Stay Market Updates: Shares Rebound Regardless of Tighter Covid Restrictions
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In many areas, solar panels now provide electricity at a lower cost than new coal or natural gas power plants.Credit…Tom Sibley for The New York Times
The pandemic brought many solar power projects to a halt in the spring. But the industry more than made up for the lost activity later in the year and is now on track to provide more than 40 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added this year.
Solar power capacity added by the close of 2020 would be 43 percent higher than in 2019, an industry association and research firm said in a report released on Tuesday.
All told, about 43 percent of the new electricity generating capacity added this year will be from solar panels, according to the report by the Solar Energy Industries Association and Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm. Large solar farms led the growth, but residential installations also jumped between the second and third quarters of the year.
Renewable energy groups had feared that the pandemic would devastate business, but the reality was far different. As the cost of solar panels continues to fall and as concerns about climate change grow, more utilities and homeowners are deciding to go solar, often because they can save a lot of money over the life of the systems compared to paying for energy from fossil fuels. In many areas, solar panels now provide electricity at a lower cost than new coal or natural gas power plants, and in some areas they can provide power for less than existing fossil fuel plants.
The pandemic may have helped the industry: As spending on entertainment and travel fell, people had more money to consider investing in rooftop solar systems, which when paired with batteries can also serve as backup power during wildfires and storms. Utilities have also increased their reliance on solar and wind power as demand for electricity has fallen, forcing operators to cut costs and focus more on renewable sources, which are cheaper to operate.
The industry’s performance in 2020 “speaks to our ability to support economic growth, even in our darkest moments,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and chief executive of the solar association.
Texas led the nation in solar installations measured by megawatts, followed by Florida, California, South Carolina and Virginia. Except California, those states reported more installations through the first nine months of the year than in all of 2019.
After a slow start because of the pandemic, the California Solar and Storage Association said it expected to finish the year with more installations than in 2019.
In Britain, 370,000 people reported being laid off from August to October, the most on record for a three-month period, as employers cut jobs before the end of the government’s wage-subsidy program, which never actually ended.
The nation’s unemployment rate increased to 4.9 percent from 4.8 percent in the three months to October, according to the Office for National Statistics, the highest in more than four years.
Government measures to support workers and businesses have kept the unemployment rate relatively low. But frequent changes to the amount of support and the challenges businesses have faced with pandemic restrictions still led to a record jump in layoffs. And as the pandemic has worn on, more and more jobs have been threatened.
The outlook is expected to worsen over the winter as restrictions intensified. Since October, England has been through a four-week lockdown followed by differing sets of restrictions based on the local spread of the virus. Beginning Wednesday, London will join several other regions under the country’s strictest measures.
Another measure of employment shows that 819,200 jobs disappeared from company payrolls from February to November.
These numbers don’t include the self-employed, who have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. There are more than half a million fewer self-employed people since February, an 11 percent decline.
The number of people reporting they had lost their job peaked in September, when the government said it would replace the furlough program, which had paid 80 percent of a workers’ wages, with a less generous plan. But then a second wave of the pandemic gripped the country and the government made a U-turn, extending the furlough program until March.
“The extension of jobs support schemes will have protected millions of jobs and kept a lid on rising unemployment over the winter,” Nye Cominetti, an economist at the Resolution Foundation, a think tank, wrote in a note. But fewer employers are hiring and pandemic restrictions are likely to be in place into 2021 and so “unemployment will continue to rise in the new year,” Mr. Cominetti added.
The unemployment rate is forecast to peak at 7.5 percent next year, with 2.6 million people out of work after the furlough program ends, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility, the nation’s independent fiscal watchdog.
A new streaming service pops up every day, or so it seems, as companies rush to stake a claim on surging interest by consumers during the pandemic. But the latest streaming entrant has a twist: Sensical, announced on Tuesday, is aimed at children 2 to 12 and has ties to Common Sense Media, the nonprofit group that many parents depend on to review television shows, movies and video games for their age-appropriateness and educational value.
Common Sense Media recently started a for-profit arm, Common Sense Growth, to commercialize its ratings and brand, and Sensical is its first venture. The free streaming service, which will debut in the coming months and be supported by advertising, will be stocked with thousands of short-form videos that have been vetted and sorted into areas for preschoolers (ages 2 to 4), “little kids” (5 to 7) and “big kids” (8 to 12). Content partners include Bounce Patrol, Mother Goose Club and Sesame Workshop.
“By and large, parents don’t trust how short-form video is presented to their young children,” Eric Berger, chief executive of Common Sense Networks, said in a statement. “We take the guesswork out of the equation and, by doing so, raise the bar not just for Sensical, but also for the industry at large.”
The giant that Mr. Berger did not name is YouTube, which has tried to offer parents more tailored options, introducing YouTube Kids in 2015, but continues to come under fire as a potentially dangerous Wild West.
Mr. Berger’s division, which is structured as a public benefit corporation, will need to tread carefully to avoid tarnishing the Common Sense brand — especially as it sells advertising.
Sensical will have an ad load of up to seven minutes per hour. Some ad categories will be banned, including sugary food, theme parks and certain video games. (Examples of acceptable categories: pets, health food, educational products).
There will also be restrictions on videos where the content is essentially an ad in disguise. Ads in videos marked as appropriate for children under 6 will be aimed at adult caregivers.
The Federal Reserve announced on Tuesday that it was joining a network of central banks and other financial regulators focused on conducting research and shaping policies to help to prepare the financial system for the effects of climate change.
The Fed’s board in Washington voted unanimously to join the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System as a member, it said in a release. The central bank began participating in the group more than a year ago, but is only now officially joining, something Democrats have been pushing for and Republicans have eyed warily.
The group “supports the exchange of ideas, research, and best practices on the development of environment and climate risk management for the financial sector,” the Fed said in its release.
The announcement comes shortly after Republican House members urged the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, and the vice chair for supervision, Randal K. Quarles, in a Dec. 9 letter not to join the network “without first making public commitments” to only accept policies that would not put the United States at a disadvantage or have “harmful impacts” on U.S. bank customers.
Republicans are particularly concerned that increased attention to climate risk by federal regulators could imperil credit access for fossil fuel and other energy companies.
Mr. Powell had repeatedly emphasized that the Fed was likely at some point to join the network alongside its peers, including the Bank of England and Bank of Japan.
Joining is the latest step in an evolution in which the Fed — which once rarely spoke publicly about the issue — has paid more public attention to climate change. The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, led by Mary C. Daly, held the system’s first conference on climate last year. Lael Brainard, a Fed governor and the lone Democrat on the central bank’s board in Washington, spoke there, and has delivered other remarks on the topic. For the first time, the Fed’s financial stability report this year included an in-depth section on financial risks posed by climate change.
A prototype hydrogen-powered truck built by Daimler. At present, the number of trucks on the road powered by hydrogen or batteries is tiny. Credit…Filip Singer/EPA, via Shutterstock
Europe’s largest truck makers said Tuesday they would stop selling vehicles powered by fossil fuels by 2040 to limit climate change, while cautioning they could not meet the target without government help.
The vow by the heads of truck divisions at Daimler, Volkswagen, Ford, Volvo and several other manufacturers is ambitious considering that the number of electric or hydrogen-powered trucks and buses already on the road is tiny. The manufacturers called on governments to help build a network of charging stations and upgrade the electrical grid.
“Those who operate trucks will not invest in zero-emission technologies if there is no straightforward and affordable way to run, refuel and recharge them,” the truck makers said in a statement issued by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association in Brussels, which lobbies on behalf of the industry. “Policymakers at the E.U. and national levels must take urgent action to make this possible.”
An increasing number of countries including Britain, France and Spain have said they will ban the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines in coming years, often well before 2040. Heavy duty trucks have been exempt from the bans in many cases because of the technological challenges of powering a large vehicle with batteries or hydrogen.
The truck makers also said that policymakers should put higher levies on diesel, the prevalent fuel for trucks, which is less expensive than gasoline in Europe because of favorable tax policies.
“Science and truck manufacturers agree that the price of carbon must increase to much higher levels than today if we want to shift the sector — and indeed the world — to carbon-neutrality,” the truck makers said.
An environmental group praised the truck makers willingness to go green, but said the targets could be more ambitious and that the statement seemed to leave open loopholes for fuels that are less climate-friendly, like biofuels.
“What we need is a genuine shift to zero-emission technologies, whether they be battery electric or hydrogen,” said Tiziana Frongia, a truck industry expert at Transportation & Environment, an advocacy group in Brussels. “There should be a clear commitment to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 for small and medium trucks and by 2040 for long-haul trucks.”
A physician receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Mercy Hospital St. Louis on Monday, the first day of a mass inoculation program in the United States. Credit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times
Stocks rose on Tuesday, with Wall Street trying to snap a recent losing streak despite widening restrictions on businesses and social activities in many parts of the world to curb coronavirus infections.
The S&P 500 rose about 0.7 percent in early trading. A gain by the end of the day would be the first for the index in a week — though the string of losses has been relatively small, with as concerns about the spreading pandemic were tempered by the rollout of mass vaccination campaigns in the United States and Canada.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 in Britain fell 0.4 percent while the The Stoxx 600 Europe index rose 0.2 percent.
Beginning Wednesday, nonessential stores, schools and hairdressers in Germany will be required to close until Jan. 10 and New Year’s celebrations will be mostly prohibited. Tighter restrictions will come into force in London, shutting down most of the hospitality industry; over all, about 60 percent of England’s population will be under the country’s strictest measures.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York warned on Monday that the state faced a full lockdown if hospitalizations continued to increase at the current pace, and other states have increased restrictions in recent days.
But investment analysts are watching the arrival of coronavirus vaccines, and see reasons to bet on a business recovery.
“We expect effective Covid-19 vaccines to be widely available in the second quarter of 2021, supporting a return to more normal levels of economic and social activity,” Mark Haefele, chief investment officer at UBS Global Wealth Management, wrote in a note. “So even with the 14 percent rally in global equities since the start of November, we think that there is further upside.”
A group of U.S. lawmakers presented a new spending plan on Monday to try to overcome an impasse in stimulus talks before the end of the week. The proposal includes $748 billion to finance federal unemployment payments, small-business loans, as well as money for vaccine distribution, food aid, schools and other institutions struggling to stay afloat.
Volunteers distributed food donations last week in Newton Centre, Mass. Poverty declined in the first months of the pandemic, reflecting CARES Act relief, but has since surged.Credit…Cody O’Loughlin for The New York Times
About 12 million workers who rely on two federal emergency unemployment programs will lose them on Dec. 26, according to an analysis by the Century Foundation. This will add to 4.4 million Americans who will have already exhausted their federal unemployment benefits.
It projected that fewer than three million of these workers will be eligible for what are known as extended benefits, which kick in when the unemployment rate in a state is exceptionally high and can last six to 20 weeks, depending on the state.
If Congress and the administration are unable to hammer out a deal to provide additional relief, the others will be left with nothing, reports Eduardo Porter for The New York Times.
The expiring programs are Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, created for gig workers and others not covered by regular unemployment insurance, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extended benefits up to 13 weeks beyond their regular duration (from 12 to 30 weeks, depending on the state).
Pascal Noel, an economist at the University of Chicago, analyzed the consequences of expiring unemployment benefits with his colleague, Peter Ganong, in a study published last year. Mr. Noel noted that spending “falls substantially exactly in the month in which benefits expire, and it falls across the board.”
And that kind of shock has consequences. Mark Aguiar of Princeton and Erik Hurst of the University of Chicago have estimated that the drop in grocery spending that Professors Ganong and Noel associate with the end of unemployment benefits leads to a deterioration in diet quality: a significant decline in household consumption of fresh fruit and a jump in the consumption of hot dogs and processed lunch meat.
Jesse Rothstein of the University of California, Berkeley, and Robert Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco studied what happened when unemployment insurance ended for workers who lost their jobs during the recessions of 2001 or 2007-9. Household income declines $522 a month on average, they found.
Pinterest on Monday agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit from Françoise Brougher, its former chief operating officer, in one of the largest publicly announced individual settlements for gender discrimination. As part of the agreement, Pinterest did not admit to any liability. The company and Ms. Brougher said they planned to jointly donate $2.5 million toward charities that support women and underrepresented minorities in tech with a focus on education, funding and advocacy.
The Federal Trade Commission on Monday opened a wide-ranging study into how social media and streaming companies collect and use data about their users, an undertaking meant to give the consumer protection watchdog agency a better understanding of a crucial part of the internet sector. The agency ordered nine big tech platforms — Amazon, ByteDance (which operates of TikTok), Discord, Facebook, Reddit, Snap, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube — to provide information on how they collect data, how user data is used to determine which ads to show to whom, and how the companies measure and promote user engagement.
The Justice Department and the United Automobile Workers union said on Monday that they had reached a tentative agreement on changes meant to root out corruption at the union without putting it under full government control. The United States attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Matthew J. Schneider, and the president of the union, Rory Gamble, said the U.A.W. had agreed to have a monitor oversee the union’s finances. The settlement brings an end to the criminal investigation of the union, but Mr. Schneider’s office is still looking at union officials.