Stock Rally Fizzles on Federal Reserve Woes: Live Updates

  • Stocks tumbled on Wednesday, with an early rally quickly fading after minutes of the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting showed that policymakers remained worried about the economy and said more spending by Washington would be critical to a recovery.

“Uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook remained very elevated, with the path of the economy highly dependent on the course of the virus and the public sector’s response to it,” minutes from the central bank’s July 28-29 meeting showed.

Read about the Fed here.

  • Target was the best performing stock in the S&P 500, jumping nearly 13 percent after the company reported a surge in sales in the second quarter. Online sales nearly tripled from the previous year and its profit rose 80 percent to nearly $1.7 billion. Read about the earnings report here.

  • Apple touched a $2 trillion valuation, the first U.S. company to do so. The New York Times’s Jack Nicas writes:

It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value. It took it just two more years to get to $2 trillion.

Even more stunning: All of Apple’s second $1 trillion came in the past 21 weeks, while the global economy shrank faster than ever before in the coronavirus pandemic.

Credit…Gabrielle Lurie/Reuters

Airbnb said on Wednesday that it had confidentially filed to go public, taking a key step toward one of the largest public market debuts in a generation of “sharing economy” start-ups.

A public offering by the company, which lets people rent out their spare rooms or homes to travelers, would cap a volatile year in which its business was devastated by the spread of the coronavirus.

Airbnb had been privately valued at $31 billion before this year, and the company must now convince investors that it can thrive and turn a profit in a new era of limited travel.

Airbnb declined to comment beyond its announcement.

In recent years, other so-called unicorns, the name given to start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, have ridden a wave of growth fueled by smartphones, gig work and copious amounts of venture capital.

Why this is a good time for Airbnb to pursue I.P.O.:

Its debut will most likely be helped by an ebullient stock market, which has remained robust despite the economic destruction caused by the pandemic. On Tuesday, the S&P 500 hit a new high as investors focused on signs that the worst might be over.

Start-ups have taken advantage of investors’ excitement for technology. Tech companies including Lemonade, an insurance provider, and ZoomInfo, a business database company, watched their prices soar after listing over the summer.

Credit…Ting Shen for The New York Times

The stock market may have broken through its old high, as if the coronavirus pandemic never happened, but officials at the Federal Reserve are still worried about the economy.

When they met in late July, the central bank’s policymakers discussed the need for continuing economic support with millions of workers still at home, minutes from the central bank’s July 28-29 meeting showed.

“Uncertainty surrounding the economic outlook remained very elevated, with the path of the economy highly dependent on the course of the virus and the public sector’s response to it,” the minutes say.

That July meeting came just before key government support programs lapsed, including enhanced unemployment benefits. Officials pointed out that monetary policy and “particularly fiscal policy” — in other words, congressionally mandated spending — would play important roles in supporting business activity.

With some stimulus provisions “set to expire shortly against the backdrop of a still-weak labor market, additional fiscal aid would likely be important for supporting vulnerable families, and thus the economy more broadly, in the period ahead,” a number of participants said, according to the minutes.

For now, Washington is deadlocked over any new spending. Senate Republicans began circulating the text of a narrow coronavirus relief package on Tuesday, but it is unlikely that Democrats will sign on.

The Fed has taken actions to support the economy. Its policies can set the backdrop for growth to make it cheap to borrow and spend, but they do not directly put money in consumers’ and companies’ pockets.

Credit…Carlos Barria/Reuters

Shares of the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company fell as much as 4 percent on Wednesday, after President Trump called on his supporters to boycott the Ohio-based company because of its policy on political attire in the workplace.

“Don’t buy GOODYEAR TIRES – They announced a BAN ON MAGA HATS,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday, referring to his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.

Mr. Trump’s outburst came a day after a television station in Kansas shared an image from a Goodyear training presentation that said “MAGA Attire” as well as “Blue Lives Matter,” the slogan intended to support police officers but also decried as a ill-suited reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement. were considered unacceptable.

Goodyear responded on Wednesday by saying that its policy against harassment and discrimination means that it asks that “associates refrain from workplace expressions in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party.”

Mr. Trump has attacked companies on Twitter in the past for policies he disagreed with. These include the automaker Ford, for manufacturing cars outside of the United States, and the drug maker Pfizer because of the rising cost of pharmaceuticals.

Earlier in his presidency, those tweets often set off reactions in financial markets and sometimes prompted changes in company policy, but Mr. Trump’s public scoldings eventually lost some of their impact.

Goodyear, which has about 60,000 employees and was founded in 1898, sells about half of its tires in the Americas. Its two major rivals — Bridgestone and Michelin — are not American companies. Bridgestone is based in Japan, and Michelin in France.

Goodyear’s shares ended trading on Wednesday with a decline of about 1.6 percent.

Credit…Michelle Gustafson for The New York Times

JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the United States, had considered opening A.T.M.s and other banking facilities inside branches of the United States Postal Service, a bank spokeswoman said.

Several months ago, the bank explored the possibility of leasing space in post office branches, a move that would have put it in a highly favorable position compared to its giant peers, the spokeswoman said.

Following a report on Wednesday by The Capitol Forum that cited an internal Postal Service document describing the plans, the JPMorgan spokeswoman, Patricia Wexler, said the bank had discussions “about what it might look like to lease a small number of spaces to place A.T.M.s to better serve some historically underserved communities.”

Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Postal Service to offer its own banking options so that more low-income Americans can have access to basic services, like cashing checks, without having to pay the same rates that banks or payday lenders charge to people without bank accounts, which can be extremely high.

Having JPMorgan’s banking facilities in post office branches may have made the idea of postal banking harder to execute. That would have been good for JPMorgan and other large banks, which generally oppose postal banking because it would undermine their ability to attract new customers.

In June, a consortium of bank lobbying groups, including the American Bankers Association, the largest such group in the country, as well as the Bank Policy Institute, which represents the country’s largest banks, wrote to leaders in the House of Representatives urging them to oppose legislation that would have provided funding for postal banking services for the 2021 fiscal year.

“Congress should encourage the Postal Service to focus on its core business of physical mail delivery, and not attempt to expand the mission to businesses outside of the Postal Service’s area of expertise,” the groups’ representatives wrote.

Ms. Wexler said JPMorgan’s talks with the Postal Service were preliminary. “There is no agreement in place and no imminent plans to move forward,” she said.

It took Apple 42 years to reach $1 trillion in value. It took it just two more years to get to $2 trillion.

Even more stunning: All of Apple’s second $1 trillion was added in the past 21 weeks, while the global economy shrank faster than ever before in the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday Apple became the first U.S. company to hit that valuation when its shares climbed in early trading. It was another milestone for the maker of iPhones, Mac computers and Apple Watches, cementing its title as the world’s most valuable public company and punctuating how the pandemic has been a bonanza for the tech giants.

As recently as mid-March, Apple’s value was under $1 trillion after the stock market plunged over fears of the coronavirus. On March 23, the stock market’s nadir this year, the Federal Reserve announced aggressive new measures to calm investors. Since then, the stock market — and particularly the stocks of Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet and Facebook — largely soared, with the S&P 500 hitting a new high on Tuesday.

Credit…Demetrius Freeman for The New York Times

Target said on Wednesday that its profits surged to nearly $1.7 billion in the three months through Aug. 1, an increase of about 80 percent from the same time a year earlier, as people continued to turn to big-box retailers for supplies during the coronavirus lockdowns.

The earnings growth came as sales rose nearly 25 percent, in part as online sales nearly tripled from the previous year, the company said in a statement.

Same-store sales (from stores that were open both this year and last) increased nearly 11 percent, while same-day services, including order pick up and drive up, grew by 273 percent.

Target was designated as an essential service, allowing its stores to remain open while some competitors were forced to closed. The company said its “comparable sales” growth of 24.3 percent was the biggest increase ever reported.

The company’s shares rose more than 12 percent on Wednesday.

  • Qantas Airways, Australia’s national carrier, swung to a loss of 1.96 Australian dollars, or $1.4 billion, for the 2020 financial year, as the pandemic devastated the airline industry worldwide. The loss was driven primarily by a write-down of assets, including its A380 fleet, and restructuring costs intended to help it survive during the pandemic, the airline said in a statement on Thursday. “The impact of COVID on all airlines is clear,” the company’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said in the statement. “It’s devastating and it will be a question of survival for many.”

  • Lowe’s reported a surge in profits during the second quarter, as the coronavirus pandemic spurred people across the country to take on home improvement projects while cooped up at home. The hardware chain said Wednesday it earned $2.8 billion for the quarter ending July 31, compared to $1.7 billion during the same period last year. Net sales also jumped 30 percent to roughly $27 billion. The company said it invested $460 million to support frontline hourly workers and increase store safety during the quarter.

  • Southwest Airlines said in a filing on Wednesday that it had turned down a $2.8 billion federal loan offered under the March stimulus, reflecting a modest improvement to the company’s outlook and its belief that it can raise money at favorable terms elsewhere if needed.

  • Amazon said on Tuesday that it would hire 3,500 white-collar employees across the country, including 2,000 in New York, following through on plans it had largely put in place before the coronavirus made office towers empty as employees worked from home. The new jobs will fill a lot of office space that the company acquired before Covid-19 took hold in the United States. In early March, Amazon bought the iconic Lord & Taylor building on Fifth Avenue from the co-working company WeWork.

Credit…Nick Little

As the economy contracts and many companies struggle to survive, America’s biggest tech companies are being lifted to new heights, putting the industry in a position to dominate business in a way unseen since the days of railroads.

A rally in technology stocks elevated the S&P 500 index to a record high on Tuesday even as the pandemic crushes the broader economy. The stocks of Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Facebook, the five largest publicly traded companies in the United States, rose 37 percent in the first seven months this year, while all the other stocks in the S&P 500 fell a combined 6 percent, according to Credit Suisse.

Those five companies now constitute 20 percent of the stock market’s total worth, a level not seen from a single industry in at least 70 years. Apple’s stock market value, the highest of the bunch, is nearly $2 trillion — double what it was just 21 weeks ago.

The tech companies’ dominance of the stock market is propelled by their unprecedented reach into our lives, shaping how we work, communicate, shop and relax. That has only deepened during the pandemic, and as people shop more frequently on Amazon, click on a Google or Facebook ad or pay up for an iPhone, the companies receive a greater share of spending in the economy and earn ever larger profits.

“Covid was the perfect positive storm for these guys,” said Thomas Philippon, a professor of finance at New York University.

Strict lockdowns ended weeks ago, but many people across the country are still avoiding malls, restaurants and other businesses. The shift in behavior points to a reshaping of American commerce, fueling questions about the strength and speed of the economic recovery as the coronavirus continues to spread.

Through the end of last week, daily visits to businesses were down 20 percent from last year, according to a New York Times analysis of foot traffic data from the smartphones of more than 15 million people. After an initial plunge in the spring, consumer habits have been slow to recover, the data shows.

Visits to businesses have, for example, rebounded more in Alabama, a largely conservative state, than in the more liberal Vermont. But in comparison with last year, people in Vermont have been shopping again more than people in California, where the virus remains a greater threat. Everywhere, trips to pharmacies and hospitals have fallen, while those to gas stations and convenience stores have held steady or even increased.

How people spend will determine which companies survive, and who ultimately keep their jobs. Continued weakness at brick-and-mortar stores has enormous implications for an economy that has had years of gains wiped away in the months since the pandemic hit. The disparities in how people shop hint at a prolonged, uncertain and uneven recovery.

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