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Europe’s Economy Shrank in First Quarter, Revealing a Recession: Live Updates – The New York Times

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Shuttered storefronts in Milan last month. Extended lockdowns across Europe have slowed economic growth.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

The eurozone economy contracted by 0.6 percent over the first three months of the year, sliding back into recession, as the still-raging pandemic prompted governments to extend lockdowns.

Coming a day after the United States disclosed that its economy expanded 1.6 percent over the same period, the European downturn presented a contrast of fortunes on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Propelled by dramatic public expenditures to stimulate growth, as well as swift increases in vaccination rates, the United States — the world’s largest economy — expanded rapidly during the first months of 2021. At the same time, the 19 nations that share the euro currency were caught in the second part of a so-called double-dip recession, reflecting far less aggressive stimulus spending and a botched effort to secure vaccines.

But figures for gross domestic product represent a snapshot of the past, and recent weeks have produced encouraging signs that Europe is on the mend. The alarming spread of Covid-19 in major economies like Germany and France has begun to trend downward, factories have revived production, while growing numbers of people are on the move in cities.

Even as the German economy diminished by 1.7 percent from January to March, Italy and Spain slipped by much smaller magnitudes — 0.4 percent and 0.5 percent respectively. The French economy grew by a modest 0.4 percent, though its prospects face a fresh challenge in the form of new pandemic restrictions imposed this month by the government.

The initial lockdowns last year punished Europe’s economies, bringing large swaths of commercial life to a halt. But the current restrictions are calibrated to reflect improved understanding of how the virus spreads. Rather than closing their doors altogether, restaurants in some countries are serving meals on patios and dispensing takeout orders. Roofers, carpenters and other skilled trades have resumed work, so long as they can stay outside.

“We have sort of learned to live with the pandemic,” said Dhaval Joshi, chief strategist at BCA Research in London. “We are adapting to it.”

Vaccination rates are increasing throughout Europe, a trend likely to be advanced by the European Union’s recent deal to secure doses from Pfizer.

Most economists and the European Central Bank expect the eurozone to expand at a blistering pace over the rest of 2021, yielding growth of more than 4 percent for the full year.

Still, even in the most hopeful scenario, Europe’s recovery is running behind the United States, a reflection of their differing approaches to economic trauma.

Since last year, the United States has unleashed additional public spending worth 25 percent of its national economic output for pandemic-related stimulus and relief programs, according to the International Monetary Fund. That compares to 10 percent in Germany.

But Europe also began the crisis with far more comprehensive social safety net programs. While the United States directed cash to those set back by the pandemic, Europe limited a surge in unemployment.

“Europe has more insurance schemes,” said Kjersti Haugland, chief economist at DNB Markets, an investment bank in Oslo. “You don’t fall as hard, but you don’t rebound that sharply either.”

Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, thanks to rising production and higher chemical prices.
Credit…Lee Celano/Reuters

Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the two biggest oil companies in the United States, on Friday reported their first quarterly profits after several quarters of losses, signaling that the energy industry is rebounding from the coronavirus pandemic.

Oil prices have climbed in recent months and are now roughly where they were before the pandemic’s full force was felt. As a result, Exxon reported a $2.7 billion profit in the first three months of the year, compared with a loss of $610 million in the same period a year ago. Chevron said its profit was $1.4 billion, down from $3.6 billion a year earlier. Chevron this week raised its dividend by nearly 4 percent.

The American oil benchmark price, now around $64 a barrel, has tripled since last April. Natural gas prices have also strengthened during the recovery.

“The strong first quarter results reflect the benefits of higher commodity prices and our focus on structural cost reductions,” Darren Woods, Exxon’s chief executive, said in a statement.

Only six months ago, many analysts warned that Exxon would have to cut its dividend, but now the shareholder payout appears safe because of rising production and higher chemical prices. Exxon this month reported yet another in a string of big oil discoveries off the coast of Guyana, one of its most important growth areas.

At Chevron, sales and other revenue in the quarter increased to $31 billion, $1 billion more than the year-ago quarter.

“Earnings strengthened primarily due to higher oil prices as the economy recovers,” said Mike Wirth, Chevron’s chief executive.

Both companies suffered losses from the severe Texas freeze in February. Exxon reported that lost sales and repairs cost the company nearly $600 million. Chevron said its results were weakened by $300 million in lost oil and refining production and repairs.

Volkswagen wanted to have a little fun when it introduced the all-electric ID.4 to the United States in March. The Securities and Exchange Commission wasn’t laughing.
Credit…Bryan Derballa for The New York Times

Volkswagen’s American unit was only kidding when it put out the word late in March that it was changing its name to “Voltswagen” to show its commitment to electric vehicles. To say the April Fool’s joke didn’t land is an understatement. Now the misfired marketing gag has prompted an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Volkswagen did not dispute reports in Der Spiegel and other German media that the S.E.C. was looking into whether the carmaker misled shareholders with the faux rebranding. Volkswagen in Germany declined to comment Friday.

Publicly listed companies are not supposed to fool their shareholders, even in jest. Some media reported the purported name change as fact until Volkswagen of America admitted it was all a joke.

German law also requires companies to be honest with their shareholders, but a spokeswoman for the stock market regulator, known as Bafin, said the agency saw no basis to investigate the Voltswagen issue.

It is unlikely that Volkswagen will face a serious penalty if the S.E.C. finds a violation, at least not compared to the tens of billions of dollars that an emissions scandal has cost the company since 2015. The gag does not appear to have had any influence on the price of Volkswagen shares, which rose for several days even after the company admitted it was all a ruse.

Like a comedian bombing onstage, the most painful consequence may be the humiliation.

Comments from Marin. J. Wash, the labor secretary, on gig workers sent shares of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and DoorDash down sharply.
Credit…Pool photo by Pat Greenhouse/EPA, via Shutterstock

Martin J. Walsh, the labor secretary, said on Thursday that most gig workers in the United States should be classified as employees, not independent contractors. “In some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not, and I think it has to be consistent across the board,” he told Reuters.

Shares of Uber, Lyft, Fiverr and DoorDash fell sharply on the news. These companies’ business models depend on classifying workers as independent contractors, who are not entitled to labor protections like a minimum wage or overtime pay.

But how much control does Mr. Walsh have over how companies classify their employees?

There’s no single law that makes workers employees or contractors. The Labor Department can enforce the Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes the federal minimum wage and overtime pay. This law applies only to employees, and who should fall into that category has been the subject of a long-running debate.

In 2015, the Obama administration issued guidance that many interpreted to mean that app-based workers should be considered employees. It was rescinded by the Trump administration.

In 2021, the Trump administration issued a rule that would have made it easier for the same companies to classify workers as contractors. It was nixed by the Biden administration. Mr. Walsh’s comments suggest his interpretation will be similar to the Obama administration’s. And David Weil, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department’s wage and hour division, wrote the 2015 guidance.

New guidance wouldn’t change the law, but it could change how the Labor Department decides whether to bring lawsuits against gig economy companies. “It’s implicitly a sign to employers that you should comply with this interpretation or there’s a risk of enforcement,” Brian Chen, a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, told the DealBook newsletter.

Although such guidance is nonbinding, Benjamin Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School, said courts “tend to give it deference” when making decisions. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw specific action coming from the department sometime this year,” said William Gould, a Stanford law professor and the former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board.

Ari Emanuel, the chief executive of the entertainment conglomerate Endeavor. “We’re platform agnostic, and we serve all parties,” he said of the streaming wars.
Credit…Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The Endeavor Group, the entertainment conglomerate run by the Hollywood mogul Ari Emanuel, pulled its initial public offering at the last minute in 2019, amid lukewarm interest from investors. Last year posed its own difficulties, with a pandemic that hurt its live events business as well as its talent agency.

But Endeavor finally made its market debut on Thursday, closing the day with a market cap of more than $10 billion. Mr. Emanuel spoke with the DealBook newsletter about what changed — and what comes next.

On why the I.P.O. went ahead this time:

“There was confusion with regard to the U.F.C., so we cleaned that up,” Mr. Emanuel said about the mixed-martial arts league that Endeavor is acquiring full control of with proceeds from the offering. Debt was also a worry before, and the company’s leverage will be reduced with help from a $1.7 billion private placement, with Third Point and Elliot Management among the investors. S&P Global upgraded the company’s credit rating on Thursday.

Endeavor also used the pandemic period to restructure and consolidate, shifting further away from its talent agency roots. And Mr. Emanuel expects its events business, entertainment relationships and intellectual property will help feed a demand for “content in all forms” after the pandemic: “We’re the story about coming out.”

On Endeavor’s role in the streaming wars:

“We’re platform agnostic, and we serve all parties,” Mr. Emanuel said. The broadcasters are spending “huge” amounts to build out their streaming platforms. “I don’t have to do that,” he said. “I just have to supply it.”

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On how he met Elon Musk, who is joining Endeavor’s board:

“I definitely cold called. That’s kind of in my nature,” Mr. Emanuel said. “We’ve represented him in some of his endeavors. And then over time, he and I became friendly.”

“He’s also a great entrepreneur, meaning he knows how hard it is to build and run a company,” he added, noting that they often call each other for advice.

On whether he has any concerns about putting Mr. Musk on the board given the Tesla chief’s run-ins with securities regulators:

“No.”

Receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine in Budapest.
Credit…Akos Stiller for The New York Times

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford brought in $275 million in sales from about 68 million doses delivered in the first three months of this year, AstraZeneca reported on Friday.

AstraZeneca disclosed the figure, most of which came from sales in Europe, as it reported its first-quarter financial results. It offers the clearest view to date of how much money is being brought in by one of the leading Covid vaccines.

AstraZeneca, which has pledged not to profit on its vaccine during the pandemic, has been selling the shot to governments for several dollars per dose, less expensive than the other leading vaccines. The vaccine has won authorization in at least 78 countries since December but is not approved for use in the United States.

The vaccine represented just under 4 percent of AstraZeneca’s revenue for the quarter; it was nowhere near the company’s biggest revenue generator. By comparison, the company’s best-selling product, the cancer drug Tagrisso, brought in more than $1.1 billion in sales in the quarter.

AstraZeneca has said it is planning to seek emergency authorization for its vaccine to be used in the United States, even as it has become clear that the doses are not needed. The Biden administration said this week that it would make available to the rest of the world up to 60 million doses of its supply of AstraZeneca shots, pending a review of their quality.

If the company does win authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it could help shore up confidence in a vaccine whose reputation been hit by concerns about a rare but serious side effect involving blood clotting. The F.D.A.’s evaluation process is considered the gold standard globally.

Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine was authorized for emergency use at the end of February, reported last week that its vaccine generated $100 million in sales in the United States in the first three months of the year. The federal government is paying the company $10 a dose. Like AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson has pledged to sell its vaccine “at cost” — meaning it won’t profit on the sales — during the pandemic.

Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna cost more, and neither company has said that it will forego profits. Pfizer has said that it expects its vaccine to bring in about $15 billion in revenue this year; Moderna said it anticipates $18.4 billion in sales.

Both companies are scheduled to report their first-quarter results next week.

Shares in Barclays, the big British bank, fell on Friday after its first-quarter earnings were described as a “mixed result” by the bank’s chief executive.
Credit…Tolga Akmen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

U.S. stocks are expected to fall when trading begins on Friday and the S&P 500 was set to pull back from a record high reached on Thursday as traders closed positions for the end of the month and continued to react to company earnings.

The benchmark stock index had hit a record after data showed the United States economy grew strongly at the start of the year. Forecasters predict the economy will be back to its prepandemic size by the summer and will help drive global economic growth.

Oil prices fell, with futures on West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropping 1.8 percent to $63.81 a barrel.

  • The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.3 percent. The index is heading for a second consecutive week of losses, which hasn’t happened since October.

  • The eurozone economy contracted by 0.6 percent over the first three months of the year, sliding back into recession, as the pandemic prompted governments to extend lockdowns. The decline was smaller than economists surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast, but it still puts much of Europe in a double-dip recession.

  • AstraZeneca shares rose 3.4 percent in London after the drugmaker’s first-quarter earnings beat analysts expectations. The company also said that the vaccine it developed with the University of Oxford brought in $275 million in sales from about 68 million doses in the first three months of the year; the company has pledged not to profit from the vaccine.

  • Barclays shares plunged 6 percent after what the bank’s chief executive described as a “mixed result” for its first-quarter earnings. Income from trading in equities rose but fell for other assets. Still, the bank has a sunny outlook for the future. Jes Staley, the chief executive, said he expected the British economy to grow at the fastest pace since 1948.

  • Twitter shares dropped 13 percent in premarket trading after the social media platform cautioned investors that its user numbers were unlikely to increase substantially this year when compared with the spike caused by the pandemic.

  • With the pandemic shifting sales online and consumers flush with stimulus checks, Amazon on Thursday reported $108.5 billion in sales in the first three months of the year, up 44 percent from a year earlier. It also posted $8.1 billion in profit, an increase of 220 percent from the same period last year. The high volume of orders during the pandemic has let Amazon operate more efficiently. It has run its warehouses closer to full capacity, and delivery drivers have made more stops on their routes, with less time driving between customers. The number of items Amazon sold grew 44 percent, but the cost to fulfill those orders was up only 31 percent.

  • Twitter reported on Thursday that its revenue in the first quarter of the year was $1.04 billion, a 28 percent increase from the same quarter the previous year that modestly exceeded analyst expectations. Net income for the quarter was $68 million, a turnaround from an $8.4 million loss in the same quarter a year ago. The banning of former President Donald J. Trump did not appear to have hurt Twitter’s financial performance in the quarter. The company saw a 20 percent jump in daily active users who see ads, to 199 million. It also added new advertising formats, leading to a 32 percent increase in ad revenue in the quarter.

Tesla has been losing market share even as demand for rooftop solar power has grown.
Credit…Caleb Kenna for The New York Times

Tesla’s solar ambitions date to 2015 when it announced that it would sell panels and home batteries alongside its electric cars. A year later, Elon Musk, the company’s chief executive, promised that Tesla’s new shingles would turbocharge installations by attracting homeowners who found solar panels ugly.

After delays, Tesla began rolling out the shingles in a big way this year, but it is already encountering a major problem, Ivan Penn reports for The New York Times.

The company is hitting some customers with price increases before installation that are tens of thousands of dollars higher than earlier quotes, angering early adopters and raising big questions about how Tesla, which is better known for its electric cars, is running its once dominant rooftop solar business.

The shingles remain such a tiny segment of the solar market that few industry groups and analysts bother to track installations.

Tesla is not the only company to pursue the idea of embedding solar cells, which convert sunlight into electricity, in shingles. Dow Chemical, CertainTeed, Suntegra and Luma, among others, have offered similar products with limited success.

But given Mr. Musk’s success with Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, Tesla’s glass shingles attracted outsize attention. He promised that they would be much better than anything anybody else had come up with and come in a variety of styles so they could resemble asphalt, slate and Spanish barrel tiles to fit the aesthetic of each home.

During a quarterly earnings call on Monday, Mr. Musk insisted that demand for Tesla’s solar roofs “remains strong” even though the company had raised prices substantially. He described the last-minute increases as a teething problem.

Customers are unhappy with the growing pains. Dr. Peter Quint was eager to install Tesla’s solar shingles on his 4,000-square-foot home in Portland, Ore., until the company raised the price to $112,000, from $75,000, in a terse email. When he called Tesla for an explanation, he was put on hold for more than three hours.

“I said, ‘This isn’t real, right?’” said Dr. Quint, whose specialty is pediatric critical care. “The price started inching up. We could deal with that. Then this. At that price, in our opinion, it’s highway robbery.”

The average selling price of Ford models rose 8 percent in the first three months of 2021 compared with a year ago, to $47,858, according to the auto-sales data provider Edmunds.com.
Credit…Mohamed Sadek for The New York Times

In the first months of 2021, what was good for the auto industry was decidedly good for the American economy.

Spending on motor vehicles and parts rose almost 13 percent in the first quarter, making a big contribution to the increase in gross domestic product, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Strong sales of new and used vehicles were propelled by consumers who had delayed purchases earlier in the pandemic and by others who — because of the virus — wanted to rely less on public transit or shared transportation services like Uber.

Two rounds of stimulus payments since late December were a big factor. Low interest rates, readily available credit, rising home values and stock prices, and strong trade-in values for used models also eased the path for consumers.

In fact, demand in the first quarter was robust enough that the auto industry was able to post healthy results despite a shortage of computer chips that forced temporary shutdowns of many auto plants.

The number of new cars and light trucks sold increased 11 percent from the comparable period a year earlier, to 3.9 million, according to the auto-sales data provider Edmunds.com.

On Wednesday, Ford Motor reported it made a $3.3 billion profit in the quarter, its highest total since 2011. While it produced 200,000 fewer vehicles in the quarter than it had planned, the average selling price of Ford models rose to $47,858, 8 percent higher than in the first quarter a year ago, Edmunds reported.

The combination of strong consumer demand and tight inventories — partly a result of the chip shortage — has produced something of a dream scenario for auto retailers. At AutoNation, the country’s largest chain of dealerships, many vehicles are being sold near or at sticker price even before they arrive from the factory.

“I’ve never seen so much preselling of shipments,” said Mike Jackson, the chief executive. “These vehicles are coming in and going right out.”

In the first quarter, AutoNation’s revenue jumped 27 percent, to $5.9 billion, and the company reported $239 million in profit. That was a turnaround from a loss a year ago, when the pandemic crimped sales and forced AutoNation to close stores.

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