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Business Updates: Chevron Mandates Vaccines for Some Workers

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A Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Miss.Credit…Jonathan Bachman/Reuters

The oil and gas giant Chevron will require some of its employees to receive coronavirus vaccinations, becoming the first major U.S. oil producer to announce that it was requiring field workers to be protected against the virus at a time when other large corporations are making similar demands on office workers.

The mandate applies to employees who travel internationally and expatriates, as well as the offshore work force in the Gulf of Mexico and some onshore support personnel, the company said on Monday. Chevron is the second-largest oil and gas producer in the United States after Exxon Mobil.

“As part of our fitness for duty safety standard, workers in certain jobs are required to be vaccinated against Covid-19,” a Chevron spokeswoman said in an email. “We will continue to carefully monitor the medical data and follow the guidance of health authorities in order to protect our work force.”

The news was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

Exxon Mobil does not have a formal mandate on vaccines, but the company is strongly encouraging workers to get vaccinated. A company spokesman, Casey Norton, said in a statement that Exxon was monitoring public health guidance.

“Given the spread of the Delta variant and its impact on unvaccinated individuals, all unvaccinated individuals are expected to wear a face covering in all indoor locations when six feet of social distance cannot be maintained,” he said. That policy went into effect on Aug. 18.

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.

People in Brazil waiting to get vaccinated. The International Monetary Fund’s distribution of emergency reserve funds was the largest such expansion of currency reserves, known as Special Drawing Rights, in its history. Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund distributed $650 billion in emergency reserve funds on Monday to help poor countries combat the coronavirus pandemic and pay down debt.

The distribution was the largest such expansion of currency reserves, known as Special Drawing Rights, in the I.M.F.’s history. It came as the world is grappling with a two-track economic recovery, with poorer countries lagging behind in vaccinating their populations and experiencing slower growth, and as the Delta variant of the virus is leading to a rise in cases.

“The allocation is a significant shot in the arm for the world and, if used wisely, a unique opportunity to combat this unprecedented crisis,” Kristalina Georgieva, the I.M.F.’s managing director, said in a statement.

A Special Drawing Right is essentially a line of credit that allows member countries of the I.M.F. to cash it in for hard currency. Their value is based on a basket of international currencies and is reset every five years. Each of the 190 I.M.F. member countries gets an allotment of the currency reserves based on its shares in the fund, which tracks with the size of a country’s economy.

The currency reserves have been the subject of controversy within the United States in recent weeks, with Republican lawmakers accusing the Biden administration of enriching American adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran by backing the allocation. Other countries also expressed some concern last week after the Taliban toppled Afghanistan’s government and, under pressure from its members, the I.M.F. suspended the distribution of more than $400 million worth of S.D.R.s that Afghanistan was expected to receive.

The Treasury Department backed the allocation and Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen had said that the United States would not engage in S.D.R. transactions with adversaries such as Russia and Iran, making it unlikely that they would receive much of a benefit from the additional currency reserves.

The I.M.F. said on Monday that as a result of the new distribution, $275 billion is going to emerging and developing countries. It is encouraging wealthy countries to voluntarily channel some of their reserve assets to those that are most in need.

U.S. stocks rose in early trading Monday ahead of an annual gathering of economists and central bankers later this week. Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve’s chair, will speak on Friday and may reveal details about how and when the bank plans to begin winding down its bond-buying program. The event, typically held in Jackson Hole in Wyoming, will again be held virtually this year.

The S&P rose 0.8 percent, recouping all of its losses from last week. The Nasdaq composite gained more than 1 percent.

Sales of existing homes rose 2 percent in July from June, a second month of gains, the National Association of Realtors said. Sales rose 1.5 percent from July 2020. The median price for homes sold in July was $359,900, up 17.8 percent from July 2020.

Bitcoin rose above $50,000 for the first time since May. PayPal said on Monday that it will allow customers to buy, hold and sell four cryptocurrencies — Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Bitcoin Cash — in the United Kingdom.

European stocks rose, with the Stoxx Europe 600 gaining 0.4 percent.

A C-17 military transport plane landing at the international airport in Kabul on Sunday. Commercial airlines have started evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from bases in areas in the Middle East, such as Qatar.Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

Commercial airlines have started evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from bases in the Middle East, fulfilling a commitment to aid the military in emergencies.

A United Airlines spokeswoman said the company started providing the assistance on Sunday but declined to offer additional details. According to FlightRadar24, a tracking service, a United flight left Frankfurt and landed at a military base in Qatar on Sunday. That same plane was scheduled to return to Ramstein Air Base, a U.S. base in Germany, and then fly on to Washington’s Dulles International Airport.

American Airlines said it planned to have three wide-body planes available starting Monday to assist in the evacuations. United is contributing four Boeing 777 planes. Delta Air Lines and two charter-flight operators, Atlas Air and Omni Air, are providing three planes each, and Hawaiian Airlines is providing two.

“The images from Afghanistan are heartbreaking,” American Airlines said in a statement. “The airline is proud and grateful of our pilots and flight attendants, who will be operating these trips to be a part of this lifesaving effort.”

A voluntary program known as the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was established in 1951, following the Berlin airlift, during which the U.S. and Britain combated a Soviet blockade of West Berlin by delivering supplies over the course of 277,569 flights. The program is run by the Defense Department with help from the Transportation Department. Participation in the program gives airlines preference in carrying passengers and cargo for the Defense Department in peacetime — a lucrative business.

In discussions last week, government officials notified airlines that they may activate the fleet to help with evacuations in Afghanistan. Over the weekend, the union that represents flight attendants at United Airlines, the Association of Flight Attendants, allowed its members to sign up to staff the flights through a bidding system.

“As a global airline and flag carrier for our country, we embrace the responsibility to quickly respond to international challenges like this one,” Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, said on social media. “It’s a duty we take with the utmost care and coordination.”

The flights are not expected to hurt participating airlines, which are carrying fewer passengers because of the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for tickets is especially weak for the international flights that use the kinds of larger planes that will be used for the evacuations.

Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, right, and John Williams, president of the New York Fed, in Jackson Hole in 2019. The Fed’s annual economic gathering will begin virtually on Thursday.Credit…Ann Saphir/Reuters

Monday

Home sales: The National Association of Realtors will publish data on sales of existing homes. Sales bounced back in June after a four-month decline, but higher prices and a shortage in inventory continue to threaten the market.

Tuesday

Best Buy earnings: The electronics retailer could see gains in its second quarter, which ran through the end of July, as the latest retail sales data showed an increase in electronics sales last month.

Nordstrom earnings: Investors will learn whether Nordstrom’s efforts to attract younger customers and lose its ties with malls helped increase revenue.

Thursday

Jackson Hole symposium: Central bankers will meet virtually for an annual gathering traditionally held in Jackson Hole in Wyoming. Jerome H. Powell, the Fed’s chair, will speak on Friday and is expected to reveal details about how and when the bank plans to begin winding down its bond-buying program, one of several policies it created to reduce the economic impact of the pandemic.

Friday

Personal consumption expenditures: The Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge will provide insight into how much and how quickly rising prices might fade. The Fed continues to say it believes the recent pop in inflation is transitory.

Consumer sentiment: The University of Michigan will report its final results for August for its consumer sentiment reading. Preliminary results showed consumer confidence tumbled more than 13 percent in early August from July, signaling a slowdown in the economic recovery.

Pfizer said it presented the Food and Drug Administration with data from 44,000 clinical trial participants in United States, the European Union, Turkey, South Africa and South America.Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older, making it the first to move beyond emergency use status in the United States.

The decision will set off a cascade of vaccine requirements by hospitals, colleges, corporations and other organizations. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III will be sending guidelines to the country’s 1.4 million active duty service members mandating that they be vaccinated, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

United Airlines recently announced that its employees will be required to show proof of vaccination within five weeks of regulatory approval. Oregon has adopted a similar requirement for all state workers, as have a host of universities in states from Louisiana to Minnesota.

The approval comes as the nation’s fight against the pandemic has intensified again, with the highly infectious Delta variant dramatically slowing the progress that the country had made over the first half of the year. The Biden administration hopes the development will motivate at least some of the roughly 85 million unvaccinated Americans who are eligible for shots to get them.

President Biden is planning to commemorate it in a speech urging vaccination scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on Monday afternoon. “If you’re not vaccinated yet, now is the time,” the president said on Twitter.

“While millions of people have already safely received Covid-19 vaccines, we recognize that for some, the F.D.A. approval of a vaccine may now instill additional confidence to get vaccinated,” Dr. Janet Woodcock, the acting F.D.A. commissioner, said in a statement. “Today’s milestone puts us one step closer to altering the course of this pandemic in the U.S.”

Pfizer said it presented the F.D.A. with data from 44,000 clinical trial participants in United States, the European Union, Turkey, South Africa and South America. The company said the data showed the vaccine was 91 percent effective in preventing infection — a slight drop from the 95 percent efficacy rate that the data showed when the F.D.A. decided to authorize the vaccine for emergency use in December. Pfizer said the decrease reflected the fact that researchers had more time to catch people who became infected.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking public attitudes during the pandemic, found that three of every 10 unvaccinated people said that they would be more likely to get vaccinated with a shot that had been fully approved.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will continue to be authorized for emergency use for children ages 12 to 15 while Pfizer collects the necessary data required for full approval. A decision on whether to authorize the vaccine for children younger than 12 could be at least several months away. So far, more than 92 million Americans — 54 percent of those fully inoculated — have gotten Pfizer shots. Most of the rest received Moderna’s vaccine.

Dr. Peter Marks, the F.D.A.’s top vaccine regulator, said that the Pfizer vaccine’s licensure followed a rigorous review of hundreds of thousands of pages of data and included inspections of the factories where the vaccine is produced. “The public and medical community can be confident that although we approved this vaccine expeditiously, it was fully in keeping with our existing high standards for vaccines in the U.S.,” he said.

Health experts and state officials welcomed the development. With the Delta variant driving up caseloads across the country, “full approval could not come at a more important time,” said Dr. Richard Besser, president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is time for schools, businesses, health care facilities, and other indoor places where people congregate to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for admittance for all who are vaccine-eligible,” he added.

Some experts have estimated that full approval might convince just five percent of those who are unvaccinated to get shots. Even if that’s so, “that’s still a huge slice of people,” Dr. Thomas Dobbs, the chief health officer for Mississippi, a state that is particularly hard hit by the Delta variant. He said licensure will help “shake loose this false assertion that the vaccines are an ‘experimental’ thing.”

The F.D.A. is in the midst of a decision-making marathon related to coronavirus vaccines. The next major one looming for regulators is whether or not to authorize booster shots. The Biden administration said last week that pending the agency’s clearance, it will offer third shots to adults who got the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines eight months after their second injection, starting Sept. 20. Third shots are already authorized for some people with immune deficiencies, but the risk-benefit calculus is different for the general population.

Federal health officials said that both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna’s vaccines, which rely on similar technology, wane in potency over time. That trend, they said, is converging with the rise of the particularly dangerous Delta variant, making those who completed their vaccinations at the start of the year increasingly vulnerable to infection.

Some health experts have challenged the decision to recommend booster shots as premature, saying the data shows that the vaccines are holding up well against severe disease and hospitalization, including against the Delta variant. Boosters would only be warranted if the vaccines were failing to prevent hospitalizations with Covid-19, some of those experts have said.

Regulators are still reviewing Moderna’s application for full approval of its vaccine. That decision could take several weeks. Johnson & Johnson is expected to apply soon for full approval.

Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

Correction: Aug. 23, 2021

An earlier version of this item misstated the name of the organization led by Dr. Richard Besser. It is the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, not the Robert Wood Foundation.

As companies put off bringing employees back to offices, service businesses that cater to office workers have suffered.Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

New York has lagged behind the rest of the country in its economic recovery, with a 10.5 percent unemployment rate that is nearly twice the national average. Now, rather than seeing the fuller rebound it was counting on, the city is facing fresh challenges.

Overall employment remains more than half a million jobs below where it was before the pandemic, with steep losses persisting in the leisure and hospitality industries and in other blue-collar fields.

Many companies have scrapped plans to bring employees back to the office shortly. Boston Properties, which owns nearly 12 million square feet of space in the New York region, said about 40 percent of prepandemic occupants had returned to its buildings earlier in the summer, based on lobby badge swipes. In August, that figure had dipped to around 30 percent.

It is less clear whether some suburban workers will ever return to the city and to their sometimes-arduous commutes. Greenberg Traurig, a global law firm, reduced its planned Manhattan footprint and now plans to open two new offices on Long Island, where many of its lawyers and investor clients relocated to during the pandemic.

More than any other American city, New York counts on international tourists. But visitors from Europe continue to be barred. Domestic travelers have returned to New York in rising numbers, but they do not stay as long or spend as much as overseas tourists.

There are signs of hope. But even as the city sponsored an official Homecoming Week, cancellations of trade shows and other big events have mounted. READ THE ARTICLE ->

Many states have their own Covid-tracking apps to keep local residents informed.Credit…Google; COVID Alert NY

As some people head back to the office or classroom after more than 18 months of pandemic disruption, maintaining social distance remains a concern, especially with the highly contagious Delta variant spreading nationwide. J. D. Biersdorfer, The New York Times’s Tech Tip columnist, has a few simple suggestions for using your smartphone to help stay informed and safe if you’re returning to the office or school.

Stay informed: Regular checks of school, municipal and state websites can keep you up-to-date about mask mandates, vaccine requirements, quarantines and other Covid-related news.

Carry your card: Certain institutions, venues and employers now have a vaccine requirement, and many New York businesses require proof and will enforce it next month. Your paper vaccination card serves as proof, but you can keep it safe at home and go digital.

Modify your commute: Commuting is more of a challenge for people who use mass transit. Last year, both Apple and Google added coronavirus-related business information to their maps apps, and a more recent Google Maps update now shows busy areas so you can better avoid crowds.

Fuel up: When a drive-through window isn’t an option for picking up your breakfast or lunch from a distance, there are other ways to minimize your exposure, like phoning in a pickup order to your local diner or bodega.

Video to go: The mobile version of your company’s preferred videoconference app lets you ditch a conference room and take a meeting anywhere, even without your computer.

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Hedge Fund Chief Defends His Firm’s Bet Against GameStop

In a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Gabriel Plotkin, founder and chief executive of the hedge fund Melvin Capital, defended his firm’s long-term strategy in betting that GameStop shares would fall.

Contrary to many reports, Melvin Capital was not bailed out in the midst of these events. Citadel proactively reached out to become a new investor, similar to the investments others make in our fund. It was an opportunity for Citadel to buy low and earn returns for its investors if and when our fund’s value went up. To be sure, Melvin was managing through a difficult time, but we always had margin access and we were not seeking a cash infusion. And absolutely none of Melvin’s short positions are part of any effort to artificially depress or manipulate downward the price of the stock. Nothing about our short position prevents a company from achieving its objectives. It is just Melvin’s view about whether it will. Specific to GameStop, we had a research-supported view well before the recent events. In fact, we’ve been short GameStop since Melvin’s inception six years earlier, because we believed and still believe that its business model, selling new and used video games in physical stores, is being overtaken by digital downloads through the internet. And that trend only accelerated in 2020 when, because of the pandemic, people were downloading video games at home. As a result, the gaming industry had its best year ever, but GameStop had significant losses. In January 2021, a group on Reddit began to make posts about Melvin’s specific investments. They took information contained in our S.E.C. filings and encouraged others to trade in the opposite direction. Many of these posts were laced with anti-Semitic slurs directed at me and others. Ordinary investors who were convinced by a misleading frenzy to buy GameStop at $100, $200, or even $483 have now lost significant amounts. When this frenzy began, Melvin started closing out its position at GameStop at a loss, not because our investment thesis had changed but because something unprecedented was happening. We also reduced many other Melvin positions at significant losses, both long and short, that were the subject of similar posts.

In a House Financial Services Committee hearing, Gabriel Plotkin, founder and chief executive of the hedge fund Melvin Capital, defended his firm’s long-term strategy in betting that GameStop shares would fall.CreditCredit…Financial Services Committee

The hedge fund Citadel pumped billions of dollars into Melvin Capital after that fund’s bet against GameStop went bad, leading to huge losses. Now, Citadel is taking some of its money back.

Citadel has notified Melvin of its plans to retrieve $500 million of the $2 billion it injected in late January, according to two people briefed on the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly about it. Under the terms of Citadel’s investment, the money will be returned at the end of September, the people said, as the third quarter draws to a close.

Citadel’s plan was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The cash infusion came in late January as Melvin was grappling with a huge turnaround in its short bet of GameStop. GameStop’s shares flatlined in recent years as it struggled to refashion itself from a brick-and-mortar video-game retailer into a more modern e-commerce company. But the company’s stock skyrocketed in January, after new directors from Chewy.com, which sells pet products, were named and as small investors piled into the stock, goaded on by the WallStreetBets forum on Reddit.

Melvin took heavy losses as it scrambled to cover the costs of its wrong-way trade. Some of its other short positions, including its bet against the movie-theater company AMC Entertainment, were hurting it, too.

Citadel, which is based in Chicago, and Point72 Asset Management — a fund based in Stamford, Conn., that Melvin’s founder, Gabriel Plotkin, once worked at — stepped in with a combined $2.75 billion in cash on Jan. 25. The injections helped stabilize Melvin, which has generated double-digit-percentage returns since Feb. 1, according to one of the people, who was briefed on its performance.

Melvin is still down 41 percent for this year through July, according to an investor letter reviewed by The New York Times, because of its heavy losses from January.

As part of its investment, Citadel receives a cut of Melvin’s revenue, in addition to the returns it gets on its money, the two people said. Citadel was also given the right to pull out at least some of its cash as early as the third quarter of this year, these people added — a right it is now exercising. (Hedge fund investors are typically required to leave their capital invested for a longer period.) Citadel, which manages $38 billion in assets, is itself up about 9 percent through mid-August, according to one of the people, who had been briefed on the firm’s returns.

Mr. Plotkin declined to comment. Kenneth C. Griffin, Citadel’s founder, did not respond to requests for comment.

Point72 is staying put.

“I have the same deal as Ken,” said Point72’s chief executive, Steven Cohen, “and no plans to redeem.”

Rachel Maddow, the top-rated anchor at MSNBC, has renewed her contract with the cable news network, extending her 13-year run for several more years, according to a person briefed on the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In addition to hosting her show, Ms. Maddow, 48, will develop new projects with the network’s parent company, NBCUniversal, the person said. Financial terms of the deal could not be learned. Ms. Maddow’s contract had been set to expire next year.

A California law that ensures many gig workers are considered independent contractors, while affording them some limited benefits, is unconstitutional and unenforceable, a California Superior Court judge ruled Friday evening.

The decision is not likely to immediately affect the new law and is certain to face appeals from Uber and other so-called gig economy companies. It reopened the debate about whether drivers for ride-hailing services and delivery couriers are employees who deserve full benefits, or independent contractors who are responsible for their own businesses and benefits.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III has ordered six commercial airlines to provide passenger jets to help with the growing U.S. military operation evacuating Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul, the Afghan capital, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

The current activation is for 18 planes: four from United Airlines; three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Air Lines and Omni Air; and two from Hawaiian Airlines. The Pentagon does not expect a major impact to commercial flights. Scott Kirby, the chief executive of United Airlines, said it was “a duty we take with the utmost care and coordination.”

General Motors said on Friday that it was expanding its recall of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars that have been found to be at risk of overheating and catching fire as a result of manufacturing defects.

The company said it was recalling Bolts from the 2020 through 2022 model years and a few 2019 Bolts that were not covered under a previous recall. The move means all 141,000 Bolts that G.M. has produced — going back to the 2017 model — are under recall.

G.M. said the move would cost the company $1 billion on top of the $800 million it had allocated for previous Bolt recalls. It also said it would seek reimbursement from its battery supplier, LG Chem.

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