The future for the travel industry is looking a little brighter as more Americans get vaccinated, states open up and resorts sell out, the nation’s largest airlines said Monday.
Speaking at the J.P. Morgan Industrial Conference on Monday, the chief executive of Delta Air Lines, Ed Bastian, said he was starting to see “real glimmers of hope” as ticket sales accelerated.
“The real story for the quarter kicked in about five to six weeks ago when we started to see bookings pick up,” Mr. Bastian said. “That coincided clearly with confidence in the marketplace, people starting to book their spring and summer plans.”
Airlines have suffered steep losses since the pandemic began, but that trend appears to be easing. Mr. Bastian said that Delta could end March with zero “cash burn,” a self-defined measure of spending on core operations and investments. At the same conference, the United Airlines chief executive, Scott Kirby, said his company would end the month having taken in more cash from operations than it spent.
At the conference and in securities filings, the nation’s four largest airlines — American Airlines, Delta, United and Southwest Airlines — expressed guarded confidence that their business was on the mend.
“The crisis isn’t over, of course, but we certainly are seeing the beginning of what feels like a very large uptick,” Doug Parker, the chief executive of American Airlines, said at the J.P. Morgan conference. The last three weeks have been the best of the pandemic for ticket sales, he said, with each week better than the last.
In a filing, Southwest said revenue in March and April would probably be higher than it had previously expected.
The updates come as the nation’s airports show increasing signs of life, with a daily average of more than 1.1 million people being screened at security checkpoints over the past week, according to Transportation Security Administration data. Still, that foot traffic is only about half of what it was two years earlier.
Airline stocks were all up around 1 p.m. Monday, with United’s rising most, by nearly 8 percent.
As millions of people began working, exercising and doing just about everything from home during the pandemic, sales of sweatpants and dumbbells surged enough to worry the fashion industry about a shortage of leisure wear. Britain’s statisticians expect those consumer trends to stick around.
Hand weights and men’s loungewear pants, along with hand sanitizer, have been added to the list of items the Office for National Statistics uses to track prices and calculate Britain’s inflation rate, the statistics agency said Monday. Women’s sweatshirts were also added to expand the women’s casual wear section.
Every year, the basket of goods and services, which has more than 720 items in it, is updated. This year, 17 products were added and 10 were removed from the official shopping cart. The updated list is part trend report, part academic statistical analysis.
Among the changes:
Hybrid and electric cars were added. Purchases have increased in anticipation of conventional cars being phased out. The government plans to ban the sale of cars that run solely on gas and diesel by 2030.
A smartwatch and smart light bulb were added, reflecting the growing popularity of connected devices. (Smart speakers were already included.)
The “staff restaurant sandwich” — that is, a sandwich from a company cafeteria — was removed because the number of staff canteens has fallen as more people (when they work in the office) are bringing lunches from outside their workplace.
Ground coffee was replaced with instant coffee in a packet because there has been a move toward “the convenience of having a complete drink in a sachet.”
Face masks, perhaps the most ubiquitous consumer item of 2020, was considered but were left off the list. In explaining why, the statisticians revealed some cautious optimism.
“Consumer spending and usage” of face masks, the agency said, “could decrease rapidly once the population have been vaccinated, so there could be problems in collecting prices toward the end of 2021.”
The A.F.L.-C.I.O. is urging the Biden administration to block imports of solar products containing polysilicon from China’s Xinjiang region, citing concerns about widespread violations of worker and human rights.
In a letter sent Friday to the secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, and the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, the labor group said that the global solar supply chain was deeply embedded in Xinjiang, and that products made with forced labor should not be used to meet the United States’ climate change needs.
The push comes ahead of the Biden administration’s first high-level meeting with Chinese counterparts on Thursday in Anchorage, Alaska, in which China’s repression of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang are expected to be on the agenda.
The A.F.L.-C.I.O., an influential federation of 55 labor unions, has long lobbied for tighter restrictions on the import of goods made with forced labor and supported a ban on cotton and textile products from Xinjiang during the Trump administration.
The federation began focusing on the solar industry following recent research that showed that polysilicon production in Xinjiang “participates in the same so-called ‘poverty alleviation’ and ‘pairing assistance’ programs that China has used to implement forced labor in the cotton and tomato sectors,” it said. The largest Chinese solar companies also have documented ties to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp, a state-owned economic and paramilitary organization that has been sanctioned by the United States for human rights abuses, the federation said.
The federation hoped its letter would help “set the tone” for the first engagement with China by the Biden administration, which has promised to take a strong stance on both mitigating climate change and protecting American workers, Cathy Feingold, director of the AFL-CIO’s International Department, said in an interview.
“Are they going to indeed walk the walk of their climate- and worker-friendly commitments?” she said. “I think it’s a really important question to be asked.”
China has come to dominate the global solar supply chain in the last decade, in large part by offering generous subsidies to domestic solar producers. About 40 percent of the world’s supply of polysilicon, an essential ingredient for silicon-based solar panels and semiconductors, is now produced in the Xinjiang region.
As the Biden administration looks to aggressively increase the supply of renewable energy in the United States, progressive groups have begun asking whether fulfilling goals on climate change will come at the expense of human rights.
“As national, state and local governments in the United States — and our global allies like the E.U. — invest taxpayer money and act to increase the role of renewable energy in our energy systems, we must all ensure that the renewable energy jobs of the just transition we are fighting for are not based on inputs produced by slave labor,” Richard Trumka, A.F.L.-C.I.O., president, wrote in the letter.
The extent of the use of forced labor in the region remains unclear, but because the Chinese government restricts travel and access to the region, many companies have had difficulty verifying that supply chains that run through Xinjiang are free of forced or slave labor.
The Chinese government and major Chinese solar companies have denied any presence of forced labor in Xinjiang, saying that all work arrangements are voluntary and accord with Chinese labor law.
The investment firms Blackstone and Starwood Capital announced on Monday that they planned to acquire the hotel operator Extended Stay America for $6 billion, the latest deal premised on a post-pandemic rebound in travel.
The deal is a bet that the mid-tier hotel chain that provides guests with amenities like kitchens and laundry facilities will prosper as the U.S. economy recovers. The chain had a 74 percent occupancy rate last year, above the industry average, with many rooms filled by essential workers.
The company’s new owners hope those rooms will soon add more tourists and traveling professionals. Extended Stay has about 600 locations across the United States.
“Our occupancy levels across the brand now rival the pre-Covid levels,” Bruce Haase, Extended Stay’s chief executive, told analysts on the company’s earnings call last month. “And unlike the rest of the industry that was still reaching for occupancy, we can now turn much of our attention to driving higher rates.”
The company’s shares have more than doubled over the past year, and the acquisition offer is a 15 percent premium to its closing stock price at the end of last week.
Starwood and Blackstone both have experience investing in hospitality, and Blackstone has even owned Extended Stay before — twice. It acquired the company for $3.1 billion in 2004, before selling it three years later for $8 billion. It was also part of a consortium that bought the business out of bankruptcy in 2010, outbidding a group led by Starwood Capital. Extended Stay then went public in 2013.
Other private equity firms have similarly bet on a recovery of the hospitality industry. Apollo Global Management announced plans this month to join with Vici Properties to acquire the Venetian hotel and casino in a $6.25 billion deal that also includes the Las Vegas property’s large expo center.
The payments company Stripe is worth $95 billion after a new round of funding, making it the most valuable start-up in the United States.
The San Francisco and Dublin-based company said on Sunday that it had raised $600 million in new funding from investors including Sequoia Capital, Fidelity Management and Ireland’s National Treasury Management Agency. The investment nearly triples Stripe’s last valuation of $35 billion.
The funding comes amid a surge in the adoption of digital tools and services in the pandemic as more people live, work and make purchases online. That has fueled a wave of investment into, and eye-popping valuations at, tech start-ups, as well as a frenzy of highly valued initial public offerings. Investors have valued Airbnb, the home rental start-up that recently went public, at $123 billion. Roblox, a kids gaming start-up, saw its valuation soar to $45 billion when it went public last week.
Founded in 2010, Stripe builds software that enables businesses to process payments online. As more people have turned to online shopping in the pandemic, Stripe’s offerings have been in demand. It is the largest among a class of fast-growing, highly valued financial technology companies.
Stripe is now processing hundreds of billions of dollars in payments each year across 42 countries, Dhivya Suryadevara, Stripe’s chief financial officer, said in an interview. “We are in a hyper-growth industry and within that, the company itself is experiencing hyper-growth,” she said. Ms. Suryadevara declined to share specifics on Stripe’s revenue or growth.
Stripe has been considered a candidate to go public. Coinbase, another financial technology start-up, filed to go public later this month in a transaction that some expect could hit $100 billion. Robinhood, a stock trading app, has also seen its valuation surge in the pandemic.
Stripe said in an announcement that it planned to use the money to expand in Europe, including its office in Dublin. The company’s sibling founders, John Collison, 30, and Patrick, 32, were born in Ireland.
In a statement, John Collison, Stripe’s president, said the company would focus heavily on Europe this year. “The growth opportunity for the European digital economy is immense,” he said.
The company, which got its start working with start-ups and small businesses, will also invest in building more tools to help larger businesses handle payments. It counts 50 businesses that process more than $1 billion a year as customers.
President Biden has tapped Gene Sperling, a longtime top economic aide to Democratic presidents, to oversee spending from the $1.9 trillion relief package that the president signed into law last week and planned to promote across the country this week.
Mr. Sperling was director of the National Economic Council under President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. In Mr. Obama’s administration, where he first served as a counselor in the Treasury Department, Mr. Sperling helped to coordinate a bailout of Detroit automakers and other parts of the administration’s response to the 2008 financial crisis.
He advised Mr. Biden’s campaign informally in 2020, helping to hone the campaign’s “Build Back Better” policy agenda. He will serve as the White House American Rescue Plan coordinator and as a senior adviser to Mr. Biden.
His appointment could be announced as soon as today. Mr. Biden is scheduled to give remarks on the implementation of his relief bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, on Monday afternoon. The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters last week that Mr. Biden intended to appoint someone to “run point” on implementing the plan — a role that Mr. Biden held for the Obama administration’s $800 billion stimulus plan in 2009.
Mr. Sperling did not respond to a message seeking comment. Friends have described him in recent months as eager to join the administration, and he had been mentioned as a possible appointee to head the Office of Management and Budget after Mr. Biden’s first nominee for that position, Neera Tanden, withdrew amid Senate opposition. His appointment was reported earlier by Politico.
Mr. Sperling’s challenge with the rescue plan will be different than the one Mr. Biden faced in 2009, because the relief bill that Mr. Biden just signed differs starkly from Mr. Obama’s signature stimulus plan. The Biden plan is more than twice as large as Mr. Obama’s, and it centers on a wide range of payments to low- and middle-income Americans, including $1,400-per-person direct checks that Treasury officials started sending electronically to Americans over the weekend. It includes money meant to hasten the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, including billions for vaccine deployment and coronavirus testing.
But the plans also have similarities, including more than $400 billion each in total spending for school districts and state and local governments.
An administration official said Mr. Sperling would work with White House officials and leaders of federal agencies to hasten the delivery of the money, including partnering with state and local governments on their shares of relief spending from the bill.
The pharmaceutical industry is popular right now, which is perhaps unsurprising considering that the end of the pandemic depends on Covid-19 vaccines. Drug makers’ rapid response to the crisis has transformed public sentiment about the industry, moving it from one of the most reviled to one of the most respected, according to new data from the Harris Poll, reported first in the DealBook newsletter.
A year of living in existential and economic fear created unlikely heroes. For the past year or so, the Harris Poll has monitored public sentiment in weekly surveys of more than 114,000 people. At the height of the emergency, more than half of respondents were afraid of dying from the virus and a similar share were afraid of losing their jobs. “Only in the past month, with vaccines rising and hospitalizations and deaths declining, is fear abating,” the report noted.
Business generally got good grades during the pandemic. Many respondents cited companies as important to solving problems, where previously they were considered the cause of social woes. Two-thirds said that companies could do a better job coordinating the vaccine rollout than the government could.
Approval ratings rose for many industries from January last year to February this year. But the reputation of the pharma industry — stained by its role in the opioid crisis and criticized for high drug prices — benefited the most. In January 2020, only 32 percent of respondents viewed the industry positively; late last month, that had almost doubled, to 62 percent.
“The pharmaceutical industry’s ability to innovate and perform under intense pressure and in a time of crisis is the ultimate validation for any business,” said John Gerzema, the chief executive of the Harris Poll.
A deal that would reshape the American newspaper industry has run into complications just one month after an agreement was reached, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.
As a result, the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital may have to fend off a new suitor for Tribune Publishing, the chain that owns major metropolitan dailies across the country, including The Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and The Baltimore Sun, the people said.
On Feb. 16, Alden, the largest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, with a 32 percent stake, reached an agreement to buy the rest of the chain in a deal that valued the company at $630 million, reports The New York Times’s Marc Tracy. In the deal, Alden would take ownership of all the Tribune Publishing papers — and then spin off The Sun and two smaller Maryland papers, selling them for $65 million to a nonprofit organization controlled by the Maryland hotel magnate Stewart W. Bainum Jr.
In recent days, Mr. Bainum and Alden have found themselves at loggerheads over details of the operating agreements that would be in effect as the Maryland papers transitioned from one owner to another, the people said. In response, Mr. Bainum has taken a preliminary step toward making a bid for all of Tribune Publishing, the people said.
Mr. Bainum has asked a special committee of the Tribune Publishing board made up of three independent directors for permission to be released from a nondisclosure agreement prohibiting him from discussing the deal, so that he would be able to pursue partners for a new bid, the people said.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Bainum said he had no comment. Through a spokesman, Tribune Publishing’s special committee declined to comment. An Alden spokesman had no comment.
Allison Herren Lee was named acting chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission in January, and she has been active since, especially when it comes to environmental, social and governance issues.
The agency has issued a flurry of notices that such disclosures will be priorities this year. On Monday, Ms. Lee, who was appointed as a commissioner by President Donald J. Trump in 2019, is speaking at the Center for American Progress, where she will call for input on additional E.S.G. transparency, according to prepared remarks reviewed by the DealBook newsletter.
The supposed distinction between what’s good and what’s profitable is diminishing, Ms. Lee will argue in the speech, saying that “acting in pursuit of the public interest and acting to maximize the bottom line” are complementary.
The S.E.C.’s job is to meet investor demand for data on a range of corporate activities. “That demand is not being met by the current voluntary framework,” she will say. “Human capital, human rights, climate change — these issues are fundamental to our markets, and investors want to and can help drive sustainable solutions on these issues.”
Ms. Lee will also argue that “political spending disclosure is inextricably linked to E.S.G. issues,” based on research showing that many companies have made climate pledges while donating to candidates with contradictory voting records. The same goes for racial justice initiatives, she will say.
Although Ms. Lee is only the acting chief, she’s laying the groundwork for more action, based on recent statements by Gary Gensler, President Biden’s choice to lead the S.E.C. In his confirmation hearing this month, Mr. Gensler said that investors increasingly wanted companies to disclose risks associated with climate change, diversity, political spending and other E.S.G. issues.
Not everyone at the S.E.C. is on board. Hester Peirce and Elad Roisman, fellow commissioners also appointed by Mr. Trump, recently protested the “steady flow” of climate and E.S.G. notices. They issued a public statement, asking, “Do these announcements represent a change from current commission practices or a continuation of the status quo with a new public relations twist?”
Data delayed at least 15 minutes
Stocks on Wall Street were little changed on Monday after closing at a new high on Friday.
The yield on 10-year Treasury notes, a key driver of stock market movement lately, fell to 1.61 percent on Monday. It had climbed as high as 1.64 percent on Friday, a level not seen since February 2020, as investors considered whether a nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package would be inflationary alongside an expected economic recovery as more Americans are vaccinated.
But on Sunday, Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, pushed back against these concerns. “Is there a risk of inflation? I think there’s a small risk and I think it’s manageable,” she said on ABC. She added that she expected prices to rise over the spring and summer but only temporarily because of how much they fell last year.
“We have had very well-anchored inflation expectations and a Federal Reserve that’s learned about how to manage inflation,” Ms. Yellen said.
The Stoxx Europe 600 was unchanged, while the FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.2 percent.
Shares in Flutter Entertainment, a British betting and entertainment company, rose nearly 7 percent after it confirmed that it was considering publicly listing shares of FanDuel, its U.S. sports betting website.
The board of Danone, the French food company, said Monday it had removed its chairman and chief executive, Emmanuel Faber. Its share price rose nearly 3 percent. The shake-up came after a monthslong campaign by activist investors, The Financial Times reported. Under Mr. Faber, Danone changed its legal status to be a purpose-driven company with a social mission of “health through food.” Danone’s water and dairy brands include Evian, Alpro and Silk.
Shares in Tencent were at their lowest in two months, dropping 3.5 percent on Monday after a loss of 4.4 percent on Friday. The Chinese tech company is facing a crackdown from antitrust regulators, Bloomberg reported.