Markets sink on Omicron fears and a critical setback on the U.S. spending plan.
The S&P 500 fell amid grim forecasts about the Omicron variant and a setback in efforts to pass a comprehensive domestic policy bill.,
Markets sank on Monday, extending last week’s losses, as investors took in the latest grim forecasts about the sudden surge in the Omicron variant and after a big setback in President Biden’s efforts to pass a comprehensive domestic policy bill.
The S&P 500 fell about 1.1 percent, recovering some of its earlier losses. The index fell nearly 2 percent last week.
“For the first time since Omicron appeared we have reason to be nervous about the variant having an impact on the growth trajectory of the economy,” said Lindsey Bell, the chief money and markets strategist at Ally Invest, a foreign exchange company. “A slowdown could mean inflation sticks around a bit longer given supply chain constraints.”
Despite its recent wobbles, the S&P 500 is still up 21 percent this year.
In the White House, the future of Mr. Biden’s $2.2 trillion domestic policy bill was put in doubt after Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said he would vote against it because he feared it would inflame inflation.
The impact began to weigh on prospects for the U.S. economy, adding to negative sentiment in markets. Goldman Sachs said in a research note that it would scale back its projected growth for the economy next year and now expected 2 percent growth in the first quarter, down from 3 percent. Researchers at the bank said Congress could pass some version of the bill, with a focus on manufacturing and supply chain issues.
Disagreement over the bill also pushed shares of major engineering and construction materials companies lower. SolarEdge Technologies, which provides solar-powered systems, fell 10.6 percent, while the asphalt maker Vulcan Materials fell 2.9 percent.
Investors are also still reacting to the Federal Reserve’s decision last week to speed up the tapering of its bond-buying program, a possible prelude to higher interest rates, as the Fed tries to quell inflation, wrote Saira Malik, the chief investment officer at Nuveen, a unit of TIAA.
The stock market initially rallied after the announcement. But now, investors have fully digested the Fed’s plans, raising concerns that “a rapid increase in rates might cause economic growth to slow,” she wrote in a research note.
Shares of technology stocks, which are sensitive to changing views on interest rates, have fallen in recent weeks. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, fell 2.5 percent on Monday, while Amazon, Apple and Microsoft were also lower.
Over the weekend, more European countries announced restrictions to control the spread of the coronavirus. And Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, said it would scale back its predictions of economic growth because of recent pandemic restrictions. Markets in Europe were down, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing 1.4 percent lower. Asian indexes closed lower.
Airline and travel stocks fell sharply in midday European trading. But the biggest decliner in Britain’s FTSE 100 was Informa, which organizes large in-person events. It fell 5.3 percent, after shedding as much as 6.9 percent earlier.
The spread of the new variant has also prompted companies to go fully remote, to bar nonessential staff from the office and to cancel mass gatherings. CNN and JPMorgan Chase are among the companies that have set renewed work-from-home models. The World Economic Forum announced Monday that it was postponing its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Economists say the prospect for a year-end rise in the stock market is marred because of news on the Omicron variant. At the same time, trading is generally light during the holidays, making the market more volatile.
“Given the amount of downside risks going into the new year, it’s hardly surprising to see investors adopting a more cautious approach as they log off for the holidays,” Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst at OANDA, wrote in a note.
Senator Manchin’s assertion that he could not support the domestic policy bill — which would provide tax credits of up to $12,500 for consumers buying electric vehicles — appeared to weigh on the stocks of automakers on Monday. Car companies are investing heavily in production of electric vehicles, believing they will make up an increasing share of the auto market in the years ahead.
Shares in the electric carmaker Lucid plunged 5.1 percent and have fallen nearly a third from their high. Rivian, which makes electric trucks and vans, was down 7.9 percent and has lost nearly half of its value since its peak last month. And Tesla shares were down 3.5 percent and have shed more than a quarter of their value since their peak last month.
Investors bid up stock in Ford Motor and General Motors this year as those companies moved to make electric vehicles a big part of their product lines. Ford stock was down 1.8 percent Monday, but was still up about 120 percent for the year. GM fell 2 percent Monday but has gained about 30 percent this year.
The bill would have extended and increased existing tax credits; Lucid and Rivian would still benefit from credits available under the current program.
Disagreement over the bill also pushed shares of major engineering and construction materials companies lower. SolarEdge Technologies, which provides solar-powered systems, fell 10.6 percent, while the asphalt maker Vulcan Materials fell 2.9 percent.
Oil prices also fell on Monday. Futures of West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, dropped nearly 4 percent to $68.23 a barrel. Energy stocks were among the worst performers in the S&P 500, with Devon Energy Corporation down 2.4 and Enphase Energy 5.5 percent lower.
Peter Eavis, Kevin Granville and Eshe Nelson contributed reporting.
Oracle said on Monday that it had agreed to pay $28.3 billion for Cerner, a large electronic health records vendor. The deal is the largest-ever acquisition by Oracle, a database giant, and a sign that some major technology companies see health care as a growth opportunity.
For Cerner, the deal is not only a payday but a merger with a deep-pocketed owner at a time of increasing competition and changing technology in the market for digital patient records.
Cerner is No. 2 in the electronic health record business, with 25 percent of the market in 2020, according to KLAS Research, which tracks the health care industry. Cerner was slipping slightly and Epic, which had 31 percent of the market, was gaining, the research group reported this year.
The digital patient record market, like most industries, is adopting cloud-computing technology. Both Microsoft and Oracle, analysts say, see the huge health care market as a path to strengthening their positions in the cloud business, in which customers tap into remote data centers and typically pay on a pay-for-use basis.
Microsoft has the second-largest cloud business, behind Amazon. In April, Microsoft agreed to pay $19.7 billion for Nuance Communications, the leader in voice-recognition software used in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices.
Oracle was slow to move its database and enterprise applications to the cloud, but it has made strides in the past few years.
For Cerner, the deal is a striking step by its new chief executive, Dr. David Feinberg. Dr. Feinberg joined Cerner from Google, where he headed its health technology unit. His move to Cerner was announced in August, but he did not start the job until October.
In a statement, Dr. Feinberg said combining with Oracle would give Cerner “an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate our work modernizing electronic health records,” improving the experience for physicians and nurses, and care for patients.
The negotiations on a deal between Oracle and Cerner were reported last week by The Wall Street Journal.
Electronic health records are regarded as a necessity to move medicine into the digital age — a shift that in the long run should increase efficiency, curb costs and deliver better care.
But the transition over more than a decade has been difficult, costly and time-consuming. Most doctors and nurses now use digital records, but they spend an average of one to two hours doing desk work for every hour they take seeing patients, according to a study by the Mayo Clinic that Oracle cited.
Voice recognition and automated transcription have the potential to sharply reduce the time spent typing up patient information and physician notes.
In explaining the deal, Oracle executives pointed to its voice assistant technology, as well as its cloud, as assets that should help Cerner improve its offerings.
Buying Cerner gives Oracle a leading technology company in health care, a mammoth, if fragmented, market. Other technology giants, including IBM and Google, have stumbled in health care in recent years.
But Cerner is an established presence in clinics and hospitals. “The future of enterprise software is being able to engage with industry segments,” said Bob Parker, an analyst at IDC. “And this puts Oracle deeply into a key part of the health care business.”
The merger also holds the potential to combine data that Cerner gathers in its digital records with Oracle’s data analysis and artificial intelligence tools to spot patterns and make predictions about effective treatments.
In the digital patient record business, Cerner had another appeal for Oracle. Its records, unlike those of other large suppliers like Epic, are built atop the Oracle database. They run on a specialized medical database called Cache.
“Cerner really was the only logical match for Oracle,” Mr. Parker said.
The Brazilian owner of Havaianas, the maker of flip flops, is taking a 49.9 percent stake in the shoe brand Rothy’s, valuing it at $1 billion in the industry’s latest bet on the promise of sustainable fashion.
Rothy’s, which introduced its shoes in 2016 and is based in San Francisco, is known for its eco-friendly — and fashionable — ballet flats, worn by celebrities such as Meghan Markle. The brand says it makes its shoes from single-use plastic bottles in a 300,000-square-foot factory in Dongguan, China. In recent years, the company has ventured into bags, wallets and men’s loafers, also made from recycled and marine plastic, and has stores in Los Angeles, New York and other cities.
Investors and shoppers are increasingly paying attention to the heritage and social impact of apparel and accessories they back or buy. AllBirds, which also makes shoes from sustainable sources, cashed in on that interest this year in an initial public offering that valued it at about $4 billion.
Alpargatas, the footwear company that owns Havaianas, will initially pay Rothy’s $200 million in cash, followed by a purchase of about $275 million of shares in Rothy’s. The founders of Rothy’s, Stephen Hawthornthwaite, who is chief executive, and Roth Martin, the president, will remain significant owners and continue to oversee operations, they said in an interview.
Rothy’s, which brought in about $140 million in net revenue in the year leading up to November, is “meaningfully profitable,” Mr. Hawthornthwaite said. The company has taken on $5 million from outside investors since its inception, and will put proceeds from the Alpargatas deal into brand promotion and use the Havaianas network to expand its retail presence.
Alpargatas has the option to buy as much as the entirety of Rothy’s between the first and fourth anniversaries of the deal, which was struck on Monday. Roberto Funari, the chief executive of Alpargatas, said the deal would allow his company to broaden its footwear beyond the iconic flip-flops.
The store is the only one of roughly 9,000 company-owned locations in the United States to have a union, though many locations owned and operated by other companies under licensing agreements with Starbucks have unions.
“From the beginning, we’ve been clear in our belief that we do not want a union between us as partners, and that conviction has not changed,” Rossann Williams, the company’s president of retail for North America, said in a letter to U.S. employees on Monday.
“However, we have also said that we respect the legal process,” she added. “This means we will bargain in good faith with the union that represents partners in the one Buffalo store that voted in favor of union representation.”
Throughout the campaign in Buffalo, which began in late August, union supporters complained that out-of-town officials who converged on their stores, including Ms. Williams, were monitoring and intimidating them. The company said that the officials had gone to Buffalo to help solve issues like understaffing and inadequate training, and that it had taken similar steps around the country since the spring.
But after the announcement of the results of elections at three Buffalo-area stores on Dec. 9, in which the union won in one store, lost in one and was leading in a third store where vote challenges must still be resolved, the union indicated it wanted to take a more conciliatory posture.
“We’d like to sort of offer the olive branch to the company and say, ‘Let’s put this behind us,'” said Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks employee in Buffalo who was one of the leaders of the organizing campaign. “Now is the time, let’s get to the bargaining table as quickly as possible and help us negotiate the best contract that the service industry has ever seen.”
The union said last week that it had filed an objection to the election at the Buffalo-area location where it lost, arguing that the company’s actions violated the “laboratory conditions” under which elections are supposed to be held, making a fair vote impossible.
Starbucks has invested heavily over the years in its reputation as a good employer. Part-time employees are eligible for health insurance, and the company covers tuition for employees who are admitted to an online degree program at Arizona State University. Starbucks’ annual report details its generosity toward employees and says they are “significant contributors to our success as a global brand that leads with purpose.”
In the days before Ms. Williams’s letter, union supporters said the company was continuing to intimidate and monitor employees at three more Buffalo-area stores that had filed petitions for union elections.
“We’re asking them to drop this anti-union campaign and end this union busting,” Jaz Brisack, an employee who helped lead the union campaign, said in a statement on Friday. “We have to ask, why are abusive out-of-state ‘support’ managers still in our Buffalo community?”
The company denies that it has been trying to intimidate workers and says the out-of-town personnel are helping to resolve operational issues at the stores. An election date has not yet been set at those stores or two Boston-area stores where workers filed for union elections after the Buffalo results this month.
New Year’s Eve in Times Square is up in the air. The National Basketball Association is canceling games, as is the National Hockey League. The Rockettes are done for the Christmas season. For companies in the United States watching the headlines about the resurgent coronavirus, the news of late is unwelcome.
Last week, Apple said it was indefinitely postponing office-return plans and The Washington Post announced it was mandating booster shots and weekly testing. And over the weekend, CNN closed its offices to nonessential employees.
The rapid spread of the virus’s Omicron variant continues to upend companies’ plans and force changes to policies. In recent days:
Quinn Emanuel, a white-shoe law firm based in Los Angeles, said on Monday that all of its lawyers in the United States would be allowed to work from anywhere. “Over the past 18 months, our lawyers have mastered the art of collaborating remotely,” said the firm’s founder and chair, John Quinn. He added that the firm would ensure that new associates were integrated into the firm’s culture and that office space would continue to be used for in-person meetings and team building. “We intend to create an even more vibrant in-office experience,” he said.
Citigroup sent a memo to its staff in New York and New Jersey giving them the option to work from home through the holidays given the surge in cases in the New York metropolitan area. JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley haven’t changed their policies, but staff are being given the flexibility to work from home, according to people familiar with the situation who declined to be identified discussing personnel matters.
JPMorgan Chase’s huge health care conference is going virtual.The event, set to begin on Jan. 10, is moving online “out of an abundance of caution,” the bank told attendees on Wednesday.
Goldman Sachs reportedly told teams in New York to cancel holiday parties. The bank has already held several parties over the past few weeks. JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley are reportedly allowing individual teams and departments to go ahead with holiday parties (for now).
Apple delayed its return to office “to a date yet to be determined.” The company told employees on Wednesday of the change in plans after already pushing back its return date three times. It also temporarily shut stores in Annapolis, Md., Miami and Ottawa in response to a rise in coronavirus cases.
Several Broadway shows were canceled and the Metropolitan Opera will require booster shots.The cancellations came after cast or crew members for shows, including “Hamilton,” tested positive. The Met’s new rule mandating boosters for staff and audience members, which takes effect on Jan. 17, makes it the first major performing arts institution to introduce such a measure. “Everyone is going to be doing this,” said Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager.
The World Economic Forum said Monday that it was postponing its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, citing concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The cancellation of the event, which had been planned for Jan. 17-21, is one of the biggest disruptions caused by the new wave of coronavirus cases, and upends plans for the many world leaders and corporations that had planned to attend.
As recently as Thursday, the World Economic Forum had said it was proceeding with the event, which draws thousands of politicians, executives and nonprofit leaders to a ritzy ski town in the Swiss Alps for lectures, panel discussions, dinners and parties. Organizers had said they would make a decision about whether to proceed by Jan. 6.
But with Omicron cases surging worldwide, the meeting was “deferred” on Monday and tentatively rescheduled for the summer.
“Current pandemic conditions make it extremely difficult to deliver a global in-person meeting,” Adrian Monck, a spokesman for the event, said in an email announcing the cancellation. “Despite the meeting’s stringent health protocols, the transmissibility of Omicron and its impact on travel and mobility have made deferral necessary.”
The move suggests new uncertainties for business travel, yet another headache for chief executives, and raises the prospect that more major events could be canceled or postponed in the weeks ahead.
CNN is closing its U.S. offices to all employees who are able to work remotely, according to an internal memo sent to staff on Saturday evening.
“If your job does not REQUIRE you to be in the office in order to do it, please work from elsewhere,” the network’s president, Jeff Zucker, wrote to staff, citing a surge of Covid cases around the country and within the teams at CNN.
“We are doing this out of an abundance of caution,” the memo read. “And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there.”
Masks will be required at all times, “unless you are eating, drinking or in a room by yourself,” Mr. Zucker told staff.
CNN’s announcement is part of a wave of large companies hitting the brakes on returning to the office, for many triggering uneasy feelings of d?j? vu of the early pandemic.
Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, announced on Wednesday that the company was delaying the return to physical offices indefinitely. JP Morgan Chase told its workers on Friday they could work remotely until the end of the year. Lyft is not requiring workers to return to offices until at least 2023.
A jury on Monday began deliberating the merits of the fraud trial against Elizabeth Holmes, the entrepreneur accused of lying to investors and patients about her blood testing start-up, Theranos.
Ms. Holmes’s trial has stretched nearly four months, with testimony from dozens of witnesses including scientists, chief executives and a four-star general. The proceedings have come to represent a defining moment for the tech industry and its culture of overly optimistic salesmanship.
The jury of eight men and four women is debating whether prosecutors have shown, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Ms. Holmes committed nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud while pitching Theranos to investors and patients. Her former business partner and boyfriend, Ramesh Balwani, was indicted alongside her in 2018. Both have pleaded not guilty. Mr. Balwani faces trial next year.
Each of the 11 counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though they would most likely be served concurrently. Deliberations are scheduled for Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Ms. Holmes’s case stands out for its rarity: Few tech executives have been indicted over fraud, fewer have gone to prison and even fewer than that have been women.
The case covers more than half a decade of business dealings. Ms. Holmes founded Theranos in 2003, and the start-up went on to raise $945 million from investors such as Rupert Murdoch, the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the heirs to the Walmart fortune. Theranos conducted more than eight million blood tests on patients.
Ms. Holmes’s rise to the top echelons of the business world was covered breathlessly by the news media, as was her downfall. Theranos collapsed in 2018 after whistle-blowers exposed its problems to The Wall Street Journal and federal regulators. The saga was documented in popular books, podcasts and documentaries; soon it will be featured in scripted shows on Hulu and Apple TV+.
During the trial, Ms. Holmes took the stand for seven days. It was the first time she had publicly told her side of the story. She acknowledged making some mistakes and blamed colleagues for others. She cried while accusing Mr. Balwani of emotional and sexual abuse. He has denied the accusations.
Last week, prosecutors and Ms. Holmes’s lawyers summarized their points for the jury over hourslong closing arguments.
Kevin Downey, Ms. Holmes’s lawyer, said she had not purposely misled investors and patients with her statements. She thought Theranos’s technology worked, Mr. Downey argued, and investors misunderstood statements she made about what Theranos planned to do in the future for what it could do at the time.
“She believed she was building a technology that would change the world,” he said.
Jeffrey Schenk, an assistant U.S. attorney and a lead prosecutor, pointed to evidence showing that Ms. Holmes was aware that Theranos’s tests had accuracy problems and that its business was failing. Ms. Holmes chose to keep the company alive by lying, he said.
“She chose fraud over business failure,” he said.
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has seemingly bolstered the Biden administration’s argument in favor of a vaccine mandate for large businesses.
But a recent surge in cases has raised new questions, Lauren Hirsch, Emma Goldberg and Charlie Savage write in The New York Times: Will the government take its requirements further — even as the original rule remains contentious — and ask employers to mandate booster shots, too? The country’s testing capacity has also been strained, adding to concerns that companies will be unable to meet the rule’s testing requirements.
On Friday, an appeals court lifted the legal block on the vaccine rule, though appeals to the ruling were immediately filed, leaving the rule’s legal status up in the air. On Saturday, hours after the appeals court ruling, the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration urged employers to start working to get in compliance. But OSHA also gave employers some leeway, pushing back full enforcement of the rule until February.
“My clients are totally confused as, quite frankly, am I,” Erin McLaughlin, a labor and employment lawyer at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, said on Saturday. “My sense is that there are a lot of employers scrambling to try and put their mandate programs in place.”
Germany’s new government has tapped Joachim Nagel, a career central banker and supporter of the country’s conservative monetary policy, to take over as head of the eurozone’s largest central bank, the Bundesbank, at a time of growing concern over inflation.
Mr. Nagel, 55, spent 17 years at the Bundesbank, including six years on its board. He most recently worked for the Bank for International Settlements, a financial institution based in Basel, Switzerland, that acts as a bank for central banks.
Mr. Nagel will succeed Jens Weidmann, who led the Bundesbank for a decade, and join Isabel Schnabel as one of two Germans on the governing council of the European Central Bank.
Mr. Weidmann, a former financial adviser to Angela Merkel when she was Germany’s chancellor, was one of the most conservative voices on the E.C.B. board, a champion among central bank hawks who prefer tighter fiscal policies.
Mr. Nagel has ties to the center-left Social Democratic Party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, but is expected to maintain the Germans’ traditionally tough stance on inflation and emphasis on market discipline for banks and governments — one often at odds with the expansive policies of the European Central Bank.
Last week, the E.C.B. left its interest rate untouched, and Christine Lagarde, the bank’s president, said it was “very unlikely” to move higher in the coming year despite rising inflation, which the bank sees as largely driven by high energy prices.
“In view of inflation risks, the importance of a stability-oriented monetary policy is growing,” said Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister and a member of the liberal Free Democratic Party, as he announced the nomination on Twitter. He praised Mr. Nagel as “an experienced personality who ensures the continuity of the Bundesbank.”
Elizabeth Holmes trial: The jury is expected to deliver its verdict in the fraud case against Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos sometime in the week. Closing arguments concluded on Friday. Ms. Holmes is accused of 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Nike earnings: The footwear giant is set to report its financial performance for the three months ending in November. Investors will look for signs of whether global supply chain disruptions affected the company’s finances in the months leading up to the holiday season.
Kellogg contract vote: Union members at four Kellogg cereal plants will vote on a second contract offer after rejecting a deal with the company earlier this month. Workers have been on strike since October over the company’s two-tier compensation system, in which workers hired before 2015 have higher wage scales.
General Mills earnings: The company, whose products include Cheerios and Pillsbury, has said it will raise prices on a wide range of products next year to offset higher supply chain costs and transportation challenges.
Markets closed: The U.S. stock market will close as Wall Street observes Christmas, which falls on Saturday.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home” collected an estimated $253 million at theaters in the United States and Canada during its weekend debut, according to Comscore, which compiles box office data.
It was the highest opening-weekend result in the 19-year history of the eight-film, live-action Spider-Man franchise, Brooks Barnes reports in The New York Times. And it was the third-highest in the overall Hollywood history books, behind “Avengers: Endgame” ($357 million) and “Avengers: Infinity War” ($258 million).
Not only did more than 20 million people leave their homes to see a blockbuster movie, prying themselves away from their streaming services, but they faced down the Omicron variant to do it.
No movie has managed more than $90 million in domestic opening-weekend sales since “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” in 2019, according to Comscore. (The Sony-produced “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” collected $90 million over its first three days in October. Like “No Way Home,” the “Venom” sequel played exclusively in theaters, with no simultaneous streaming option.)
“We can legitimately say that we’re in recovery mode,” said Mark Zoradi, chief executive of Cinemark, one of North America’s largest multiplex chains. He added, “This is a major shot in the arm. I think it’s going to propel a satisfying Christmas season.” Cinemark, which, like other chains, has added wide-ranging safety protocols, said on Friday that “No Way Home” delivered the company’s biggest opening-night gross ever.