more negotiating power over aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus as well as the airlines to which AerCap and G.E. lease planes. It would also advance G.E.’s yearslong effort to simplify its business and reduce debt.

For years, G.E. has been focusing on its core industrial businesses and moving away from the financing activities of its G.E. Capital unit, which included the plane leasing arm. From the end of 2018 to the end of 2020, the value of G.E. Capital’s assets shrank from $86 billion to $68 billion. If the sale to AerCap goes through, the finance arm would go down to $21 billion.

“I hope what you see here this morning is a truly tremendous catalyst in the journey that we’re on to transform G.E.,” the company’s chairman and chief executive, H. Lawrence Culp Jr., said in a conference call with investors and analysts.

If the sale is approved, G.E. will also have reduced its debt by more than $70 billion since the end of 2018, G.E.’s chief financial officer, Carolina Dybeck Happe, said on the call.

Under the terms of the deal, which has been approved by the boards of both companies, G.E. will receive more than 111 million AerCap shares, $24 billion in cash and $1 billion of AerCap notes or cash. The transaction is expected to close in nine to 12 months, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.

G.E. is expected to own about 46 percent of the combined company and will be entitled to nominate two directors to the board of AerCap, which is based in Dublin.

Marathon Petroleum plans to sell its Speedway convenience store business to the owner of 7-Eleven.
Credit…Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Months into a contract dispute with Marathon Petroleum, the Teamsters union is objecting to the company’s $21 billion deal to sell its Speedway convenience store business to the owner of 7-Eleven, DealBook reported exclusively. Its effort is in part a bet that the Biden administration will be tougher on antitrust and more favorable toward unions — and pits the union against Elliott Management, the huge hedge fund that helped make the proposed sale possible.

The Teamsters asked the Federal Trade Commission to pause its review of the deal. In a letter sent on Wednesday to the agency’s acting chairwoman, Rebecca Slaughter, the union requested that the F.T.C. wait for one of two things:

  • Congress passes a bill by Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, that would make broad changes to antitrust rules. The legislation would change the framework used by the F.T.C. to evaluate the deal, allowing the regulator to reject transactions based on the possibility of competitive harm, instead of a determination that it will create such harm.

  • Or, at the least, until the agency ensures “that all competitive effects from the transaction have been fully considered and remedied.”

There are other issues at play. Marathon has locked out 200 union workers at a refinery in Minnesota. And unions have had an often tense relationship with activist hedge funds like Elliott, which they have accused of calling for layoffs that affect union members. (In its letter to the F.T.C., the Teamsters union criticized what it called “Elliott’s singular desire to liquidate Marathon’s assets to fund enormous share buybacks and special dividends.”)

But the agency is already far along in its review. Marathon executives, who hope to close the deal by the end of the first quarter, confirmed on a call with analysts last month that they had responded to a second request for information from the F.T.C. and were working on solutions. (The proposed buyer of Speedway, Seven and I Holdings, is reportedly looking to sell up to 300 gas stations to ease the agency’s concerns.)

The F.T.C. must follow statutory timelines for reviewing deals, which means the agency can delay its examination only for so long, even if it wanted to. And it’s not clear whether Ms. Klobuchar’s bill will pass, or in what form.

The election of Bob Sternfels as the global managing partner of McKinsey comes weeks after the firm’s partners effectively voted out Kevin Sneader from the firm’s top role.
Credit…Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Partners of McKinsey & Company chose Bob Sternfels as their new global managing partner, the consulting giant said on Wednesday, as it seeks to recover from a series of scandals that damaged its reputation in recent years.

The election of Mr. Sternfels, 51, comes weeks after McKinsey partners effectively voted out Kevin Sneader from the firm’s top role. The ousting of Mr. Sneader, who did not make the final ballot of the election, was the first time a McKinsey leader had been denied re-election in decades.

When Mr. Sneader took the top role in 2018, he was confronted with controversy over the firm’s role advising a South African state-owned power company, and later criticism over its work for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and over conflicts of interest in its bankruptcy practice.

Now Mr. Sternfels will inherit blowback from the consultancy’s agreement to pay nearly $600 million to settle an investigation into its role in the opioid crisis. The settlement with 49 states and the District of Columbia centered on McKinsey’s work advising drug makers on how to “turbocharge” opioid sales.

Other recent controversies include the firm’s work advising the French government on its coronavirus vaccine rollout, which has been derided for being too slow.

Among the most pressing internal priorities facing Mr. Sternfels is how to tighten oversight of a 650-member partnership that has traditionally operated with significant autonomy — and sometimes resisted efforts to impose more centralized authority.

A 26-year McKinsey veteran based in San Francisco, Mr. Sternfels leads the firm’s client capabilities operations. He beat out Sven Smit, a partner based in Amsterdam who is co-chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute, its research division.

Mr. Sternfels said in a statement that he was “committed to build on the important changes that Kevin helped launch and our partnership embraced — and on the good work our firm does with our clients and in society.”

Buffalo Bayou Park in Houston last week. Some experts have raised concerns about intensifying the spread of the virus while the vaccination process is underway.
Credit…Mark Felix for The New York Times

HOUSTON — Orders requiring masks and limiting the occupancy of restaurants and other businesses were lifted across Texas on Wednesday, a move that some medical experts said was premature while the state was still in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.

Businesses are still allowed to require employees and customers to cover their faces and limit the number of people they allow inside. Cities can choose to keep limits in place in municipal facilities, and they remain on federal property.

When Gov. Greg Abbott announced the changes last week, he argued that he was pushing back against the economic devastation wrought by months of limitations on movement and commerce. In a news conference at a restaurant in Lubbock, Mr. Abbott, a Republican, noted the hindrances for workers and small businesses.

“This must end,” he said. “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.”

Moments after Mr. Abbott’s announcement, patrons at Barflys in San Antonio removed the plexiglass dividers separating themselves from the bartenders.

At Barflys on Tuesday, an hour before the mask mandate was to expire, Amber Jowers, 32, was the bartender on duty. She welcomed the policy change. From now on, she will no longer wear a mask at work, she said.

“And we’re taking the sign down at midnight,” she added. “We have to get back to normal now.”

Barflys is a softly lit pub with a pool table, dartboard, and a slot machine. Metallica, Salt-N-Pepa, and the Texas Tornados play from the sound system.

On the smokey back patio, Sophie Bojorquez, 47, sat at a table with friends. She is a vaccinated nurse and a self-proclaimed anti-masker.

“I’m happy about the governor’s decision. The masks impeded the herd immunity we need. Now they want to vax so fast,” she said, shaking her head.

The patio bartender, Britt Harasmisz, 24, said that most of her customers didn’t wear a mask even before the mandate ended. And though her employer decided that Barflys would no longer require face covers, she said that she would continue to wear one while working.

“A lot of people have been vaccinated, Governor Abbott was vaccinated, but a lot of us on the front lines have not,” she said. “I’m going to wear a mask everywhere I go.”

The move to open Texas has faced intense resistance. The governor’s medical advisers have said that they were not involved in the decision. And some experts have raised concerns about intensifying the spread of the virus while the vaccination process is underway. Texas, which is averaging about 5,500 new cases a day, has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Lina Hidalgo, the county judge in Harris County, which includes Houston, has argued that lifting the mask mandate means workers must be the ones to enforce rules in retail establishments and restaurants.

“We know better than to let our guard down simply because a level of government selected an arbitrary date to issue an all-clear,” Ms. Hidalgo, a Democrat and a persistent critic of Mr. Abbott, said in an op-ed column published this week by Time magazine. “I am working to clearly explain to the residents of my county that we will spare ourselves unnecessary death and suffering if we just stick with it for a little bit longer.”

Bert Rossel, 39, stopped in for a drink at Barflys on Tuesday evening. He said he had known the pub’s owner for many years and worked for him at one time. Mr. Rossel is in the insurance business nowadays. He said he believed that the pandemic had been hyped on social media as another distraction, or as he calls it, “the latest hot topic.”

“It’s survival of the fittest,” Mr. Rossel said. “My B.M.I. is higher than normal. Obese people are more susceptible to corona, but it’s been over a year. I would have gotten it already.”

As the evening advanced, the patrons at Barflys drank beer and downed shots, smoked and gossiped, enjoying each other’s company. No one paid attention when, at midnight, Ms. Jowers pulled the sign from the front door that read, “MASKS REQUIRED UPON ENTRY.”

Rick RojasJames Dobbins and

Joe Donlon interviews President Donald J. Trump in September on “NewsNation.” The show has since grown into a network.

The highest ranking editor at NewsNation, a newcomer to cable news that markets itself as delivering “straight-ahead, unbiased news reporting,” has resigned. She is the third top editor to quit in recent months as some staff have complained of a rightward shift at the network.

Jennifer Lyons, NewsNation’s vice president of news, had decided to depart the channel, effective immediately, the company’s staff were told at a meeting on Tuesday.

Sandy Pudar, the news director, left on Feb. 2, and Richard Maginn, the managing editor, resigned on March 1.

Ms. Lyons did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for the Texas-based Nexstar Media, which owns NewsNation, said in a statement that it was Ms. Lyons’s decision to leave and that the search for her replacement was underway.

At Tuesday’s staff meeting in Chicago, Perry A. Sook, the chief executive of Nexstar, sought to reassure staff of his commitment to NewsNation after several employees raised concerns about its editorial direction and the involvement of Bill Shine, a former Fox News co-president who was hired to lead communications for the Trump White House. The concerns among employees were detailed in a New York Times article earlier this week.

“Despite reports to the contrary that you may read, we’re committed to the vision of unbiased reporting,” he said during the meeting, according to a recording of the comments obtained by The New York Times. “But obviously along the way there will be growing pains. In order for us to establish our product and to grow our viewership we’re going to have to try new things to gain some traction.”

Mr. Sook, asked by a staff member about Mr. Shine, said he had not been in the NewsNation building and did not dictate content.

“This guy was in the room where it happened 25 years ago and helped to build the channel to where it is,” Mr. Sook said of Mr. Shine’s experience at Fox News. “Why would we not avail ourselves of his expertise?”

“NewsNation” launched on Sept. 1 as a prime-time national newscast on the cable channel WGN America. It promised an antidote to the more partisan programming of CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. On March 1, WGN America was rebranded as NewsNation and more news shows were introduced.

Lina Khan, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, wrote an influential 2016 paper accusing Amazon of abusing its power.
Credit…Lexey Swall for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Biden is expected to name Lina Khan, a law professor and leading critic of the tech industry’s power, to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission, a person with knowledge of the decision said on Tuesday.

An appointment of Ms. Khan, the author of a breakthrough Yale Law Journal paper in 2016 that accused Amazon of abusing its monopoly power, would be the latest sign that the Biden administration planned to take an aggressive posture toward tech giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. Last week, the administration said Tim Wu, another top critic of the industry, would join the National Economic Council as a special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy.

Ms. Khan recently served as legal counsel for the House Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee and was among aides who conducted a 19-month investigation into the tech giants’ monopoly power. The committee produced a report advocating major changes to antitrust laws. Before that, she served as an aide to a member of the Federal Trade Commission, Rohit Chopra, a champion of her ideas on antitrust policy.

Ms. Khan, an associate professor at Columbia Law School, would fill one of three Democratic seats on the five-member F.T.C. In December, the commission sued Facebook, accusing it of antitrust violations, and called for breaking up the company. The agency is also investing Amazon for antitrust violations.

Rumors of Ms. Khan’s appointment, which were reported earlier by Politico, immediately sparked strong reactions on Tuesday. Public Citizen, a left-leaning nonprofit public advocacy group, cheered the possibility. The organization and many progressive groups have denounced the F.T.C.’s history — particularly during the Obama administration — for lax enforcement of technology companies. They argue that the federal government’s permissive attitude toward mergers by the tech giants, including Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014, helped the Silicon Valley companies grow quickly and dominate their rivals.

“The F.T.C. has failed to take on corporate abuses of power including rampant antitrust violations, privacy intrusions, data security breaches and mergers, and Khan’s appointment as a commissioner at the agency hopefully will herald a new day,” Public Citizen said in a statement.

Senator Mike Lee of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Senate antitrust subcommittee, said Ms. Khan would be a bad fit for the job, however.

“Her views on antitrust enforcement are also wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law,” Mr. Lee said in a statement. “Nominating Ms. Khan would signal that President Biden intends to put ideology and politics ahead of competent antitrust enforcement, which would be gravely disappointing at a time when it is absolutely critical that we have strong and effective leadership at the enforcement agencies.”

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