OPEC and Other Oil Producers Strike a Deal to Raise Output: Live Updates

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, has argued that increasing oil output too fast would be risky.
Credit…via Reuters

OPEC and its allies, including Russia, announced on Thursday they had agreed to gradual increases in oil production over the next three months.

In agreeing to modest output increases, Saudi Arabia appears to have yielded to pressure from Russia and other producers who are eager to raise output to take advantage of what they see as a likely growing global thirst for oil.

A call on Wednesday from the new U.S. secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, may also have had some impact.

“We reaffirmed the importance of international cooperation to ensure affordable and reliable sources of energy for consumers,” Ms. Granholm wrote on Twitter.

Prince Abdulaziz has been the main voice for restraint in lifting production, warning of risks of swamping a still weak market. Some analysts also say that the Saudis are aiming for higher price levels.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting, the prince seemed to argue for keeping the current production restrictions, which are holding an estimated eight million barrels a day of oil, or about 9 percent of global consumption, off the market.

“The reality remains that the global picture is far from even, and the recovery is far from complete,” said the prince, who is the chair of the meeting of the group, known as OPEC Plus.

“Until the evidence of the recovery is undeniable, we should maintain this cautious stance,” he added.

France’s reimposition of a national lockdown, announced Wednesday, underlines persistent doubts about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, as have rising case numbers in the United States.

After modest increases when the Suez Canal was recently blocked by a cargo ship, oil prices have fluctuated. Brent crude, the global benchmark, was trading about $59.50 a barrel on Thursday.

But other producers, including Russia and the United Arab Emirates, have been pushing for increased production.

The Forecast Salon in Birmingham, Ala. A pickup in business activity nationwide has fed hopes that workers’ prospects are improving. 
Credit…Wes Frazer for The New York Times

A year after they first rocketed upward, jobless claims may finally be returning to earth.

More than 714,000 people filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up slightly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.

In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.

Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall.

But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.

“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.

There are other signs that the economic recovery is gaining momentum. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its manufacturing index, a closely watched measure of the industrial economy, hit its highest level since 1983 in March. The report’s employment index also rose strongly, a sign that manufacturers are likely to step up hiring to meet rising demand.

Still, Ms. Pollak cautioned that the job market would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.

“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.”


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

Wall Street’s rally continued on Thursday as tech shares extended their gains. Shares in Europe and Asia were also higher, as traders focused on optimism about the economic recovery.

The S&P 500 rose 0.8 percent in early trading, on track for a record close, while the Nasdaq composite gained 1.8 percent.

Bond yields pulled further back from their recent 14-month high. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.69 percent.

Adding to the optimism about the economy, a measure of manufacturing activity rose to its highest since 1983, the Institute for Supply Management said.

New data released on Thursday showed a slight rise in claims for unemployment benefits, though the data from the week before showed claims at the lowest since the start of the pandemic. On Friday, the Labor Department will publish its monthly jobs report for March.

  • On Wednesday, President Biden laid out a $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which included money for a range of activities, including repairing roads and bridges, building affordable housing and caregiving facilities, and expanding access to broadband. It would be paid for by an increase in corporate taxes, undoing some of the cut by his predecessor, President Donald J. Trump.

  • The infrastructure plan also includes spending about $50 billion on the semiconductor industry, where a global shortage in chips has disrupted car manufacturing. Shares in Micron Technology, an Idaho-based chip maker, rose nearly 5 percent in premarket trading.

  • The plan includes $174 billion to encourage the manufacture and purchase of electric vehicles. Tesla shares rose 2.4 percent in early trading and ChargePoint Holdings, which has a large network of electric-vehicle charing stations, rose as much as 14 percent, adding to a 19 percent increase on Wednesday.

  • Most European stock indexes were higher even as more lockdowns were announced in the region. In France, restrictions have been expanded to more regions and schools will close for several weeks. In Italy, business closures will extend until the end of April. But a series of reports published on Thursday showed manufacturing activity picking up in Europe.

  • Oil prices rose ahead of a meeting between the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, at which they are set to decide production quotas for May. West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark, climbed 2.7 percent to just above $60 a barrel.

  • QuantumScape, a California-based start-up working on a technology that could make batteries cheaper, said it had reached a technical requirement that would clear the way for a $100 million investment by Volkswagen. QuantumScape’s shares jumped 16 percent in early trading.

  • On Friday, markets will be closed in the United States, Europe and some other countries for Good Friday.

Shoppers in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Germany and other countries have cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending.
Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

The European Central Bank’s chief economist argued on Thursday that fears of a big rise in inflation are overblown, a sign that the people who control interest rates in the eurozone are likely to keep them very low for some time to come.

The comments — by Philip Lane, an influential member of the central bank’s Governing Council whose job includes briefing other members on the economic outlook — are an attempt to calm bond investors who are nervous that the end of the pandemic will lead to high inflation.

Fueling their fears, inflation in the eurozone rose to an annual rate of 1.3 percent in March from 0.9 percent in February, according to official data released on Wednesday, the fastest increase in prices in more than a year.

Market-based interest rates have been rising because investors worry that President Biden’s $2 trillion stimulus program will provoke a broad increase in prices for years to come. The interest rates that prevail on bond markets ripple through the financial system and can make mortgages and other types of borrowing more expensive, creating a drag on economic growth.

Despite big monthly swings in inflation during the last year, the average had been remarkably stable at an annual rate of about 1 percent, Mr. Lane wrote in a blog post on the central bank’s website on Thursday. That is well below the European Central Bank’s target of 2 percent.

“The volatility in inflation over 2020 and 2021 can be attributed to a host of temporary factors that should not affect medium-term inflation dynamics,” Mr. Lane wrote.

That is another way of saying that the European Central Bank is not going to panic about short-lived fluctuations in inflation and put the brakes on the eurozone economy anytime soon.

On the contrary, Mr. Lane’s analysis suggests that the European Central Bank will continue trying to push inflation toward the 2 percent target. In March, the central bank said it would increase its purchases of government and corporate bonds to try to keep a lid on market-based interest rates.

Mr. Lane said it was no surprise to see “considerable volatility in inflation during the pandemic period.” He attributed the ups and downs to quirky factors that are not likely to recur.

Germany and some other countries cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending, then raised them again later. The price of fuel fluctuated wildly. People spent almost nothing on travel, but increased spending on home exercise equipment or products that they needed to work from home. That affected the way inflation is calculated and made the annual rate look higher, Mr. Lane said.

“The medium-term outlook for inflation remains subdued,” he wrote, “and closing the gap to our inflation aim will set the agenda for the Governing Council in the coming years.”

The Treasury Department is working with global partners toward a new allocation of $650 billion worth of the International Monetary Fund special drawing rights a reserve boost that is intended to help poor countries combat the pandemic, it said Thursday.

The support for the plan is a reversal of the Trump administration’s stance. Steven Mnuchin, the former Treasury secretary under President Trump, had opposed such allocations as an inefficient way to boost liquidity for poorer nations, because a big chunk of the reserves wind up going to advanced economies.

But Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, had earlier this year signaled support for the expansion as a way to bolster poorer nations.

“Containing the pandemic across the globe is paramount to a robust economic recovery,” the Treasury said in a release on Thursday. “To this end, Treasury is working with I.M.F. management and other members toward a $650 billion general allocation” of the reserve assets.

Special drawing rights, known as S.D.R.s, are reserve assets whose value is based on a basket of currencies — the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen and the British pound sterling. They can supplement shortfalls in reserves, easy-to-access assets that countries can use to meet their balance of payments, foreign borrowing and foreign exchange needs.

“The global recession has strained central bank foreign exchange reserves in many countries,” the Treasury said in its fact sheet Thursday. The allocation “will help buffer reserves, supporting governments’ efforts to address the health and economic crises.”

The Treasury said expanding the allocation would provide about $21 billion worth of liquidity support to low-income countries and about $212 billion worth of support to other emerging and developing countries, excluding China.

“We are working with our international partners to pursue ways for advanced economies to lend a portion” of their allocations “to support low-income countries,” it said.

The Treasury also stressed the importance of improved transparency as a necessary part of the package, saying it was “working with the I.M.F. and other member countries to maximize the benefits and limit the possible downsides of an allocation by enhancing transparency, accountability and equitable burden sharing.”

The new administration’s approach has raised concerns among some Republicans that the United States would be effectively spending money to help adversaries such as China and Russia — a claim Treasury officials have pushed back on.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, but there are hurdles to staying out of facilities.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The pandemic has intensified a spotlight on long-running questions about how communities can do a better job supporting seniors who need care but want to live outside a nursing home.

The coronavirus had taken the lives of 181,000 people in U.S. nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities through last weekend, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — 33 percent of the national toll.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 75 percent, down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a research group. The shift may not be permanent, but this much is clear: As the aging of the nation accelerates, most communities need to do much more to become age-friendly, said Jennifer Molinsky, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

“It’s about all the services that people can access, whether that’s the accessibility and affordability of housing, or transportation and supports that can be delivered in the home,” she said.

But there are hurdles for those who wish to stay out of a facility, Mark Miller reports for The New York Times:

  • A major shortage of age-friendly housing in the United States will present problems for seniors who wish to stay in their homes. By 2034, 34 percent of households will be headed by someone over 65, according to the Harvard center. Yet in 2011, just 3.5 percent of homes had single-floor living, no-step entry and extra-wide halls and doors for wheelchair access, according to Harvard’s latest estimates.

  • Medicare does not pay for most long-term care services, regardless of where they happen; reimbursement is limited to a person’s first 100 days in a skilled nursing facility. Medicaid, which covers only people with very low incomes, has long been the nation’s largest funder of long-term care. From its inception, the program was required to cover care in nursing facilities but not at home or in a community setting. “There’s a bias toward institutions,” said Judith Solomon, a senior fellow specializing in health at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Adam Bouhmad, second from right, has helped low-income families in Baltimore get affordable internet service through his Waves project.
Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan, announced on Wednesday, includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home.

The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, the efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different areas have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, internet service isn’t available at all because of the high costs of installation.

“We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high speed internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet. We will drive down the price for families who have service now.”

Longtime advocates of universal broadband say the plan, which requires congressional approval, may finally come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem first identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unconnected students during the pandemic added urgency.

“This is a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” said Blair Levin, who directed the 2010 National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “And I haven’t heard that before from a White House to date.”

Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan might not entirely solve the divide between the digital haves and have-nots.

The plan promises to give priority to municipal and nonprofit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to far reaches of the country. One concern is that the companies won’t consider the effort worth their time, even with all the money earmarked for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.

Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits last year — but who filed their federal tax returns before a new tax break became available — could receive an automatic refund as early as May, the Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday.

The latest pandemic relief legislation — signed into law on March 11, in the thick of tax season — made the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits tax-free in 2020 for people with modified adjusted incomes of less than $150,000. (Married taxpayers filing jointly can exclude up to $20,400.)

But some Americans had already filed their tax returns by March and have been waiting for official agency guidance. Millions of U.S. workers filed for unemployment last year, but the I.R.S. said it was still determining how many workers affected by the tax change had already filed their tax returns.

On Wednesday, the I.R.S. confirmed that it would automatically recalculate the correct amount of benefits subject to taxation — and any overpayment will be refunded or applied to any other outstanding taxes owed. The first refunds are expected to be issued in May and will continue into the summer.

The I.R.S. said it would begin processing the simpler returns first, or those eligible for up to $10,200 in excluded benefits, and then would turn to returns for joint filers and others with more complex returns.

There is no need for those affected to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return, the agency said. Those taxpayers may want to review their state tax returns as well, the I.R.S. said.

People who still haven’t filed and expect to do so electronically can simply answer the questions asked by their online tax preparer, which will factor in the new tax break when they file. The agency provided an updated worksheet and additional guidance in March for taxpayers that prefer paper.

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