Jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level of the pandemic and the latest data on retail sales blew past expectations, renewing confidence in a dynamic economic revival
About 613,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 153,000 from the previous week.
In addition, 132,000 filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 20,000 from the previous week.
Neither figure is seasonally adjusted. On a seasonally adjusted basis, new state claims totaled 576,000.
“We’re gaining momentum here, which is just unquestionable,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton. But she cautioned that the jobless claims levels, while good news, were still extraordinarily high compared to what they were before the pandemic.
“You’re still not popping champagne corks,” she said. “I will breath again — and breath easy again — once we get these number back down in the 200,000 range.”
In another sign of the recovery underway, retail sales surged in March, the Commerce Department said Thursday, as Americans spent their latest round of government stimulus checks and the continued roll out of coronavirus vaccines lured more people back into stores.
The 9.8 percent increase last month was a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February.
With the pandemic’s end seemingly in sight, the economy is poised for a robust comeback. But weekly applications for unemployment claims have remained stubbornly high for months, frustrating the recovery even as businesses reopen and vaccination rates increase. They have also been a volatile economic indicator, temporarily dipping to their lowest level of the pandemic in mid-March before rising again in recent weeks.
“The job market conditions for job seekers have really improved extremely quickly between January and now,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter. “But there are still huge barriers to returning to work.”
Jobless claims for the next few months could remain significantly elevated as the labor market adjusts to a new normal.
Concerns about workplace safety persist, especially for workers on the younger end of the spectrum who have only just become eligible for vaccinations. Many children are still attending schools remotely, complicating the full-time work prospects for their caregivers.
But there is hope on the horizon as those barriers begin to fall. President Biden moved up the deadline for states to make all adults eligible for vaccination to April 19, and every state has complied. Students who have been learning remotely will begin to return to the classroom in earnest.
“This was the deepest, swiftest recession ever, but it’s also turning into the fastest recovery,” Ms. Pollak said. “And I don’t think we should lose sight of that just because some of the measures are a little stubborn.”
Retail sales surged in March, the Commerce Department said on Thursday, as Americans spent their latest round of government stimulus checks and the continued roll out of coronavirus vaccines lured more people back into stores.
The 9.8 percent increase last month was a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February, when previous stimulus money had dissipated and a series of winter storms made travel difficult across much of the United States.
The rebound in March sales shows how, a year after the nation’s economy locked down to prevent the spread of the virus, consumer spending remains highly dependent on government support. It also reflects that many areas of consumption frozen by the pandemic have bounced back. Sales of clothing and accessories rose 18 percent, while restaurants and bars saw a 13 percent increase.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law last month, provides direct payments of $1,400 to lower-income Americans. Many of these checks began arriving in households toward the end of last month, when economists saw signs that spending was ramping up again, such as increased hotel occupancy and travel through airports.
Economists at Morgan Stanley had predicted that core retail sales would jump 6.5 percent in March, driven by the stimulus checks that started arriving in people’s bank accounts around March 17. The investment bank said 30 percent of consumers tend to spend their checks within the first 10 days, suggesting that many other consumers have yet to spend their checks, which could strengthen April sales.
More broadly, American consumers are also feeling increasingly optimistic as more people become vaccinated and venture out more frequently. One measure of consumer confidence, tabulated by the Conference Board, said confidence increased about 20 points in March from February, fueled by increased income and stronger business and employment expectations.
Profit at both Bank of America and Citigroup jumped for the first three months of this year, bouncing back from the lows of the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, as they reduced their loss cushions to reflect an improving economy.
Citigroup more than tripled its profit from a year ago, reporting earnings of $7.9 billion even as its sales fell 7 percent, to $19.3 billion. Bank of America doubled its profit to $8.1 billion from $4 billion. Its revenue of $22 billion was flat.
Like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, which reported first-quarter results on Wednesday, both banks were aided by the release of the cash cushions they had set aside during the economic downturn last year to absorb potential losses. Citi released $3.9 billion of the reserve it had built up to absorb loan losses, whereas Bank of America’s provision for losses decreased $6.6 billion.
“It’s been a better than expected start to the year, and we are optimistic about the macro environment,” said Jane Fraser, who became Citi’s chief executive last month. “This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.” Similarly, Bank of America’s chief, Brian Moynihan, noted that “progress in the health crisis and the economy point to an accelerating recovery.”
During a call Thursday morning with analysts and investors, Mr. Moynihan noted that March had been a record month for consumer spending by Bank of America customers.
Low interest rates, which have been a central feature of the Federal Reserve’s efforts to shore up the economy, dogged both companies. At Citi, investment banking and stock trading were areas of strength, rising 46 percent and 26 percent from the prior year.
At Bank of America, investment-banking fees for advising corporations on deals hit a record $2.2 billion, a 62 percent rise, thanks partly to a doubling of activity in stock underwriting deals, including initial public offerings. Global markets revenue rose 17 percent, which was primarily attributable to gains in the sales and trading of bonds and related products.
As part of its earnings release, Citi announced that would exit the consumer market in 13 countries in Asia and Europe, including Australia, China, India, and Russia, reflecting a desire to focus on the bank’s more profitable geographies. In those areas, “we don’t have the scale we need to compete,” Ms. Fraser said.
Stocks on Wall Street climbed on Thursday, with shares lifted by a new round of earnings reports and as economic data from the United States added to signs of a budding economic recovery.
The S&P 500 climbed about 0.7 percent, putting it on track for a record, while the Nasdaq composite rose by more than 1 percent. European stock indexes also rose. The Stoxx Europe 600 index increased about 0.3 percent, for a third straight day of gains in record territory.
The gains came after the U.S. government reported that jobless claims fell last week to their lowest level of the pandemic, and the latest data on retail sales blew past expectations.
About 613,000 people filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday, a decrease of 153,000 from the previous week.
Separately, the Commerce Department said that retail sales surged 9.8 percent in March, a strong comeback from the nearly 3 percent drop in February, when previous stimulus money had dissipated and a series of winter storms made travel difficult across much of the United States.
Other signs of recovery came as companies reported earnings. Executives at Bank of America and Citigroup both joined their counterparts at other large financial firms in sounding an optimistic tone about the outlook for the economy. Shares of Citigroup rose more than 1.5 percent after its earnings report, while Bank of America’s stock fell slightly.
“It’s been a better-than-expected start to the year, and we are optimistic about the macro environment,” said Jane Fraser, who became Citi’s chief executive last month. “This is the healthiest we have seen the consumer emerge from a crisis in recent history.”
And Delta reported that it has stemmed daily operating losses, a sign that its planes are fuller and fares are returning to more normal levels. Its shares were lower, however, after the company said that in the first three months of the year, it lost $1.2 billion as revenue plunged from a year earlier.
After a bumper market debut, Coinbase shares rose 3 percent in early trading. On Wednesday, the cryptocurrency exchange ended its first day of trading at $328.28 a share, valuing the company at nearly $86 billion — more than 10 times its last valuation as a private company.
Despite the economic optimism, yields on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes dropped sharply to 1.58 percent. On Wednesday, Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, reiterated the central bank’s intention of keeping monetary policy accommodative for a long time. He said the bank would probably slow its bond-buying program “well before” it lifts its policy interest rate.
Airlines are still racking up big losses even as ticket sales begin to recover.
Delta Air Lines said on Thursday that it lost $1.2 billion in the first three months of the year and its revenue fell about 60 percent, to $4.2 billion, from the first quarter of 2019.
But the airline said it was optimistic that business would soon improve.
“A year after the onset of the pandemic, travelers are gaining confidence and beginning to reclaim their lives,” Ed Bastian, the company’s chief executive, said in a statement. “Delta is accelerating into the recovery with our brand stronger and more trusted than ever before.”
The airline said it stemmed daily operating losses last month, a sign that its planes are fuller and fares are returning to more normal levels. Well over one million travelers have been screened at airport security checkpoints each day for more than a month, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
“If recovery trends hold, we expect positive cash generation for the June quarter and see a path to return to profitability in the September quarter as the demand recovery progresses,” Mr. Bastian said.
The airline said it expected revenue in the current quarter to be down about 50 to 55 percent compared with the same period in 2019. It expects to fly about 68 percent as many people in the quarter as it did in 2019.
The airline said ticket sales for domestic flights had recovered to 85 percent of 2019 levels, though lucrative corporate and international travelers have yet to come back in meaningful numbers. Delta will officially lift its ban on the sales of middle seats next month, allowing it to earn more from each flight.
“In the June quarter, we expect significant sequential improvement in revenue as leisure demand accelerates into the peak summer period and we add capacity,” Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s president, said in the statement.
Delta is the first major U.S. airline to report first-quarter results. United Airlines and American Airlines are scheduled to do so next week.
An international coalition of 35 children’s and consumer groups called on Instagram on Thursday to scrap its plans to develop a version of the popular photo-sharing app for users under age 13.
Instagram’s push for a separate children’s app comes after years of complaints from legislators and parents that the platform has been slow to identify underage users and protect them from sexual predators and bullying.
But in a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook — the company that owns the photo-sharing service — the nonprofit groups warned that a children’s version of Instagram would not mitigate such problems. While 10- to 12-year-olds with Instagram accounts would be unlikely to switch to a “babyish version” of the app, the groups said, it could hook even younger users on endless routines of photo-scrolling and body-image shame.
“While collecting valuable family data and cultivating a new generation of Instagram users may be good for Facebook’s bottom line,” the groups, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in Boston, said in the letter to Mr. Zuckerberg, “it will likely increase the use of Instagram by young children who are particularly vulnerable to the platform’s manipulative and exploitative features.”
The coalition of nonprofit groups also includes the Africa Digital Rights’ Hub in Ghana; the Australian Council on Children and the Media; the Center for Digital Democracy in Washington; Common Sense Media in San Francisco; the Consumer Federation of America; and the 5Rights Foundation in Britain.
Stephanie Otway, a Facebook spokeswoman, said that Instagram was in the early stages of developing a service for children as part of an effort to keep those under 13 off its main platform. Although Instagram requires users to be at least 13, many younger children have lied about their age to set up accounts.
Ms. Otway said that company would not show ads in any Instagram product developed for children younger than 13, and that it planned to consult with experts on children’s health and safety on the project. Instagram is also working on new age-verification methods to catch younger users trying to lie about their age, she said.
“The reality is that kids are online,” Ms. Otway said. “They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate.”
Reuters will begin charging for access to its website as it tries to capture a slice of the digital subscription business.
The company, one of the largest news organizations in the world, announced the new paywall on Thursday, as well as a redesigned website aimed at a “professional” audience wanting business, financial and general news.
After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to Reuters.com will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s digital subscription. The Wall Street Journal’s digital subscription costs $38.99 a month, while The New York Times costs $18.42 monthly.
Reuters.com attracts 41 million unique visitors a month. Months of audience research showed that those readers were divided in two separate groups: those wanting breaking news and professionals looking for context and analysis about how news affected their industry, Josh London, chief marketing officer at Reuters, said in an interview.
Reuters will roll out new sections on its website for subscribers in coming weeks that include coverage of legal news, sustainable business, energy, health care and the auto industry. It also plans to introduce industry-specific newsletters.
Mr. London described the new website as “the largest digital transformation at Reuters in a decade.” He declined to provide specifics on digital subscription goals but said that it represented “a major opportunity for us.”
Arlyn Gajilan, the digital news director at Reuters, said she expected to expand the digital team working on the revamped website.
On Monday, Reuters announced that Alessandra Galloni, a global managing editor, would become its next editor in chief. Ms. Galloni, who will be the first woman to helm the news agency in its history, starts her new role on Monday. She takes over from Stephen J. Adler, who retired after running Reuters for a decade.
Ms. Gajilan said that Ms. Galloni had been closely involved in the new direction of Reuters.com.
“She’s a very strong advocate for all things digital at Reuters,” Ms. Gajilan said.
Shortages of semiconductors, fueled by pandemic interruptions and production issues at multibillion-dollar chip factories, have sent shock waves through the economy. Questions about chips are reverberating among both businesses and policymakers trying to navigate the world’s dependence on the small components.
Most attention has focused on temporary closings of big U.S. car plants. But the chips are in everything from cash registers and kitchen appliances, and the problem is affecting many other sectors, particularly the server systems and PCs used to deliver and consume internet services that became crucial during the pandemic, Don Clark reports for The New York Times.
“Every aspect of human existence is going online, and every aspect of that is running on semiconductors,” said Pat Gelsinger, the new chief executive of the chip maker Intel who attended the meeting with the president on Monday. “People are begging us for more.”
The chip shortage potentially affects just about any company adding communications or computing features to products. Many examples were described in 90 comments filed by companies and trade groups to a supply chain review by President Biden, including a laundry list of needs from industry giants like Amazon and Boeing.
Dan Rozycki is the president of a small engineering firm, that sells small sensors used to monitor construction sites to ensure concrete is hardening properly. His firm is for now among the lucky chip users. It planned ahead and has enough chips to keep making the roughly 50,000 sensors it supplies each year to construction sites. But his distributor has warned him it might not be able to deliver more of them until late 2022, he said.
“Is that going to halt those projects?” Mr. Rozycki asked. He is scouring the market for other distributors that might have the two needed chips in stock. Other possibilities include redesigning the sensors to use different chips.
A former editor at Vanity Fair has been working to create a new digital publication, in which writers will share in subscription revenue — Vanity Fair meets Substack. The new company behind the publication, Heat Media, hopes to unveil it in the coming months, four people with knowledge of the matter said. The start-up is partly the brainchild of Jon Kelly, a former editor at Vanity Fair. One of the backers is the private equity firm TPG, which would take three seats on the Heat Media board, the people said. Another investor is 40 North, a related investment arm of Standard Industries, a global industrials company, the people said. Heat Media has raised around $7 million so far, according to the people.
Kimberly Godwin, a veteran CBS News executive, was named the next president of ABC News on Wednesday, making her the first Black woman to lead a major broadcast network’s news division. Ms. Godwin succeeds James Goldston, who announced his departure from ABC in January. She will begin in her job in early May. Ms. Godwin most recently served as CBS’s executive vice president of news.
Heavy trading volume greeted the highly anticipated market debut of Coinbase on Wednesday, which ended the day worth some $86 billion. The cryptocurrency company’s coming-out party made some insiders very rich, opened up new possibilities for cementing its position in the blockchain economy and blazed a trail for other crypto companies to follow its lead onto the public markets, the DealBook newsletter writes.
The stake held by Brian Armstrong, Coinbase’s co-founder and chief executive, is now worth roughly $13 billion. Shares held by its other co-founder, Fred Ehrsam, are worth about $6.7 billion. (Andreessen Horowitz’s stake is worth $11.2 billion, while Union Square Ventures’ holding is worth $5.3 billion.) Other investors who stand to collect big paper profits — if they held on to their shares — include the National Basketball Association star Kevin Durant, the rapper Nas and Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit.
The market listing makes it easier for Coinbase to negotiate mergers and acquisitions. “We want to be able to have a public mark on our stock price because it helps us do more and more M.&A.,” Emilie Choi, the company’s chief operating officer, told the technology site Protocol. “There’s so much innovation happening in the crypto ecosystem, and we can’t possibly do it all in-house.” But the listing also brings more scrutiny of the company’s internal culture, which has included accusations of unfair treatment of Black and female employees and poor customer service.
Coinbase could lead the way for others. The tech investor Ron Conway called Coinbase “the Google for the crypto economy.” As crypto goes mainstream, others with similarly big ambitions may follow Coinbase onto the public markets, including rival markets like Binance, the biggest crypto exchange, and Gemini, the company founded by the Winklevoss twins. Exchange-traded funds that hold Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies directly also haven’t yet been approved by the S.E.C., but proponents believe that could happen soon.
Coinbase has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Here’s Mr. Armstrong’s original Hacker News post from March 2012 looking for a co-founder for his crypto venture, which drew dismissive comments like, “Because bitcoin worked out so well. Have fun with that, dude.” Bitcoin was worth about $5 then; it’s more than $60,000 now.