May 12, 2021

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Housing Market in Frenzy Like No Other Since 2008 Crisis

12 min read
Credit…Ted Shaffrey/Associated Press

The median sale price of an existing home in the United States was $329,100 in March, up 17.2 percent from a year earlier, when a 3 to 5 percent annual increase is considered healthy, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors, a trade group.

Nationwide, housing inventory was at 1.07 million units at the end of March, just above its record low of 1.03 million the prior month and down 28.2 percent from a year earlier, the group said on Thursday.

Sales of new single-family houses soared the highest level since 2006 in March, the Census Bureau reported on Friday, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.021 million, up 21 percent from February. The typical new home sold for $330,800, down from its recent peak of $365,300 in December.

Existing homes typically sold in 18 days, a record speed. Normally, 60 days is typical, Lawrence Yun, the National Association of Realtors’ chief economist, told Stefanos Chen of The New York Times.

When the housing market peaks will depend largely on where you live and how the pandemic continues to reorder buyer priorities, but it will hinge on two trends: rising mortgage rates and incredibly tight inventory in some markets, which will likely keep demand strong through the rest of 2021, even as price growth moderates, several analysts said.

In Manhattan, where commercial real estate was battered and home buyers fanned outward to surrounding suburbs in search of affordability and more space, the sales market fell off at the beginning of the pandemic but appears to have turned the corner.

“The rate at which homes are selling nationally is not sustainable, but in New York, the uptick is just getting started,” said Nancy Wu, an economist for StreetEasy, a listing website.

In the week ending April 11, there were 783 new signed contracts citywide, the highest since the company began tracking weekly pending sales in 2019, when the peak was 491 contracts, she said.

Technical glitches marred the Small Business Association’s first attempt at accepting applications for the grant program.
Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Music club operators, theater owners and others in the live-event market have been waiting nearly four months for a $16 billion federal grant fund for their industry to start taking applications. Their hopes were briefly raised two weeks ago when the program’s application website opened, then dashed as a technical malfunction prevented the site from accepting any applications.

Now, the Small Business Administration, the federal agency that runs the program, plans to try again on Monday at noon — but only after one last round of confusion and frustration.

Late Thursday, the agency announced that it would reopen its application system for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant on Saturday. After heavy pushback from angry applicants — especially Jewish business owners who do not use electronics on Saturdays in observation of the Sabbath — the agency changed course Friday night and rescheduled the reopening for Monday.

“We understand the challenges a weekend opening would bring, and to ensure the greatest number of businesses can apply for these funds, we decided to reschedule,” the agency said in a statement. “We remain committed to delivering economic aid to this hard-hit sector quickly and efficiently.”

The money will be awarded on a first-come-first-served basis and is widely expected to run out fast. That means many applicants will feel pressure to submit paperwork as soon as the application system opens — even if it is at an inconvenient time.

Applicants were generally relieved by the shift to Monday, but annoyed by the whiplash.

“It’s been a mess on so many levels. I feel like they’re torturing us,” said Dani Zoldan, the owner of Stand Up NY, a comedy club in Manhattan. Mr. Zoldan is Jewish and had been vocal on Twitter about the obstacles of a Saturday start.

The National Independent Venue Association, an industry group that lobbied for the relief fund, said it endorsed the decision to postpone the start.

“While we’re all anxious to apply as soon as possible, we support the S.B.A.’s decision to reopen the portal Monday and encourage a fair and equitable process for all,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokeswoman for the group. “The S.B.A. has responded to our desperate need and we’re grateful for that.”

The Small Business Administration is also preparing to open a second grant program, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which is a $28.6 billion support fund for bars, restaurants and food trucks. That program is planning a seven-day test to help the agency avoid the kind of technical problems that plagued the venue program.

Preparations for the Academy Awards last year, when viewership was down 20 percent from 2019. It is expected to be even lower this year.
Credit…Josh Haner/The New York Times

ABC has sold out its advertising inventory for the pandemic-delayed Academy Awards on Sunday, with companies like Google, General Motors, Rolex and Verizon spending an estimated $2 million for each 30-second spot, according to media buyers — only a slight decline from last year’s pricing even though the television audience is expected to be sharply smaller.

Rita Ferro, president of Disney Advertising Sales, which sells ads on Disney-owned ABC, announced the sellout. She declined to comment on pricing or say how much revenue Disney will generate from the telecast. Last year, the Oscars pulled in about $129 million across 56 ads, according to Kantar Media, a research firm. (A red-carpet preshow attracted $16.3 million across 42 ads.)

Additional revenue comes from “integrations” and other sponsorships. For the first time, for instance, ABC will have a sponsor for closed-captioning (Google). The upshot: ABC’s revenue for the telecast is estimated to have declined only 3 to 5 percent from last year — a tiny drop compared with the expected 50 to 60 percent decline in viewing.

The ceremony is “one of those big cultural moments,” Andrew McKechnie, Verizon’s chief creative officer, said of the company’s decision to buy ad space. “The broadcast this year will be a bit different,” he acknowledged, “but the event will still be an impactful one and an important one for us to show up in.”

Last year, about 23.6 million people watched “Parasite” win the Academy Award for best picture, according to Nielsen data. That was a 20 percent drop from the previous year and a record low. On Sunday, nine million to 12 million people are expected to tune in.

Audiences have been turning away from awards telecasts for years, but ratings have nose-dived during the pandemic. Without live audiences, the shows have been drained of their energy. Big studios have also postponed major movies, leaving this year’s awards scene to downbeat art films.

ABC does not guarantee an audience size to Oscar advertisers, thus removing any potential for so-called make-goods — additional commercial time at a later date — if ratings tumble.

ABC has been able to keep ad rates high in part because of the fragmentation of television viewing. Oscars night is a shadow of its former self — it attracted 57 million viewers in 1998 — but still pulls in one of the largest audiences on broadcast television, certainly for a nonsports telecast. New advertisers this year include Apartments.com and Freshpet dog and cat food. Expedia and Adidas have bought commercial time to introduce new campaigns.

“We’re very pleased with where we are,” Ms. Ferro said, citing “the quantity, the caliber and the diversity of the advertisers in the show.”

Soccer fans protested on Tuesday after the formation of a so-called Super League was announced.
Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

JPMorgan Chase apologized on Friday for its role in arranging billions of dollars in financing for a breakaway European soccer league, admitting in a statement that it had “misjudged” how the project would be viewed by fans.

JPMorgan Chase had pledged about $4 billion to underwrite the new league, but the American investment bank did not end up issuing it or losing any money: The league collapsed only 48 hours after it was announced, after more than half of its 12 founding clubs changed their minds and announced they would not take part, Tariq Panja and and Andrew Das for The New York Times.

Like the 12 clubs involved in the breakaway group — which included European giants like Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, Juventus and A.C. Milan — JPMorgan had come under intense criticism from fans and others merely for participating in the plan.

Designed as a 20-team league with 15 permanent members, the Super League would have severely cut in to the revenues of dozens of national leagues, imperiled the finances and values of the hundreds of European clubs who were left out, and upended the structures that have underpinned European soccer for a century — all while funneling billions to a few elite teams.

In a corporate statement rare for its contrition and self-criticism, JPMorgan admitted it had been a mistake to finance the proposal without considering its effects on others.

“We clearly misjudged how this deal would be viewed by the wider football community and how it might impact them in the future,” a company spokesman said. “We will learn from this.”

But in an interview with Bloomberg TV, the bank’s co-president, Daniel E. Pinto, also sought to distance JPMorgan from the blowback that is still buffeting the clubs.

“We arranged a loan for a client,” Pinto said. “It’s not our place to decide what is the optimal way for football to operate in Europe and the U.K.”

“Companies are reading the writing on the wall,” said Thomas DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller and trustee for the state’s public pension fund.
Credit…Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

The riot at the Capitol in January prompted a reckoning on corporate political donations that will be a prominent feature of proxy season, with many shareholder proposals demanding greater disclosure of company spending. And shareholders already seem to be meeting with more success than in previous years, the DealBook newsletter reports.

“Companies are reading the writing on the wall,” said Thomas P. DiNapoli, New York State’s comptroller and trustee for the state’s public pension fund. “Political and social polarization are bad for their business, and they need to decide if political donations are worth the risk.”

“Time will tell if their increased attention to these issues is lip service or if it represents a sincere change in corporate culture,” Mr. DiNapoli said. “At a minimum, investors need disclosure of this spending.”

New York’s public pension fund is the third-largest in the United States, and since 2010, it has filed more than 155 shareholder proposals on political spending, winning more than 40 adoptions or agreements, including from Bank of America, Delta Air Lines and PepsiCo. Three of five resolutions it has advanced this year have already been withdrawn, with the companies agreeing to make changes without putting them to a vote. That’s a 60 percent hit rate, and companies that wouldn’t engage before are now at least responsive, a spokesman for the fund said.

The fund got CMS Energy, a Michigan public utility, to agree to be more transparent about political spending, DealBook is first to report; First Energy, an Ohio utility, and the multinational brewer Molson Coors also agreed to more disclosure.

“Companies are now expected to have core values — almost personalities,” said Bruce Freed, the president of the Center for Political Accountability, a nonprofit organization that teams up with shareholders on proposals. Recent agreements, like the ones brokered by Mr. DiNapoli, are a “strong indication” that corporations are feeling “real pressure,” he said. Nine of 30 companies (including those noted above) have agreed this year to provide more disclosure on political donations. Last year, eight of 40 companies facing similar proposals agreed to act instead of putting the question to shareholders in a vote.

The Capitol riot “raised the stakes,” Mr. Freed said, and the pressure on companies has not relented since.


By: Ella Koeze·Data delayed at least 15 minutes·Source: FactSet

U.S. stocks climbed on Friday, rebounding from a drop on Thursday that had followed reports that the Biden administration was considering nearly doubling capital gains taxes and other taxes on the rich to fund child care and education projects.

Friday’s gains came as investors heard more good news about the American economy, with readings on the manufacturing and services sectors showing growth, and home sales data indicating that sales are at their highest level since 2006.

Most European stock indexes were lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 0.1 percent even as data showed an improvement in manufacturing and services industries across the eurozone.

The S&P 500 climbed 1.1 percent, more than recouping its drop from Thursday. The Nasdaq composite 1.4 percent.

  • Bitcoin slid 3 percent on Friday, continuing its drop from a record hit earlier this month. The cryptocurrency topped out above $63,000 per coin in mid-April, and was trading at around $49,700 on Friday — a drop of more than 20 percent — before rising to $51,000 later in the day.

  • Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange, fell 0.6 percent.

  • The bill for Britain’s pandemic response is starting to become clear: In the 12 months through March, government borrowing was 303.1 billion pounds (about $421 billion), up from £57 billion the previous year, according to an estimate by the Office for National Statistics. It’s the most since records began in 1947. And at 14.5 percent of G.D.P., it’s the highest since the end of World War II.

  • As tax receipts fell, the government spent hundreds of billions of pounds on emergency support programs, including furlough. But the borrowing estimate is still smaller than previously forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent fiscal watchdog.

  • Retail sales in Britain rose 4.9 percent in March, far outpacing economists’ forecasts for a 2 percent increase, separate data showed, while the manufacturing and services industry also picked up further in April.

A Bitcoin A.T.M. in an Istanbul shopping mall. Many Turks have turned to cryptocurrencies as a hedge against inflation.
Credit…Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A cryptocurrency exchange in Turkey suspended operations this week amid accusations of fraud, freezing an estimated $2 billion in investors’ money, and authorities said they were seeking the company’s founder.

The Turkish authorities raided offices in Istanbul associated with Thodex, a cryptocurrency trading platform, on Friday morning and arrested more than 60 people, the private news agency Demiroren reported.

Thodex’s 27-year-old founder, Faruk Fatih Ozer, left Turkey for Albania on Tuesday, the Turkish authorities said, who added that they were seeking his extradition.

The cryptocurrency firm has nearly 400,000 active users, whose accounts were nominally worth a total of $2 billion, according to Oguz Evren Kilic, a lawyer in Ankara who is representing Thodex investors. If their money has vanished, the losses will add another element of instability to Turkey’s already shaky economy.

Living standards in Turkey suffer from double-digit inflation and a wobbly currency. Though cryptocurrencies are inherently risky, many Turks have turned to them as a way to protect their savings as the Turkish lira lost more than one-quarter of its value against the dollar in the last year.

Last week, Turkey’s central bank banned the use of cryptocurrencies for purchases, citing the “significant risks.”

Thodex promoted itself with ads that featured female Turkish celebrities dressed in bright red outfits and draped over a highly polished black automobile.

“For sure the economic situation has an affect on this,” Mr. Kilic, the lawyer, said in an interview. “In such times of crisis, people want to diminish the loss of value of the assets they have.”

The sagging lira has raised the cost of imported goods and fueled inflation, leading to a steady erosion in living standards. In March, the annual rate of inflation was 16 percent, according to official figures, which many economists say understate the true rate.

In a statement on Thodex’s website, Mr. Ozer, the founder, insisted that he had left the country merely to consult with foreign investors and would return. He said the accusations were a “smear campaign” and blamed the shutdown of the trading platform on a cyberattack.

Thodex “has not victimized anyone,” he said, adding that only about 30,000 accounts “have a suspicious situation.”

Mr. Kilic noted that none of Thodex’s customers could gain access to their accounts. “If you cannot access the account, then you are a victim,” he said.

On Twitter, people reacted to a statement from Thodex with crying face emojis. “There are people who trust and invest everything in you,” one user wrote.

Volkswagen’s new electric ID.4. The company is investing $80 billion to develop E.V.s.
Credit…Bryan Derballa for The New York Times

As many as 100 new electric vehicle models are coming to showrooms by 2025 as automakers insist we’re “this close” to an E.V. tipping point.

But outside of Tesla, the American record for sales of an electric vehicles is the mere 30,200 Leafs that Nissan sold in 2014. A single gasoline sport utility vehicle, the Toyota RAV4, finds well over 400,000 annual buyers, compared with roughly 250,000 sales last year for all E.V.s combined — 200,000 of which were Teslas, Lawrence Ulrich reports for The New York Times.

Globally, Volkswagen is poised to pass Tesla as the world’s biggest electric vehicle seller as early as next year, according to Deutsche Bank, with Europe and China its key markets. In the United States, where the brand remains an underdog, VW and other legacy automakers are concentrating fire on the sales fortress of compact S.U.V.s.

The latest electric-S.U.V. hopefuls to reach showrooms are the VW ID.4, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volvo XC40 Recharge. The Nissan Ariya, BMW iX and Cadillac Lyriq are set to arrive between late 2021 and next March.

Credit…Steffen Ullmann

Today in the On Tech newsletter, Shira Ovide looks at how the authorities tell the difference between hateful or menacing online rants that contain empty threats and those that might lead to violence.

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