Unemployment Claims Fall as Covid Restrictions Ease: Live Updates

Unemployment Claims Fall as Covid Restrictions Ease: Live Updates

Unemployment Claims Fall as Covid Restrictions Ease: Live Updates

A nurse updated patient information at a Santa Maria, Calif., hospital this week. The health care field is among those seeing an increase in hiring.
Credit…Daniel Dreifuss for The New York Times

Wanted: Health care workers, delivery drivers and technology professionals.

Even as the job market struggles to find a footing, employers are putting out the welcome mat in certain fields, according to economists from two of the country’s biggest online job sites, ZipRecruiter and Indeed.

“There are clear differences between different industries,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

Besides the strength in industries that benefit from the stay-at-home trend, like warehousing and deliveries, hiring in tech and professional and business services has been showing signs of life recently.

“Businesses are looking to the future and are somewhat optimistic,” Ms. Pollak said.

AnnElizabeth Konkel, economist at Indeed Hiring Lab, added that demand for pharmacists is up 23 percent from a year ago while openings for drivers have jumped 18 percent. “It all ties directly back to the pandemic,” Ms. Konkel said.

Nevertheless, there have been important regional differences in hiring. In cities where many people are working remotely, like Washington, Seattle, Boston and San Francisco, there have been fewer postings in some fields than in places where more workers are back in the office.

“People aren’t popping into their local coffee shop on their way to work or stopping into a store to pick something up when they work at home,” Ms. Konkel said, and that affects hiring.

Openings at restaurants are down from a year ago, she added, as are positions in arts and entertainment as well as hospitality and tourism.

At ZipRecruiter, the energy industry has shown an increase in job postings after steep losses when the pandemic struck. Manufacturing, too, has recorded more openings lately.

“Some of the losers are finally coming backing a bit,” Ms. Pollak said. “But so many industries can’t possibly resume while the pandemic is going on.”

A closed restaurant at Grand Central Market in Los Angeles. Workers in leisure and hospitality industries have been hit especially hard by job losses during the pandemic.
Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

Even as layoffs remain extraordinarily high by historical standards, unemployment claims have shown a recent decline as coronavirus cases and restrictions on activity recede.

New claims for unemployment benefits declined last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, and were significantly below the level seen in most of December and early January.

Last week brought 813,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 850,000 the previous week. Adjusted for seasonal variations, last week’s figure was 793,000, a decrease of 19,000. (Because of revisions to previous data, it was not the fourth straight weekly decline, as this briefing stated earlier.)

There were 335,000 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded program for part-time workers, the self-employed and others ordinarily ineligible for jobless benefits. That total, which was not seasonally adjusted, was down from 369,000 the week before.

New coronavirus cases have fallen by a third from the level two weeks ago, prompting states like California and New York to relax restrictions on indoor dining and other activities.

“We’re stuck at this very high level of claims, but activity is picking up,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist with ZipRecruiter, an online employment marketplace. Indeed, job postings at ZipRecruiter stand at 11.3 million, close to the 11.4 million level before the pandemic hit.

The improving pandemic situation has eased the strain on restaurants and bars, Ms. Pollak added. More generally, however, the leisure and hospitality industry is still under pressure.

Plenty of other signs of weakness remain. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that employers added just 49,000 jobs in January, underscoring the challenges for the nearly 10 million unemployed.

President Biden cited the weak showing to press for approval of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package. It would send $1,400 to many Americans, provide aid to states and cities, and extend unemployment benefits that are due to expire for millions in mid-March.

Ms. Pollak said postings by employers at ZipRecruiter in recent days offered hope. “We’ve seen employers smash all of our expectations and show a great deal of exuberance,” she said.

A conceptual design of a new $20 note that was produced by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing depicting Harriet Tubman.

The effort to make Harriet Tubman the face of the $20 note got a bipartisan push this week as two senators urged Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to prioritize the planned redesign that stalled during the Trump administration.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, sent a letter to Ms. Yellen this week making the case that America’s currency should reflect the diversity of the country. They lamented that the plan put in place by the Obama administration in 2016, to unveil a $20 note design in 2020 with Ms. Tubman’s image on the front, was not carried out by former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“We hope sincerely that is no longer the case, and encourage the prioritization of Ms. Tubman before working on other redesigns,” they wrote. “We stand ready to offer any support for your efforts to ensure this towering figure in our nation’s history receives the recognition she has deserved for so long.”

The Biden administration said last month that Ms. Yellen would be studying ways to speed up the process of adding Harriet Tubman’s portrait to the front of the $20 bill.

“It’s important that our money reflect the history and diversity of our country,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said.

A Treasury spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment about whether the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which the department oversees, had resumed the redesign featuring Ms. Tubman.

Work on the redesign had started under the watch of former President Barack Obama’s Treasury secretary, Jacob Lew, but Mr. Mnuchin said that enhancing the security features of the new notes took priority over changes to the imagery. Mr. Trump had previously expressed his disapproval of the idea of replacing President Andrew Jackson, a fellow populist, with Ms Tubman, a former slave and abolitionist.

The Advanced Counterfeit Deterrence Steering Committee laid out plans in 2013 for the redesign of the $10 and $5 notes to occur before the $20.

Ms. Shaheen and several House Democrats have been vocal supporters of the initiative to replace Mr. Jackson with Ms. Tubman as the face of the $20. Few Republican lawmakers have expressed public support for the change.

Planters will join a growing collection of food brands at Hormel.
Credit…Jon Elswick/Associated Press

That’s not peanuts.

On Thursday, Kraft Heinz said it had agreed to sell its nuts business, including the iconic Planters brand, to Hormel Foods for $3.35 billion in cash.

At Hormel, Planters will be added to a growing collection of food brands, including the peanut butter brand Skippy, which Hormel acquired in 2013, and Justin’s nut butter, which it acquired in 2016.

The pandemic has been a sales boon for Kraft Heinz, which had some of its factories working three shifts during periods in the past year to meet high demand for products like its Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. On Thursday, Kraft Heinz reported that net sales in the fourth quarter rose 6.2 percent to $6.9 billion.

For the full year, Kraft Heinz said net sales rose 4.8 percent to $26.18 billion. The company said it expected to see flat-to-positive growth in net sales in 2021.

Kraft Heinz, the result of a 2015 merger that created one of the largest food companies in the world, was struggling ahead of the pandemic. Its stock had slumped, underperforming other food companies, as sales and profits sank, in part because consumers had begun to favor less-processed, healthier foods in recent years.

But during the pandemic, consumers, who were now cooking and consuming more meals at home, sought comfort foods and gravitated toward many old-school brands within Kraft Heinz and other food companies.

Pepsico, a rival of Kraft Heinz, also reported a jump in fourth-quarter earnings on Thursday. The snack giant’s revenue rose 8.8 percent from the same period a year earlier, to $22.46 billion, powered by consumers munching on Cheetos and Doritos during the pandemic.

For Kraft Heinz, the food boom has provided a good opportunity to shed businesses. Last September, it sold its natural cheese business to France’s Groupe Lactalis for $3.2 billion.

The nuts business, which contributed roughly $1.1 billion in net sales to Kraft Heinz for the past year, had been neglected inside the company and had lost market share to competitors, including private-label brands.

Adding insult to injury, for a Super Bowl ad last year, the company killed off and held a funeral for its monocled mascot, Mr. Peanut, who was created in 1916 when a schoolboy, Antonio Gentile, submitted a sketch to win a contest for the brand. At a funeral, attended by other brand avatars like the Kool-Aid Man, a baby peanut emerged from the ground, first squeaking like a dolphin, before proclaiming, “Just kidding. I’m back.”

A prototype Learjet 23 executive jet on a test flight, in 1964.
Credit…Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Learjet luxury aircraft made famous by Frank Sinatra and immortalized in songs by Pink Floyd and Carly Simon is going away.

Bombardier, the Canadian company that makes the plane, said Thursday that it would stop building the plane at the end of the year — more than half-a-century after it was introduced — as it shifts attention to its more profitable and larger Challenger and Global aircraft. The move comes after Bombardier exited the business of making planes for airlines last year and completed the sale of its rail unit last month, all part of an effort to return to profitability with a more singular focus on private aircraft.

“With our strategic repositioning now complete, we are very excited to embark on our journey as a pure-play business jet company,” Éric Martel, Bombardier’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The company also announced plans to cut 1,600 jobs, or about 10 percent of its work force. Bombardier said Thursday that it lost $568 million last year and hoped to cut costs by more than $400 million by 2023.

The Learjet decision comes just months after the company announced the first delivery of the plane’s latest model, the Learjet 75 Liberty.

The jet was originally designed with a focus on performance by William Lear, an engineer. It entered service in 1963 and went on to play a key role in ushering in an era of luxury private flight. Mr. Sinatra reportedly bought his in 1965, using it for trips to and from Las Vegas and making it a symbol of ultimate luxury for the rich and powerful.

More than 3,000 Learjets have been sold since its inception. But the jet has struggled in recent years because buyers of private jets considered it cramped and not as luxurious as other planes. Bombardier, which acquired the Learjet business in 1990, delivered just 11 to customers last year.

Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, sued the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency in 2017.
Credit…Steven Senne/Associated Press

One of the nation’s largest student loan servicers and the attorney general of Massachusetts have agreed to settle a lawsuit over errors that the state said had harmed thousands of public service workers trying to use a federal loan-forgiveness program.

The loan servicer — the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which operates under the name FedLoan — will audit the account of any Massachusetts resident who requests a review. The company will correct any errors it finds and compensate borrowers who were financially harmed.

“This agreement secures first-of-its-kind relief for teachers and other public servants,” Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general, said in a statement. “Public servants burdened with student loan debt are entitled to the relief that they were promised under these federal programs.”

Ms. Healey’s office sued the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency in 2017, accusing it of making mistakes in counting borrowers’ payments, overcharging some borrowers and incorrectly handling applications for income-based repayment plans.

The problems especially harmed people seeking to use the government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, according to the complaint. The loan servicing company has an exclusive contract with the federal government to handle the accounts of those seeking to use the program, which has been widely criticized for its shoddy implementation and rampant errors.

More than 200,000 Massachusetts residents will be able to request an account review, Ms. Healey said. The settlement was approved on Tuesday by a state Superior Court judge.

Keith New, a spokesman for the company, said the deal “reaffirms P.H.E.A.A.’s commitment to all student borrowers and to the high quality of customer service provided by P.H.E.A.A. in managing their student loan debt.”

Most state borrowers whose requests to have their loans forgiven were denied will have their accounts automatically flagged for a review, which the company must complete within 120 days, according to the settlement. That’s a significantly faster than the year — or longer — the company has in the past told some borrowers it would take to investigate their error claims.

The company is facing a lawsuit in federal court from New York’s attorney general, who in 2019 accused it of extensive misdeeds. A federal judge last year rejected the company’s request to dismiss the case.

WarnerMedia will expand its streaming platform HBO Max beyond the United States this summer. The company, which unveiled its streaming service in May and ended the year with 17.17 million activated users, said on Thursday that HBO Max would become available in 39 territories across Latin America and the Caribbean in June.

“By combining HBO with the very best of WarnerMedia’s series and film catalog, as well as locally produced content from master storytellers in Latin America, HBO Max will offer fans in the region an unforgettable and enriching entertainment experience,” Johannes Larcher, the head of HBO Max International, said in a statement.

Similar to how it operates in the United States, WarnerMedia will give current HBO GO customers instant access to HBO Max and will phase out the HBO GO service.

WarnerMedia gave a boost to HBO Max — and shocked some in Hollywood — when it announced in November that all Warner Bros. movies in 2021 would debut simultaneously in theaters and on the streaming service. The initiative took effect in 2020; “Wonder Woman 1984” debuted on Christmas Day and helped drive HBO and HBO Max’s total subscriber base to 41 million, a level it reached “a full two years faster than our initial forecast,” according to John Stankey, the chief executive of AT&T, WarnerMedia’s parent company.

The company also announced that an HBO-branded streaming service will debut in Europe later this year.

Coronavirus vaccine being administered in London last month. Britain’s early start in vaccinations is one reason cited for the recent rise in the pound.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

The British pound has been on a quiet ascent. This week, it surpassed $1.38, a level it hasn’t seen against the U.S. dollar in nearly three years, and it is up nearly 2 percent against the euro this year. Britain has been under a strict lockdown, but its trade deal with the European Union and quick vaccine rollout has helped the nation’s financial assets, including stocks, perform well.

In the past week, it was pushed higher after the Bank of England painted an optimistic picture for the economic recovery this year as soon as the lockdown is lifted. It is forecasting the British economy will return to its pre-pandemic size by early 2022.

The central bank also said it had no imminent intention of introducing negative interest rates, which caused the pound and bond yields to jump higher.

That said, the pound’s rise may face obstacles. The Brexit trade deal has thrown up a number of hurdles as exporters contend with new customs requirements and retailers reconsider supply chains. The tension between London and Brussels seems to have worsened over the future of financial services and trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“Despite the market’s relief that the U.K. and the E.U. managed to strike a trade deal in December, it is becoming obvious that Brexit is casting long shadows,” Jane Foley, a currency strategist at Rabobank, wrote in a note.

“Looking ahead we continue to see both political and economic hurdles for GBP and anticipate a fairly rocky ride in the coming months,” she said, using the abbreviation for the pound.

  • Stocks indexes on Wall Street edged higher, with the S&P 500 climbing about 0.25 percent in early trading with gains led by technology shares.

  • Shares in Pinterest rose about 6 percent in premarket trading. The Financial Times reported late on Wednesday that Microsoft made an approach to buy the social media company in recent months, but the talks are not active.

  • Stocks in Europe were mixed. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.4 percent. Shares in BE Semiconductor Industries rose 4.5 percent and ASM shares gains 3.5 percent after reports the European Union is exploring building a semiconductor factory. The industry has recently been beset by supply shortages disrupting car production worldwide.

Motorists line up at the pumps of a Shell station for gasoline late Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020, in Lone Tree, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday made the boldest statement among its peers about the waning of the oil age, saying that its oil production had reached a high in 2019 and was now likely to gradually decline.

Shell’s “total oil production peaked in 2019,” the company said in a statement, and added that it expected a gradual decline of oil production of around 1 to 2 percent annually in coming years.

The company also said that its carbon emissions probably peaked in 2018.

Shell said it was beefing up its previously announced effort to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Analysts, though, said there was little that was new in Shell’s announcement about future investments, and the company’s commitments to invest $2 billion to $3 billion a year in renewable energy like wind and solar lagged some of its peers in terms of the proportion of capital spending allocated.

“Despite the green spin, the substance would suggest a more cautious approach to renewables,” said Stuart Joyner, an analyst at Redburn, a market research firm.

Even before the pandemic wiped out demand for oil last year, energy companies were preparing for a gradual flattening in the world’s appetite for oil, which has trended upward for decades.

Demand has revived somewhat since last spring’s collapse, and oil futures on Monday returned to their pre-pandemic levels, but many legacy producers, especially those based in Europe, are transitioning to a future of cleaner energy, investing more money in renewable sources like wind, solar and hydrogen.

Some companies, like BP, have said they will reduce oil and gas production substantially over time. But Shell, a company whose roots go back to kerosene sales in the 19th century, seemed to go further on Thursday, declaring that the year before the pandemic hit would be the high point for the company’s oil production.

Shell has previously hinted that this might a possibility. Ben van Beurden, the company’s chief executive, suggested on a call with reporters last year that the peak may have already occurred.

  • ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, said Thursday that Aditya Mittal, the company’s president and chief financial officer, would succeed his father, Lakshmi Mittal, as chief executive. Lakshmi Mittal, who founded the company, will become executive chairman. Aditya Mittal said on a call with reporters that he wanted to focus on reducing carbon emissions from steel production.

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