Lawmakers on Friday debated an antitrust bill that would give news publishers collective bargaining power with online platforms like Facebook and Google, putting the spotlight on a proposal aimed at chipping away at the power of Big Tech.
At a hearing held by the House antitrust subcommittee, Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, emerged as a leading industry voice in favor of the law. He took a divergent path from his tech counterparts, pointing to an imbalance in power between publishers and tech platforms. Newspaper ad revenue plummeted to $14.3 billion in 2018 from $49.4 billion in 2005, he said, while ad revenue at Google jumped to $116 billion from $6.1 billion.
“Even though news helps fuel search engines, news organizations frequently are uncompensated or, at best, undercompensated for its use,” Mr. Smith said. “The problems that beset journalism today are caused in part by a fundamental lack of competition in the search and ad tech markets that are controlled by Google.”
The hearing was the second in a series planned by the subcommittee to set the stage for the creation of stronger antitrust laws. In October, the subcommittee, led by Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, released the results of a 16-month investigation into the power of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report accused the companies of monopoly behavior.
This week, the committee’s two top leaders, Mr. Cicilline and Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado, introduced the Journalism and Competition Preservation Act. The bill aims to give smaller news publishers the ability to band together to bargain with online platforms for higher fees for distributing their content. The bill was also introduced in the Senate by Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat of Minnesota and the chairwoman of that chamber’s antitrust subcommittee.
Global concern is growing over the decline of local news organizations, which have become dependent on online platforms for distribution of their content. Australia recently proposed a law allowing news publishers to bargain with Google and Facebook, and lawmakers in Canada and Britain are considering similar steps.
Mr. Cicilline said, “While I do not view this legislation as a substitute for more meaningful competition online — including structural remedies to address the underlying problems in the market — it is clear that we must do something in the short term to save trustworthy journalism before it is lost forever.”
Google, though not a witness at the hearing, issued a statement in response to Mr. Smith’s planned testimony, defending its business practices and disparaging the motives of Microsoft, whose Bing search engine runs a very distant second place behind Google.
“Unfortunately, as competition in these areas intensifies, they are reverting to their familiar playbook of attacking rivals and lobbying for regulations that benefit their own interests,” wrote Kent Walker, the senior vice president of policy for Google.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida became the most prominent Republican leader to weigh in on the unionization drive at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., with a surprising endorsement of the organizing effort on Friday.
“The days of conservatives being taken for granted by the business community are over,” Mr. Rubio wrote in an opinion piece published in USA Today.
“Here’s my standard: When the conflict is between working Americans and a company whose leadership has decided to wage culture war against working-class values, the choice is easy — I support the workers,” he continues. “And that’s why I stand with those at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse today.”
More than 5,800 workers at the Amazon warehouse, outside Birmingham, are voting by mail this month to decide whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Last week, President Biden posted a video message on Twitter referring to the vote in Alabama and espousing on the importance of unions in helping build the middle class, while excoriating employers who interfere in unionization efforts. He did not mention Amazon by name, but his remarks followed reports that the online retailer was engaged in aggressive anti-union tactics.
“We welcome support from all quarters,” the union’s president, Stuart Appelbaum, said in a statement. “Senator Rubio’s support demonstrates that the best way for working people to achieve dignity and respect in the workplace is through unionization. This should not be a partisan issue.”
Mr. Rubio, who recalls marching in a union picket line with his father, a hotel bartender, accused Amazon of expressing “woke” values, while bowing to Chinese censorship. And he warned the company not to expect Republicans to come to its rescue and condone its anti-union efforts.
“Its workers are right to suspect that its management doesn’t have their best interests in mind,” Mr. Rubio wrote. “Wealthy woke C.E.O.s instead view them as a cog in a machine that consistently prioritizes global profit margins and stoking cheap culture wars. The company’s workers deserve better.”
HBO Max is going global.
The new streaming platform, currently only available to U.S. subscribers, will launch in 61 other markets starting in June.
The company also plans to launch an advertising-driven streaming service in the United States at the same time. The announcements came Friday as part of a broader presentation outlining a set of goals for AT&T, which owns HBO.
The company hopes to reach between 120 million and 150 million total customers for HBO Max and its traditional HBO TV channel by the end of 2025, a more ambitious target compared with its previous goal of 75 million to 90 million.
The company also expects between 67 million and 70 million customers by the end of 2021. It had 61 million as of the end of December, but the number of people actually watching HBO Max is much smaller. About 41.5 million customers are in the United States, and of that group about 17.2 million have HBO Max accounts. That suggests that of the company’s new subscriber target, not all of them will necessarily be streaming HBO Max.
The company has a complicated setup around HBO Max. People can sign up for the service directly, and those who already pay for the premium cable channel through their cable or satellite provider also have access, but not everyone has set up their streaming account. The service is also offered for free or at a reduced price to AT&T’s wireless customers.
The jump into international markets shows how aggressively AT&T needs to expand its streaming enterprise. The addition of an advertising-based service means the company sees an opportunity to capture the ad dollars that have started to move away from traditional television. It’s unclear if the ad-supported version will be free or whether it will only be available at a reduced price from HBO Max’s current $15 per month cost.
Jason Kilar, the chief executive of WarnerMedia, the unit that manages HBO, said the service is expected to start making money after 2025. It should generate about $15 billion in sales by that year, he added.
HBO Max has become a key part of AT&T’s overall strategy to keep and grow mobile customers, so losing money is less of an immediate concern if it helps AT&T retain its core wireless subscribers. Mr. Kilar emphasized HBO Max’s value to the phone business, citing that 25 percent of HBO Max customers have come via AT&T.
He ended his presentation with a cliché from the Warner Bros. film archives: “It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
The chief executive of Ant Group, the Chinese internet finance giant, has stepped down, the company said on Friday, a move that came in the middle of a business overhaul meant to address regulators’ concerns about its rapid growth.
Ant said its chief executive, Simon Hu, had asked to resign for personal reasons. The company’s chairman, Eric Jing, was named as Mr. Hu’s replacement, effective immediately. Mr. Jing, who will remain Ant’s chairman, previously served as chief executive until December 2019, when Mr. Hu took over the post.
Hundreds of millions of people in China use Ant’s Alipay app to make everyday payments, sock away savings and shop on credit. Ant, which was spun out of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, has faced rising scrutiny from China’s government, and officials scuttled the company’s plans last year to go public in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
The company had been preparing to raise more than $34 billion by listing its shares in November, in what would have been the largest initial public offering on record. Instead, days before Ant’s shares were scheduled to begin trading, Chinese officials summoned company executives — namely, Mr. Hu, Mr. Jing and Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder — to discuss regulation. The I.P.O. was halted soon after, and financial watchdogs said Ant had taken advantage of gaps in China’s regulatory system and ordered it to revamp its business.
Mr. Hu joined Alibaba in 2005 and was president of its cloud division from 2014 to 2018. He joined Ant as president that year before becoming chief executive in 2019. Mr. Jing, also an Alibaba veteran, has been Ant’s executive chairman since April 2018. They are both members of the Alibaba Partnership, the company’s club of elite management partners.
Ford Motor said two members of the Ford family have been nominated to join the automaker’s board of directors, replacing one family member who is retiring and an independent director who has chosen not to seek re-election.
Alexandra Ford English, 33, daughter of Ford’s chairman, Bill Ford, and Henry Ford III, 40, son of Edsel B. Ford II, a current board member, are expected to be elected to the board by shareholders at the company’s annual meeting on May 13. Both are great-great-grandchildren of Henry Ford, who founded the company in 1903.
Ms. English is a director in corporate strategy at the company. Henry Ford III is a director in investor relations.
They will replace Edsel Ford II, 72, who is retiring after being on the board since 1988, and John C. Lechleiter, 67, who joined Ford’s board in 2013 and is a former president of Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical company.
Although the Ford family only owns a small portion of the company’s common stock, it retains effective control of the automaker though Class B shares with super-voting rights.
The stock of Coupang, a start-up in South Korea that is sometimes called the Amazon of South Korea, drifted after trading publicly for the first time in New York on Thursday.
Coupang — the company’s name is a mix of the English word “coupon” and “pang,” the Korean sound for hitting the jackpot — was founded by a Harvard Business School dropout and has shaken up shopping in South Korea, an industry long dominated by huge, button-down conglomerates.
The initial public offering raised $4.6 billion and valued Coupang at about $85 billion, the second-largest American tally for an Asian company after Alibaba Group of China in 2014. Coupang’s shares rose 6.6 percent on Friday as trading began but ended the day down 2 percent.
Coupang is South Korea’s biggest e-commerce retailer, its status further cemented by people stuck at home during the pandemic and those in the country who crave faster delivery. In a country where people are obsessed with “ppalli ppalli,” or getting things done quickly, Coupang has become a household name by offering “next-day” and even “same-day” and “dawn” delivery of groceries and millions of other items at no extra charge.
Shares of Lordstown Motors, an electric-vehicle start-up, fell more than 19 percent on Friday after an investment firm claimed the company had inflated the number of orders for its pickup trucks and overstated its technological and production capabilities.
The revelations are the latest to call into question the promises made by an electric vehicle company that has gone public by merging with a shell company that has a stock market listing, cash and no operating business. Lordstown, which gained prominence by buying a former General Motors factory in Ohio to make electric trucks for commercial users, completed its merger with a shell company and started trading on the stock market in October 2020.
In a lengthy post on its website, the investment firm, Hindenburg Research, said that Lordstown’s claim of having 100,000 “pre-orders” for its electric pickup truck included tens of thousands from small companies that do not operate fleets, and others who merely agreed to consider buying trucks but made no commitment to do so. Hindenburg said it had bet against Lordstown’s stock by selling its shares short, a maneuver used by some professional investors when they believe a stock is overvalued and poised to fall.
“Our conversations with former employees, business partners and an extensive document review show that the company’s orders are largely fictitious and used as a prop to raise capital and confer legitimacy,” Hindenburg said.
A Lordstown spokesman said the company was working on a response to the report.
One company that Lordstown said was prepared to buy 14,000 trucks, E Squared Energy, appears to be based in an apartment in Texas, have two employees and owns no vehicles. Hindenburg also unearthed a police report that showed a Lordstown prototype caught fire and burned to a shell during a test drive in January in Michigan.
On Friday morning, Lordstown shares were trading at just over $14 a share, down from their close the previous day of $17.71.
Former President Donald J. Trump hailed Lordstown in 2018 when it agreed to buy a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, that General Motors had closed, and former Vice President Mike Pence participated in an unveiling of the company’s truck in June. In September, Mr. Trump hosted Lordstown’s chief executive, Steve Burns, at the White House and praised the company’s technology.
Hindenburg Research gained prominence last year when it released a report saying Nikola, an electric truck start-up, and its executive chairman, Trevor Milton, had mislead investors and exaggerated the capabilities of that company’s technology. The revelations resulted in Mr. Milton’s departure from Nikola, and prompted General Motors to scale back a partnership with the company.
Nikola denied some of Hindenburg’s claims but recently acknowledged to the Securities and Exchange Commission that Mr. Milton had made statements that were “inaccurate in whole or in part.”
Target, a fixture in downtown Minneapolis, is giving up space in a large office building there, becoming the latest company to permanently allow its staff to spend more time working from home.
The retailer told employees it would cease operations in the City Center building in downtown Minneapolis and that the 3,500 employees working there would relocate to other nearby offices, while also working from home part of the time. More than a quarter of Target’s corporate employees in the Minneapolis area work in the City Center building.
“This change is driven by Target’s longer-term headquarters environment that will include a hybrid model of remote and on-site work, allowing for flexibility and collaboration and ultimately, requiring less space,” the company said Thursday.
Office landlords across the country have been struggling to retain tenants as the pandemic drags on and companies realize their staff has been able to work effectively in a remote setting. Empty office buildings are putting a squeeze on city budgets, which are heavily reliant on property taxes.
Salesforce, the software company based in San Francisco, adopted a flex model in which most of its employees would be able to come into the office one to three days a week. In a bet that more people would work from home after the pandemic ends, Salesforce acquired the workplace software company Slack in December.
After the move, Target said it would still occupy about three million square feet of office space in the Minneapolis area.
“It’s not easy to say goodbye to City Center, but the Twin Cities is still our home after all these years,’’ Target’s chief human resources officer, Melissa Kremer, said in an email to employees.
LinkedIn has stopped allowing people in China to sign up for new member accounts while it works to ensure its service in the country remains in compliance with local law, the company said this week, without specifying what prompted the move. A company representative declined to comment further.
Unlike other global internet mainstays such as Facebook and Google, LinkedIn offers a version of its service in China, which it is able to do by hewing closely to the authoritarian government’s tight controls on cyberspace.
It censors its Chinese users in line with official mandates. It limits certain tools, such as the ability to create or join groups. It has given partial ownership of its Chinese operation to local investors.
In 2017, the company blocked individuals, but not companies, from advertising job openings on its site in China after it fell afoul of government rules requiring it to verify the identities of the people who post job listings.
The backdrop to the suspension of new user registrations is not clear. The government has previously blocked internet services that it believes to be breaking the law. In 2019, Microsoft’s Bing search engine was briefly inaccessible in China for unclear reasons. Microsoft also owns LinkedIn.
By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet
The S&P 500 inched further into record territory on Thursday, rising 0.1 percent. The index gained 2.6 percent this week, its best weekly performance since early February.
The Nasdaq composite fell 0.6 percent, while the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.9 percent.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes jumped as much as 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage points, to 1.64 percent, its highest level in more than a year.
Higher interest rates and tighter central bank policies are now considered to be the single biggest threat to so-called risk assets, mainly stocks, according to a Bank of America survey of fund managers. Investors have grown concerned that the stimulus bill and economic rebound will trigger inflation, prompting central banks to pull back on stimulus measures.
The Stoxx Europe 600 index dropped 0.3 percent, while the FTSE 100 index in Britain rose 0.4 percent.
Data published on Friday showed that the British economy declined 2.9 percent in January as the country entered its third lockdown, shut schools and left the European Union single market and customs union. Separate data for the same month showed the largest monthly drop in trade since records began in 1997. Exports to the European Union dropped 40 percent and imports fell nearly 30 percent. Some of the fall is because of stockpiling at the end of last year, but many businesses struggled to keep trading as they dealt with new customs requirements.
The economic relief plan that is headed to President Biden’s desk has been billed as the United States’ most ambitious antipoverty initiative in a generation. But inside the $1.9 trillion package, there are plenty of perks for the middle class, too.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center published this week estimated that middle-income families — those making $51,000 to $91,000 per year — would see their after-tax income rise by 5.5 percent as a result of the tax changes and stimulus payments in the legislation. This is about twice what that income group received as a result of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Here are some of the ways the bill will help the middle class.
Americans will receive stimulus checks of up to $1,400 per person, including dependents.
The size of the payments are scaled down for individuals making more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000. And they are cut off for individuals making $80,000 or more and couples earning more than $160,000. Those thresholds are lower than in the previous relief bills, but they will still be one of the biggest benefits enjoyed by those who are solidly in the middle class.
Tax credits for parents
The most significant change is to the child tax credit, which will be increased to up to $3,600 for each child under 6, from $2,000 per child. The credit, which is refundable for people with low tax bills, is $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17.
The legislation also bolsters the tax credits that parents receive to subsidize the cost of child care this year. The current credit is worth 20 to 35 percent of eligible expenses, with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals. The stimulus bill increases that amount to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more.
Cheaper health insurance
After four years of being on life support, the Affordable Care Act is expanding, a development that will largely reward middle-income individuals and families, since those on the lower end of the income spectrum generally qualify for Medicaid.
Because the relief legislation expands the subsidies for buying health insurance, a 64-year-old earning $58,000 would see monthly payments decline to $412 from $1,075 under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
A rescue for pensioners
One of the more contentious provisions in the legislation is the $86 billion allotted to fixing failing multiemployer pensions. The money is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.
The legislation gives the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees their full pensions for the next 30 years.