Economy Updates: Millions More to Get Stimulus Payments Next Week
Some of the most vulnerable Americans still haven’t gotten their stimulus checks, but millions of them who receive federal benefits should get their payments next week, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
People who receive benefits from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, the Railroad Retirement Board and Veterans Affairs — but do not file tax returns because they don’t meet the income thresholds — were among those who faced delays.
But most of them — with the exception of those receiving benefits from Veterans Affairs — could have their payments arrive by direct deposit on April 7, as long as there are no further problems. Veterans Affairs beneficiaries will have to wait a bit longer; the I.R.S. estimates their checks could be issued by mid-April and expects to provide more specifics soon.
The payments have been delayed because the I.R.S. didn’t have the proper files to process them until last week. The agency said on Tuesday that it had begun a “multi-step process” to check the beneficiaries’ eligibility and calculate their payments.
Individuals can check the status of their payment on the Get My Payment tool on the I.R.S. website — it’s updated for eligible individuals once their payment has been processed. But the agency said that the tool would not be updated until the weekend of April 3-4 with information for federal beneficiaries expecting payments next week.
But many federal beneficiaries who filed tax returns in 2019 or 2020 — or who used the I.R.S.’s non-filers tool last year — have already received their payments over the past three weeks.
Contrary to what you may have read, Volkswagen has not changed its name.
The company’s U.S. operation caused a stir with an announcement on its website that it planned to call itself Voltswagen to emphasize its push into electric vehicles as it rolls out its first electric sport-utility vehicle in the United States — the ID.4. The change came ahead of April Fool’s day — a favorite time of year for companies to try to grab a share of the social media conversation, such as when IHOP tried to convince the world it was changing its last letter to B, as in burgers.
“At the end of the day, it was a bit of fun with the name and the brand,” a Volkswagen spokesman, Mark Gillies, said. “We wanted to reinforce what we are messaging about the ID.4.”
Word of the name change surfaced on Monday when a news release announcing the name change was published on the company’s website for about an hour before disappearing. CNBC, USA Today and others reported on the news release, saying it was dated April 29 and appeared to have been accidentally posted a month early.
On Tuesday, the company posted a new statement dated March 30 about the name change, sparking a flurry of comments and speculation on social media. Late Tuesday afternoon, Volkswagen officials in Germany, where the company is based, acknowledged it was a marketing tactic.
The company’s Twitter account was changed Tuesday morning to show a logo with the new name, but the company’s website continued to use the old name.
The new name was written in a fluorescent blue typeface similar to the font General Motors chose for a new logo it unveiled in January. G.M.’s logo was intended to have the same effect — to emphasize its commitment to electric vehicles.
Volkswagen needs to make a splash if it wants to sell a lot of electric cars in the United States. Tesla dominates the market for now, while Ford Motor has gained ground with the Mustang Mach-E electric S.U.V. that has been delivered to several thousand drivers.
Changing the name of an automaker as established as Volkswagen would clearly be a huge undertaking, and not just for the company. Its dealers would have to spend millions of dollars to rebrand their franchises.
“I don’t know anything about it,” said Jason Kuhn, owner of two Voltswagen, nee Volkswagen, dealerships near Tampa, Fla. said on Tuesday before the company admitted it was just having fun. “I’ve read it. I really can’t comment.”
About a million student loan borrowers who were left out of earlier relief efforts are getting a reprieve — but only if they defaulted on their loans.
The Education Department said on Tuesday that it will temporarily stop collecting on defaulted loans that were made through the Family Federal Education Loans program and are privately held.
“Our goal is to enable these borrowers who are struggling in default to get the same protections previously made available to tens of millions of other borrowers,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
The change, however, still leaves millions of other borrowers in that program responsible for payments while the bulk of the country’s student loan borrowers have had theirs paused.
Since last March, 43 million borrowers with federal loans owned by the government have had the option to halt their payments. But roughly six million borrowers whose loans were part of the Family Federal Education Loans program — or F.F.E.L. — were left out because the government did not own the loans.
For many decades, federal student loans were insured by the government but made by private lenders. In 2010, Congress ended that system and switched to making direct loans owned by the Education Department. During the Great Recession, the government purchased some — but not all — of the private lenders’ existing federal loans.
That created a two-tiered system last year when the Education Department put the loans it directly holds, including F.F.E.L. loans that it owned, on a pandemic timeout. Loans that were still privately held were not affected.
Tuesday’s move does not help borrowers who are still making payments on those privately held F.F.E.L. loans or have fallen only a few months behind. There are around 5.4 million borrowers in that category, who together owe $134 billion, according to Education Department data.
Tuesday’s announcement is intended to prevent defaulted borrowers from having their tax refunds seized by the Treasury Department through a program that is often used to collect overdue student loan debts. Any seized refunds or wage garnishments that were taken since March 2020 will be retroactively refunded, the Education Department said.
The freeze will extend through Sept. 30, when collections are scheduled to restart on all federal student loans. Nearly everyone who is eligible for the freeze has taken advantage of it: Of the nearly 43 million people with federally owned loans, only 400,000 are still making payments, according to Education Department data.
The rise in housing prices continued to accelerate in January, pushing the rate of increases in one closely watched measure of prices near a 15-year high.
Prices of existing homes rose 11.2 percent in January compared with a year earlier, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller National Home Price Index. In December, that increase was 10.4 percent compared with the prior year.
“The trend of accelerating prices that began in June 2020 has now reached its eighth month,” said Craig J. Lazzara, managing director and global head of index investment strategy at S&P Dow Jones Indices.
“January’s performance is particularly impressive in historical context,” he added. In the 30-year history of S&P Case-Shiller data, he said, fewer than 10 percent of monthly showed prices growing at faster rates. And all of those months were during the housing bubble between 2004 and 2006. The highest rate of growth was in September 2005, when home prices increased as much as 14.5 percent from the year prior.
So as high as January’s figure was, Mr. Lazzara said, “We are well short of that.”
Several factors are probably behind the continued price growth: Interest rates remain relatively low, many families have been seeking more space during the pandemic and there has been a steep decline in housing inventory. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home inventory was at a record-low of 1.03 million units in February, down 29.5 percent from the year prior. Properties typically sold in 20 days, it said, another record low.
“January’s data remain consistent with the view that Covid has encouraged potential buyers to move from urban apartments to suburban homes,” Mr. Lazzara said. “This demand may represent buyers who accelerated purchases that would have happened anyway over the next several years.”
Among the metro areas tracked by S&P’s 20-city composite index, Phoenix, Seattle, and San Diego continued to log the highest year-over-year price gains in January. Home prices in Phoenix rose 15.8 percent in January compared with the year prior, while Seattle saw a 14.3 percent increase, and San Diego prices increased 14.2 percent.
Lululemon, the pricey athleisure company, continued to defy many retail trends of the past year on Tuesday by posting a 24 percent surge in fourth-quarter sales to $1.7 billion and a jump in net profit to $330 million from $298 million. The retailer’s sales for 2020 jumped 11 percent, with direct-to-consumer sales making up 52 percent of its overall revenue. In 2019, direct sales made up 29 percent of revenue, highlighting a major surge in e-commerce during the pandemic.
The initial public offering for Deliveroo, the Amazon-backed food delivery service, is set to be Britain’s biggest this year, giving the company an initial market value of 7.6 billion pounds, or $10.4 billion. But the listing, whose announcement was quickly heralded as a post-Brexit victory for London’s financial sector, has since been rocked by accusations of poor pay for Deliveroo riders. Trading is set to begin on Wednesday, with shares priced at GBP3.90 a share, the bottom of the target range that originally was as high as GBP4.60.
The Texas Tribune, a digital news outlet in Austin, is losing two of its leaders.
Stacy-Marie Ishmael, the editorial director, and Millie Tran, the chief product officer, said on Tuesday that they planned to leave The Tribune next month, a little more than a year after they both started working at the publication. Ms. Ishmael, 36, and Ms. Tran, 32, announced their resignations on Twitter and in a joint email to the Tribune staff that was viewed by The New York Times.
Ms. Ishmael, who is Black, wrote in her part of the email that she had reached her limit after “an absolute brutal year for many people, and especially for nonwhite people.”
“It has been impossible for me to separate what’s been happening in the world, which we’ve been covering rigorously and intensely for these 12 months, from what’s happening in my own life and in the lives of my friends, family and communities,” she wrote.
Ms. Tran, a former deputy off-platform editor at The Times, had been working in New York rather than Austin, The Tribune’s home city, because of the pandemic. She said she had decided she would rather stay put.
“When I accepted this job last February, I had no idea what this year would bring,” Ms. Tran, who is Asian-American, wrote in the email. “No one did. I am so proud of what we’ve done in extraordinary circumstances.”
Evan Smith, the chief executive of The Tribune, a digital news platform founded in 2009, brought Ms. Ishmael and Ms. Tran to the publication about a year ago, after Emily Ramshaw, the former editor in chief, and Amanda Zamora, the former chief audience officer, left to start The 19th, a nonprofit news site focused on gender and politics.
In an interview Mr. Smith, 54, said he was “caught off guard” when Ms. Ishmael and Ms. Tran told him on March 2 of their decision to leave. “I think they both really hit a wall together,” he said.
“These were the most adverse and unusual circumstances that you could have asked for as new leaders of an organization and new managers of a team of folks in a period of transition,” he added.
Mr. Smith praised the leadership of Ms. Ishmael and Ms. Tran and said The Tribune’s audience had grown 2.5 times since the pandemic began. He said he would talk with his staff before starting a search to fill the jobs, adding that he would consider the toll that working for The Tribune may take on its employees.
“I think that the culture of this place and the degree to which the normal work that we take on has an adverse effect on the lives and well-being of people is something that we have to confront as an organization,” he said. “Not just us as an organization, but us as an industry.”
The last day at The Tribune for Ms. Ishmael and Ms. Tran will be April 16.
“It made sense to end as we began,” Ms. Ishmael said of their decision to leave together.
The counting of votes that will determine whether a union can form at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., begins Tuesday. But the results of the union election, one of the most consequential in recent memory, may not be known until later this week or early next week because the vote can often involve a painstaking process that will be closely scrutinized by representatives from the union and Amazon.
The ballots, which were mailed out to workers in early February, must be signed and had to be received by the National Labor Relations Board at its Birmingham office by the end of Monday.
First, a staff member at the labor board will read the names of the workers, without opening an inner envelope with the actual ballot. Representatives from the union and Amazon will be on a private video conference. As each name is read, they will check the workers’ names against a staff list, and if either side contests whether that worker was eligible to vote, that ballot will be set aside. A representative from each side is also expected to be there in person to observe the process.
After the two sides have had the opportunity to make their objections about eligibility, the N.L.R.B. will begin counting the uncontested ballots. After every 100 votes, the labor board will count those ballots again until all the votes are counted. This portion will be open to reporters on a video conference line.
A finding of more contested ballots than uncontested is likely to set off legal arguments by the Retail Warehouse and Department Store union, which has led the organizing drive, and Amazon over the eligibility of each contested ballot. Each side has about a week to make its case before N.L.R.B. certifies the vote.
Either side can contest whether the vote was conducted fairly. The union, for instance, could argue that the company took steps to improperly sway the vote, by potentially making workers fearful of reprisal if they supported organizing.
If the union prevails, workers fear that the company may shut down the warehouse. Amazon has backed away from locations that brought it headaches before.
But the company has committed more than $360 million in leases and equipment for the Bessemer warehouse, and shutting down the vote of a large Black work force could publicly backfire, said Marc Wulfraat, a logistics consultant who closely tracks the company.
On the first day of the Biden presidency, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that the Treasury Department was “taking steps to resume efforts” to put the abolitionist Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. “It’s important that our money reflects the history and diversity of our country,” Ms. Psaki said.
But it will probably be years before we see the Underground Railroad conductor gracing U.S. currency, the DealBook newsletter reports.
The reason? The deadline for printing a new version of the $20 bill is 2030. It was set by an anti-counterfeiting committee in 2013, two years before Tubman won a campaign to replace President Andrew Jackson on the bill.
“The primary reason currency is redesigned is for security against counterfeiting,” Lydia Washington, a representative for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, told DealBook. “The redesign timeline is driven by security feature development.”
The Obama administration said that a design “concept” would be unveiled by 2020, to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Extensive redesign work was reportedly done, but in 2019, President Donald J. Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said the project would be delayed until at least 2026. (Insiders said they had always doubted that the 2020 deadline could be met).
It turns out that the complex design and testing process for currency cannot be hurried. “No final images have been selected,” Ms. Washington said. The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment.
United States Customs and Border Protection has ordered port officials to seize disposable gloves made by the world’s largest rubber glove maker, a Malaysian company that the agency says uses forced labor in its factories.
Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Monday that it had “sufficient information to believe” that the company, Top Glove, “uses forced labor in the production of disposable gloves.”
Last July, the agency issued an import ban on products from two Top Glove subsidiaries because they were suspected of using forced labor. On Monday, it said it had determined that rubber gloves produced by the company with forced, convict or indentured labor “are being, or are likely to be, imported into the United States.”
Based on that determination, the agency said in a notice, it had authorized U.S. port directors to seize the gloves and start forfeiture proceedings unless importers can produce evidence showing that the gloves were not produced with prohibited labor.
The notice was the result of a monthslong investigation “aimed at preventing goods made by modern slavery from entering U.S. commerce,” Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement.
The agency, he said, “will not tolerate foreign companies’ exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically made goods to American consumers.” He added that the agency had “taken steps to ensure” that the enforcement action would not significantly affect total imports of disposable gloves into the United States.
After the import ban on Top Glove subsidiaries last summer, officials at the company said they were upgrading their worker dormitories and paying restitution to affected workers.
The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it was in touch with the U.S. agency and hoped to “resolve any ongoing areas of concern immediately.”
Top Glove also said it had engaged a independent labor consultancy from Britain since last July. That consultancy, Impactt Limited, said in a statement this month that its latest investigations had not turned up any “systemic forced labor” among the company’s direct employees.
But Andy Hall, a labor rights campaigner based in Nepal, said on Tuesday that Top Glove “remains an unethical company whose factories and supply chain continue to utilize forced labor,” and one that prioritizes profits and production efficiency over its workers’ basic rights.
Mr. Hall said he welcomed the Customs and Border Protection notice, and that the next step would be holding the company’s owners and investors to account.
Top Glove controls roughly a quarter of the global rubber glove market and has 21,000 employees. Many of them come from some of Asia’s poorest countries — including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal — and live and work in crowded conditions.
The company has enjoyed record profits during the pandemic, even though thousands of its low-paid workers in Malaysia suffered from a large coronavirus outbreak last year.
Dapper Labs, the blockchain company that has pushed digital collectibles known as NFTs, for nonfungible tokens, said on Tuesday that it had raised $305 million in new funding.
The company, which has a partnership with the National Basketball Association, created an online marketplace called N.B.A. Top Shot in October where sports fans can buy, sell and collect digital “moments” — essentially, video clips of basketball players. But unlike most basketball highlights that can be found on YouTube or ESPN, these moments are on a blockchain, a digital ledger that records cryptocurrency transactions, which makes it possible for fans to buy, collect and exchange them like trading cards.
Top Shot has exploded in popularity, part of a larger frenzy for cryptocurrencies and NFTs that has driven up the value of Bitcoin and led to head-turning bids for digital artwork. There have been more than three million Top Shot transactions, Dapper Labs said, generating $500 million in sales. The company makes money through the sale of the digital moments and also collects a cut whenever a moment is resold.
The new funding values Dapper Labs, which is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, at $2.6 billion. It is the biggest financing for the company, which had previously raised $52.5 million.
Investors in the new funding include the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, the hedge fund Coatue Management and former and current N.B.A. stars including Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, Kyle Lowry and Klay Thompson, as well as celebrities like Will Smith and Ashton Kutcher.
Roham Gharegozlou, the Dapper Labs founder and chief executive — who also created the 2017 blockchain game CryptoKitties — said Top Shot had “catalyzed” the excitement surrounding NFTs.
“I think N.B.A. Top Shot is proving that these platforms are ready for prime time,” he said.
Mr. Gharegozlou said the new funding would go toward partnerships with other sports leagues like the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the mixed martial arts organization. He said the company would also hire more employees and fund NFT ventures made by other start-ups.
Wall Street fell on Tuesday as bond yields jumped higher.
The S&P 500 lost 0.3 percent, and the tech-focused Nasdaq composite ended down 0.1 percent.
In bond markets, attention was returning to the pace of the economic recovery in the United States as more details of President Biden’s clean energy and infrastructure spending plans emerged, including a huge expansion of offshore wind energy along the East Coast. A $3 trillion economic package is in the works, on the heels of the $1.9 trillion economic recovery bill.
Bond prices dropped, sending yields on 10-year bonds higher. The yield on U.S. Treasury notes rose to 1.73 percent. The yields reached as high as 1.76 percent earlier in the day, the highest since January 2020. Faster economic growth is likely to lead to higher prices, which reduces the appeal of bonds.
Most European stock indexes rose, with the Stoxx Europe 600 gaining 0.7 percent. Data published on Tuesday showed an increase in inflation in Spain and Germany, while an index of economic confidence for the eurozone in March was at its highest level since before the pandemic.
Oil prices fell. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, fell 1.6 percent to $60.55 a barrel. With the Suez Canal now unblocked, focus shifted to the meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies beginning Thursday to decide on production quotas for May. In early March, OPEC decided to keep the tighter quotas the same for April.
“Much as the Suez Canal is seeing traffic return progressively to normal, it seems that bond markets are returning to pricing the economic recovery,” analysts at ING wrote, referring to the rise in bond yields. They also warned that traders and investors settling positions for the end of the first quarter would affect market prices this week.
Shares in the Swiss bank Credit Suisse and the Japanese bank Nomura extended their deep declines from Monday, when the banks said they faced losses as they tried to exit positions tied to an American hedge fund, Archegos.
In today’s On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide writes that Amazon often argues that it has a relatively small market share of overall retail sales to counter critics who say the company is too big and powerful. But Amazon has had a profound influence on people’s behavior, the strategies of entire industries and our communities no matter what the numbers say.