The Week in Business: The Escalating Battle Over E.S.G.
What’s Up? (Feb. 26-March 4)
Republicans Block Investing Rule
Senate Republicans, joined by two Democrats, voted on Wednesday to approve a resolution — already passed by the House — to block a Labor Department rule that would allow retirement plan managers to incorporate environmental, social and corporate governance considerations into their investment decisions. This practice, known as E.S.G., was a widely accepted norm in financial circles for almost 20 years until it recently became a target for conservatives and others who argued E.S.G. investing was hurting businesses and little more than a trend they termed “woke capitalism.” The rule from the Labor Department had been intended to overturn a Trump-era policy that limited investing options to purely financial matters. The Biden administration argued that it was necessary to allow retirement advisers to factor in issues like climate change, which has economic consequences. President Biden is expected to use the first veto of his presidency to override the anti-E.S.G. measure.
Justices Weigh Student Loan Cancellation
The Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a case that would decide the fate of some 26 million student loan borrowers who applied to have their debts canceled under President Biden’s forgiveness plan. The issue at hand is not whether it is constitutional to wipe out billions in student debt, but whether Mr. Biden has the authority to do so without Congress’ approval. Mr. Biden introduced the policy by executive order in August, announcing that the federal government would cancel up to $20,000 per borrower. After meeting a flurry of legal challenges, Mr. Biden’s plan was blocked from going into effect in November by a lower court. During arguments last week, conservative justices on the Supreme Court — who have a majority — appeared skeptical of the Biden administration’s power to carry out sweeping debt cancellation, while the court’s liberal members said there was a precedent for the secretary of education to address emergencies like the student debt crisis.
Some Companies Are Still in Russia. Here’s Why.
A year into the war in Ukraine, hundreds of Western companies remain in Russia despite a vast array of sanctions as well as pressure from boycott campaigns and human rights groups. Some of these companies began scaling back their operations in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion but have yet to complete a full exit of the country. Pfizer, for example, stopped investing in Russia but still sells some products there and sends the profits to Ukraine humanitarian groups. Carlsberg, the world’s third-largest brewer, said it was leaving Russia last March but was still trying to find a buyer for its Russian breweries that would agree to allow the company to buy them back after the war ends. Companies have encountered other hurdles to leaving Russia, including, the beer maker Heineken said, warnings from Russian prosecutors that closing or suspending operations would be deemed an intentional bankruptcy.
What’s Next? (March 5-11)
The Next Jobs Report? Who Knows?
After the jobs report for January blew past the consensus forecast — employers added 517,000, an increase from 260,000 the month before — it is difficult to say with certainty what February’s report will show on Friday. Analysts expected to see that the economy added 215,000 jobs last month, which would be in line with the general downward trend of jobs reports up until January. But those surprising numbers suggested that it might not be a smooth, or predictable, descent for the job market. That’s a growing concern for officials at the Federal Reserve, who are looking for signs that their efforts to tame inflation are filtering through the entire economy.
Behind the Scenes at Fox News
As Fox News headed toward a trial with Dominion Voting Systems, the company accusing Fox of defamation in a $1.6 billion suit, Rupert Murdoch, Fox’s chairman, acknowledged that several hosts for his networks promoted the false narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from President Donald J. Trump. “I would have liked us to be stronger in denouncing it in hindsight,” Mr. Murdoch said in a deposition that was released last week. He added that he could have stopped these hosts, including Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Lou Dobbs and Maria Bartiromo, but didn’t. There has been a steady trickle of revelations like these over the past two weeks, including legal filings with private messages between Fox News hosts that showed that what they were saying publicly often contrasted with their private views. But news coverage of the filings has largely been absent from a vast majority of conservative outlets. Fox News and its sister outlet, Fox Business, have so far avoided the story, too.
Powell Testifies to Congress
Jerome H. Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, will appear before the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday and the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. The Fed chair reports to Congress twice a year to discuss how the central bank is responding to economic conditions and the overall economic outlook. He will also take questions from lawmakers. When Mr. Powell last met with the committee in June, he emphasized the Fed’s commitment to bringing down inflation to its 2 percent target, which had become increasingly difficult, he said. A recession, he added, was a “possibility.” At this week’s hearing, Mr. Powell is likely to address the strong jobs numbers and the persistent pace of inflation. But he will probably avoid saying anything too definitive, as there is one more jobs report and fresh inflation data set to be released before the Fed’s next rate decision later this month.
Some lawmakers in Congress fear developments in artificial intelligence are far outpacing their ability to regulate the technology. The Biden administration unveiled rules on Tuesday for its “Chips for America” program, which would allot $50 billion to shore up semiconductor research and manufacturing in the United States. And a coal mining strike that lasted almost two years ended without a deal on Friday; negotiations over a contract are expected to continue once the miners return to work.
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